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|Maestro Donohoe with the Ama Deus Ensemble Orchestra|
The Bach is probably the newest of the three concertos to me. In some ways, for me it is the most difficult piece on the program. First, it was originally written for the harpsichord, and therefore one has to adapt to the music on the modern instrument. Second, for me specifically, I came into the profession from the twentieth century and moved backwards in time…The music from the Romantic era, then the Classical era, then the Baroque period—they came to me professionally in that order… So as a professional I was exposed mostly to music of the twentieth century—and Bach is a long way from that.
There are direct links between all three works. Whether it is because they are all German and the way the German [musical] culture developed or whether it is the specific composers, I’m not quite sure…But the logic of all their music is maybe greater than with any other composers….There is a logic and a sublime feeling of not just intellectual logic, but the fact that that intellectual logic is complete and natural, and therefore all the emotions that come with the music—for all the people who understand the logic, they feel it somehow, subliminally…There is a fantastic sense of timing to [these three concertos]. You can always feel when the climax is coming. You can always feel when the ending is coming.
The Beethoven "Emperor" is very significant to me because it was the first classical work that I ever identified as a piece of music I loved as a very small child. My father picked up a pile of 78 [rpm] records and a gramophone from a market somewhere and expected me to play with it as a toy, and part of the collection was the Beethoven Emperor Concerto…It became such an important piece of music to me because it’s the one that made me want to be a musician…It does seem to be seminal to so many people, so many colleagues of mine...it’s the piece that inspired them the most when they were very young. The Fifth Concerto is the one that grabs us all. It’s one of the most popular pieces ever written. It’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s interesting that Franz Liszt, who played all the Beethoven symphonies transcribed for piano, and generally loved Beethoven—the one piano concerto he played publically was the Fifth, and he never did the other four.
Listen to the entire interview here.
"The Three B’s"
The harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052–1065, are concertos for harpsichord, strings and continuo by Johann Sebastian Bach. There are seven complete concertos for a single harpsichord (BWV 1052–1058). All of Bach's harpsichord concertos (with the exception of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto) are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments probably written in Köthen. In many cases, only the harpsichord version has survived. The tradition of adaptation has been kept up in the twentieth century, as it has repeatedly been performed on the modern piano.
The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the "Emperor Concerto", was his last piano concerto. It was written between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna, and was dedicated to Archduke Rudolf, Beethoven's patron and pupil. The epithet of Emperor for this concerto was not Beethoven's own but was coined by Johann Baptist Cramer, the English publisher of the concerto. As with Beethoven's other concertos from this time period, this work has a relatively long first movement and is full of complex thematic transformations. The second and final movements are typical in form, a calm and reflective adagio followed nonstop by a typical rondo form. There is no explanation for why it is the most loved and well-known of Beethoven’s concertos, but the vibrancy of the work and its memorable themes have certainly contributed to its popularity.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor, Op. 15, is a work for piano and orchestra completed by Johannes Brahms in 1858. The composer gave the work's public debut in Hanover, the following year. It was his first-performed orchestral work, and (in its third performance) his first orchestral work performed to audience approval. The work reflects Brahms' effort to combine the piano with the orchestra as equal partners in a symphonic-scale structure, in emulation of the classical concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. It thus differs from earlier Romantic concertos, where the orchestra effectively accompanied the pianist. Even for the young Brahms, the concerto-as-showpiece had little appeal. Instead, he enlisted both orchestra and soloist in the service of the musical ideas; technically difficult passages in the concerto are never gratuitous, but extend and develop the thematic material. Such an approach is thoroughly in keeping with Brahms' artistic temperament, but also reflects the concerto's symphonic origins and ambitions. His effort drew on both chamber music techniques and the pre-classical Baroque concerto grosso, an approach that later was fully realized in Brahms' Second Piano Concerto. This first concerto also demonstrates Brahms' particular interest in scoring for the timpani and the horn, both of whose parts are difficult and prominent.