are viewed, witnessed as well as heard," what does
the beginning of Chaikovskys Concerto no. 1 in B-flat
minor, op. 23, look like in performance? This work, described
by its composer as "a duel rather than a duet,"28
is probably the most popular piano concerto in the classical
music repertoire. In the Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso
which opens the first movement of the concerto, sight and sound
combine to tell a "relationship story" of musical
orchestra occupies the stage, an impersonal phalanx of instrumentalists
focused on its dominating leader, the conductor on his podium.
In front of them all is the soloist, commandeering an impressive
grand piano. After a subtle nod between soloist and conductor,
indicating that both are prepared for the performative ritual
ahead, the conductors upbeat triggers the orchestras
opening fanfare, a descending four-note motive in the French
horns, followed by the tutti chords that punctuate the
statement like affirming shouts. Meanwhile, the pianist waits.
Small credits the soloist with "subversive energies"
during a concertos orchestral exposition: "In the
concert hall, the sight of the soloist, still and silent, sitting
at the piano
, waiting for the moment of entry, warns
the audience of the potential for disturbance that exists behind
the bland surface of the opening tutti. His or her absence
of movement bring a rare visual element to the symphonic drama."29
(But this concertos short introduction is hardly bland!)
then, the pianist launches into sonorous D-flat major chords
bounding majestically across the keyboard, a soloistic opening
salvo equally as famous as the orchestras melodic theme.
This entrance provides an excellent example of what Kerman calls
"the physicality of the concerto,"30
for it enacts bodily, through pianistic gestures, a visual as
well as acoustic confrontation between the "concerto sound-bodies"
of the soloist and the orchestra. Delivered by the pianists
powerful arm motions, these chords convey a sense of strength
and assertion on the part of the soloist. Within a single measure
of playing, the "identity" of the soloist as a concerto
agent has been established: strong, determined, dignified. (Listen
to the opening) Though the two concerto agents seem to be at
odds herethe piano hammers out strict "vertical"
chords while the orchestra plays a sweeping "horizontal"
tunethese chords actually buttress the orchestral melody
rhythmically and harmonically.31
But in the
course of this opening section, the initial relationship of
concerto agents is called into question as the musical "battle"
unfolds. What had been an aggressive initiative on the part
of the soloist becomes a less impressive thematic reiteration
when the piano attempts to take the melody itself. Kerman considers
the piano replay of the tune an "anticlimax" because
a solo piano, despite its melodic embellishments and "twitchy
acciaccatura rhythms," cannot produce "effusive
melody" as richly as orchestral strings can: "The
piano cuts its losses, fails to finish the tune, and drifts
into a rather petulant cadenza instead."33
Though Kerman does not continue further with his descriptive
analysis, the subsequent orchestral resumption of the theme
indicates that the concertos opening musical drama has
ultimately been decided. After back-and-forth bantering with
the piano over the four-note fanfare motive, the orchestra triumphantly
regains the melody, and the original melody/accompaniment hierarchy
of the concerto agents is restored. The aggressive challenge
of the soloists opening volley has been contained by the
greater ensemble, and the struggle is over: "After the
opening tune is heard two and a half times it disappears, notoriously,
potential of this "relationship story" enacted musically
and visually through the opening of the Chaikovsky First Concerto
has not been lost on Hollywood. The Great Lie34
(1941) showcases the concerto both in its plot and on its soundtrack
to signify a similar "duel" between the female soloist-protagonist
and the social and romantic relationships she must battle. The
opening credits, for example, bring in the concerto directly
with the Warner Brothers studio logo, and the music continues
along with a visual backdrop of a pianists hands performing
the part with vigor. During this credits sequence, nine different
shots of the hands and the keyboard are spliced together, each
with dramatic over- and under-lighting to enhance the black-and-white
contrast of the grand piano, the keyboard, and the playing hands.
This will clearly be a story about a pianist, and the confrontational
musical relationships enacted by the concertos introduction
seem to forecast a similarly melodramatic narrative.
Lie is a story about the fierce rivalry between concert
pianist Sandra Kovak and Southern belle Maggie Patterson over
the affections of playboy Pete van Allen. Sandranot only
a "great pianist," but also a "great beauty"is
characterized as an impulsive and "extravagant" woman
who flouts conventions of appropriate feminine behavior. She
indulges in drunken bacchanals, and she proclaims lines like
"Oh, I shouldnt, but how I love to
do things I shouldnt!"35
Director Edmund Goulding outlined her character with three attributes:
"A piano, brandy, and men. In that order!"36
Her character embodies the transgressive liberated woman who
is nevertheless a sympathetic figure at heart: her admirable
talent and self-sufficiency balance her temperamental, irrational
As the story
opens, Sandras just-consummated marriage to Pete turns
out to be invalid, as her divorce from her previous husband
had not yet been finalized. She makes no claim to be an ideal
wife, anyway ("Youve got to be patient with me, Pete.
