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Hyperion Records

CDA66671/5 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
Liszt spielt (detail) (1840) by Josef Danhauser
CDA66671/5

Recording details: Various dates
St Martin's Church, Newbury, United Kingdom
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: April 1993
Total duration: 355 minutes 33 seconds

'This really is a pretty phenomenal achievement. I urge Lisztians to hear it, and even those who collect the proper versions of the Beethoven Symphonies—it is a marvellous way of hearing them afresh' (Gramophone)

'The combination of devotion and diligence which both [Leslie Howard] and Liszt had lavished on getting to the heart of these inexhaustible works is staggering' (Classic CD)

'Howard's performances are, like nearly all in this series, consistently distinguished' (Fanfare, USA)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
CD1
Allegro con brio  [16'29]
CD2
Larghetto  [11'50]
Allegro molto  [6'04]
Adagio  [9'00]
CD3
Allegro con brio  [8'04]
CD4
Allegretto  [9'55]
Allegro con brio  [8'57]
Allegro vivace  [7'51]
CD5
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
So wrote Liszt at the opening of his preface to his monumental series of transcriptions of the nine Symphonies of Beethoven. The original French text of this preface had appeared in the earliest editions of the transcriptions of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, which were published in 1840, so the tone of reverence which might well have been expected of the man Liszt, retired in Rome in 1865, transpires to have informed his thoughts all along. In the excellent Neue Liszt-Ausgabe, which corrects many an engraving error of all previous editions, there is a wonderful preface by Imre Mezö which recounts with great clarity the genesis of all of these works. There is unfortunately no room to reproduce the article here, but the present writer’s debt for many details of chronology is gladly acknowledged.

Liszt’s general term for these transcriptions (and several other literal transcriptions of orchestral music) is partition de piano (‘piano score’). His usage of this expression is far more restricted than his application of such terms such as transcription, fantasy or paraphrase, and, in his words, ‘I wish to indicate my intention to combine the performer’s wit with the effects of the orchestra and to make the different sonorities and nuances felt within the restricted possibilities of the piano’. Most importantly, his intention in these offerings is not to vary or elaborate upon the originals in the bar-for-bar reproduction of them, but to exploit the manner in which the piano might convey the orchestral textures to the fullest.

Liszt’s preface continues:

Today his symphonies are universally regarded as masterpieces. For anyone with a serious desire for knowledge or the wish to create, there is no meditation upon them nor study of them too profound. Consequently, any and every mode of propagating and popularising them has its place, and the rather numerous piano arrangements of these symphonies which have already appeared are not without merit, even though for serious study they are mostly of little intrinsic value. Yet even the poorest lithograph or the worst translation gives some idea of the genius of a Michelangelo or a Shakespeare; in the sketchiest piano reduction the half-effaced traces of the master’s inspiration may be detected here and there. But the recent developments in piano design and manufacture and the resultant mechanical advantages permit greater and better results than heretofore. With the vast development of its harmonic power the piano tends to take unto itself the entire orchestral repertoire. Within its seven octaves it can pretty well produce all the character, combinations and figurations of the most learned works, and the only advantages it leaves to the orchestra (immense though they be) are the variety of timbre and the effect of numbers.
This has been my aim in the work which I am now publishing. I must say that I should have thought it a rather useless occupation of my time had I but added an umpteenth version of the symphonies in the path trod hitherto, but I shall consider my time well spent if I have been able to carry over to the piano not just the broad strokes of Beethoven’s compositions, but in addition the multitude of finer lines which contribute so powerfully to the complete wholeness. I shall be satisfied if I have fulfilled the duty of an intelligent engraver, a conscientious translator, who grasp the spirit of a work along with the letter, and who thus help to spread the understanding of the masters and the appreciation of the beautiful. (Translated by the present writer from the French text. The German text, whose translator is uncredited in the 1865 edition, differs in many a minor detail, and may not stem from Liszt himself.)

The obvious desire to propagate interest in Beethoven through these transcriptions may seem to have been surpassed by their ready accessibility in concert and recording, but it would be a sad matter to leave these works aside on those grounds. For us, it is a valuable asset to our appreciation of both composers to see how the later master approached the earlier, and we may even comprehend something of the spirit in which mid-nineteenth-century orchestral performances were given; certainly one can tell, from the relative prominence which Liszt gives to them, that a number of details are less attention-drawing to our modern ears. But the works have their own right to existence as super-sonatas for piano, most ingeniously employing the devices of that instrument, and to those with a thorough knowledge of Beethoven’s scores it is often a delightful astonishment to behold that Liszt has substituted Beethoven’s text with material which looks very different but which immediately conjures up the sound world of the original orchestration.

