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Piano Concerto No 7 in C minor 'Pathétique', Op 93
Although the first movement of the Piano Concerto No 7 (‘Pathétique’) in C minor was heard in May 1835 in London, the first performance of the complete concerto took place in October that year in Leipzig, where Mendelssohn had recently taken the directorship of the Gewandhaus concerts. It was dedicated to his old friend the pianist and composer Meyerbeer. The London premiere was given in May 1836, with performances also in the two following years. Of the Leipzig concert the usually restrained Moscheles wrote to his wife ‘The crowd was immense … the Concertos Fantastique and Pathétique were received with immense applause, and my duet with Felix created a regular furore.’ Mendelssohn sent her his own account, saying ‘the room was the most crowded we have had for years – the shouts of applause began directly after his Concerto Fantastique, and the noise lasted throughout the evening. And Moscheles in his extempore playing produced some things bordering on witchcraft, which to this day I have not been able to understand, although he pretends they were nothing.’

This is another carefully organised and highly original work, the second of the three movements being a scherzo and Andante entwined together. Schumann noted ‘The formal divergence from others’ and the composer’s own previous concertos will strike everyone immediately’, while Moscheles himself wrote of it in 1853 ‘To the best of my belief, it is not only in advance of my former compositions in form and style, but a mature work, and yet it has remained comparatively unnoticed!’

The Allegro maestoso opens with a muffled staccato bass over which a clarinet melody arches upwards. It is complemented by the expressive fall of the major-key second subject, presented by the orchestra and taken up by the soloist. The piano introduces a more humorous dotted-rhythm tune, and then embarks on a passage in driving but expressive semiquaver-rhythm, leading eventually to the development section – though as often with Moscheles the normal boundaries of the classical ‘sections’ are deliberately ambiguous. From this point the tonality starts to slip its classical bonds, edging through D flat up into D and then into F minor. It sounds like the recapitulation, but we remain gloriously unsure until the repeat of the second subject in the home key of C major. The minor key at length returns, the staccato bass is heard and a fascinating coda of tranquilly flowing septuplets leads to the orchestra’s resolute conclusion.

A staccato bass again introduces the second movement, an audaciously original mingling of scherzo and slow movement into one. After the A flat scherzo opening, a ballad-like Andante interrupts in B, the scherzo resumes in D, and finally the andante re-enters in C, slides up into D flat and astonishingly subsumes the scherzo into its own being. It builds in agitation, and a pregnant pause ushers in the startlingly closely related C minor finale. This is somewhat of a homage to Beethoven, but the contrasting second theme tellingly foreshadows Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Very Schumannesque too is the contrapuntal blending of this theme with a nobly rising orchestral motif. (Schumann always greatly admired Moscheles as composer and pianist, although interestingly he greeted Moscheles’ only Symphony of 1829 with extremely faint praise, not imagining that it foreshadowed his own future symphonic writing.) The concluding pages of the concerto are sprinkled with some of Moscheles’ most passionate directions – con furia, con abbandono, frenetico and finally con disperazione.

from notes by Henry Roche © 2003

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Details for CDA67385 track 8
Recording date
2 September 1999
Recording venue
ABC Odeon, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Recording producer
David Garrett & Howard Shelley
Recording engineer
Andrew Dixon
Hyperion usage
  1. Moscheles: Piano Concertos Nos 1, 6 & 7 (CDA67385)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: May 2003
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