Ive been a bachelor so longso have you, for that
matter. I should really have been a dutiful wife and whipped
up a little home dinner for you today"). Pete wants to
remarry the day Sandras divorce becomes finalized, but
this happens to be the same day she is scheduled to play the
Chaikovsky concerto in Philadelphia. He declares his proposal
an ultimatum; she refuses to cancel her performance; he leaves
her. In a scene enacting the concertos dramatically "visual"
introduction, Sandra retreats to the piano and angrily pounds
out the opening solo chords. The orchestral melody subsequently
joins in as the scene shifts to the Philadelphia performance.
In this short (1-1/2 minute) encapsulation of the concerto,
the music cuts from the opening theme directly to Sandras
closing cadenza in the last movement, the final theme played
in unison by both piano and orchestra, and the brilliant virtuosic
passages of the coda. Sandra, an undaunted and heroic soloist,
receives a rousing ovation for her determined performance.
turns of the melodramatic plot,37
Sandra attempts to reclaim Petes love through her child,
but she is finally thwarted when he learns the truth of the deception
and chooses to stay with Maggie, his long-suffering and devoted
wife. In the closing scene, the concertos visual drama is
but with a deciding "moral." Sandra retreats to the
piano, and again pounds out the concertos defiant introductory
chords, but this time her gestures signal her resigned acquiescence
and defeat in the battle over Pete and the baby. The orchestra
enters with the opening theme as the camera falls back on Maggie
and Pete, the couple now restored to domestic bliss. This triumphant
melody underscoring the closing credits provides a musical signification
of their victory (as "orchestra") over the no-longer
heroic pianist. Both the story and the soundtrack of the film
confirm the lesson of the concerto-ritualthe reconciliation
of the appropriate relationship as part of the "social order."
Lie enjoyed a successful run in theaters and further popularized
the Chaikovsky First Concerto through its romantic story and
star actors. Mary Astor (Pictured at piano, with Davis) won
an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role as
Sandra Kovak, and at the awards ceremony she thanked two people:
her co-star Bette Davis and Chaikovsky.38
Within a year, at least two arrangements of the concertos
opening melody"as featured in The Great Lie"were
published for amateur pianists,39
and an unprecedented number of popular song adaptations of this
theme appeared: in 1941 and 1942 alone, at least ten
different popular songs based on the Chaikovsky concerto were
published. The most popular of these, "Tonight We Love,"
became a best-selling instrumental hit for dance bandleader
Freddy Martin (featuring pianist Jack Fina), and a "top
ten" success in its vocal version featuring Clyde Rogers.40
Tin Pan Alley song adaptations feature the typical trite rhymes,
in each case they assign a quality of romantic desire to the
opening tune, as in "No Greater Love"41:
greater love can I feel, Than I am feeling for you,
loves are unreal, Your love alone is always true
songs acknowledge the compositional originsor even the
non-diegetic soundtrack applicationsof
the borrowed tune, as in "Concerto for Two" (Arrangement
for "The Great Lie" pictured) 42:
when we kiss theres a sound, Like violins all around,
then the moment when we kiss again,
Our song becomes a thrilling concerto for two, for me and you.
or not this flood of popular, romanticized song settings of
the Chaikovsky concerto43
can be credited to the success of The Great Lie, still
they demonstrate the role of popular culture in establishing
and perpetuating the associations of romance and desire surrounding
the piano concerto repertoire.
the famous introduction, another moment of dramatic relationship
between concerto agents in the Chaikovsky concerto has been
appropriated for a melodramatic film story. In the development
section of the first movement, the soloist takes over a repetitive
four-note pattern from the orchestra, and plays it in rapid
octaves which then lead into a cadenza. In Kermans analysis,
this passage is another example of "replay" (like
the pianos assumption of the first theme in the concertos
opening), specifically here an instance of "aggressive"
replay. At this moment of "great confrontation" between
the concerto agents, "[the piano] finally breaks incrashes
inwith double-octave scale passages replaying material
from the orchestral climax
The increasingly heavy-handed
orchestral development is cut off, rejected violently (but so
idiomatically) by solo replay."44
It is this musical "confrontation" that serves as
the climactic moment of relationship in another cinematic dramatization
of the Chaikovsky concerto, from the 1951 French film Ombre
et lumière/Shadow and Light.45
Great Lie, Ombre et lumière is a love-triangle
story that pits a female pianist against her rival (this time,
the pianists mentally disturbed half-sister) over the
love of a man they both desire, but herein
a reversal of Sandra Kovaks fatethe pianist-protagonist
does marry him, and thus may succeed in her musical/romantic
struggle. (Simone Singoret pictured in Ombre et lumière)
As the story begins, Isabelle Leritz performs the Chaikovsky
concerto repeatedly on a concert tour, until one evening her
left hand cramps up from tension just before the octave passage.
