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Advice on writing a piano concerto?

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I am a pianist so I know how to make a piano piece sound good. And writing a piano concerto has always been one of my dreams as a composer. Now I know the typical first movement form of a concerto. It is basically a modified sonata form with 2 expositions instead of just 1. One for the orchestra without the soloist and one where the concentration is on the soloist. Other than that, it is like a typical symphonic movement. Now I have been given quite a bit of advice on writing symphonies. One of the pieces of advice that I was given was to write a concerto first because the orchestra in a concerto is smaller. Another was to basically figure out a motif and then go all Beethoven's 5th on it, basing the entire symphony on that 1 motif, like Beethoven did with his 5th symphony.

But I was wondering, since I am a pianist and more familiar with composing for piano, should I write the piano exposition first and then the orchestral exposition for my first piano concerto? Or should I stick to the standard orchestra first, then soloist?

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Try everything. Just write music instead of thinking too much about it. There's no real "rule" how you should write a piano concerto, unless you're specifically copying someone.

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22 hours ago, SSC said:

Try everything

That's it really. Listen to other concertos and see what they do.

The sonata form with double exposition was most commonly used in the Classical period. Remember that this form was laid out hundreds of years ago, so you don't have to stick to it. My most commonly used form for a concerto is a sonata form, with an altered recapitulation and a long coda (which includes the cadenza.)

If you are a pianist, then your piano writing will be good, so this will help you come up with ideas.

On 5/19/2019 at 11:23 PM, caters said:

Now I have been given quite a bit of advice on writing symphonies. One of the pieces of advice that I was given was to write a concerto first because the orchestra in a concerto is smaller.

I'm not quite sure about this. The concerto is based around contrast, and the symphony around unity. The point about the orchestra being smaller can, in some cases, be valid though.

Good luck with both your concerto and your symphony!

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I recently completed a flute concerto that will be premiering in the fall. A few things I can share off the top of my head:

 

  • I think it's unwise to write the piano part and orchestral part as two separate entities/two separate sessions. One thing I learned while writing was that you need to give the soloist time to breathe. Both in the literal sense, and also from the standpoint of the audience.  The ear tires from listening to the same type of sound after awhile, so the best way to keep the ear interested is to change up the sound. When you listen to great concertos (of any instrument), there will be sections heavy on the solist, sections where the soloist and orchestra play together as a "unit", and then purely orchestral sections. Those breaks are important, for everyone involved.
  • Write to the strengths of your soloist. If it's you, then write to your own strengths! My solist has a very good technical capacity, and also has a very strong tone in the lower register, so I was sure to make it technically challenging and wasn't afraid to write some passages down low. Some people are better at shaping long musical phrases, some are better at extended techniques, it's good to sort of "tailor" the music to what they're good at.
  • If you personally aren't the soloist, don't be afraid to consult them during the process. Maybe some things are too challenging for them, or maybe they have suggestions on how to make something flow better. You'll learn a lot along the way! 
  • Speaking of register, another reason I don't think it's wise to write the piano and orchestra parts separately is precisely because of orchestration. You want to leave space in the orchestra to let the soloist shine through. In my case, this meant not having a lot of flute parts (as in the ones sitting in the orchestra), and generally avoiding countermelodies/accompanying figures in the same register as the solo. In your case, you have the entire piano at your fingers, which is both a pro and a con. The pro being it's a lot more flexible in terms of register, the con being you can easily go crazy and write thick passages that will come out muddy if the whole orchestra is playing something too contrary. I think writing them separately would be too confusing, you might think while writing the piano part "oh, I should do this in the orchestra", but most likely forget it by the time you get to writing the orchestra.

These are all of course tip more on technical things and less about the actual act of writing music. As the others said, try everything and see what sticks. Don't overthink things, and of course have fun with it!

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