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Hyperion Records

CDA67145 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 45 – Rapsodie espagnole
La Gloria by John Phillip (1817-1867)
National Gallery of Scotland
CDA67145

Recording details: August 1996
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: June 1997
DISCID: 4310DB06
Total duration: 71 minutes 38 seconds

'There's plenty in this nicely-planned recital that's on a par with the celebrated Rhapsody and undeserving of present neglect' (Gramophone)

'Howard is chef, artist, minstrel and matador in this Spanish spectacle. You will be delighted by the sense of spaciousness and clarity in the recorded sound, and your paella is guaranteed to be more flavoursome with this exotic accompaniment' (Soundscapes, Australia)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 45 – Rapsodie espagnole

This forty-fifth volume in Leslie Howard's encyclopaedia of Liszt's solo piano music turns to the composer's impressions from his tour of Spain and Portugal in 1844/5.

These six pieces vividly capture the dance motifs and melodies that the composer must have heard on these travels, and the Spanish Rhapsody (initially published alongside the first collection of Hungarian Rhapsodies) has firmly established itself as a favourite in the repertoire.


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Musical hispanophilia ought by now to have been the burden of what Sherlock Holmes would have referred to as ‘a small monograph on the subject’: like the vogue for chinoiserie in interior decoration, the imitation of all things Spanish was staple fare for many decades in the nineteenth century, and music with a Spanish flavour eventually became a good deal more popular than any truly Spanish art- or folk-music, vide the present recital, and famous offerings by Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Moszkowski, Chabrier, Glinka and Lalo, to name a few at random.

Liszt toured Spain and Portugal for six months from October 1844, and it was certainly on this trip that he became acquainted at first hand with some of the melodies he was to incorporate into various piano pieces, although, like so much of his music, none of them seems ever to have been performed by him in public. Liszt never visited this part of the world again but maintained contacts through his music and his Iberian students for the rest of his life.

The manuscript of the Grand Concert Fantasy upon Spanish Themes is dated ‘Lisbonne, 2 Février, [18]45’, but the work was not published until after Liszt’s death. It appeared in 1887, with a dedication to Liszt’s first biographer, Lina Ramann. We do not know why Liszt kept this piece to himself for so many years, but he must have thought about it quite late in life to apply the dedication. The later Spanish Rhapsody shares one theme with the piece, and an unfinished manuscript in Weimar also contains some material in common. The present enormous piece is based upon three melodies: a fandango, which is heard in an opening flamboyant fantasy, and will be recognized immediately by anyone who recollects the third act of Mozart’s Figaro; the Jota aragonesa, encountered in a number of famous musical homages to Spain and here treated in a slow and rhapsodic manner; and a cachuca, which first appears as a subsidiary melody to the jota, and then returns—after further development of the fandango—as a section in its own right and at the proper tempo, now with fragments of the jota which eventually gains supremacy in the coda.

La romanesca is a Spanish dance melody which used to be strangely ascribed to Italy in various Liszt catalogues. Liszt published his first elaboration of it as a ‘fameux air de danse du seizième siècle’ in 1840. Unusually for Liszt in a secular composition, it is laid out in 4/2 (with a little 3/2 in the introduction), and the first statement of the melody is presented by the left hand alone. The only secondary material is a repeated foot-stamping gesture on a C major chord with trills in both hands; otherwise the theme is subjected to ornamental variation. It is of no small interest to compare this version with the later one, published in 1852 as a ‘nouvelle édition entièrement revue et corrigée par l’auteur’ (how often Liszt used that expression for his second thoughts!), where the note-values—but also the tempo—are halved, the whole thing is more nostalgically viewed, and the coda is largely recomposed.

The Spanish Rhapsody has become one of Liszt’s best-known compositions, although it took some while to establish itself in the repertoire. Liszt told Lina Ramann that he had written the piece in recollection of his Spanish tour whilst in Rome in about 1863. The work was published in 1867—subtitled Folies d’Espagne et Jota aragonesa. Later it was often found published alongside the first fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, which might have helped its popularity but contributes nothing towards understanding it. The work is a great deal less rhapsodic than its Hungarian cousins, and needs a certain elegant detachment in performance. Its nature is rather staid and noble—even the coda is marked ‘non troppo allegro’—and the opening flourishes, however dramatic, recall the sound-world of the recently-composed Légende: St François d’Assise—La prédication aux oiseaux. Then the ensuing variations on La folia form a passacaglia in C sharp minor. The last variation slips gently into D major for the delicate presentation of the jota, mostly in the upper register of the piano. One further theme, also heard as part of the jota in the Grand Fantasy provides the opportunity for a further change of key, and F major, A flat major, E major and E flat major all vie for attention before the dominant of D major is finally established for a grand reprise of the jota, finally covering the whole keyboard, and marked fff. Brief excursions and a short cadenza in thirds finally lead to the recall of La folia, now in D major, for the conclusion.

Liszt may well have met Mariano Soriano Fuertes y Piqueras (1817–1880) in Córdoba in 1844, but he has left us no clue as to the provenance of the Feuille morte, which may come from a zarzuela. (The title is probably Liszt’s.) Liszt’s piece was published around 1845 (with a double ‘r’ in the Spaniard’s name on the title page) and promptly disappeared from view—the only reprint since seems to be that made by the Liszt Society in its 1989 Journal. Liszt’s piece is typical of his imaginative paraphrases upon a single song or aria. The three themes are punctuated by a questioning refrain, and the whole is then varied with a coda which recalls the sombre introduction.

Manuel García (1775–1832) was a very successful composer of zarzuelas and the fifth number of his one-act piece El poeta calculista of 1804 is entitled ‘Yo que soy contrabandista’. Liszt settled for ‘El contrabandista’ (‘The smuggler’) in his hair-raising paraphrase of it—the Rondeau fantastique—and so may we. Liszt’s piece was published in 1837, with a dedication to George Sand, as his Opus 5 No 3—the companion pieces being the Clochette-Fantaisie and the Fantaisie romantique sur deux mélodies suisses. It remains one of the most impressive works of his early maturity, and its current neglect—difficulties notwithstanding—is a testimony to the want of a spirit of enquiry in many of today’s pianists.

Leslie Howard © 1997


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