Although everybody knows the Beethoven scores nowadays, Liszt thought it essential to give many details of the original instrumentation, both to help study the orchestral texture at one remove and to provide a clue to the colouring required from the pianist. So it is quite clear from his scores when a forte for full orchestra has to be differentiated from, say, a solo oboe forte.

Liszt reproduces all the metronome marks of the 1860s Breitkopf edition which, as is well known, stem from Beethoven himself. But it is doubtful that Liszt intended them to be observed absolutely, and in the cases of the earlier editions Liszt did not include them. Except where Liszt’s pianistic resolution of Beethoven’s text simply precludes any possibility of observing them (for example, no piano from Liszt’s time to the present day could possibly cope with the prescribed speed of the repeated notes in the finale of Symphony No 8) an attempt is made in these recordings to arrive at an acceptable proximity.

Now it has become the fashion, under the hands of some of the sadly small number of pianists who make any regular attempt to present these works on the stage or on record, to ‘improve’ upon Liszt’s text by adding details from Beethoven’s scores which Liszt suppressed, usually for reasons of clarity or to avoid too much octave doubling, and thus producing ‘new’ transcriptions whose sound is neither Beethoven’s nor Liszt’s. This practice is self-defeating. The present performances attempt to reproduce Liszt’s final thoughts upon all these transcriptions with one sole caveat: where there has been a slip of the pen (a very rare occurrence) it has been tacitly corrected, and when the editions known to Liszt of Beethoven’s scores contain errors only brought to light by more recent scholarship, Beethoven’s readings are restored. But no re-transcribing of any kind has been undertaken.

Symphony No 1 in C major Op 21

Symphony No 1 in C major, Opus 21, was composed by Beethoven in 1800 and dedicated to Baron van Swieten. Liszt’s transcription (dedicated, like all nine in the final publication, to von Bülow) dates from 1863, the year in which the decision to complete the whole series was made. Liszt had offered to transcribe all nine Symphonies for Breitkopf as early as 1850. The contract between them was settled some time in 1863.

Right at the outset Liszt’s score offers two solutions to an effective piano rendering. As so often with Liszt, one version is clearly designed with concert performance in mind, the other with more modest music-making. (And, just as often, Liszt offers a simpler solution for only some parts of the work and leaves other serious technical problems without alternatives. Thus, despite his desire for all sorts and conditions of pianists to study the pieces, these transcriptions have remained the province of the few.) The pizzicato strings and the held wind chords are neatly approximated with acciaccaturas. In the introduction, and later with the oboe melody, Liszt lowers some material by an octave in order to throw the counterpoint into better relief. At the end of the exposition two versions of the right hand offer a choice between an emphasis on the string tremolos or the wind syncopation. A feature typical of many of Liszt’s transcriptions of orchestral music is the substitution of octave triplets in short descending or ascending groups in the place of four semiquavers. Semiquaver octaves would usually prove impracticable at high speed, and a single line of semiquavers would fail to achieve the correct weight.

For anyone wishing to try his hand at one of these transcriptions (especially anyone hitherto raised on one of the worthy piano-duet versions which abound) the second movement of the First Symphony would be a good place to start because, apart from the occasional demand of the stretch of a tenth, the writing is very agreeable. Liszt’s practice, when faced with too much material to transcribe in a manner clearly distinguishable in the part-writing, is to add a supplementary stave or two to give background information. Thus the chords which alternate between strings and winds at the end of the exposition are not required to be played, but have been deemed of lesser importance than the melody triplets, the repeated bass line, the held trumpet and just a hint of the accompanying staccato chords.

In the Scherzo (Beethoven’s description of it as a minuet is surely a joke), some of the trumpet and drum parts are printed as a guide only. It would be impossible to add them without their becoming distractive from the moving lines. Liszt has decided in many cases thoughout the series of all nine Symphonies that the actual notes of the restricted trumpet and drum of Beethoven’s time are much less important than the added weight their presence gives. His attempt in the Trio to hold the wind chords under the rushing string quavers is a splendid effect, certainly not requiring the use of the middle ‘sostenuto’ pedal, but rather a deliberately blurred texture with both the other pedals employed.

