Accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, widely regarded as one of the greatest Chopin interpreters of his time, the Polish American classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein (January 28, 1887 – December 20, 1982) plays Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21. Conductor: André Previn.
Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
Chopin wrote the Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1870, at around 20 years of age, before he had finished his formal education. Chopin’s two piano concertos were written within a year of each other. It was the second of his piano concertos to be published (after the Piano Concerto No. 1), and so was designated as “No. 2”, even though it was written first.
The Piano Concerto No. 2 contains the three movements typical of instrumental concertos of the period: Maestoso, Larghetto, and Allegro vivace.
- Maestoso (F minor). The first movement is cast in double-exposition form, a variant of classical sonata form dating back to the eighteenth century, typically employed in concertos. The movement opens with a long orchestral exposition initially characterized by dotted, mazurka-like rhythms. Once the piano enters, the orchestra retreats into the background, the soloist carrying the musical argument from then on. The solo part enthusiastically offers up the full panoply of the virtuoso style yet tempers its razzle-dazzle showmanship with a degree of poetic cantilena atypical for concertos of the day. There is no need for a cadenza, given the nonstop virtuosity of the solo writing throughout the movement.
- Larghetto (A-flat major). Chopin intended the second movement, (Larghetto) as an expression of his first acute love for a woman, Konstancja Gladkowska, of whom he writes: “I already have my perfect one whom I have, without saying a word, served faithfully for a year now, of whom I dream, in whose memory the adagio of my concerto has been put up.”
- Allegro vivace (F minor – F major). The finale, arranged in a three-part, rondo-like form, offers up unmistakable references to Polish folk music, in the piquantly off-kilter rhythms of the mazurka and its slightly slower cousin, the kujawiak. The entire movement is refreshingly free of the endless figurations and pointless bombast of contemporary concertos but nonetheless brings the work to an appropriately vivacious close.
Arthur Rubinstein KBE OSE GOSE (Polish: Artur Rubinstein; 28 January 1887 – 20 December 1982) was a Polish-American pianist.
He is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time. He received international acclaim for his performances of the music written by a variety of composers and many regard him as one of the greatest Chopin interpreters of his time, though recent scholarship exposes his appropriation of Chopin’s music from its original salon style. He played in public for eight decades.
In his two autobiographies, Rubinstein is often intensely self-critical. A natural pianist with a big technique, he claimed that he practiced as little as possible, learning new pieces quickly and with insufficient attention to detail, relying on his charm and charisma to conceal the lack of finish in his playing.
The literal truth of these self-directed critiques is open to question: Rubinstein wasn’t averse to making himself the butt of a good story. Even so, he insisted that his attitude toward practicing changed after his marriage. He stated that he did not want his children to see him as a second-rater, so he began in the summer of 1934 to restudy his entire repertoire.
“I buckled down back to work-six hours, eight hours, nine hours a day,” he recalled in 1958. “And a strange thing happened… I began to discover new meanings, new qualities, new possibilities in music that I have been regularly playing for more than 30 years.”
In general, however, Rubinstein believed that excessive practice could be dangerous for young pianists. Perhaps recalling his own youthful brush with the repetitive-stress syndrome, Rubinstein regularly advised that young pianists should practice no more than three hours a day.
“I was born very, very lazy and I don’t always practice very long,” he said, “but I must say, in my defense, that it is not so good, in a musical way, to over practice. When you do, the music seems to come out of your pocket. If you play with a feeling of ‘Oh, I know this’, you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary and the audience feels it.”
Of his own practice methods, he said, “At every concert, I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen. I want to risk, to dare. I want to be surprised by what comes out. I want to enjoy it more than the audience. That way the music can bloom anew. It’s like making love. The act is always the same, but each time it’s different.”