Wittgenstein did not understand the work, but it is not the case (as has sometimes been claimed) that he refused to play it. He was simply not prepared to play it until such time as he had appreciated its inner logic. That time never came, but Wittgenstein and Prokofiev always remained on friendly terms.
It was the only one of Prokofiev's complete piano concertos that never saw a performance during his lifetime. It was premiered in Berlin on 5 September 1956 by Siegfried Rapp and the West Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martin Rich. The United States premiere was in 1958, by Rudolf Serkin and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. The British premiere was in 1961, by Malcolm Binns.
Prokofiev expressed some interest in making an arrangement for piano two-hands and orchestra, but never went through with this idea.
The concerto has four movements, lasting around 25 minutes:
- Vivace (4–5 mins)
- Andante (9–13 mins)
- Moderato (8–9 mins)
- Vivace (1–2 mins)
The first and last movement serve as a brief prelude and postlude respectively. The middle two movements comprise the main bulk of the concerto. The andante is more reflective and expands with a romantic greatness. The sarcastic Moderato is in modified sonata-form. The concerto has an unusual ending, with the piano running up pianissimo to a very high B-flat7.