The finale is very straightforwardly transcribed, and one or two adventurous passages are given easier alternatives. But it is better for Beethoven’s sake to grit the teeth and essay the wicked scales in thirds at the coda.

Symphony No 2 in D major Op 36

Beethoven’s Symphony No 2 was completed around the end of 1802 and it bears a dedication to Prince Lichnowsky. Interestingly, Beethoven himself made a transcription of the work (without dedication) for piano, violin and cello, most probably in 1805. Liszt’s transcription, dedicated as usual to his then son-in-law von Bülow, dates from 1863. We do not know if Liszt was familiar with Beethoven’s trio version, but it is illuminating to note the many similarities of Beethoven’s piano part to Liszt’s transcription: the fiendish opening theme of the last movement must perforce go to the piano, repeated notes and all, in Liszt’s version, but it is delightful to see that Beethoven, even with a violin in his ensemble which could have taken the original first violin line, also gives it to the piano.

Just as Beethoven’s introduction marks a colossal advance upon that of the First Symphony, so Liszt’s transcription responds with wonderful imagination and dexterity (over which he felt obliged to offer a simpler alternative, not resorted to on this recording). Other alternative suggestions (incorporated in the present performance) do not strictly adhere to Beethoven’s letter, but seem better to capture the spirit: two little replacements of tremolos by arpeggios towards the end of the first subject group, and some left-hand figurations at the end of the exposition are well worth playing. At the end of the movement, Liszt’s main text simplifies Beethoven’s by turning semiquavers into triplets, but the original rhythm, offered as an ossia, is preferable.

The piano writing in the Larghetto (surely one of Beethoven’s most glorious inspirations, unaccountably dismissed by him in later years) goes to extraordinary lengths to imitate the orchestration. The peacefulness of the general effect belies the amount of hand-crossing and finger-interlocking which Liszt requires in order to preserve the details.

Of course the piano cannot really imitate Beethoven’s splendid tossing of one-bar fragments about the orchestra which constitutes the theme of the Scherzo, but Liszt’s arrangement is nevertheless full of leaps, ever-changing dynamics, and great quantities of general brio.

As in the first movement, Liszt offers one or two passages in a simplified texture in the finale. But the general technical order is of such a level that one might as well attempt the tougher versions which in any case are closer to Beethoven’s text. Any notion of this being a rather lightweight and simple symphony are properly dispelled by the whole nature of Liszt’s approach to it.

Symphony No 3 in E flat major ‘Sinfonia Eroica’ Op 55

Beethoven composed his Sinfonia Eroica (No 3 in E flat major, Opus 55) in 1803 and, after deciding against a dedication to Bonaparte, inscribed it to Prince von Lobkowitz. Liszt transcribed the second movement and published it (without dedication) as Marche funèbre de la Symphonie héroïque in 1841. He arranged the other movements in 1863 and shortly afterwards revised his earlier version of the slow movement. The whole work was published, with the dedication to von Bülow, in 1865.

If there is anything which an amateur might essay in the transcription of the First Symphony, the Third is merciless in its demands upon the complete gamut of concert technique. In his obvious desire to reflect the might of the original, Liszt makes the most of the grandest textures of which the piano is capable. And, as he suggests is his preface, the piano of the 1860s had become very grand indeed, and the serious differences between a Steinway of that era and the present time are really rather few. Hands capable of taking tenths are an inevitable prerequisite from the first bar. To avoid placing tremolo chords at every place where Beethoven writes tremolos for the strings, Liszt makes many excellent suggestions for alternative textures which sound less oppressive on the piano and which do not detract from the original idea.

The earlier transcription of the Marcia funebre has some interest in itself and, whilst some of the more complicated passages have found a more congenial solution in the revision, nevertheless served as a close model—the new version was written into a printed copy of the old one. Liszt prints Beethoven’s rhythms of the dotted melody line with the triplet chords underneath exactly as Beethoven has them, but, without wishing to open up the whole question of interpretation of such things in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for sheer practicality, the last note of the melody may occasionally fall with the last note of the triplet chords. Liszt’s fingerings are daringly original too: tracing detached lines with the only spare finger to hand (usually the fifth finger or the thumb) whilst the rest of the hand—indeed, body—is occupied elsewhere, is typical of the whole series.

