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Franz Liszt

Biography

Born: 1811   Died: 1886   Country: Hungary   Period: Romantic
Liszt was the only contemporary whose music Richard Wagner gratefully acknowledged as an influence upon his own. His lasting fame was an alchemy of extraordinary digital ability -- the greatest in the history of keyboard playing -- an unmatched instinct for showmanship, and one of the most progressive musical imaginations of his time. Hailed by some as a visionary, reviled by others as a symbol of empty Romantic excess, Franz Liszt wrote his name Read more across music history in a truly inimitable manner.

From his youth, Liszt demonstrated a natural facility at the keyboard that placed him among the top performing prodigies of his day. Though contemporary accounts describe his improvisational skill as dazzling, his talent as a composer emerged only in his adulthood. Still, he was at the age of eleven the youngest contributor to publisher Anton Diabelli's famous variation commissioning project, best remembered as the inspiration for Beethoven's final piano masterpiece. An oft-repeated anecdote -- first recounted by Liszt himself decades later, and possibly fanciful -- has Beethoven attending a recital given by the youngster and bestowing a kiss of benediction upon him.

Though already a veteran of the stage by his teens, Liszt recognized the necessity of further musical tuition. He studied for a time with Czerny and Salieri in Vienna, and later sought acceptance to the Paris Conservatory. When he was turned down there -- foreigners were not then admitted -- he instead studied privately with Anton Reicha. Ultimately, his Hungarian origins proved a great asset to his career, enhancing his aura of mystery and exoticism and inspiring an extensive body of works, none more famous than the Hungarian Rhapsodies (1846-1885).

Liszt soon became a prominent figure in Parisian society, his romantic entanglements providing much material for gossip. Still, not even the juiciest accounts of his amorous exploits could compete with the stories about his wizardry at the keyboard. Inspired by the superhuman technique -- and, indeed, diabolical stage presence -- of the violinist Paganini, Liszt set out to translate these qualities to the piano. As his career as a touring performer, conductor, and teacher burgeoned, he began to devote an increasing amount of time to composition. He wrote most of his hundreds of original piano works for his own use; accordingly, they are frequently characterized by technical demands that push performers -- and in Liszt's own day, the instrument itself -- to their limits. The "transcendence" of his Transcendental Etudes (1851), for example, is not a reference to the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, but an indication of the works' level of difficulty. Liszt was well into his thirties before he mastered the rudiments of orchestration -- works like the Piano Concerto No. 1 (1849) were orchestrated by talented students -- but made up for lost time in the production of two "literary" symphonies (Faust, 1854-1857, and Dante, 1855-1856) and a series of orchestral essays (including Les préludes, 1848-1854) that marks the genesis of the tone poem as a distinct genre.

After a lifetime of near-constant sensation, Liszt settled down somewhat in his later years. In his final decade he joined the Catholic Church and devoted much of his creative effort to the production of sacred works. The complexion of his music darkened; the flash that had characterized his previous efforts gave way to a peculiar introspection, manifested in strikingly original, forward-looking efforts like Nuages gris (1881). Liszt died in Bayreuth, Germany, on July 31, 1886, having outlived Wagner, his son-in-law and greatest creative beneficiary. Read less
Liszt: Duo Sonata On Polish Themes
Release Date: 12/09/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8573145   Number of Discs: 1
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Liszt: Complete Piano Music Vol 13 / Jenö Jandó
Release Date: 10/26/1999   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554481   Number of Discs: 1
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Liszt: Complete Piano Music Vol 1 / Arnaldo Cohen
Release Date: 06/10/1997   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553852   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Liszt: Piano Concerto No 1
Release Date: 09/30/2008   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8570716   Number of Discs: 1
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Liszt: Transcriptions And Arrangements  / Soyeon Kate Lee
Release Date: 01/28/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8572589   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Sonata for Piano in B minor, S 178

 

About This Work
There are only three works in Liszt's vast output which are entitled as belonging to any sonata form: the Faust Symphony, the Dante Symphony, and the Sonata in B minor for piano. It will readily be seen that this is the only work he wrote in an Read more absolute sonata form.

However, he made the sonata form his own in this innovative and unique work in one movement. Wagner described the work as beautiful "beyond all conception" and "sublime." In it, Liszt presents what is considered by most commentators as his finest example of the musical technique of continuous "thematic transformation," which was to have a profound effect on the future of music -- especially as taken up by Wagner and used as the basic musical means by which he constructed all his later operas, especially the great Ring of the Nibelung tetralogy.

This one-movement sonata makes the impression of a free, unbridled fantasia, virtually an improvisation. But in reality the whole work is tightly constructed from the music of the sonata's introduction. From that introduction he develops, first, three striking and powerful themes, then a passage sounding like a religious chorale. The final main section not only demands the utmost in piano technique to deal with its prestissimo tempo, but also employs elements of all the themes which have been spun out of the opening. Ultimately, in an eloquent concluding Andante, Liszt returns to the earliest versions of the main musical material and recedes into silence. Full of Romantic fire and spontaneity as the sonata may be, it also fits, depending on how one listens to it, into either the pattern of a single sonata-allegro-form movement (with exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda), or the four-movement structure of a traditional sonata (opening movement, slow movement, scherzo, and finale. Thus this work remains an enduring masterpiece even in the estimation of those listeners who tend to find Liszt's music overblown. In the Sonata in B minor, Liszt, the great radical, connected himself convincingly with the sonata tradition.

The sonata dates from 1854, shortly after the Princess Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein, with whom the composer lived, had convinced Liszt to quit touring as a pianist and concentrate on composition. The pianist and musicologist Alfred Brendel, among others, has claimed for years that the sonata is related to the Faust legend. While such an interpretation may actually fit the structure and emotional spirit of the work, it must be regarded with a measure of skepticism. Some musicologists have also argued that the piece is autobiographical, and point out that such a view would not exclude a Faustian interpretation.

-- AllMusic.com
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