The Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 by Camille Saint-Saëns, was composed in 1868 and is probably Saint-Saëns' most popular piano concerto. It was dedicated to Madame A. de Villers née de Haber. At the première, the composer was the soloist and Anton Rubinstein conducted the orchestra. Saint-Saëns wrote the concerto in three weeks, and had very little time to prepare for the première; consequently, the piece was not initially successful. The capricious changes in style provoked Zygmunt Stojowski to quip that it "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach."
Piano Concerto No. 2 (Saint-Saëns) Wikipedia
The piece follows the traditional form of three movements but allows for more freedom in tempo markings. Normally, the first movement is fast-paced, while the second is slower, but the first movement here is slow and the second movement has a scherzo-like quality, resulting in a form resembling a typical symphony but lacking the first movement (a form also represented by Beethoven's fourteenth piano sonata). The concerto is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, crash cymbals and strings.
The movements in the concerto are:
- Andante sostenuto (in G minor & sonata form)
The concerto begins with a piano solo playing a long improvisational introduction in the style of a Bach fantasia. After the orchestra enters, the restless and melancholy first theme is played, again by the piano solo. Saint-Saëns drew the theme from his student Gabriel Fauré's abandoned Tantum ergo motet. A brief second theme appears, followed by a middle section of increasing degrees of animato. The main theme is recapitulated fortissimo and the soloist is given a long ad libitum cadenza. The Bach-like opening motif returns in the coda.
- Allegro scherzando (in E-flat major & sonata form)
The second movement is in E-flat major and, instead of being a typical adagio, resembles a scherzo. The mercurial piano part is marked leggieramente, and the two main themes are clever and light-hearted. The energetic, delicate personality of this particular movement is characteristic of Saint-Saëns' musical wit, most famously observable in Le Carnaval des Animaux.
- Presto (in G minor & sonata form)
The concerto concludes by returning to G minor. Like the preceding movement, it moves quickly; this time the form is an extremely fast, fiery tarantella in sonata form, featuring a strong triplet figure. At presto speed, the orchestra and soloist rush tumultuously along, gaining volume and momentum and finishing in a whirlwind of G minor arpeggios.
The concerto, particularly the second movement, heavily influenced fellow French composer Gabriel Pierné's Piano Concerto in C minor in 1887.