Sometimes difficulties manufacture themselves where Beethoven could not have intended them: the moto perpetuo of detached chords in the Scherzo is a case where for the orchestra the passage in eminently playable but for the piano is rich in awkwardness, whilst the converse may also apply: the often-mauled horn parts of the Trio are much less notorious at the keyboard.

A study of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations for piano makes very reasonable practice ground for the finale of the Symphony; Beethoven’s piano fugue is as uncompromisingly unpianistic as his counterpoint in the symphonic variations turns out to be in Liszt’s thorough effort to let nothing be lost. Liszt’s solutions at the end of the movement are especially interesting. In order to reflect the enormous variety of orchestral colour which Beethoven brings to the last triumphant statement of the melody, Liszt takes the orchestral chords on the second and third quavers of the bar and deposits them with much ado at the bottom of the keyboard, leaving the middle ground for the chords surrounding the theme and the upper reaches for the semiquaver triplets of the strings, and, just before the Presto coda, Liszt risks leaving out the cello and bass line altogether in order to give a fairer presentation of the delicate chords tossed from winds to upper strings. And the coda itself avoids fatiguing the ear with endless semiquaver chords by discovering alternative piano textures every few bars to the end.

Symphony No 4 in B flat major Op 60

Like the Second Symphony, the Symphony No 4 (1806, dedicated to Count Oppersdorf, transcribed 1863) has always had something of an unjustified second-class status beside the larger odd-numbered symphonies. The humour in the piece is offset by the dark seriousness of the introduction, which Liszt clearly had some difficulty in transcribing: the main text unsatisfactorily presents the held woodwind B flat octave for the requisite five bars, with the right hand obliged to descend and move through parallel octaves with the left, making the upper notes impossible to sustain. The alternative, employed here, is a demanding pianissimo five-bar octave tremolo for the right hand, and the rest of the material, less one octave doubling, is entrusted to the left hand alone. Liszt responds to the contrasting gaiety of the Allegro with a barrage of piano pyrotechnics which recall the textures of several of his studies. Remarkably, none of this does any violence to Beethoven’s score. And Liszt’s decision to turn the timpani B flat in the run-up to the recapitulation into a tremolo with the lower F is a stroke of genius.

The sublime Adagio is transcribed with all its grandeur intact, with fearless recourse to legato octave passagework in the left hand wherever Beethoven’s original string parts demand it. The main theme in all its guises requires the utmost cantabile to be preserved by half of the right hand whilst the other half sustains the dotted rhythm which pervades the whole movement.

The third movement—the first of Beethoven’s symphonic scherzos to adopt the five-part form of scherzo-trio-scherzo-trio-coda which we see again in the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies and which Beethoven originally intended for the Fifth, too—is a boisterous, straightforward affair, neatly transcribed. At the opening of the Trio, Liszt gives two texts: the ossia conforming to Beethoven’s letter, the main text moving the melody down an octave, the better to separate the violin line.

The constant semiquaver figuration in the last movement seems to have perplexed Liszt a little. In one passage towards the end of the Symphony he omits it altogether and proceeds in quavers, while in earlier places he juxtaposes a single line of semiquavers with an alternative suggestion of triplet octaves, or interlocking octaves between the hands. But he has captured splendidly Beethoven’s reckless bonhomie.

Symphony No 5 in C minor Op 67 (second version)

Beethoven’s Fifth. It seems astonishing to us that there can ever have been a time when this most widely known of all symphonies could ever have required any assistance in its dissemination, but any study of the general standards of orchestral performance and repertoire in the early to middle nineteenth century shows us that only a very few cities were privileged enough to have heard such works given with any degree of accuracy or authority. The Symphony No 5 was probably begun hard on the heels of the ‘Eroica’, but was postponed during the composition of the Fourth Symphony. The work was completed by early 1808 and was published with a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Rasumowsky. Liszt probably began his transcription around the end of 1835 and it was complete by mid-1837. It was published in 1840 with a dedication to his friend, the painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867). In mid-1863 Liszt obtained a copy of this version and made a great many changes, almost all of them quite minor things but all calculated to produce a more accessible version than the first, which is occasionally overburdened with notes to the extent that the fidelity to the letter confounds the spirit. The two versions make interesting comparison, but it is the second version, as published in 1865 with its dedication to Hans von Bülow, which is performed here.

