Victor Book of Concertos

Victor Book of Concertos

Victor Book of Concertos

Victor Book of Concertos

Excerpt

"ABOVE all," writes Charles Lamb, "these insufferable concertos and pieces of music, as they are called, do plague and embitter my apprehension." This comes from A Chapter on Ears, as fine a collection of prejudice and ignorance about music as anything one could compile from Dr. Johnson. It is a confession of the tone-deaf ("I have no ear," remarks Lamb unnecessarily), and as such is surpassed only by the declaration of the man who said he knew but two tunes: one was God Save the King and the other one wasn't.

Of all large-scale symphonic forms, the concerto is the least calculated to plague or embitter anyone's apprehension. In essence it is a type of popular or public music -- a fact which, for a while, misled Ravel into thinking that a concerto must "not aim at profundity or dramatic effects." When Schumann capitulated to his publisher and allowed him to issue one of his piano sonatas under the misnomer Concerto Without Orchestra,Liszt objected to this "German error" on the ground that the work was too solitary and too intimate an inspiration to be called a concerto. In Liszt's opinion, "the title concerto . . . applied exclusively to pieces intended for public performance and, for this very reason, exacts certain conditions of effect. . . ." The concerto composers of the nineteenth century were especially given to the exploitation of these "conditions of effect," and, with a few notable exceptions, it was their fixed belief that a strong measure of ostentatious brilliance was necessarily entailed in such a "public representation." (This is another of the phrases Liszt used to define the essence of a concerto.)

Liszt had still another, and most important, objection to the title Concerto Without Orchestra. He considered it "illogical, since concerto means a reunion of concerted instruments." This is very nearly a fundamental definition, for the earliest and most elementary meaning of the word "concerto" is simply to play in concert. As early as the middle of the sixteenth century one can find an accompanying instrument described as the concerted or concerto instrument. It is the secondary instrument, playing together, or in concert with the lead.

So rudimentary a definition is soon lost even in early music. To play . . .

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