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Gunther Schuller

Publisher: AMP

Concerto for Piano Three Hands (Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra) (1990)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
2 Pianos
Programme Note
Gunther Schuller Concerto for Piano Three Hands (Two Pianos and Chamber Orchestra) (1990)
Concerto for Piano Three Hands

My Concerto For Piano Three Hands, that is for two pianos and chamber orchestra, was composed in September and October 1989. The work is in five movements, all performed without pause. The movements are distinguished from one another not only by substantial contrasts in mood, character, and tempo, but instrumentation as well. The two pianists are accompanied in the five movements first by percussion alone, in the second movement woodwinds, in the third strings, the fourth brass, and the fifth movement, at the very end, the full orchestra.
Other noticeable characteristics are that the first and third movements begin in the full orchestra with a rather agitated rhythmic music, which, in both instances, subsides to an Adagio. The first Adagio is contemplative and narrative in character, a dialogue between the two pianists and the three percussionists, while the third movement Adagio is in a more serene and singing mood.
The fifth movement is in effect a cadenza for the left-hand pianist, again an Adagio music in the form of a Passacaglia. The cadenza builds very gradually in two ways: 1) the piano starts in the lowest register, gradually climbing into the upper range, and 2) starts in a single voice, growing in the subsequent passacaglia variations to at first two voices, eventually to three and four parts. At the apex of this development, the two-handed pianist enters with massive six to ten-part chords, continuing the progression started by the other pianist. Finally the orchestra joins in—quietly and in the lowest register (contrabassoon and bass clarinet)—building to a fortissimo climax. A final exuberant bright-tempo nine measures bring the work to a quick close.
The overall scheme of the Concerto can thus be seen—and heard—as follows: I—Vivace (Introduction)—Adagio; II—Scherzando; III—Vivace (Introduction varied)—Adagio; IV—Allegro vivace; V—Lento cantabile (Passacaglia-Cadenza)—Vivo maestoso

—Gunther Schuller

Mr. Schuller’s work is an utterly serious attempt to incorporate the soloists, playing two pianos, into a constantly shifting yet coherent musical fabric, complex rhythmically and harmonically. There is little solo display, and indeed, until the cadenza that constitutes most of the concluding movement, the pianists scarcely maintain separate identities; Mr. Hollander has described the effect as that of “an almost larger-than-life single piano.”
James R. Oestreich, The New York Times,28/01/1990
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