Liszt’s two piano concertos evolved side by side over two decades, originating during his years as a traveling artist and completed after the move to Weimar. (Liszt also started a third piano concerto at the time; this work, in E-flat major like the well-known No.1, was reconstructed in 1988 by Jay Rosenblatt and first performed in 1990.) The earliest sketches for the A-major concerto date from September 1839, but Liszt did not complete the work until 1849, and made further revisions, sometimes extensive ones, through 1861.
The concerto form favored by Liszt consists of a single movement, whose inner divisions may take on the characteristics of a slow movement or a scherzo. The second concerto’s main idea, an intimate, lyrical melody, is stated at the very beginning by the woodwind and immediately repeated by the piano. It is contrasted with a more energetic second subject that evolves into an Allegro agitato assai section. This second subject later reappears thoroughly “tamed” as an expressive string melody, preparing the return of the main theme as a quintessentially romantic cello solo, accompanied by the piano. The following Allegro deciso functions as a development section where both subjects are taken up simultaneously. The last portion of the concerto is a triumphal march incorporating some contrasting episodes such as a final lyrical solo and a scherzo-like Allegro animato.