Contrary to what the opus number may suggest, Fryderyk Chopin first composed the Concerto in F minor Op. 21 (late 1829 / early 1830) and worked on the Concerto in E minor Op. 11 from April to August 1830. However, the Concerto in E minor, dedicated to Friedrich Kalkbrenner, was published first, in Paris and Leipzig, in 1833, while the Concerto in F minor, dedicated to Countess Delfina Potocka, did not come out in print in Germany and France until 1836.
The two concertos were the first works of significance composed by Chopin after graduation. Both were first presented to a group of the musical elite of Warsaw and composer's friends, and later to the public in the National Theatre. The Miscellaneous column of the "Powszechny Dziennik Krajowy" [a national daily] of 25th September 1830 included a review by Stefan Witwicki, who attended the premiere of the Concerto in E minor: "Fryderyk Chopin composed his second great concerto [...] It is a work of a genius".
Both concertos clearly refer to the form and convention of concertos created in the brillant style, the style of piano music of the first half of the 19th century, composed by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ferdinand Ries, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, John Field, Ignaz Moscheles, Carl Maria Weber and, in Poland, by Franciszek Lessel and Feliks Ignacy Dobrzyński.
"The pianistic brilliance built on earlier works composed in the brillant style was taken to heights [in Chopin's concertos] and at the same time said goodbye to. It became a means of expression rather than a target in itself. Metaphorically speaking, the music of the concertos showed through Chopin's face, till then veiled by the conventions of the style." (Mieczysław Tomaszewski: Chopin. Człowiek, dzieło, rezonans. Podsiedlik - Raniowski i Ska, Poznań, 1998)
Both concertos take to perfection the means typical of the brillant style. Their solo parts are characterised by brilliance, virtuosity, variety of ornamental piano figures and showiness combined with the poetic character of the piano cantilena.
Tadeusz Zieliński, the author of a book on Chopin's life and work, writes:
"The 'Concerto in E minor' Op. 11 seems a twin work with the 'Concerto in F minor'. They are related by a similar style, concept, type of expression and numerous details, and feature similar ideas and effects in similar places. Yet there are plenty of differences, and most of them are more important than the even metre in Allegro and triple metre in finale of the first concerto as opposed to the reverse in the other one. The differences show not only in the structure of each movement but also in the overall character of the two works. 'Concerto in E minor' reveals higher maturity and workshop perfection, yet its themes are slightly more conventional in type and expression, more in line with the concertos of the time. The first concerto may have featured more original and surprising ideas. The sound and type of expression was subtler and more intimate in 'Concerto in F minor'. The new concerto is more buoyant, vigorous, radiant and massive in terms of sound, and is longer than its predecessor" (Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Chopin. Życie i droga twórcza. PWM, Kraków 1993, s. 172).
What the two concertos have in common is the style and form and, more importantly, a source of inspiration. Chopin's letters to Tytus Woyciechowski reveal that the concertos were influenced by the composer's first love. This inspiration shows particularly in the second movements (Larghettos), referred to in Chopin's letter as Adagias, which was a term commonly used at the time for all slow movements of concertos and sonatas. "Because, perhaps to my misery, I already have my perfect one whom I have, without saying a word, served faithfully for a year now, of whom I dream, in whose memory the adagio of my concerto has been put up", wrote Chopin of his love for Konstancja Gładkowska, explaining the inspiration behind Concerto in F minor.Chopin's concertos represent the type of the romantic concerto. Both have three movements, with the first movement composed in the form of a sonata with double exposition (the musical theme is first introduced by the orchestra and then taken over by the soloist). Commonly for concertos composed in the brillant style, there is no cadence at the end of the first movement, for the virtuoso character of the two pieces makes a solo performance unnecessary. The Larghettos, nocturnal in character, stand out. This is what Chopin wrote of the second movement (Romanca) of Concerto in F minor:
"Adagio of the new concerto is in E major. It is not meant to be powerful, but rather romantic, quiet, melancholic, should give the impression of a look back at a thousand loveable memories. It is like meditating in beautiful springtime, at moonlight. (The Letters of Fryderyk Chopin, prepared for print by Dr Henryk Opieński, Warsaw 1937, p. 63-64 - the letter to Tytus Woyciechowski in Poturzyna, Warsaw, 15th May 1830).
The finales of both concertos, composed in the form of rondos, contain references to Polish folk dances: the kujawiak and the masur in Concerto in F minor and the krakowiak in Concerto in E minor. Chopin had used the rhythm of the krakowiak in his earlier compositions, the Rondo à la Krakowiak Op. 14 from 1828 and the finale of the Trio for Piano in G minor Op. 8, composed in late 1828 and early 1829. The incorporation of folk rhythms and elements of modal scales has added a folk touch to both finales.
Chopin intended to compose a third concerto, as evidenced by his Allegro de Concert in A major Op. 46 for piano, published in 1841 and composed as a transformation of the first movement of the unrealised concert. However, the Allegro failed to match the public applause for the two concertos. Indeed, over the years the concertos have continued to feature in the must-play repertoire of pianists all over the world.
Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, February 2004.