Accompanied by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou performs Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major”. Conductor: Lorenzo Viotti. This performance was recorded during the AVROTROS Friday Concert on October 20, 2023, at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Composed between 1929 and 1930, the piece was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (May 11, 1887 – March 3, 1961), who lost his right arm during World War I.

Accompanied by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou performs Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major”. Conductor: Lorenzo Viotti. This performance was recorded during the AVROTROS Friday Concert on October 20, 2023, at the TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major is an exceptional piece that not only highlights Ravel’s inventive composition skills but also showcases the piano’s capabilities when played with just one hand. Created between 1929 and 1930, this concerto was specially commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I.

This work is significant both for its musical innovation and for its historical context. It reflects Ravel’s interest in jazz and his dedication to addressing the challenges of composing for an instrument limited to one hand. Wittgenstein, from a musically gifted and affluent family, sought to continue his career despite his disability, commissioning pieces from several notable composers, with Ravel being among the most celebrated.

Unlike typical concertos that are structured in three movements, Ravel’s concerto is performed as a single continuous movement. However, it encompasses various sections distinguished by tempo and thematic content. It begins with a mysterious and contemplative theme introduced by the contrabasses and bassoons, setting a somber tone. The piano enters forcefully, initiating a complex interplay with the orchestra.

Ravel brilliantly utilizes the piano’s lower register to make up for the absence of the right hand, creating a rich and robust sound. The concerto navigates through different moods and styles, including sections that reflect Ravel’s fascination with American jazz, encountered during his 1928 tour of the United States.

The concerto poses substantial challenges both in its composition and performance. Ravel had to craft a piece that explored the left hand’s capabilities, achieving complexity and polyphony typically requiring both hands. Performers must exhibit exceptional skill, as the left-hand spans a wide keyboard range, often rapidly, while managing diverse textures and dynamics.

Despite its premiere in 1932, with Wittgenstein performing, the pianist initially had reservations about Ravel’s modern elements and jazz influences, leading to a strained relationship. However, the concerto is now regarded as one of Ravel’s masterpieces and a pivotal contribution to the piano concerto repertoire. It is particularly cherished by pianists who, like Wittgenstein, face physical challenges.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand stands as a powerful testament to the composer’s creativity, technical prowess, and compassion for musicians overcoming physical limitations. It remains popular among pianists and audiences for its emotional depth, innovative piano use, and the remarkable story behind its creation. The piece demands not just extraordinary technical ability and musical sensitivity from its performers but also an ability to convey its rich emotional palette with just one hand.

Paul Wittgenstein

Paul Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, the son of the industrialist Karl Wittgenstein. His brother Ludwig was born two years later. The household was frequently visited by prominent cultural figures, among them the composers Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Josef Labor, and Richard Strauss, with whom the young Paul played duets. His grandmother, Fanny Wittgenstein, was a first cousin of the violinist Joseph Joachim, whom she adopted and took to Leipzig to study with Felix Mendelssohn.

Paul Wittgenstein at the piano. Ravel composed the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand for him.
Paul Wittgenstein at the piano. Ravel composed the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand for him. “Paul Wittgenstein 3 (c) BFMI” by Unknown – BFMI. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons

He studied with Malvine Brée and later with a much better-known figure, the Polish virtuoso Theodor Leschetizky. He made his public début in 1913, attracting favorable reviews. The following year, however, World War I broke out, and he was called up for military service. He was shot in the elbow and captured by the Russians during the assault on Ukraine, and his right arm had to be amputated.

After losing his right arm, Wittgenstein devised novel techniques, including pedal and hand-movement combinations, that allowed him to play chords previously regarded as impossible for a five-fingered pianist.

Bertrand Chamayou

French pianist Bertrand Chamayou (born 23 March 1981) celebrated as one of today’s most brilliant pianists, is renowned for his performances that combine virtuosity, imagination, and beauty. His repertoire spans the complete piano works of Ravel, Liszt’s “Etudes” and “Années de pèlerinage,” and Messiaen’s “Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus,” showcasing his status as a leading interpreter of French music. Alongside his passion for classical compositions, Chamayou actively engages with contemporary music, collaborating with esteemed composers like Pierre Boulez and Henri Dutilleux, reflecting his dedication to new music.

Accompanied by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou performs Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
Accompanied by the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou performs Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major”. Conductor: Lorenzo Viotti.

Chamayou’s global presence is marked by performances in prestigious venues such as the Philharmonie de Paris and Wigmore Hall, and participation in top festivals like the Lucerne and Salzburg Festivals. His collaborations extend to the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, demonstrating his versatility and acclaim in the classical music world. The 2022 season highlights his role as ‘Artist Portrait’ with the London Symphony Orchestra, featuring significant concerts and a European tour, along with the release of his album “Satie-Cage,” paying homage to Eric Satie through John Cage’s perspective.

His discography has received multiple awards, including the 2016 ECHO Klassik Award for his recording of Ravel’s complete piano works, and the Gramophone Award for Recording of the Year in 2019 for his Saint-Saëns album on Erato. Chamayou is the first artist to win the Victoires de la Musique Classique award five times, the most recent in 2022. His commitment to Ravel’s legacy is further evidenced by his role as the co-artistic Director of the Festival Ravel in France’s Basque country, underlining his influence in both the performance and promotion of classical music.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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