It will be noticed by those who listen with twentieth-century ears to this work—the listening-out for modernisms used to be such an unproductive feature of musicological education in the West!—that Liszt sometimes leaves out the trumpets and drums when they are being used more for reinforcement than for the intrinsic harmonic value of their tones. It has long been recognized that many a dissonance in music around 1800 is caused by the impracticability of either abandoning the trumpets and drums in a passage where they are not always consonant, or of adapting them to be more flexible in their pitch. However, those who lament the absence of the trumpet C in bars 197 and 201 should try what a false perpective of the harmony is achieved should one play the cluster B flat–C–D flat with the left hand. And the same may be said of the long repeated drum C at the end of the Scherzo which Liszt abandons four bars before the Allegro because that is what the ear does perforce when the rest of the orchestra plays a dominant seventh on G. (Liszt differentiates very clearly with the later passage, at the reminiscence of the Scherzo during the finale, where the intruding tonic pedal is doubled by cellos and basses.)

Liszt allows one or two suggestions for facilitation in the first movement, but since the rest of the work requires a fully fledged technique they seem rather superfluous. The main feature of the piece, apart from the necessity to find a sufficient variety of colour for the dogged repetitions of the four-note rhythm, is the sheer amount of leaping from one part of the keyboard to another which is constantly required to be executed without damaging the flow. Liszt opens the slow movement with crossed hands, partly because the left hand is better shaped to carry the cello melody and partly to prevent the profundity of musical simplicity being lost because of technical ease. Among the many memorable inspirations that Liszt had in trying to preserve as many details as possible the passage in A flat minor (at bar 166) stands out: in order to preserve the theme in two voices the first violin figuration has to be undertaken by constantly alternating the thumb and index finger of the right hand in a fashion whose tranquillity masks its precariousness.

The Scherzo is transcribed cleanly and clearly, with some clever fingering in order to cope with the wind chords above the melody at the approach to the Trio, which is dominated by unfriendly octaves. The imitation of pizzicato in the reprise of the Scherzo is marvellously written, while the mysterious drums at the transition to the finale are helped by being played at the bottom of the range of the piano.

There are many virtuosic alternative passages in the finale, which deviate somewhat from Beethoven’s text but which certainly compensate for the innate puniness of the piano in the face of the full orchestra—in which Beethoven is now including trombones and piccolo for the first time. At the outset, Liszt offers a filling-out of the left hand part to account for this increased weight. The present performance declines his alternative reading from bar 58, however, where triplet octaves move rather too far away from Beethoven’s melodic line for comfort. But Liszt’s insistence on Beethoven’s exposition repeat is gladly complied with, as is his inventive main text which replaces Beethoven’s tremolos from bar 290 with octaves con strepito. It is easy, too, to live with Liszt’s reinforcement at a lower octave of the piccolo part at the coda, though rather less easy to execute the piccolo trill and the first violin part with one hand. Liszt’s piano rhetoric is at one with Beethoven’s orchestral rhetoric in the peroration.

Symphony No 6 in F ‘Pastorale’ Op 68 (final version)

Liszt had a great success with the Symphonie pastorale from the beginning. It was probably the first of the Beethoven Symphonies that he set himself to transcribe, and he played at least the last three movements at many a public concert. Beethoven completed the work at about the same time as the previous Symphony, in 1808. The historical details of Liszt’s transcription are more or less identical to those for the Fifth Symphony, with the exception of one eight-bar passage in the fifth movement (the last statement of the main theme at bar 133) where he simplified it for the Breitkopf edition of 1840 (the final version is simpler again, although perhaps rather a compromise with Beethoven’s text where, it must be said, rather too many lines jostle for importance for one pianist ever to be able to render them). (For the Neue Liszt-Ausgabe to refer to the final version as the ‘third version’ on the strength of an eight-bar amendment seems a needless addition of confusion to an already dreadfully cluttered catalogue.)

The greatest problem facing the interpreter of Liszt’s transcription is the preservation of outward peace when the hands are being put through contortions, frequently involving the quiet stretching of elevenths. But that said, the Sixth remains perhaps the most congenial of all of the Symphonies from a pianistic point of view. ‘The Awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the countryside’ revels in the joy of finding all of Beethoven’s textures so faithfully reconceived in such grateful writing. And not a ripple or birdsong is missed in the ‘Scene by the Brook’—to the extent of some dangerous left-hand stretches simultaneous with combined trills and melodies in the right hand. And tranquil athleticism is the only way to describe the requirements at the recapitulation with its added clarinet and violin arpeggios.

