Movement 1: Lebhaft (Allegro moderato)
Movement 2: Nicht zu langsam (Andante affettuoso)
Movement 3: Sehr lebhaft (Allegro molto)
In matters of form Marx was content to remain within Classical ideals: a traditional sonata structure in the opening movement, the slow movement in simple ternary form, while the finale is a lively rondo. In this respect, the concerto is more attuned to the nineteenth century than the twentieth. Its ‘Romantic’ characteristics are therefore suggested by its musical content.
The opening movement, Lebhaft (Allegro moderato), is in the tonic E major and, beginning with a discreet drum roll, immediately the heroic upswing of the main theme is announced, a fulsome and radiant melodic idea that is already being treated polyphonically in the inner voices. After this rapturous statement, the piano enters in the manner of a cadenza—a vigorous flourish, leading to a richly chordal repeat of the theme which immediately broadens and develops rapidly. A subsidiary theme, heavily accented with powerful octaves, darkens the optimistic tone before the second subject proper enters in the woodwinds. This slower theme is highly expressive and the Marxian harmony here is ravishing. The form is then broadened to include a sort of scherzo section in brisk 6/8 time, heard in the orchestra alone, which replaces a more traditional development although references to the earlier material abound. A series of powerful climaxes leads to the recapitulation where the piano takes up the opening theme with great virtuosity as the orchestra fills out the second subject in response. After a terrific climax, the movement ends rapidly in the tonic major.
The slow movement is in F sharp minor and opens with a soulful pastorale for woodwinds, reminiscent of Bach and based on a plaintive melody. The piano enters and proceeds to embellish and almost improvise on this theme, building to a huge crescendo of spread chords and increasingly chromatic arpeggios, before the pastoral mood returns. The piano is frequently alone, musing to itself, and as the movement ends it is the piano which draws this highly individual elegy to a close, with the full orchestra only returning for the final chord.
We return to E major for the finale - a glittering rondo which restores the exultant upswing of the first movement, replete with dance rhythms and many playful themes that are woven together in an extraordinary manner. At times, the harmony and wayward, ever-moving melodic material remind one of Delius. A subsidiary theme heard in the bassoon leads to an episode which is Russian in character but this is soon replaced by a heartfelt, lyrical, upward-leaping melody of considerable beauty. This reappears in full orchestra before the hectic coda, in which the piano hurtles through some incredibly difficult variations on the main idea (replete with double, consecutive, chromatic—and split—octaves, coupled with syncopated spread chords!) as the concerto ends triumphantly.
The Romantisches Klavierkonzert was played in Austria and Germany throughout the 1920s, but (perhaps because of the phenomenal difficulty of the solo part) it had disappeared from the repertoire by the mid 1930s.
from notes by Brendan Carroll © 1998