Frightened by dizzying hallucinations during the orchestral
tutti, and physically unable to play the demanding passage
at the appropriate moment (even after the conductor repeats
the section), she suffers a nervous breakdown and collapses
onstage. Isabelle cannot counter the challenge presented by
the orchestra in this moment of "aggressive replay,"
and this precipitates her initial defeat.
further plot machinations involving mental illness and her vindictive
Isabelle determines to face her demons in public by performing
the dreaded concerto once again. In the climactic concert scene,
Caroline looks on smugly, expecting Isabelle to fail once again
in the "aggressive replay" passage, but Isabelle now
has the reassurance of her husbands love and support.
When the decisive moment arrives, she begins the octaves too
slowly, but quickly picks up tempo and conquers the passage.
After the successful performance, the happy couple celebrates
Isabelles achievement, while Caroline sulks out of the
hall, defeated in her own way by the concerto-struggle.
One of the
advertising slogans for Ombre et lumière described
Isabelle as "a famous female pianist who must choose between
fame or love." The identical catch-phrase could apply equally
well to "Concerto," a short story by Borden Chase
published in 1939 in the mass-circulation American Magazine.47
"Concerto" relates the romantic struggles endured
by the young pianist Myra Hassman as she studies underand
falls desperately in love witha temperamental Russian
virtuoso named Goronoff. In the course of her concerto-struggle,
Myra must ultimately decide between an impossible reconciliation
with her master, or renunciation of her career for true love.
In the story,
Myras climactic concert début is a performance
of the Chaikovsky concerto in Carnegie Hall, with Goronoff himself
conducting. Chase depicts the confrontational interaction of
concerto agents enacted in the opening of the work,48
and parallels the progression of Myras and Goronoffs
"relationship story" to the structure of the Chaikovsky
concerto itself, wherein a "masculine" themethe
opening melodycompetes for domination over the concertos
"feminine" themes. "In every concerto one theme
must predominate," Myra is told, "and that is the
heroicthe male theme."49
contest of thematic material hardly works as a formal analysis
of the composition (the opening supposedly "masculine"
theme is missing from the rest of the work!), but it is one example
of how musical passages can be personified, and how a relationship
between performing human agents can be represented through the
interaction of concerto agents. While the relationship between
Myra and Goronoff is hierarchical, it is initially sympathetic:
when the orchestra threatens to overwhelm the soloist in its speed
and volume, the conductor is there to empower her.51
concerto is like that, Myra. There is a beginning, then a
what you call the exposition. Then,
in the end, like a man who has lived, you see the result of
well in the performance until Myras "master"
begins to imagine a personal affront in her surpassing musical
and technical mastery of these themes; suddenly their
collaboration becomes a confrontation enacted between the two
concerto agents, soloist and orchestra. Myra, sensing Goronoffs
anger and insecurity, realizes that to gain the performance
would be to lose his love, and she attempts to convey her devotion
through the second movements "feminine" theme.52
The second movement brings Myras moment of glory, for
its opening theme is "her" theme, "the one she
loved," represented as a feminine and maternal melody.53
Myras melody con amore bears some comparison to
yet another popular song based on the same theme from the concerto,
"Darling I Love You"54:
But this performance
proves to be a decisive turning point in Myras life, for
she unintentionally alienates the jealous Goronoff, and then,
out of grief and dismay, decides to abandon her concert career
altogether. She marries George, a childhood friend who has always
loved her, and together they raise a daughter, a pianist who makes
her own Carnegie Hall debut with the same concerto years later.
Chases story would be filmed seven years after its publication
as Ive Always Loved You, but featuring the Rachmaninoff
Second Concerto instead of the Chaikovsky as the music of Myras
I love you! What more, dear, can I say?
youre lovely, Youre more than lovely, You are
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Cited in Small, 182.
This "confrontational" relationship between the
two concerto agents was not the original compositional conception.
As Norris describes it, "The opening was originally accompanied
by gentle harped chords on the piano, which matched the string
pizzicato and balanced the lightly-scored melody.
was persuaded to replace his delicate beginning with the bombastic
fortissimo chords that now form so important a part of his concertos
public image." Norris, 32.
Directed by Edmund Goulding, starring Bette Davis (Maggie
Patterson), Mary Astor (Sandra Kovak), and George Brent (Pete
The portrayal of Sandra Kovak as a pianist is pure
Hollywood invention. In the original 1936 novel by Polan Banks,
The Far Horizon, the corresponding character is an actress.
Quoted in The Motion Picture Guide, ed. Jay Robert
Nash (Chicago: Cinebooks, 1985): 1098.
