PROGRAMME NOTES

Piano Concerto

(1984)                                

3-3-3-3 4-3-3-1 4 perc/cel-piano/2 harps/strings  [duration 24’] 


The Piano Concerto is dedicated to Howard Shelley and was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival with funds from South West Arts. The first performance was given on 22 July 1984 at Cheltenham Town Hall, with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Edward Downes and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. On 20/21 January 1986 Howard Shelley made a BBC recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Atherton and the same performers made this recording on 30 January in Watford Town Hall. First London performance at the Proms on 20 August 1986.

The principal sections of the Concerto are:
[1] Adagio - a declamatory introduction with attacks rising through all registers of the piano, further sustained in the strings with echoes and resonances: everything gradually subsides.
[2] Solo - a frozen pianissimo.
[3] Lento - the first theme is a dirge in the horns with three variations against an independent piano cadenza developing with increasing complexity.
[4] Adagio - the opening declamations return in the orchestra with commentary from piano and percussion. A momentary glimpse of D major leads to the next section.
[5] Quasi cadenza (with Adagio) - two types of music, the concerto’s second and third themes, are in conflict in different tempi. The piano has a kind of toccata, supported by percussion, and the strings a blues (the first song in my mini-cycle Extravaganzas). This confrontation leads to a crisis.
[6] Tranquillo - the blues is now soft, decorated by the piano, percussion and celesta. A descending mini-cadenza leads to something unexpected.
[7] Moderato - another piano, with its own rhythm section, plays a classical rag based on the concerto’s three main themes. The Concerto Rag floats in and out of earshot as the soloist and the orchestra comment increasingly disruptively.
[8] Meno mosso - the soloist’s low register cadenza leading to the climax of the whole work.
[9] Molto allegro - the soloist has the dirge in the simplest D minor against a disruptive orchestral version of the piano cadenzas heard earlier against the dirge. Everything gradually winds down as the soloist goes through a cantabile treatment of the toccata theme overlaid with percussion.
[10] Absolutely tranquil - the blues comes back as a solo harmonised like a fragment of lieder in D major, and a rapid coda ends on D minor. 

- - -

Shorter Note

There are plenty of piano concertos about but the unique feature of British composer Peter Dickinson’s example is that a piano rag starts up on an upright piano at the back of the orchestra two thirds of the way through.  This is not as disruptive as it seems since popular idioms have already been in evidence with a blues in the strings against which the piano develops its own cadenza. This virtuoso work is in some ways about the personality of the piano, the composer’s own instrument, in relation to its history and uncertainties about what a concerto meant in the later twentieth century. The upright piano, with its own percussion and bass, offers competition to the soloist in another idiom. But this is soon accommodated and the profile of the instrument is enlarged. This crisis leads to a passionate statement of the main theme from the solo in grandiose D minor, but the orchestra is still violently opposed. Very gradually the temperature cools to a soft ending and a kind of resolution.


Dickinson’s Piano Concerto was commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival in 1986 and first performed, broadcast by the BBC and recorded by Howard Shelley with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Atherton. This recording is now available on Heritage with all three concertos.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

pdRoman