The Concerto for Solo Piano is a three movement solo piano piece written by one of the most difficult

and virtuosic composers of the Romantic period, Charles-Valentin Alkan. Disguised as three etudes (Nos. 8, 9 and 10) from Alkan's set of 12 etudes in the minor keys (Opus 39), the Concerto for Solo Piano is generally regarded by pianists as one of the most taxing and arduous pieces for piano ever written. Not to mention, of course, the apparent 'typo' in the title; how can there be a concerto for just one solo instrument?! You wouldn't be surprised, therefore, if the piece had many different layers of music and musical terms such as 'tutti' (all orchestra playing together) and 'solo' in the sheet music. The Concerto for Solo Piano has all of these! Before we move on to the first movement, let's first look at the concerto's incredible length (which is in itself one factor contributing to the technical demands of this piece). The concerto is approximately fifty minutes in length, and the first movement alone takes up thirty minutes. Relative to other piano works, such a length seems almost out of this world. Most of Chopin's etudes take only about two minutes to play! Now let's take a look at the first movement in detail: No.8 (1st movement) 'Allegro assai' in G-sharp minor The first few bars lay down the main theme of this movement. A homophonic passage, marked quasi-trombe introduces the performance (note the 'tutti' marking, which suggests the brass section of an orchestra):

This powerful theme continues down the keyboard through a few modulations, and after a short development the second theme is introduced:

This theme is more pleasant and peaceful than the first, and therefore resembles somewhat a counterweight for the first theme, and any other virtuosic passages for that matter. We will see this theme quite often follow difficult section and vice versa. Shortly afterwards, we get to the third theme:

produced through the use of strong chords. This homophony refers slightly to the chordal first theme. A few more pages develop these three themes, and shortly we arrive to the solo part of the movement:

The molto espressivo reinforces the romantic and quasi-solo tone of this section, which features many ornaments typical of the piano (such as trills and acciacaturas) and has a slightly more improvisational theme. Unfortunately, this theme does not appear much more in the movement. The major technical device used in this movement is the scale and these happen very often in the movement. These scalic passages are often difficult and awkward, and vary greatly in notes (not to mention how fast they are). These scales can be heard clearly in recordings and performances in the quasi-solo section.

The next section starts with a marcato B-major chord and introduces an incredibly unique and unusual passage. It is hard to distinguish a melody, as the right hand plays fast scalic sequences in quintuplets and soon this leads into:

based on the third theme. Note the wild chordal jumps in the left hand, which require immense stamina and strength of the fingers from the pianist. This virtuosic section ends suddenly on a diminished 7th chord and leads to a charming arpeggio-based section:

Once again, we encounter pianistic features and ornaments, reminding us of a solo instrument amidst an orchestra. After a brief interruption by the previous virtuosic section, the arpeggio turns into a vile creature:

and we see the return of our dreaded quintuplets:

Again, we can't hear a clear melodic line, however, we are soon introduced to the second theme, and afterwards we come to a new, fourth theme in E-flat minor:

accompanied with triplets in the left-hand. This theme continues for some time, later on swapping hands, where the left hand plays the melody and the right hand the accompaniment . However, after a few pages, the theme breaks off and we come across the second theme with an ominous twist:

The right hand plays repeated G-sharps while the left hand plays the theme in low octaves. This particular section seems strikingly similar to Chopin's Raindrop Prelude. Perhaps that is where Alkan got his inspiration from? This section gets louder, swapping the G-sharps between hands, until we come to a magnificent, fortissimo section, also based on the second theme:

This incredibly difficult sequence continues for two pages and we arrive back to our previous, towering arpeggios:

until we come to the tutti section, where we find our first theme:

We soon arrive back to our quasi-solo section from the beginning of the movement (can you remember?), which introduces us to a tranquil, larger section of this movement which contains many different ideas based on the second theme. Also included midway through is a hymn-like section, which Alkan uses quite commonly in his other piano compositions:

As we listen to this charming section, we suddenly enter the first part of our dramatic, the technical difficulty this time being playing the same note very quickly with alternate hands:

Note the arpeggiated chords which create a rhythmic feel to this section. It is very difficult to execute these chords at high speed! Very soon this leads to the first theme, played through alternate chords:

Can you spot the melody line??? :) After half a minute we enter a monophonic melody line made completely out of alternate hands playing the same note twice:

And then we enter the second theme:

This time we hear a 'drone' throughout this particular rendition of the second theme, as the E-flat is played continuously between hands. Eventually we enter the third theme, with the theme being played in the higher registers of the piano in minor key with a very deep trill in the left hand:

We crescendo until we break through into a mighty third theme being played in E-flat major:

indicated by both the marcato chords in the left hand and the marcato notes in the right hand, which create a common harmonic progression. We barge through an incredible climax, which includes magnificent arpeggios in the right hand until we come to the ending, a combination of A-flat major chords in different inversions:

Alkan's first movement contains only four main themes and yet he manages to create a thirty minute long piece out of it by introducing so many different technical features such as fast running scales, chordal leaps and 3-against-2 polyrhythm (an example can be found in the last two bars of the third theme introduction score excerpt above).