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Hyperion Records

CDA67370 - Liszt: Paganini Studies & Schubert Marches

Recording details: February 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: August 2002
DISCID: 790D8D09
Total duration: 57 minutes 25 seconds


'Dexterity here to make ears flap; but then, we are used to this from Hamelin' (Gramophone)

'A brilliantly successful recital' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A technique that leaves one open-mouthed with wonderment … the delicate filigree of his rapid chromatic scales is as witty as his scales in tenths and double octaves are awesome' (The Sunday Times)

'More unbelievable pianism from Hamelin' (Classic FM Magazine)

'It would be superfluous to recommend this – each new album by Marc-André Hamelin is a self-commending event' (Fanfare, USA)

'No need to worry about technical issues when Marc-André Hamelin attacks these Liszt transfigurations with all the brilliance in the world' (Pianist)

'Marc-André Hamelin’s technical mastery is legendary … All in all a remarkable disc and certainly not to be missed' (International Piano)

'this is a thrilling recital, with some dazzling piano playing' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'Il faut louer Marc-André Hamelin pour la finesse de ces exécutions très virtuoses, et surtout le remercier de permettre cette plongée au cœur de ce jeu de références et emprunts musicaux qui avait cours parmi les plus grands compositeurs romantiques' (Répertoire, France)

Paganini Studies & Schubert Marches
Grande marche  [12'10]

Marc-André Hamelin returns to Liszt with this imperious recording, containing works based on music by two composers who were a great influence on the young composer/pianist: the Paganini Etudes and three Schubert Marches.

Paganini was the foremost virtuoso of his day, on any instrument, and having heard him in Paris in 1832 Liszt was determined to replicate his showmanship and mastery on the piano. His Etudes, based on Paganini's infamous Caprices (the nearest the violinist came to notating in full the extraordinary acrobatics he often improvised on stage), are the culmination of this early creative spark. Marc-André Hamelin plays the final 1851 version.

Liszt was devoted to Schubert, and transcribed many of his songs for piano, as well as marches and other works; the three marches on this disc are based on various rarely heard Schubert marches for piano duet. Marc-André Hamelin's virtuosity is both nonchalant and dazzling, and he brings wit and sparkle to the Paganini Etudes, and great power and architechtural control to the Schubert Marches. A must for piano lovers everywhere.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Paris, March 1831, and the talk of the French capital was the appearance of ‘the hitherto unrivalled Paganini’. The Times correspondent was at a loss as to how to describe the phenomenon. ‘He has performed thrice at the Académie Royale de Musique, and each time with increasing applause. Language cannot do justice to his wonderful exertion. […] New powers are given to the instrument, which even the most eminent musicians declare, they were not aware was in its compass. He plays entirely from memory, without the intervention of a desk between him and his enchanted listeners. His appearance is singular and denotes the enthusiast [sic]. Strong black hair curls in profusion round his face, which is of an ashy paleness. His eyes flash fire, his nostrils appear distended, and could we hide the organ from which he produces such magic tones, he would be an excellent representative of a prophet foretelling the future.’

Such was the impression that the legendary Italian virtuoso created at his Paris debut. A year later he was back in the city, then in the grip of a cholera epidemic, for a further nine concerts. It was then, and with no less astonishment, that the young Franz Liszt first heard the great violinist on 22 April 1832 at a benefit concert in the Opéra given for ‘the victims of the cruel scourge which is ravaging the capital’. Liszt was not yet twenty-one and the sight and sound of Paganini struck him like a coup de foudre. He was mesmerised. No musician before Paganini had been able to combine the supreme mastery of an instrument with hypnotic dramatic power to such an extent, enabling him to rouse an audience to a frenzy of enthusiasm. It was the catalyst for which Liszt had been searching. ‘René, what a man, what a violinist, what an artist!’ Liszt wrote to a friend in Geneva. ‘Heavens! What sufferings, what misery, what tortures in those four strings.’ Remarkable as his own technique was, Liszt realised that compared with Paganini’s wizardry he had much to learn. He resolved consciously to turn himself into the pianistic equivalent of the demonic Italian. A few days after Paganini’s third concert (27 April), he penned this to another friend, Pierre Wolff, on 2 May 1832: ‘For this fortnight my mind and my fingers have worked like two damned ones. Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them furiously. In addition, I practice exercises for four or five hours (thirds, sixths, octaves, and tremolos, repeated notes, cadenzas, etc.). Ah, unless I go mad, you will find an artist in me. Yes, an artist such as you desire, such as is required nowadays.’

