Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor Opus 22


Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor Opus 22 was composed in 1868, and is widely considered his most popular concerto. Having first learnt this piano concerto when I was 15, I have performed it with orchestra no less than seven times (at the request of orchestra's artistic directors). The audience reaction is typically highly favourable (unless the pianist really messes up!)

Incredibly, the second piano concerto by Saint Saens was composed in 3 weeks. The first performance was given by the composer himself and conducted with Anton Rubinstein. The piece was not initially successful with the audience, partly due to the fact that Saint Saens did not have enough time to prepare.

The second piano concerto by Saint-Saens is in three movements. The usual structure of fast-slow-fast is replaced with slow-fast-fast. The orchestra is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, crash cymbals and strings.

The first movement is marked andante sostenuto and begins with a slow improvisation in G Minor, in the style of a Bach fantasia. This led to the comment by Zygmunt Stojowski that the concerto "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach." After this quasi-cadenza, the orchestra enters, and the melancholy first theme is played by the piano solo (this theme is from Saint-Saëns' student Gabriel Fauré's abandoned Tantum ergo motet). After the second theme, a middle development section follows with increasing degrees of animato. The recapitulation returns with the main theme in fortissimo which morphs into a long ad libitum cadenza. The movement ends as it began - with the Bach-like opening motif.

The second movement of Saint-Seans Piano concerto in G Minor is marked Allegro scherzando. Instead of a typical Adagio, we have a leggieramente scherzo in E Flat Major. The movement is energetic, and, like The Carnival of the Animals, typical of Saint-Saens' musical wit. The piano part is characterised by many flourishing semiquaver passages all over the keyboard, as is of considerable technical difficulty.

The third movement, marked Presto, is an energetic Tarantella in the key of G Minor. The music is extremely fast, featuring a strong triplet figure. The middle section contains a famous passage of seemingly neverending trills, that are a challenge to even the best pianists' memory. I have personally witnessed a famous pianist 'get lost' in this section, only to rejoin the orchestra many bars later. The movement gains in volume and ends in a flourish of G minor arpeggios.

I recently played this concerto in Cape Town with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra in May 2010. Click on the links below to listen:

Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor - Andante Sostenuto played by Jonathan Oshry

Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor - Allegro Scherzando played by Jonathan Oshry

Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor - Presto played by Jonathan Oshry




©2010 Jonathan Oshry • joshry@hotmail.com