Liszt apparently told Berlioz that he played the second eight bars of the ‘Happy gathering of the country folk’ slightly slower because they represented the old peasants—in contrast with the young peasants at the opening. Few conductors would gamble their reputations upon such a risk in performance, but it seems like an excellent idea to have in mind whilst performing the piece. High points of the transcription include the wonderfully mad bit with the fiddle ostinato, the oboe melody and the artless bassoon which turns out to be quite a challenge at the keyboard, and the whole 2/4 section which imitates the bagpipe and brings the flute counterpoint into much finer prominence than most orchestral balance usually achieves.

‘The Thunderstorm’ is an inspired piece of virtuoso writing. Just as Beethoven extends the demands on his orchestra in the interest of special effects, so does Liszt mirror them in equivalent pianistic devices, and the relief when the storm subsides is almost tangible in both cases. Similarly, the ‘Shepherds’ Song. Joyful, thankful feelings after the storm’ finds Liszt at one with Beethoven’s spirit. In the matter of the text there is one serious blip at bar 225 where Liszt does not pick up a mistakenly transcribed harmony from his first version: he has a simple dominant seventh where he ought to have an F instead of an E. (The F is restored in the present reading.) Whereas it is a conscious decision of Liszt’s to make a clean final cadence and sacrifice the last falling semiquavers of the basses.

Symphony No 7 in A major Op 92 (second version)

Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 was completed in 1812 and dedicated to Landgrave Moritz von Fries. Liszt made his transcription of it by early 1838. (At that stage Liszt was prepared to transcribe just the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Third Symphonies, and in fact only produced the first three of these. Just the second movement of the ‘Eroica’ followed in 1841, and the remainder was not put in train until 1863.) Like the early versions of the transcriptions of the Fifth and Sixth, the Seventh was dedicated to Ingres. This first version was published in 1843 and a copy of it was the basis for the second version, which was made in 1863 and dedicated, like the whole series, to Hans von Bülow. As with the similar cases of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the two versions make interesting comparison, but the second version, as recorded here, eliminates some technical details which, although faithful to Beethoven’s text, obscure matters in performance. The Seventh remains one of the most difficult of Liszt’s transcriptions.

The mighty introduction somehow emerges with its full stature, even though many elements have to be transposed up or down an octave in order for all the lines to fit within the mortal compass of the hand. If the spirit of the dance informs Beethoven’s Vivace it becomes quite a high-kicking affair in Liszt’s arrangement where the leap is the predominant step, to such an extent that one often seems to be playing in three different registers of the piano at once, especially in the coda.

As with so many of the slow movements, Liszt’s version of the Allegretto is a masterpiece of the transcriber’s art. In every variant of the melody after the countermelody has joined in there are at least two disparate things which must be managed by the right hand, whilst everything else must somehow be reached by the left. And although Liszt has to resort to octave transpositions from time to time he does a marvellous job of keeping everything going, even in the treacherous fugato.

Whether or not one attempts the ossia passages, the Scherzo remains a prodigious piece of pyrotechnics—just as it is for the orchestra. These alternatives come at every bar where Beethoven has a trill in the original. Liszt begins the trill and ends with an arpeggiated Nachschlag which spirits the line to the upper octave for each answering bar. The resulting colours are well worth the effort, even though the nine consecutive trills at the end of the Scherzo are not for the faint-hearted. The repeat from bar 148 back to bar 25 is respected by Liszt, if not by many a contemporary conductor.

One of the greatest alterations between the two versions of Liszt’s transcription concerns the Trio, which is given very grandly in the first version but approached with a much simpler attitude in the present version, even leaving out Beethoven’s octave doublings until the fortissimo shortly before the Scherzo and Trio are repeated entire (save the ritornelli).

The finale, like the first movement, requires a good deal of stamina but manages to convey just the right rumbustious atmosphere. The few proposed simpler alternatives are of so little respite in the face of the general order of things that they are best ignored, as here.