This, then, is the background to the composition of the Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini. The first fruit of his Paganini-inspired labours was the Grande Fantaisie de bravoure sur La Clochette de Paganini (S420) which appeared in 1832. It utilises material from the last movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 2 in B minor. Its main theme, itself based on an old Italian melody, is familiar from Paganini’s inclusion of a little bell in the score (hence its nickname of ‘La Clochette’ and, in Liszt’s later study using the same theme, ‘La Campanella’). The ‘Clochette’ fantasy remains one of the most extraordinarily difficult works ever written for the piano but, as Busoni noted, ‘ the work shows an original mind peeping through, a constrained emotion struggling for expression’. There are spiccato effects and terrifying leaps with which Liszt sought to simulate Paganini’s dizzying violin feats.

Liszt published his Six études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini in 1838. They can reasonably be claimed to mark the birth of keyboard virtuosity. He followed this set in 1845 with the Carnival de Venise and a second fantasy using the ‘Clochette’ theme, finally introducing a revised version of the six studies (the version presented here and retitled Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini) in 1851. Numbers 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 are versions of Paganini’s Twenty-four Caprices Op 1 for solo violin, composed between 1800 and 1810, but not published until 1820. In part a homage to the similarly titled Twenty-four Caprices by Pietro Locatelli (1695–1764), Paganini’s set is a sui generis compendium of the violin’s utmost resources with a profusion of daring melodic and physical leaps, multiple stops, spectacular passagework and challenging arco and pizzicato combinations. Among the effects Paganini asks for are ricochet (bouncing several notes on a bow), martellato (a ‘hammered’ stroke) and guitar-like tremolos (Paganini was a virtuoso on this instrument, too). Only No 3 of the Paganini-Liszt studies derives its material from elsewhere: the ‘clochette/campanella’ theme from the Second Violin Concerto.

Both the 1838 and 1851 sets were dedicated to ‘Frau Dr. Clara Schumann’ (despite her ingratitude), whose husband had been the first composer to transfer Paganini’s Caprices to the piano. Robert Schumann’s more literal Six Studies after Caprices by Paganini, Op 3, had appeared in 1832, followed by a further six (a rather more imaginative set, Op 10) in 1833. But Schumann was generous enough to write fulsomely of his friend’s superior accomplishment. ‘The collection is probably the most difficult ever written for the pianoforte, as its original is the most difficult work that exists for the violin. Paganini knew this well, and expressed it in his fine short dedication, “agli artisti”—that is to say, “I am only accessible to artists”. And so it is with Liszt’s pianoforte arrangement; this can only be understood by virtuosos in profession and of rank. […] He who is able to master [the variations of Etude No 6], and in such an easy, sportive manner that they glide past the hearer—as they should—like the scenes from a marionette show, may travel securely round the world, to return crowned with the golden laurels of a second Liszt-Paganini.’

The studies are listed with the nicknames that have become attached to them in some quarters.

No 1 in G minor (‘Tremolo’) based on Paganini Caprices Nos 5 and 6
In the Sixth Caprice Paganini imitates two violinists at once, one playing a constant tremolo, the other a slow lyrical melody. Though faithfully following Paganini’s text, Liszt prefaces and concludes his pianistic transformation with the opening and closing passages of the Caprice No 5.

No 2 in E flat major (‘Octave’) based on Paganini Caprice No 17
For the violinist, an exercise in stunning mobility and, in the central section, octaves; for the pianist, the challenge is in the chromatic sixths for alternating hands, scales in tenths and double octave passages.

No 3 in G sharp minor (‘La Campanella’) based on the Rondo (third movement) of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 2 in B minor
The most famous piece of the set, ‘La Campanella’ is alone in having a different tonality to Paganini’s original. In the first (1838) version of the study Liszt transposed the theme from B minor to A flat minor; in this 1851 version it is notated in G sharp minor. The delicacy of the conception conflicts with the tricky jumps, dazzling effects (mostly at the upper end of the keyboard) and demanding repeated-note sections.

