A very young composer
The work was created between October 1829 and February 1830, when Chopin was around 20 years old. The full name of the piece is Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21, indicating that this is Chopin’s twenty first composition (from Latin opus – work). The first composer to use this designation was Biagio Marini (1617), while Ludwig van Beethoven was the first to use the opus number in a systematic manner. A
Though Chopin’s Concert in F minor was composed before the Concerto in E minor (though in the same year), it is called the second one due to the higher opus number.
The first concerts after the musical studies
The Concert in E minor was published in 1833 in Paris and Leipzig and the F minor only in 1836. Both concerts are the first significant pieces composed by Chopin after he completed his musical studies. They were first presented in Chopin’s’ sitting room in the Krasinski Palace (orchestral parts were then organized for chamber ensembles), to the elite of musical Warsaw and the closest friends and family of the composer, and later to a broader audience on the scene of the National Theatre in Warsaw. The rehearsal in the sitting room was held on 3 March 1830 and the long-awaited premiere (a sell-out by all accounts) of the Concerto in F minor on 17 March 1830. Solo parts were played by the composer himself and the orchestra was directed by Karol Kurpinski.
The Concert was met with an enthusiastic reception of the audience and critics alike. Maurycy Mochnacki in the Polish Courier wrote: "the adagio in Mr Chopin’s concert is a unique work of an extraordinary musical genius.[...]Indeed! He who starts so young, will make his name known far and wide".
The second concert was held in the National Theatre already on 22 March. During the performance of Listen to Concerto in F minor, Chopin was displeased with the tone of his piano and decided to change the instrument. The new piano, this time to the composer’s full satisfaction, was provided by a Russian general, Diakov. During the second concert, apart from the above mentioned piece, Chopin also played Rondo à la Krakowiak and improvised during the encores. The artist was strongly urged to give a third concert, but was busy working on new pieces and tired with the praise that he considered exaggerated.
Chopin's Brilliant Composition
The Concerto in F minor was composed in accordance with the conventions of the genre introduced by Mozart, though adopted by Chopin directly from Johann Nepomuk Hummel, called brillant. It was a style of piano music popular in the first half of the 19th century. However, Chopin, in both his concertos, took the style to its apogee, infusing it with a new, romantic dimension.
The concerto is split into three movements: I Maestoso in F minor, II Larghetto in a key relative to F minor, i.e. A-flat, III Allegro vivace in F minor. The first of these movements is composed as a sonata with double exposure: the piece is first played by the orchestra, and later by the soloist where the solo part is much more elaborate. The second movement of the concerto, which is a nocturne, plays a significant part in the composition. The final of the concerto, played as a rondo, features motives inspired by Polish folk dances. It exhibits the elements of the Polish mazurek and kujawiak. In the third movement, the violin play col legno (which means by striking the string with the stick of the bow) and accompany the piano playing the melody of the mazurka. Some accuse the composer of failure to achieve balance between the orchestra part and the solo piano part which is slightly longer. However, we have to bear in mind that Frederic was just shy of 21 years at the time and had no prior experience with an orchestra. However, the sheer excellence of the piano party more than makes up for this imbalance – this is attested by the fact that arguably every significant pianist has this concerto in his repertoire.
A Real Romantic Piece
Chopin’s piece became the starting point for the romantic concerto. As Chopin openly admitted in his letters to his friend, Tytus Woyciechowski, this piece was inspired by his feelings for Konstancja Gladkowska, a singer.
"Because I, maybe luckily, already have my ideal, whom I faithfully, though silently, have been serving for the last six months, whom I dream of, in whose memory I have composed the adagio for my Concerto... "– this is what the composer wrote in his letter to his friend on 3 October 1829.
Konstancja met Chopin on 21 April 1829, during a concert of the soloists of the Warsaw conservatory, where she was learning to sing tutored by Carlo Soliva. She was Chopin’s first love, though their relationship only lasted 18 months and ended after Chopin left for Paris – she and Chopin corresponded for another year, to ultimately lose all contact.
The Concerto in F minor published only in 1836 was dedicated to Delfina Potocka, just as the presented edition autograph from 1830. Delfina Potocka, dubbed the muse of Polish romanticism, was a long-time friend of Chopin. She met him in Dresden in 1830, probably in her mother’s house, and in 1832 she settled in Paris were she became a pupil of the composer. Their close relations often fuelled gossip regarding their alleged love affair – in mid-20th century love letters to support this claim were even manufactured.
Chopin’s Only Semi-Autograph
The presented work was preceded by a draft made on grey-green paper with 14 staffs per page, text on 1-4 staff. It contains a few bars of the solo figuration and a few bars of the piano transcription of the orchestra part.
The concerto in question was commemorated by Chopin himself on a semi-autograph in 1830, before it was officially printed. It was partially written down by the composer, and partially be an unknown copyist. The great Polish artist wrote down the solo part, the piano transcription and the title page: 2d Concerto. / pour le pianoforté / avec l’`accompagnement d’orchestre / dediés à Mme la Csse Delphine Potocka / née de Komar / par / Fred. Chopin / Op. 21. / Paris Schlesinger, i.e. Second piano concerto with orchestra accompaniment, dedicated to Countess Delfina Potocka née Komar, by Frederic Chopin, opus 21, Paris Schlesinger. The Schlesingers ran a publishing house in Paris – the semi-autograph was intended for this very Parisian publisher, but in time it became the property of the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house from Leipzig, hence the numerous black and round seals from its German archive. The semi-autograph was written on cream-colored vat paper with a watermark, produced by the French Blacons paper mill, with 16 staffs per page. It has 87 leaves, i.e. 72 pages. This manuscript is Chopin’s only semi-autograph of that size and such musical significance.
Through The Tough Times
The Concerto in F minor made its way to the collection of the National Library at the beginning of 1938 when it was donated by the Ministry of Denominations and Public Enlightenment along with a collection of Chopin’s other autographs and copies. The entire collection was purchased by the Polish government in 1937 from the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house. In September 1939, during the German offensive, Poles, taught by the bitter experience of the Swedish Deluge (until this day Swedish churches and museums are adorned with Polish works of art), took the valuable manuscript along with the entire collection of Chopin’s works out of Poland. The collection was first moved to London, the seat of the Polish government in exile, and then to Canada, where it was safely stored in a branch of the Bank of Montreal in Ottawa. The semi-autograph of the Concerto in F minor returned to Poland only in 1959, twenty years after it had left the country. It is currently stored in the collection of musical manuscripts of the National Library, among 20 other autographs and edition copies of Frederic Chopin. Unfortunately, other manuscripts of the composer were irretrievably lost or destroyed in the course of the war.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Frédéric Chopin - Concerto in f-minor":
- Fryderyk Chopin, Piano Concerto No.2, in F minor, Op.21 facsimile edition published by Yushodo Co., 2005
- Fryderyk Chopin - Koncert f-moll facsimile edition published by Orbis Pictus, 2005
- Fryderyk Chopin - Koncert f-moll facsimile edition published by Bernardinum Wydawnictwo, 2005