Symphony No 8 in F major Op 93

If Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 might be said to inhabit the gentler slopes of the symphonic alps, the same cannot quite be said of Liszt’s transcription, which leaves no stone unturned in its search for laying plain Beethoven’s text. The Eighth Symphony was completed shortly after the Seventh, at the end of 1813 (and published without dedication), and Liszt’s transcription was made fifty years later. From the very opening it is plain that all the internal figuration and the spacings of chords are to be maintained wherever possible. And yet a second look at Liszt’s score reveals practically newly invented figuration which nonetheless makes the ‘sound’ of Beethoven’s orchestration. Thalbergian three-hand textures are left in the historical shade by Liszt’s ingenuity throughout these transcriptions in making two hands seem to do the work of more. However, all is relatively feasible until the arpeggios and leaps in octaves at the end of the exposition.

The famous metronomic Allegretto scherzando makes such a winsome piano piece that it ought to have acquired a life of its own as an encore piece long since, the only proviso being that the piano needs to have a very repeatable middle B flat for the last bar.

Since the slow movement is relatively fast, the Minuet is comparatively stately. Liszt keeps the texture unfussy, and even allows the basses of the last cadence to sound two octaves higher than in the score. The Trio, on the other hand, cannot help but be awkward in order to preserve the independence of clarinet, horns and cello. Liszt gives the rhythm of the horn part in the third bar as in the earlier Steiner edition—i.e. identical to the two previous bars. The present performance adopts the familiar Breitkopf reading with the dotted crotchet on the second beat.

Despite his inclusion of Beethoven’s frightening metronome mark in the finale, of 84 semibreves to the minute, Liszt also has a footnote detailing the necessity of preserving Beethoven’s phrasing in the oft-repeated three-note rhythm (two quavers together separated from the following crotchet rather than all three notes slurred together) which renders the tempo somewhat slower. Throughout the movement, Liszt shows great variety in his approach to the constant repeated triplets, sometimes wisely permitting four repeated chords in place of six, sometimes inventing a line of moving triplets instead of repeated chords, and just occasionally demanding seven repetitions of a single note. Beethoven’s humour emerges as ever, no matter what the technical cost, whether in the intruding D flats/C sharps or in the juggling of the major third up and down the orchestra at the coda.

Symphony No 9 in D minor Op 125

Beethoven’s so-called ‘Choral’ Symphony was finally completed in 1823 and bore a dedication to King Frederick William III of Prussia. Liszt, working from the new Breitkopf scores as they appeared, intended to produce the transcription for solo piano in the summer of 1863. But the new orchestral score did not reach Liszt until the spring of the following year. By the end of 1851 Liszt had already made an excellent version of the Ninth for two pianos for Schott, who published it in about 1853. Liszt had had at his disposal their earlier edition(s) of the score. Although the Breitkopf score is immeasurably better in many details, there are one or two things which Liszt transcribed in the two-piano version which conform much better to Beethoven’s original intentions. This is not the place to enumerate the many shortcomings of all the published scores of Beethoven’s Symphonies, but suffice it to say that no edition has yet resolved the many textual errors and discrepancies that circulate in every known published version of the whole canon, and the greatest number of problems have to do with the Ninth Symphony. In any event, Liszt prepared the first three movements of the Ninth for Breitkopf and submitted them along with some proofs of the earlier works. He wrote at length begging to be released from having to attempt the fourth movement, which he declared untranscribable for two hands. He complained that he had only been able to do the piece for two pianos because he could divide voices and orchestra between the two instruments. He refused to add to the number of workaday vocal scores for choral training. Breitkopf suggested the addition of a second piano (in a new transcription, the extant one being Schott’s property), and finally Liszt was persuaded to give the piece another try. His final solution rather sweetly evades much of this issue: with the exception of the baritone recitative, all the vocal parts are printed on separate staves just as Beethoven wrote them, and the transcription confines itself to the orchestral parts, but makes no allowances for the kind of pianist who might be used to training a choir. Liszt allows for performance of the movement without voices, despite the several moments when at least their rhythm, if not their harmony, adds something to the overall effect! By extension, therefore, he also allows for a performance of the work for voices and piano, although the present writer gravely doubts whether it has ever been so performed up to the time of writing. Liszt completed his work at the end of the autumn of 1864 and saw all nine works through the press in 1865, dedicating the whole enterprise to his then son-in-law, Hans von Bülow.

