When Massenet’s piano concerto was premiered in 1903 it received a very tepid welcome. The first performance was given by Louis Diemer, the work’s dedicatee, and thereafter the concerto fell into obscurity. Diemer was a contemporary of Massenet, indeed they had both studied composition with Ambroise Thomas. A famous virtuoso, Diemer was also himself a fairly successful composer (he wrote a piano concerto in C minor and many other solo piano works, as well as songs and chamber music); he was also the Paris Conservatoire’s most famous piano professor. By the time of the first performance of Massenet’s concerto, Diemer was sixty years old. With a concerto that calls for youthful exuberance, it may well be that the poor reception from the audience was occasioned as much by the performance as the music itself. The pianist Mark Hambourg dismissed Diemer as ‘a dry-as-dust player with a hard rattling tone’, but again this verdict must have been based on memories of an older Diemer. The general respect accorded him, especially in France, is convincingly demonstrated by the enormous number of works dedicated to Diemer, including (apart from Massenet’s concerto) Franck’s Variations symphoniques, Saint- Saëns’ fifth piano concerto, Tchaikovsky’s third piano concerto, Lalo’s piano concerto and the twelfth Barcarolle by Fauré. Whether, in the case of Massenet’s concerto, the pianist’s performance was to blame or not, it seems likely that by 1903 the musical tastes of Parisian audiences had moved on from Massenet’s old-fashioned contribution and it is not too surprising that the concerto, despite its charms, never found a place in the repertory.
from notes by Stephen Coombs © 1997