Written in 1936, it was the first chamber music work to be composed by Alan Bush after "Dialectic
" for String Quartet, Op. 15. As with Dialectic
, every note of the work is organised thematically as well as harmonically and rhythmically. The tonality of the work is dorian, but with the second degree of the scale flattened.
In 1936, Hitler's Fascism was already beginning to threaten the peoples of Europe. This menacing atmosphere may perhaps explain the grave and rather turbulent expression of the work.
A substantial introduction leads to the chief allegro with two main sections ending with an agitated codetta. A bridge passage then leads to the slow movement. Then follows the development and recapitulation of the allegro. A reference back to the music of the introduction leads to an extended coda.
Both the cello and piano parts are demanding technically. The cello part covers a wide compass and the piano a variety of figuration. To the cello are allotted most of the main themes, except for the first subject of the allegro. But the work is a true duo and not a cello solo with accompaniment.
This piece, as its name implies, was composed for the purpose of adding to the very limited repertoire of cello works which give that instrument an opportunity of showing what it can do. It is not divided into separate movements. The basis of its formal structure is sonata form, from the classical treatment of which it diverges, however, in one or two important respects.
Opening with a broad introduction the principal subject, allegro moderato, in the key of D minor with E flat and E natural then appears in the piano solo. A counter-theme on the cello with contrasting note values breaks in upon the piano and an alternation between follows leading to a long climax by the piano alone. This followed by the second subject, key A minor with B flat, a flowing cantabile for the cello accompanied with staccato figuration on the piano. A coda in six-eight time and more rapid time established the tonality A.
Instead of the development proper beginning here, a slow movement emerges in F sharp minor with G Natural. This begins with a slow and tortuous melody on the lower strings of the cello accompanied by spasmodic but regular repeated chord figures on the piano. By degrees the cello rises to a register above the piano and a serene second theme, derived from the principal subject of the whole movement appears in C sharp major; this is followed in its turn by a more passionate but still very slow melodic sequence, derived from the introduction. A cadenza-like passage for the cello and a brooding dominant pedal in the key of F sharp minor introduces the development proper.
The development and recapitulation are one. The material of the introduction and the exposition section is treated at first contrapuntally, later in a more fantastic manner. A recapitulation of the climax given in the exposition to the piano alone is followed by a repetition a minor sixth higher of the passionate sequence of the slow movement. Another and more fantastic cadenza introduces the coda, in rapid compound time. The materials of the movement undergo further transformations, the work ending with a passage of unison.
The Concert Piece was first performed by Madame Juliette Alvin (cello) and Alan Bush (piano) in November 1936 in Prague. It was later chosen by the International Society for Contemporary Music, held in Paris in July 1937, to represent Great Britain and on this occasion it was played by the Hungarian cellist, Vilmost Palotai and partnered by the composer. Of this performance, Musical Opinion (August 1937), it was "in deep romantic vein, pleasant, but unwieldy in length".
Since then, the work has been played by Norina Semino, Sela Trau, Jonathan Williams and most recently, on 3 April 2000, at the Purcell Room, London, by Joseph Spooner (cello) and Catherine Summerhays (piano) at a concert of music by Bush and Copeland. In a notice in the Times, 5 April 2000, Geoff Brown wrote of the performance, "Joseph Spooner's declamatory cello was a joy to listen to in the substantial Concert-Piece of 1936, a musical mirror of the European war clouds, Catherine Summerhays's piano supporting the cello with surly percussive force".