Notes and Editorial Reviews
Franz Liszt was born in Raiding on October 22, 1811, not far from Eisenstadt in the Austrian Burgenland, as the son of a civil servant for Prince Esterházy. He received his first lessons from his father. The family first moved to Vienna to support the son, then to Paris. From here, Liszt went on extensive concert tours. At the age of 13, he was already a highly acclaimed virtuoso, and there is no end to the legends ascribed to his person. Liszt is the inventor of the piano recital. He was the first pianist to hold a public audience spellbound with a fulllength solo programme.
Liszt’s compositions during this time, like the ones by all performing virtuosos, were designed to make his way of playing effective, and were
first and foremost intended to stress his special technical abilities. Nevertheless, many of these bravuras already contain a musical substance that Liszt was to use for great compositions in later years. Many of his masterpieces from the Weimar years have their origin in this time.
On the other hand, Liszt´s programmes always contained an unusually high number of works by other composers, both in new arrangements and in the original ones. Important impulses for the Piano Concertos came from Weber´s Konzertstück in F minor and from Schubert´s Wanderer Fantasy, which Liszt arranged for piano and orchestra.
When he was introduced to Hector Berlioz in 1830, the latter had just completed and firstperformed his Symphonie fantastique. Together with the overwhelming impression that Niccolò Paganini´s performance had on him one year later, these two events can serve as examples for the future development of his compositional work.
Liszt developed the concept of the “poetic thought”, according to which one single musical thought becomes the carrier of the expression of many different poetic statements through a transformation of themes. At the same time, he intended to develop a technique for the piano that would correspond to Paganini’s violin play. Still a number of years of restless touring virtuoso life followed before he unexpectedly withdrew from concert life in 1848 and took up office as a regular Kapellmeister in Weimar.
During these Weimar years (1848–1861), Liszt reached his creative peak, even though his life proved to be far less peaceful than he had hoped for. The works that nowadays constitute the lasting core of his piano work were written at this time: the Sonata in B flat minor, the Dante Fantasy, the Études d´execution transcendante. The 12 Symphonic Poems also owe their existence to the Weimar years, and, last but not least, the works for piano and orchestra recorded here.
Whenever Liszt had something special to say, he usually kept it short. Typically, the density and power of expression in his works is the result of a long process of distillation. Liszt did not subject everything to the cleansing process of a permanent revision. But where he managed to do this, the result is often a concentrated masterpiece. The two Piano Concertos (No. 1 in E flat major, No. 2 in A major) have such a genesis. Sketches for the E flat major Concerto are handed down dating back to 1830. In 1849, it was published, and revised in 1853 and 1856. The creation of the Second Concerto (A major) began in 1839. After seemingly endless changes, Liszt played it in Weimar in 1857, but only published it in 1863.
Both works combine the thought of the symphonic poem with the cyclical concerto form. The movements are clearly separated in both concerts, but are played in an unbroken series. The themes are more numerous than in a monothematic symphonic poem, but they are strongly connected to each other. Right at the beginning of the E flat major Concerto it becomes apparent that the usual tutti-solo presentation of the themes has given away to a symphonic exposition. The symphonic character elevates the importance of the orchestra to more than an accompanying body. The piano retains enough room for virtuoso character variation.
The Totentanz is a paraphrase of the dies irae hymn from the Gregorian requiem. In the form of a dance, as a waltz even, it already appears in Berlioz´ Symphonie fantastique. It constitutes a series of very visual character variations. Liszt was inspired to this in 1839 by a fresco depiction of the Last Judgement of Orcagma. The Totentanz was written in close temporary connection to the two piano concertos and first performed in a revised version in 1865.
-- Karsten Hens
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 2 in A major, S 125 by Franz Liszt
Alfredo Perl (Piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1839/1861; Weimar, Germany
Totentanz, S 126 by Franz Liszt
Alfredo Perl (Piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1849/1859; Weimar, Germany
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