Disillusioned Pete takes the opportunity of Sandras
professional dedication to run off and marry Maggie, his erstwhile
fiancée, instead. Some days later he is off on a government
expedition to South America, during which his plane crashes and
he is assumed dead. When Sandra finds herself pregnant with his
child, Maggie, his legal widow, strikes a strategic bargain with
her rival: Petes child in exchange for lifelong financial
security. The deal between the two women becomes their "great
lie" when the father does return, alive, to find Maggie caring
for the baby as her own.
Whitney Stine, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of
Bette Davis (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974).
Theme from Tschaikowskys Concerto no. 1," arranged
by Hugo Frey (New York: Robbins Music, 1941), and "Melody
from Tschaikowskys Piano Concerto in B-flat Minor,"
arranged by Ernest Haywood (London: Keith Prowse, 1942). For concert
pianists, Percy Grainger wrote a transcription of "The Opening
of Tschaikovskys B-minor [sic] Piano Concerto" (New
York: G. Schirmer, 1943).
Arranged by Ray Austin, lyrics by Bobby Worth (Hollywood:
Maestro Music, 1941). Frank Sinatra also sings a portion of the
song in Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Jose Iturbi playing
the piano. When Iturbi tells him the tune is by Chaikovsky, Sinatras
character replies: "You must be mistaken, buddy. Freddy Martin
wrote that. I heard it on the radio at least a thousand times!"
Iturbi retorts patiently, "Well, you know, those fellas,
they steal from each other!"
Lyrics by John Digges (New York: Robbins Music, 1941).
Arranged by Robert C. Haring, lyrics by Jack Lawrence (New
York: Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., 1941).
Additional published song adaptations of themes from the Chaikovsky
concerto: "Dream Melody," lyrics by Claude Lapham (New
York: Claude Lapham, 1941); "The Song Tschaikowsky Wrote,"
lyrics by Artie Jones (New York: Mills Music, 1941); "The
Stars Look Down," music by Robert Stolz, lyrics by Gladys
Shelly and Judith Byron (New York: Alfred Music, 1941); "Lilacs
and Love," by Con Carr and Ted Larrson (San Francisco: Harmony
House, 1941); "Silent Love," arranged by Carl Deis,
lyrics by Margaret Bristol (New York: G. Schirmer, 1941); "Down
Thru the Years" [a fox trot in cut-time!], lyrics by Bill
Livingston (New York: Stasny Music, 1941); "A Million Years,"
lyrics by David Ormont (New York: Congress Music, 1942); "My
Heart Is Yours," arranged by D. Savino, lyrics by Ted Fetter
(New York: J. J. Robbins, 1947).
Directed by Henri Calef, starring Simone Signoret (Isabelle
Leritz), Maria Casarès (Caroline), and Jacques Berthier
After recuperating in a sanatorium, Isabelle learns that she
is prone to a relapse of hereditary insanity. She falls in love
with a handsome young man, unaware that he has recently jilted
her half-sister Caroline. Tortured by Carolines resentful
bitterness over their affair and by the stigma of her own professional
failure, Isabelle elopes with her new lover and renounces her
"Concerto Story," The American Magazine 128
(December 1939): 53-148.
"Da, ta, ta, ta-a-ada, ta, ta, ta-a-ada,
ta, ta, ta-a-a! Myra was singing the orchestral opening!
Then, one, two, threeand one, twoher
hands caught the keys and the first crashing octave chords came
from the piano. One, two, threeand the orchestra
was following, following, playing the theme.
themethe male theme. And Myra was beating the chords back
at them. Hard and cold and very exactjust as Goronoff had
"Concerto Story," The American Magazine 58.
"Concerto Story," The American Magazine 128.
"Soon she had caught them. Caught the orchestra. They were
both racing along in a mad and wild chase. Hand in hand, each
straining to lead. But Myra forged ahead. It was her night. She
was queen. She was the soloist. And as the movement drew toward
its end, a slow, swelling sense of power crept into her body"
"And, as the movement swept on to the cadenza that would
herald the return of the first theme, Myra answered. With the
skill of a thousand nights of practice she rounded the theme and
tried to tell Goronoff he was her love" (130).
"First, a few plucked notes from the strings, delicate, hesitant,
and filled with promise. Then, like a woman coming over a far
green hill, the theme moved into being. And with its coming Myra
came of age" (130). "And she played it as a mother might
to her child. Played it through to the change of rhythm and the
change of emotion that divided the second movement. This was faster,
laughing and light. Myras hands quickened their pace. They
raced along and romped with the notes. Faster and faster and ever
so lightly. Playing for Goronoff. Playing for the master. Making
him proud, and prouder than proud" (148).
by Justin Ring, lyrics by Fred Hager and Lillie Keyser (New York:
Edward Schuberth, 1942).
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