Throughout the transcription of the Ninth, Liszt is careful to keep the texture as clean as the amount of independent lines would permit and, as so often, trumpet and drum parts are often set aside where their import is of reinforcement rather than harmonic or melodic essence—bar 17 is the first such case, where adding them would detract from the clean octaves of the rest of the orchestra. It is astonishing that so few conductors have ever spotted the appalling wrong note in the melody of the second subject which is, for example, on Furtwängler’s, Karajan’s, and practically everybody else’s recordings. The mistake dates from the very Breitkopf edition which Liszt transcribed in good faith, believing all previous errors to have been corrected. But if one looks at Beethoven’s manuscript (published in facsimile), the early Schott editions, or even George Grove’s marvellous book on the Symphonies, it is clear that, at the key change at bar 80, the wind melody should read: D, G, F, the higher D, down to A, whereas Breitkopf has the fourth note a third lower: B flat, which is what we have all known in our innocence as correct. So Liszt, who had the D perfectly right in the two piano version, substituted B flat in the solo version. Naturally, D has been restored here. (Of course, at the recapitulation, the material is different anyway, and the fourth note is definitely a D, rather than a mistaken reading of an F sharp.) Liszt’s solutions to the transcription are always interesting, and when he finds it necessary to add inner chords at the half bar to fill out the proper texture in the closing pages (from bar 531) we can only imagine them to be absolutely right. However, we take the liberty of correcting Liszt’s reading of the harmony in bar 538 (also in error in the two-piano version, but corrected in the old Liszt-Stiftung edition). The present reading also adopts Liszt’s ossia in octaves in the last line.

The text of the Scherzo is less problematic, and Liszt’s view that all repeats should be observed is honoured here—and how delightful the second repeat in the Scherzo is, allowing for a quite different circle of harmonies in the twelve bars which we only hear if the repeat is taken. The vexed question of the metronome mark at the Trio can probably not be resolved to general satisfaction. Breitkopf has semibreve = 116; the original edition has minim = 116, although clearer at the top of the score than at the bottom. Beethoven’s letters on the subject, neither of which is in his own hand, both have dotted minim = 116. (Added to which is Beethoven’s sometime decision to alter in the manuscript the time values of the whole section by a factor of 2:1.) Now the last is clearly wrong, since the passage is in duple time, so, if Beethoven’s dictation to his nephew was at fault, the real number might have been something else altogether. 116 minims makes a nonsense of the preceding stringendo, and 116 semibreves is frantically fast. Liszt’s transcriptions are not playable at this last speed and indicate by their context some middle course, which is adopted here. Although Beethoven writes ‘Da capo tutto’ at the end of the Trio, he really only intends the Scherzo to be repeated and for the coda to follow.

Apart from his reasonable decision to place the string pizzicati on an extra stave, not to be played (at bar 85, where the treacherous solo for the fourth horn begins) Liszt incorporates a munificent proportion of the material of this most beautiful of slow movements, and the result is a piano piece which bears comparison with Beethoven’s own most wonderfully sustained slow movement for piano in the Opus 106 Piano Sonata.

Whatever the inadequacies of the transcription of the finale, it were a terrible thing had Liszt not made the attempt and left us a three-movement torso. As it stands, his attempt at the orchestral parts is heroic if distressingly difficult to execute, and it is actually easier to hear some of the counterpoint without the vocal distractions, if one may be permitted a small heresy. It is only at the slower section (where the choir enters with ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen’) that a really divergent reading emerges for want of the choral parts, and at the end of the Adagio the orchestral parts give nearly four long bars of the same repeated harmony without the rhythmic variety that the choral parts would supply. From the Allegro energico to the end of the Symphony, even the orchestral parts produce a terrifying task to reproduce with two hands with any respectable combination of accuracy and spirit. One more textual problem: the present performance follows Liszt’s solo piano text five bars before the Allegro non tanto, in which he alters Beethoven’s woodwind C naturals at the first beat to C sharps to agree with the choir and the strings. He allowed the clash in the two-piano version, where it is easier to assimilate. No one can establish what Beethoven wanted since this problem stems from his very clear (at this point!) manuscript. Most conductors have either adopted all C naturals or all C sharps at the beginning of the bar. The clash might have been intended, and is certainly listenable without being lovable, but it does not really work on one piano. Liszt will not be thanked for his uncompromising upward-rushing Prestissimo scales in thirds at the final choral passage, but the arrangement of the final orchestral coda is an excellently risky conclusion to the work, and to Liszt’s whole act of homage throughout these transcriptions of this greatest canon of symphonies.

Leslie Howard © 1993


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