Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Romanza: Andante
Movement 3: Allegro molto vivace
Paderewski began its composition in his apartment in Vienna, after his triumphant recital in Paris. ‘I wrote it in a very short time. I scored it in ’89 in Paris,’ he recalled in his memoirs, published in 1939:
When I finished [the] concerto, I was still lacking in experience. I had not even heard it performed—it was something I was longing for. I wanted to have the opinion then of a really great orchestral composer. I needed it. So without further thought I took my score and went directly to Saint-Saëns. [Saint-Saëns had been unfailingly kind to him on previous occasions, attending his concerts when he had played the French master’s Fourth Piano Concerto.] But I was rather timid … I realised on second thoughts that it was, perhaps, presumption on my part to go to him. Still I went to his house nevertheless. I was so anxious for his opinion. He opened the door himself. ‘Oh, Paderewski, it’s you. Come in,’ he said. ‘Come in. What do you want?’ I realised even before he spoke that he was in a great hurry and irritable, probably writing something as usual and not wanting to be interrupted. ‘What can I do for you? What do you want?’ I hesitated what to answer. I knew he was annoyed. I had come at the wrong moment … ‘I came to ask your opinion about my piano concerto,’ I said very timidly. ‘I ——.’ ‘My dear Paderewski,’ he cried, ‘I have not the time. I cannot talk to you today. I cannot.’ He took a few steps impatiently about the room. ‘Well, you are here so I suppose I must receive you. Let me hear your concerto. Will you play it for me?’ He took the score and read it as I played. He listened very attentively. At the Andante he stopped me, saying, ‘What a delightful Andante! Will you kindly repeat that?’ I repeated it. I began to feel encouraged. He was interested. Finally he said, ‘There is nothing to be changed. You may play it whenever you like. It will please the people. It’s quite ready. You needn’t be afraid of it, I assure you.’ So the interview turned out very happily after all, and he sent me off with high hopes and renewed courage. At that moment in my career, his assurance that the concerto was ready made me feel a certain faith in my work that I might not have had then.
Paderewski had wanted to play the premiere of the work himself but Madame Essipoff (a formidable pianist and Leschetizky’s wife at that moment) said, ‘as she had introduced some of his (Paderewski’s) compositions already in Vienna, she would like to do this concerto too.’ She had been studying it for several weeks. It was a request that Paderewski acceded to somewhat reluctantly but was, after all, ‘glad to have her do it, because I had not studied the concerto sufficiently for a great public performance.’
Thanks to the influence of Leschetizky, to whom Paderewski dedicated the work, the first performance was conducted by no less than Hans Richter, possibly the most influential European conductor of the day, and had ‘an immediate success’.
from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 1991