About this work
"Among my own works, jotted down during this season , must be set down the sketch of a Piano concerto in C sharp minor on a Russian theme, chosen not without Balakirev's advice," writes Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov in his memoirs. He continues with his characteristic engaging honesty, "In all ways this concerto proved a chip from Liszt's concertos. It must be said that it sounded beautiful and proved entirely satisfactory in the sense of piano technique and style; this greatly astonished Balakirev, who found my concerto to his liking. He had by no means expected that I, who was not a pianist, should know how to compose anything entirely pianistic." Rimsky-Korsakov leaves unsaid the thought that one could learn to compose pianistic music by studying Liszt, but it will occur to most listeners when hearing this piano concerto, which proceeds on the Lisztian one-movement, one-theme model. The theme the older Balakirev suggested for Rimsky-Korsakov's use is dark and dashing. Solo winds introduce it, and the piano answers, alternating between the coruscating runs, heavily ornamented lyrical passages and explosive chords expected in these works. The slow middle section expands on various gestures in the theme while rising to a grandiose fever pitch of emotion; Rimsky-Korsakov also borrows Liszt's use of solo instruments from the orchestra, with the piano acting as accompanist. A final Allegro con fuoco section, introduced by abrupt fanfares in the brass and chords tolling like bells in the piano, uses a slightly modified version of the original theme to drive the music quickly to a grand conclusion.