Music Appreciation – The Concerto

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ASSIGNMENT: The meaning of the term concerto has changed at least three times in the history of music. What are the major elements of the concerto? Is there always a soloist? Is there a traditional musical form? Refer to the listening examples in the Special Focus (Concertos) to support your conclusions. This assignment requires a full page (400 to 500 words) submission. PLEASE DO THE ASSIGNMENT BASED ON THE LESSON BELOW and a few research…. just follow the direction here.


Special Focus: The Concerto

This Special Focus explores the concerto and the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra.

Search the Internet or the library for the term concerto. To narrow your search, you could type the words concerto and history (only sites with these terms are returned). Or look up appropriate phrases. Putting the words between quotation marks gives you information on the whole phrase (try pairing concerto with different words or phrase combinations, depending on your area of interest, e.g., Bach, “20th Century,” composing, Paganini, 1800s, soloist, exposition, symphony, history, etc.)

Listen to the following selections (you will refer to these in your writing assignment):

The Four Seasons (Spring), by Antonio Vivaldi

Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat Major, by Joseph Haydn

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Concerto for Orchestra, by Béla Bartók

Concerto Grosso 1985, by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Orchestral Concerto

The concerto grosso of the Baroque Period developed into the solo concerto of the Classical Period, and finally into the orchestral concerto as in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (studied in Lesson 10). This work is called a concerto because of the soloistic nature of the instruments within the orchestra; it is in essence a return to the orchestral concertos of the Baroque Era. Modern concertos continued to experiment with different combinations of soloists and orchestra. The orchestra itself was also changing. For example, Arthur Bliss wrote a concerto for an interesting combination of piano, tenor voice, xylophone, and strings in 1933. Ellen Zwilich’s Concerto Grosso 1985 is another intriguing work written in the spirit of an orchestral concerto. There is no specific soloist; there are five movements, and the theme is based on a theme from Handel’s Sonata in D for violin. With this work, the term “concerto” seems to have come full circle from the Baroque Era.

Finally, the 1965 composition Piano Concerto, by Elliott Carter, integrates three contrasting elements. In this two-movement work, the orchestra and piano soloist are musically immiscible; there is, however, a concertino group of seven instrumentalists that acts as an intermediary between the musical ideas presented in the orchestra and the conflicting ideas of the pianist. Carter raised contrast to yet another level of complexity and intellectualism. The term “concerto” has remained fluid for centuries and continues to reappear as new forms in which contrasting musical ideas and sounds excite and surprise.

The Instrumental Soloist -Concerto

Seeing and hearing a virtuoso effortlessly perform demanding music is awe inspiring. Anyone who has tried to play an instrument realizes the technical skill required to play even moderately difficult music; hearing virtuoso talent in light of one’s own attempt at playing the same instrument is sensational. The premier form for virtuoso display is the concerto. The word “concerto” has been a part of music history for hundreds of years. The first secular concert work called a concerto is attributed to Torelli in 1686. The form was quickly adopted and developed by Corelli and Vivaldi. The first concertos were orchestral works featuring several soloists or a small ensemble within the orchestra.

We first encountered these orchestral concertos in our study of the Baroque Period with the work of Vivaldi. Review the example of The Four Seasons in Lesson 6; much of the drama of the concerto grosso came from the virtuosic displays of the soloists and the contrasting dynamic levels between the soloists and the orchestra. The concerto grosso commonly pitted the tone colors of two, three, or four soloists against a full orchestral backdrop, perhaps the most famous being the Brandenburg Concertos by J. S. Bach. His six concerto grossi featured many different instruments from various instrumental families. The second concerto, in particular, combined the most diverse of instrumental soloists: the trumpet, flute, oboe, and violin.

In the Classical Period, the concerto retained the three-movement structure of the concerto grosso, but featured only one soloist. These works were often written by composers who were themselves great soloists. The most notable composer-performers in this period were Mozart and Beethoven. Their mastery of this form and their superior ability to improvise brilliant cadenzas set standards by which others would compose and perform.

The Soloist and Improvisation

A cadenza generally appears in the first movement and sometimes in the last. It traditionally follows a dissonant chord played by the orchestra. The soloist continues with exciting technical displays of skill, playing fast scales and arpeggios. The cadenza usually develops material presented earlier in the movement. The orchestra waits in silence until the soloist is finished. The signal ending the cadenza is customarily a long trill; after this, the orchestra finally resolves the earlier dissonant chord.

The Soloist in Chamber Music

In chamber music, a parallel structure for soloists arose in the development of the sonata. Before the Baroque Period, the sonata merely meant that the music was played and not sung as in cantata. Violin sonatas were first to dominate the musical world. Corelli and Purcell brought violin sonatas and trio sonatas to new heights. They were themselves violinists and favored the instrument. For this same reason, Vivaldi focused his attention on solo violin works.

Although the term “sonata” broadly covered many instrumental works, it slowly evolved into a three-movement work similar to the concerto. The major difference was that the accompaniment was supplied by a continuo or a keyboard instrument in lieu of an orchestra. The major exception to this convention was the keyboard sonata; harpsichords and pianos were capable of supplying their own accompaniment. Instruments such as the flute, violin, or clarinet could not add the harmonic interest capable of a keyboard. There are, however, brilliant exceptions where solo instruments perform sonatas without any accompaniment, including the unaccompanied violin sonatas of Bach and, in the early twentieth century, Max Reger.

The single-movement sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti in the Baroque Era exemplify the early ambiguity of a sonata’s larger structure. Piano sonatas borrowed their structure from the multi-movement keyboard suites of the Baroque Era. The number of movements slowly settled on three or four. The third movement or scherzo was dropped by the eighteenth and nineteenth century, when the three-movement structure became the favorite.

At the same time, the construction of the piano improved, giving the instrument more brilliance and projection. This development interested composers who themselves played the piano. Beethoven was both a talented pianist and composer and wrote many works for piano. All in all, he wrote five piano concertos and thirty-two solo sonatas, as well as other chamber works involving piano.

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