Bronsart, Hans von
Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor Op. 10 (Piano Part)
(b. Berlin, 11. February 1830 – d. Munich, 3. November 1913
Info about the work:
Composer, pianist, and conductor Hans von Bronsart, also known as Hans Bronsart von Schellendorf, was born in Berlin on 11 February 1830. He studied at Berlin University and pursued training in composition with Siegfried Dehn and in piano with Theodor Kullak in Berlin (1849-
52) before becoming a pupil of Franz Liszt, with whom he studied at Weimar (1853-57). Bronsart was the dedicatee of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, as well as the soloist at the work’s premiere under Liszt’s baton in Weimar in January 1857. During the mid-1850s, Bronsart also made the acquaintance of figures such as Hector Berlioz and Johannes Brahms, and he devel- oped a friendship with Hans von Bülow. In early 1858, Liszt wrote to composer Felix Dräseke, “Bronsart is a very dear friend of mine; I value him as a character and as a musician.
[…] He is a friend of Bülow’s. Both names have the same initials, and for a long time Bronsart signed himself ‘Hans II.’ in his letters to me.” 1 Following several years of concert touring, Bronsart held a number of posts, serving as conductor of the Euterpe Concerts at Leipzig (1860-62), Court Pianist in Löwenberg (1860-65), Director of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Berlin (1865-
66), and Intendant for the court theatres at Hanover (1867-87) and at Weimar (1887-95), as well as President of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein (1888-98). Bronsart’s compositions in- clude the F-sharp-minor Piano Concerto, op. 10; a G-minor Piano Trio; the Frühlings-Fantasie, op. 11 (score recently reissued by Musikproduktion Höflich as No. 1147 in the Repertoire and Opera Explorer Study Scores series); a cantata entitled “Christmarkt”; Der Corsair, an unpub- lished opera on a text by Byron; two symphonies, both lost; a string sextet; and some solo piano pieces. Bronsart passed away on 3 November 1913 in Munich.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, given his training and the circles in which he moved, Bronsart was closely aligned with the ideals of the “New German School,” ideals most famously represented by composers such as Liszt, Richard Wagner, and Berlioz. These included a loosening of tra- ditional formal structures and harmonic language and, in some cases, innovative orchestral ef- fects, all serving the purpose of allowing for greater levels of expressivity, often with the aim of conveying an extra-musical program or narrative. Bronsart defended these ideals in his Musi- kalische Pflichten (Musical Duties), a thirty-two page pamphlet published in Leipzig in 1858. Although works such as the Frühlings-Fantasie exhibit many of these traits, the F-sharp-minor Piano Concerto is in many ways more traditional in conception, historically suggesting to critics the influence of such composers as Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin.
The Piano Concerto, op. 10, was published in 1873 with a dedication to the composer’s wife, Ingeborg Bronsart (née Starck), a Swedish pianist and a composer in her own right, who had likewise been one of Liszt’s pupils. Beginning with a concert in Amsterdam in January 1873, Hans von Bülow performed the Concerto as soloist on numerous occasions through December 1880.
2 (He was known to perform Bronsart’s G-minor Piano Trio as well.) Among these performances was a concert on 24 June 1878, at the Erfurt Music Festival featuring not only Bülow at the keyboard, but Liszt himself at the podium. 3 Meanwhile, in a performance by pianist Fritz Hart- vigson on 30 September 1876, the Concerto and its composer had been introduced to an English audience at the Crystal Palace in London. The work’s American premiere took place in Boston, where the Concerto was performed by soloist B. J. Lang and the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra, conducted by Carl Zerrahn, on 25 March 1880. On the whole, the work was well received by audiences in Germany and abroad.
