The Concerto for Piano and Strings is dedicated to Vladimir Kraynev, who premiered it in December 1979 in St Petersburg. The original idea for the work for piano and orchestra was for a cycle of ‘variations on a theme’. The theme, the elements of which undergo variation, actually crystallizes at the end, which is unusual. This principle of a form of variations and a final achievement of the theme in the genre of the piano concerto had actually been realised a few years earlier, in 1973 by Rodion Shchedrin in his Piano Concerto No3.
Schnittke’s concerto ended the 1970s with a series of opuses in which the composer’s thinking and style are generally preserved: the Requiem, music to Schiller’s tragedy Don Carlos (1975), the Piano Quintet (1976), the Concerto grosso (1977), the Cello Sonata (1978), and the Third Violin Concerto (1978). Schnittke’s views were particularly influenced by Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and his interpretation of the theme. Schnittke’s enthusiasm for the Faust question gave birth to the operas The Story of Dr. Johann Faustus, Life with an Idiot, and Gesualdo. In his Piano Concerto, the composer again attempts to raise the question of the philosophical meaning of human life. The concerto is in one movement, combining the principles of sonata form and variations. In his style of provocative stylistic thinking, Schnittke combines different genres and means here as well – successively the different variations sound like prelude, waltz, chorale, quasi jazz improvisation. The beginning of the reprise is marked by a bell, after which the theme of the variations itself appears as a summing up of all the music that has already been played. The concerto ends with a repetition of the opening introduction.