Rubinstein, Anton - Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 70 (1864)
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 70 (1864)
1. Moderato assai
Raymond Lewenthal, piano and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eleazar de Carvalho recording never released on CD.
Opening the St. Petersburg Conservatory [Wikipedia]
The opening of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first music school in Russia and a development from the RMS per its charter, occurred in 1862. Rubinstein not only founded it and was its first director but also recruited an imposing pool of talent for its faculty.
Some in Russian society were surprised that a Russian music school would actually attempt to be Russian. One "fashionable lady", when told by Rubinstein that classes would be taught in Russian and not a foreign language, exclaimed, "What, music in Russian! That is an original idea!" Rubinstein adds,
And surely it was surprising that the theory of Music was to be taught for the first time in the Russian language at our Conservatory.... Hitherto, if any one wished to study it, he was obliged to take lessons from a foreigner, or to go to Germany.
...........It was during this period that Rubinstein drew his greatest success as a composer, beginning with his Fourth Piano Concerto in 1864 and culminating with his opera The Demon in 1871. Between these two works are the orchestral works Don Quixote, which Tchaikovsky found "interesting and well done," and the opera Ivan IV Grozniy. Borodin commented on Ivan IV that "the music is good, you just cannot recognize that it is Rubinstein. There is nothing that is Mendelssohnian, nothing as he used to write formerly."
In 1887, he returned to the Saint Petersburg Conservatory with the goal of improving overall standards. He removed inferior students, fired and demoted many professors, made entrance and examination requirements more stringent and revised the curriculum. He led semi-weekly teachers' classes through the whole keyboard literature and gave some of the more gifted piano students personal coaching. During the 1889–90 academic year he gave weekly lecture-recitals for the students.
Description by Robert Cummings [-]
Much of Rubinstein's output was quite popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even rivaling the appeal of Tchaikovsky's works. He preceded Tchaikovsky in the cosmopolitan (as opposed to nationalist) space in Russian music of his time, but infused that space with nowhere near Tchaikovsky's passion. His reputation faded by the middle of the twentieth century, but this D minor effort has remained his most enduring large composition and has hovered near the fringes of the standard repertory. Echoes of the work abound in Tchaikovsky's writing for piano. The work's relative success is easy to understand; the piano writing is assured and colorful, actually quite dazzling in places, and this half-hour three-movement work offers strong thematic and harmonic appeal, as well as imaginative orchestration.
- The first movement, marked Moderato assai, features a stately but melancholy main theme of Russian character that is reworked in a lovely, flowing variation form. The powerful cadenza near the end of the movement is quite Lisztian, both in sound and in its technical demands.
- The middle panel, marked Andante, features a beautiful, gentle theme in the outer sections that encloses a dramatic, restless central episode.
- The Allegro finale brims with energy and effervescence, its driving and colorful dance rhythms and rippling piano part yielding only briefly to relatively calmer music. Again the flavors are Russian, and now the mood is mostly joyous. The coda is brilliant, featuring breathtaking piano writing whose dramatic depth and virtuoso acrobatics combine for sonic thrills that never veer toward the bombastic but instead suggest the most satisfying encore before the fact.
In sum, this is a fine composition, perhaps a major masterpiece. The composer arranged the concerto for two pianos in 1866.