So I'm currently studying piano concerti, and I'm kind of stuck on a certain aspect of it.

How has the piano CONCERTO evolved from the classical period to the romantic period?

I always find comparing two different periods difficult, especially after I've listened to so much of the music now that it's all starting to blur together.

I'm mainly focusing on Mozart and Tchaikovsky, but any general pointers would be much appreciated.

  • 3
    Do you mean how has the piano evolved in terms of the instrument's design and construction, or how has the art of playing it evolved?
    – user1044
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 13:53
  • Liszt invented a few things like the profile view of the pianist.
    – maddyblue
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 17:01
  • Sorry guys, I forgot to say concerto again in the second line, added now.
    – Jace Man
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 13:39

3 Answers 3


How did the piano as an instrument evolve construction wise? Firstly, higher degree of accuracy in tools allowed for high quality instruments. You could put higher tensions without destroying the frame, etc etc. They also expanded the size of the keyboard and there were a ton of things done with tuning (an excellent intro to such things being "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (And Why You Should Care)"), all of which made it a much more useful instrument to play.

How did the piano evolve in terms of ideal performance? Well, for one you could look at the history of the Concerto, how it evolved and what was expected of a performer (I'm talking the origins, not the exact comparison you're using). There also were more pianists by Tchaik's day -- the pianoforte was brand new for Mozart! Thanks to all of the newfangled construction techniques and adding in it's popularity, a piano became The Thing to have in one's parlor, and have your womenfolk learn to dabble gracefully upon it. Because there were more performers, there were more pieces written. Because there were more pieces written, performers became more adept and required more difficult pieces that were then written, etc etc. It goes on.

Liszt is an entertaining example of the piano's performance requirements as opposed to Mozart's -- Liszt was virtuoso and knew it. He was also one of the first to make the piano an instrument that it was possible to be virtuoso OF.

Long and short -- it changed a lot. If you're looking at performance, I'd compare Mozart and Liszt. If you're looking at construction, you've got a more entertaining and less well lit road to follow.

  • These are some really good pointers, and yeah, I forgot to add the word concerto, so I was talking about the performance. Either way, thank you heaps for your detailed answer!
    – Jace Man
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 13:41

The evolution of the concerto form (for all instruments) follows the evolution of the musical forms in general. For example, the Classical period favored structure, intellectualism, rationalism, and economy of means; the Romantic period, which closely followed the Classical period, is the direct antithesis and reaction to the relative constraints of the Classical period. The hallmarks of the Romantic movement are emotion over rationalism, freedom over structure, more versus less, etc. In your examples of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, when listening, can you hear the smaller orchestra, the structure of the musical episodes (sonata allegro form), the limited range of the piano, and the relative compactness of his keyboard writing? Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, is grand, dramatic, much more contrast in dynamics, longer, and the structure (although still following the traditional sonata allegro form) is less obvious and less necessary. Remember also that, through natural human and industrial evolution, our lifestyle and social norms change, too. Think of how different we are today vs. 1912-1962.

In terms of performance, depending on how you define virtuosity, the piano writing and performance was no less technically demanding in the Classical (or even Baroque) than in the Romantic period. (Think again of an exposed ankle during Downton Abbey's days, vs. a string bikini today.) However, the soloist was still very much a part of the ensemble (for the most part), in that the interplay between the soloist and the orchestra was very much supportive of the other, rather than against each other. In the late Classical and most of the Romantic period, the idea of the struggle and drama of David vs. Goliath was more apparent. It's almost as if one were fighting the other, with the goal of vanquishing the other. And, as the previous poster pointed out, the soloist became the star of the concerto, and Liszt's long hair and dramatic mannerisms became part of the public's image of a concerto performance.


I think the biggest evolution of the piano concerto came through Beethoven's attempts to make the structure of the piano concerto more "tightly bound," particularly through the linking of the last two movements in the "Emperor" Concerto. He was also responsible for the evolution of piano as prima inter pares (first among equals) with the orchestra to the more modern conception of piano versus orchestra.

Liszt's main contribution was to link piano concertos into a single continuous movement; Brahms was the first to really expand the concerto beyond three movements.

But I keep going back to the Fourth Concerto of Beethoven—the opening for solo piano alone, followed by the slow movement of piano versus unaccompanied strings. I think that's the moment when the piano concerto progressed from classical to Romantic. That was perhaps the biggest single "quantum leap" in the evolutionary process.

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