A cadenza, based often on an extended and embellished final cadence, at least in classical concertos, is a passage originally improvised by a performer in which virtuoso ability might be shown. Cadenzas are now more often written by the composer, although some modern performers continue to improvise. In classical concertos the cadenza often leads to the last section of a movement.
The term cadenza often refers to a portion of a concerto in which the orchestra stops playing, leaving the soloist to play alone in free time (without a strict, regular pulse) and can be written or improvised, depending on what the composer specifies. Sometimes, the cadenza will include small parts for other instruments besides the soloist; an example is in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, where a solo flute, clarinet and horn are used over rippling arpeggios in the piano. The cadenza normally occurs near the end of the first movement, though it can be at any point in a concerto. An example is Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, where in the first five minutes a cadenza is used. The cadenza is usually the most elaborate and virtuosic part that the solo instrument plays during the whole piece. At the end of the cadenza, the orchestra re-enters, and generally finishes off the movement on their own, or, less often, with the solo instrument.
- Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050- The end of MVT 1. Allegro, features a harpsichord solo.
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 – is notable not only for having a cadenza within the first few minutes of the first movement, but also for having a second – substantially longer – cadenza in a more conventional place, near the end of the movement. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, in which the first movement features a long and incredibly difficult toccata-like cadenza with an even longer alternative or ossia cadenza written in a heavier chordal style. Both cadenzas lead to an identical section with arpeggios in the piano and a solo flute accompanying, before the cadenza ends quietly.
- Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, in which the first movement features a long and incredibly difficult toccata-like cadenza with an even longer alternative or ossia cadenza written in a heavier chordal style. Both cadenzas lead to an identical section with arpeggios in the piano and a solo flute accompanying, before the cadenza ends quietly. (Cadenza position: 3:35-5:16)
As a vocal flourish
The cadenza was originally, and remains, a vocal flourish improvised by a performer to elaborate a cadence in an aria. It was later used in instrumental music, and soon became a standard part of the concerto. Originally, it was improvised in this context as well, but during the 19th century, composers began to write cadenzas out in full. Third parties also wrote cadenzas for works in which it was intended by the composer to be improvised, so the soloist could have a well formed solo that they could practice in advance. Some of these have become so widely played and sung that they are effectively part of the standard repertoire, as is the case with Joseph Joachim’s cadenza for Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s set of cadenzas for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20, and Estelle Liebling’s edition of cadenzas for operas such as Donizetti’s’s La fille du Régiment and Lucia di Lammermoor.
The so-called Flute Cadenza position: 2:22-4:50
Nowadays, very few performers improvise their cadenzas, and very few composers have written concertos or vocal pieces within the last hundred years that include the possibility of an improvised cadenza.