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Joseph Marx: Detailed information on the Romantic Piano Concerto of 1919
(To view a large image of page one of the two piano score, just click the picture below!)
Among the most striking works displaying Marx's attitude as a composer is the Romantic Piano Concerto in E Major. Completed in 1919, its rough outlines had already been written down by 1916. Even the title points to the musical viewpoint of its creator. The critics agreed with the composer's goal, as can be seen from an artictle in the "Reichspost" of February 7th, 1921: "In this time of dry intellectualism, which unfortunately has also infected the holy kingdom of art with its destructive poison, it takes courage to go public with a romantic piano concerto, paying homage to beauty ideals of times bygone while ignoring the haughty laughter of the new musical devil-worshippers with their admiration for all sounds ugly. With his new creation, Joseph Marx has done this, and thus he has achieved a cultural act for which all those will be grateful to whom art is still sacred and who see it as the highest aim of the artist to create beauty and who seek an ethic content inside the esthetic-formal element..."
Following the completion of his orchestral choral works of 1910 and 1911, Marx initially had only written songs and chamber, organ and piano music. The Romantic Piano Concerto started off his most important orchestral music phase which lasted until 1932. The work was premiered in a version for two pianos (which also is available in UE) in the summer of 1919, performed jointly by Marx and a pianist from Triest, Angelo Kessissoglu, while the orchestral premiere on January 19th, 1921 was given by the Viennese Symphony Orchestra under Ferdinand Löwe. Later, Marx also conducted the concerto himself. Incidentally, several reports say that Marx frequently conducted, not only his own works like the orchestral songs and his piano concertos, but sometimes also orchestral works of other composers. Among the most famous pianists who have performed the Romantic Piano Concerto is Walter Gieseking who was also the soloist of the world-premiere of Castelli Romani and frequently performed this second piano concerto over the next two decades.
The Romantic Piano Concerto, spanning about 40 minutes, can essentially be described as a generously arranged symphonic duet between piano and orchestra. The piano part can clearly be identified as a product of the 20th century, and it requires great virtuosity and staying power of the pianist. Still, the piano does not function as a separate entity, but rather seems to operate as an incorporated part of the greater symphonic architecture, where it is often used to provide distinct sparkles derivative of the impact of its colors. However, this must seem like a thankless job for most pianists, since only the discerning listener will truly understands the enormous power required by the soloist. This, perhaps, is one of the main reasons for this virtuoso piece having received comparably little attention. Following a passionate emotional outburst and the expansive melodic images of the first movement ("lively"), the parallel minor key of the Andante affetuoso (rare enough, since Marx seems to have strongly preferred the Major key throughout his entire oevre) invites us into contemplation by providing a serious, polyphonic-gothic mood. The rondo-like final movement - "very lively" - contains a sprinkled Tarantella theme in the character of a scherzo with southern, rhythmic-exotic turns. It leads the work to a triumphant conclusion with hammering chords, following the reprise of one of the 1st movement's main themes.
After Marx's death in 1964, the Romantic Piano Concerto met with the same fate as almost all the composer's other orchestral works and disappeared into oblivion, until it was finally resurrected by Jorge Bolet who reported that he had discovered the score in a private music collection in the mid-seventies. Over the following decade, Bolet performed his "favorite concerto" with well-known orchestras all over the world, including Germany (Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Munich) and other parts of Europe (among them Vienna, Linz and Zagreb). Still, the most memorable performance remains the enormous success at its legendary United States premiere with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta in 1976. The vast melodiousness and refined harmonies of his scores mirror the versatile, sparkling essence of this composer. A profound lyricist and yearning optimist, he wants to share his bottomless joy of life with others. Thus, Joseph Marx who died at the age of 82 in 1964, occupies a very special place in music history as a poet of happiness, and as such he also deserves a corresponding presence in the world's concert programs.
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