Concertos are among the most dramatic forms of classical music, which is one reason we have so many extraordinary examples in the literature, from Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Bartok and others. Great composers can’t resist the musical and theatrical possibilities of this particular form: One person going up against an entire orchestra.
The most important fact about concertos is that audiences wait for the soloist to enter and when she stops, they wait for her to begin again. The opening introduction sets the scene, creating a sense of anticipation, that something is about to happen.
And when the soloist does enter, we know that virtuosity will be on display. Pyrotechnics will ensue. Tension will be high. Reputations will be on the line. And that makes them terrific fun for us to experience, either in the concert hall or on recordings.
But what if the soloist doesn't wait for an orchestral introduction? Mozart was the first composer to sense the dramatic possibilities of not waiting. Beethoven expanded that idea, as did others who followed.
In my next class, May 20, we will explore two unusual elements: When concertos break the rules and those extraordinary cadenzas when the orchestra stops and the soloist brings out the howitzers.
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and rode across America with his brother in 2017.