The development of the Russian piano concerto in the nineteenth century
The Russian piano concerto could not have had more inauspicious beginnings. Unlike the symphonic poem (and, indirectly, the symphony)- genres for which Glinka, the so-called 'Father of Russian Music', provided an invaluable model: 'Well? It's all in "Kamarinskaya", just as the whole oak is in the acorn' to quote Tchaikovsky - the Russian piano concerto had no such indigenous prototype. All that existed to inspire would-be concerto composers were a handful of inferior potpourris and variations for piano and orchestra and a negligible concerto by Villoing dating from the 1830s. Rubinstein's five concertos certainly offered something more substantial, as Tchaikovsky acknowledged in his First Concerto, but by this time the century was approaching its final quarter. This absence of a prototype is reflected in all aspects of Russian concerto composition. Most Russian concertos lean perceptibly on the stylistic features of Western European composers and several can be justly accused of plagiarism. Furthermore, Russian composers faced formidable problems concerning the structural organization of their concertos, a factor which contributed to the inability of several, including Balakirev and Taneyev, to complete their works. Even Tchaikovsky encountered difficulties which he was not always able to overcome. The most successful Russian piano concertos of the nineteenth century, Tchaikovsky's No.1 in B flat minor, Rimsky-Korsakov's Concerto in C sharp minor and Balakirev's Concerto in E flat, returned to indigenous sources of inspiration: Russian folk song and Russian orthodox chant. As characteristic of nationalist works in general, their contribution to the development of the piano concerto was not profound; nevertheless, they represent a valuable, if numerically•small, addition to the repertory, and laid the foundations of a twentieth-century school of concerto composition, headed by Rachmaninovand Prokofiev, of unparalleled brilliance and virtuosity.