Broadly speaking, the Concerto adheres to the traditional three-movement form. In the lively sonata-allegro movement that opens the work (Allegro maestoso), however, the initial tutti, rather than constituting a full orchestral exposition as we would expect in a Classical concerto, is lim- ited to an abbreviated statement of fourteen measures, creating little delay before the entrance of the soloist, who assertively takes on the militant-sounding main theme. Within measures, the piano begins to articulate a descending series of trills that recalls a passage from the opening of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, also maestoso (cf. Bronsart’s mm. 20ff with Brahms’s mm. 8ff). Following an almost nocturne-like passage (beginning at m. 56) in C-sharp minor and a more quick-paced espressivo con grazia, Bronsart continues, as convention would suggest, with a lyrical theme group in the work’s relative major key (A major), and then with development and recapitulation. In the latter, the nocturne-like passage reappears in E-flat minor and the lyrical second theme proper returns in the tonic major key, in which the movement comes to a close. Although the soloist provides much embellishment throughout, a proper cadenza is lacking at the customary place just before the movement’s conclusion.
The serene, lyrical, second movement (Adagio ma non troppo) opens with strings in D-flat ma- jor, enharmonically respelling the dominant key of the work. After eight measures, the soloist enters dolce espressivo, stating his main thematic material first in D-flat and then, with occasion- al interjections from the orchestra, beginning to develop that material while leading it through a series of shifts to other keys. A brief transitional passage leads to the introduction of the brass and a broad secondary orchestral theme in E major (beginning at m. 37). The soloist soon takes over, however, briefly recollecting and further developing his own main theme (beginning at m. 45) before leading into free transitional material that eventually culminates in a recapitulation of the movement’s opening orchestral phrase in its original D-flat major, with the strings now accom- panied and doubled by the piano (beginning at m. 64). With the addition of the brass once more, the same texture is then employed for a return of the sweeping secondary theme, corresponding, as before, to a shift from flats to sharps, but now in B major, rather than in E (beginning at m.
72). In the final measures of the movement, the soloist again takes the lead. The music becomes espressivo and extremely quiet, recalling once again the soloist’s main theme for the movement. The Adagio comes to rest in C-sharp major, the enharmonic equivalent of the key in which the movement began and the dominant key of the Concerto, thus providing harmonic preparation for the beginning of the finale.
Returning us to F-sharp minor, the final movement (Allegro con fuoco) is a lively tarantella. The soloist takes the lead from the outset, introducing the fiery refrain, which is subsequently repeated in part by the orchestra and then developed, with the soloist regaining prominence. The orchestra introduces a brief fanfare-like episode in A major (beginning at m. 116) before refrain- based material returns for further development in the piano. As the pianist continues with refrain- related figuration, the lyrical melody originally heard in A major in the work’s initial movement now returns in the strings, initiated by a solo cello (cf. mm. 100ff of the first movement with mm.
209ff of the finale). Short snatches of the fanfare-like episode and the refrain theme alternate in the orchestra, leading into a fuller reprise and development of the fanfare by orchestra and then soloist. A more extensive rendering and development of the zestful refrain material follows, ini- tially featuring the high winds (beginning at m. 313), but dominated largely by the piano. As in the Concerto’s earlier movements, however, there is no cadenza in the traditional spot preceding the orchestral close. Although minor-mode works of the period not infrequently conclude with a “transcendent” shift to the tonic major (as does the first movement of this piece), the final meas- ures of the Concerto remain in the minor mode, with material derived from the refrain.
Jacquelyn Sholes, Ph.D., Boston University
1 Franz Liszt to Felix Dräseke, Weimar, 10 January 1858, in Letters of Franz Liszt, ed. La Mara, trans. Constance Bache (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894), 1:355-56.
2 For additional information on Bülow’s performances of the Concerto (including dates, locations, and additional works on each program), see the “performance chronology” that appears as an appendix to Kenneth Birkin, Hans von Bülow: A Life for Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). See also pp. 196, 203, 270-71, 272, 276, and 288 on individual performances, including reception.
3 One review of this concert may be found in Dwight’s Journal of Music 38/10 (17 August 1878), 284-85.
For performance material please ask Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, Munich.