No 4 in E major (‘Arpeggio’) based on Paganini Caprice No 1
Markedly simplified from its 1838 version which added a melodic counterpoint to the arpeggios of the left hand, the second version of Etude No 4 is laid out on a single stave, a visual parallel of Paganini’s score. The broken chord pattern is ingeniously distributed between alternate hands.

No 5 in E major (‘La Chasse’) based on Paganini Caprice No 9
The easiest of the set in technical terms, ‘La Chasse’ translates the violinist’s double-stopping into pianistic terms. The opening phrase, which both Paganini and Liszt mark imitando il Flauto, is answered by a similar phrase in thirds and sixths marked imitando il Corno. The violin’s upward swoops in the central A minor section are replicated by double glissandi.

No 6 in A minor (‘Theme and variations’) based on Paganini Caprice No 24
So many composers have written variations on the theme of the 24th Caprice (Brahms, Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski the most notable) that it must be one of the most recognizable tunes in the world. Paganini wrote eleven variations and a coda, a pattern which Liszt follows.

Franz Schuberts Märsche für das Pianoforte übertragen S426 (1846)
As the Paganini studies prefaced Liszt’s glittering career as a travelling virtuoso, so the present Schubert transcriptions coincided with his decision to change direction and devote himself to composing and teaching. His thirteen-year-old relationship with Marie d’Agoult had disintegrated and, in 1847, he would meet the last great love of his life, the Polish-born Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein.

A glance at the list of Liszt’s published works tells you that no composer’s music, other than his own, inspired more transcriptions and arrangements than Franz Schubert. Even his severest critics would be hard pressed not to agree that his fifty-three ‘partitions de piano’ of Schubert’s songs rank as masterpieces of their kind; it is difficult, too, not to fall for the charm of the Soirées de Vienne, nine elaborations of waltzes by Schubert, at least one of which, more often than not, Liszt would include in his recitals. In addition, there are solo piano arrangements of Schubert’s Divertissement à la hongroise, D818 (three pieces, the first and third of substantial length, retitled by Liszt as Mélodies hongroises, S425), both two-piano and piano-and-orchestra arrangements of the mighty ‘Wanderer’ Fantasie, D760, as well as versions of seven songs for voice and orchestra, and the works that Mr Hamelin plays here.

As Sacheverell Sitwell observes (Liszt, Cassell & Co, 1955), ‘Schubert and Liszt is a particularly happy chapter in the immense chronicle of Liszt’s works. […] It was a music which recalled the days of his own earliest youth, when he left his native Hungary for Vienna and stayed there breathing the same air as Beethoven and Schubert, studying with Salieri who had been the rival of Mozart.’ Though we cannot tell how much of Schubert’s music he heard at the time ‘it is, at least, certain that [Liszt and Schubert] actually met, for he was introduced to him by Randhartinger. But there can be no doubt that the music of Schubert had an additional appeal to him because it spoke to him of the simplicities of an older world.’

The Drei Märsche von Franz Schubert, which appeared in 1846, are dedicated to Liszt’s friend, the Franco-Polish pianist [Henri Louis Stanislav] Mortier de Fontaine (1816–1883). They are based on various rarely heard Schubert marches for piano duet; Liszt’s two-hand versions are played even less frequently.

The first of these, Trauermarsch (‘Funeral March’), is a faithful transcription of March No 5 in E flat minor from Schubert’s 6 Grandes Marches, Op 40 (D819).

The Grande Marche, which follows, opens with March No 3 in B minor from the same set and is marked Allegretto fuocoso. However, the Trio (più moderato in B major) is taken from Schubert’s Grande Marche funèbre, Op 55 (D859), composed in 1825 for the death of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, a theme which returns at the coda.

The final Grande Marche caractéristique is a conflation of parts of four different Schubert marches. The opening is a transcription of the first of Schubert’s two Marches caractéristiques in C major, Op posth. 121 (D886) composed in about 1826. After the trio section of the first march, Liszt moves to the trio from the second of these two marches before reverting to the 6 Grandes Marches, D819—the opening portion of the March No 2 in G minor and the trio from No 1 in E flat.

Such was his passion for these pieces that, in 1859, Liszt published orchestral versions of all three marches, adding the Marche hongroise (the second of the Divertissements à la hongroise), to form his Vier Märsche von Franz Schubert, S363. A short time later, he then re-arranged all four for piano duet (4 Marches, S632). Such devotion! Such generosity! Where did he find the time?

Jeremy Nicholas © 2002

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