On April 27th 1913, the pianist and student at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, M. A. Schmidthof, committed suicide. He addressed his farewell letter to Sergei Prokofiev, who was deeply shocked by the death of his close friend. The composer later dedicated four works to his memory – among them the 2nd Piano Concerto. Its unusual forms and emotional complexity (by the standards of Prokofiev’s earlier works) is probably only partly due to the death of his friend: not least, he intended it as a reply to attacks that had been made on his sensationally successful, but also slightly superficial 1st Piano Concerto. In any event, the premiere created an immense scandal, and the popularity of this work even now, has not approached that of the 1st or 3rd concertos. In spite of its lack of success, Prokofiev published a two piano transcription in 1914, and ten years later, when the original manuscript was destroyed by fire, went to the trouble of reconstructing the orchestral score – of course with revisions – on the basis of the two piano version. This new version was performed for the first time in public in May 1924, with the composer at the keyboard, conducted by Serge Koussewitzky.
The construction of the first movement justifies to a degree accusations levelled against it for "futuristic impertinence." The mood of the broad, romantic principal theme is thrown into question by the grotesque harmonies of the second theme. In the central section, we hear a cadenza from the soloist that grows to such extent that it is virtually an independent movement. In the scherzo, the piano prevails from first bar to last, with continuous passage work, making it effectively an etude. The third movement also begins unexpectedly. It is entitled an "Intermezzo", which confounds our expectations for a three movement concerto work. Also, the music itself is not in the least intermezzo in character. Rather, it summons to mind a procession of blundering giants. The impudence of the piano entry seems to suggest that the pianist is mocking the audience, who are expecting some kind of slow movement between the scherzo and finale. The second theme of the closing movement, stylised to something like a folk song, is memorable. In the centre of the movement, there is again a lengthy cadenza.