We finish our whistle-stop tour of piano concertos with a brief visit to twentieth century France. There were earlier concertos or concertos-like pieces penned by French composers – César Franck’s Variations symphoniques and Camille Saint-Saëns’ no less than five piano concertos come to mind. But, while these nineteenth century pieces have retained a sporadic place in concert programmes, it’s the two works for the medium by Ravel that seem most performed and recorded (particularly the G-major concerto – its CD list contains the names of most of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s well-known concert pianists!). Both works were written between 1929 and 1931 with the – commissioned – D-major concerto being finished first.
The pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm in the First World War had asked several distinguished composers (Strauss, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Britten and Korngold among others) to write concert works for left-handed pianist and orchestra; this one movement D-major concerto was Ravel’s contribution. The work is – unsurprisingly – dedicated to Wittgenstein.
The G-major piece is a light hearted, three movement, work showing the influence of both jazz (this was the 1920s/30s after all!) and the composer’s native Basque folk music; it’s dedicated to Marguerite Long who gave the first performance.