Slow Piano - The Art of the Slow Movement
“I noticed that in concerts...where classical music is not so well known, it is through the slow movements that people would be more immediately touched" -Elizabeth Sombart, Pianist. Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.Read more…
The slow movement is often the place where we find composers at their most lyrical, expressive, intimate, reflective or mysterious, yet in the great piano concertos and sonatas these musical gems can be overlooked by the drama and excitement of the outer movements. Of course, it is usually the composer’s intention to captivate the audience in the opening movement to ensure they will stay in their seats and the final movement aims to leave the audience always wanting more.
From Bach’s keyboard concerto BWV 974, an exquisite example of Baroque music making, to Ravel’s G major concerto and the introspective, soulful atmosphere of its slow movement, quite remote from the bustle of the first movement, the slow movement of a piano concerto or sonata is music of profound beauty, meditation, and deeply-felt emotion.
“That flowing phrase!”, he said, “How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!” -Ravel on the slow movement of his G major concerto
In the classical-era piano concerto and sonata the slow movement is traditionally the middle movement of the work, providing a period of repose or reflection. In Mozart’s hands, the slow movement is often intensely lyrical, full of beautiful operatic arias, sublime expression and intimacy. Beethoven of course rather disrupted this tradition: in his ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (Op 27 No. 2), he placed the slow movement first and created a twilight first movement of music which demonstrates the tension between the composer’s forward vision and the simplicity of the classical ideal, the use of thematic material and texture beautifully demonstrated in that opening melody. Meanwhile, in the slow movement of his fourth piano concerto, the piano part “tames” the fierce orchestra, and the result is magical.
In the romantic piano concertos and sonatas of Schumann and Brahms, for example, we find outpourings of the composers’ most personal feelings (the slow movement of Brahms’ first piano concerto is a love letter to Clara Schumann which seems to express someone destined for loneliness and disappointment stepping into the dream world which is the only place where they can declare their true feelings).
Through their slow movements, the composers truly speak to us, they express their innermost feelings and thoughts, opening their hearts to create music which has universal messages, of sorrow, pain and consolation, hope and desire, love and peace. In these movements, time seems to stand still, holding us in suspense and allowing pause for reflection.
“It is a Romance, calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot that calls to mind a thousand happy memories.” -Frédéric Chopin, on the slow movement of his first piano concerto