Piano Concerto No. 2 (Shostakovich)

Piano Concerto No. 2 (Shostakovich)

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102, by Dimitri Shostakovich was composed in 1957 for his son Maxim's 19th birthday. Maxim premiered the piece during his graduation at the Moscow Conservatory. It is an uncharacteristically cheerful piece, much more so than most of Shostakovich's works.


The work is scored for solo piano, three flutes (third doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, timpani, snare drum and strings.


The concerto lasts around 20 minutes and has three movements, with the second movement played attacca, thereby moving directly into the third (although the second movement does come to an acceptable resolution in C minor, such that the third movement is not entirely necessary to bring the music to a conclusion):

#:The jolly main theme of the first movement is played by the bassoon, which is soon accompanied by the clarinets and oboes. The piano enters unobtrusively with an answering theme, played as single notes in both hands an octave apart. Soon, the piano picks up the pace with the British sea shanty melody 'Drunken Sailor'. The music slows gradually until it's going almost nowhere, when a blast from the orchestra leads into tumultuous and jumping octaves in the lower piano register while the orchestra plays the original piano melody "fortissimo". This section is marked by the occasional appearance of the soloist in the upper register playing the 'What shall we do with a drunken sailor' theme, as well as tumbling chromatic chords and runs. The piano builds in a triplet pattern to introduce the recapitulation of the main theme in a triumphant "tutti". At the climax, everything comes to a silent pause, and the piano comes in with an almost fugue-like counterpoint solo. After a minute of the fugue, the orchestra comes back in playing the melody in the high winds. The orchestra builds on the main melody while the piano plays scales and tremolos, which lead into a joyous few lines of chords and octaves by the piano, with the main theme finally resurfacing and bringing the movement to a bouncy close.
#:The second movement is far more subdued and grim, somewhat more characteristic of Shostakovich. The strings start gently in C minor, with a short introduction before the piano comes in with a beautiful, mournful triplet theme in C major. Although it remains slow throughout, and with a comparatively small range, it is marked by the recurrence of two- or four-on-three rhythms, as well as the remarkable amount of expressiveness available for such a seemingly easy piece.
#:The finale is a lively dance in duple time, making much use of pentatonic scales and modes. Soon, the second theme is introduced, in 7/8 time, with the piano accompanied by balalaika-like pizzicato strings. This carries on for a short time before a new, cadenza-like theme is introduced, back in duple time, with arpeggios and semiquaver runs. These three themes are then developed and interwoven before a final statement of the 7/8 theme and finally a virtuoso coda in F major.


This concerto is sometimes dismissed as an unimportant work by the composer, especially in comparison to some of his symphonies. In a letter to Edison Denisov in mid-February 1957, barely a week after he had finished work on it, the composer himself wrote that the work has "no redeeming artistic merits". It is suggested that he wanted to pre-empt criticism by deprecating the work himself (having been the victim of official censure numerous times), and that it was actually meant to be tongue-in-cheek.


Despite his dismissal of the concerto, the composer performed it himself various times, and recorded it along with his first concerto. Both are played at fast speeds that are rarely matched in modern recordings, and they show off the composer's pianistic skill rather well.

Maxim's own son, Dmitri Maximovich Shostakovich, has also recorded the piece, with his father conducting. Identical in bearing to his famous grandfather, Dmitri the younger also matches his grandfather's frenetic speed and expression very closely. Other recordings include those by Leonard Bernstein as soloist and conductor for Columbia Records and by Marc-André Hamelin for Hyperion Records.

In the Disney movie "Fantasia 2000" - Yefim Bronfman plays the concerto's first movement (Allegro) as the story teller of "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", by Hans Christian Andersen, he also recorded both of the concertos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.


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