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Hyperion Records

LISZT1 - Liszt: Piano Music
Portraits of Liszt.
LISZT1

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Produced by Various producers
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: August 2001
Total duration: 155 minutes 43 seconds

Piano Music
An introduction to the complete recording
Leslie Howard (piano) 2CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  
Liszt the Poet
CD1
No 7: Eglogue  [3'40]
No 5: E major  [1'56]
Liszt the Patriot
No 10: G minor  [4'05]
Liszt the Magician
Liszt the Franciscan
CD2
Liszt the Romantic
No 10: Ehemals!  [2'55]
Liszt the Prophet

Leslie Howard’s recordings of Liszt’s complete piano music, on 95 CDs, is one of the monumental achievements in the history of recorded music. Remarkable as much for its musicological research and scholarly rigour as for Howard’s Herculean piano playing, this survey has been invaluable to serious lovers of Liszt. Now, as an introduction to the series and a perfect starting point for anyone beginning to explore this fascinating and hugely influential composer, we present a two-disc selection from the series. To give an overview of such a long and prolific composing life and a uniquely eclectic and varied repertoire, this programme takes six of the most important characteristics of Liszt’s work and offers thirty-nine pieces that exemplify them. The result gives a flavour of the richness and diversity of Liszt’s music. The range of Leslie Howard’s sympathies is evident here, from the flamboyant showpieces of Liszt’s youth to the challenging and prophetic works of his old age. This is the perfect introduction to Liszt, one that goes well beyond simply presenting his most popular works.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It is almost an impertinence to try within the space of two compact discs to give a reasonable overview of the piano music of Ferenc (Franz) Liszt. He was so prolific, his range of musical interest so vast, and his composing life was so long – from his earliest efforts at the end of his eleventh year to a few days before his death just short of his seventy-fifth birthday – that the best option is to seize upon several of his most important characteristics, and to offer some of the pieces which exemplify them. After much deliberation we have selected six aspects of his work, and thirty-nine compositions which best illustrate them within the confines of a couple of hours or so. Naturally, the longer works cannot find a place here, but we have managed to include just one larger piece, and that with orchestral accompaniment.

Liszt the Poet
Among the plethora of legendary anecdotes about Liszt’s unsurpassed piano technique it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, first and foremost, his art was that of a poet, and his objective: beauty. This beauty is the first and best yardstick by which a pianist should approach his work; how often is Liszt made to seem shabby by ugly, self-congratulatory playing!

Un sospiro (‘A Sigh’), S144/3 (1848) is the third and best-loved of a set of Trois Études de concert – or Trois Caprices poétiques as they were called in the second edition, and its quite appropriate title may have been bestowed by a publisher rather than by the composer. The felicity with which, in a single work, Liszt took the speciality of Sigismund Thalberg (1812–1871) – the technical sleight of hand whereby a melody is surrounded or supported by arpeggios such that an impression of three hands at the keyboard is given – and ennobled it for once and for always with one of his finest melodic inspirations has kept this piece constantly popular. In this performance two little extra passages are included; Liszt wrote them for his students in his last years.

Liszt wrote many piano pieces inspired by nature and literature of the places to which he journeyed. Eglogue, S160/7, comes from the first book – Switzerland – of the famous Années de pèlerinage, which took shape between the years 1848 and 1854. The music is prefaced by a stanza from Byron’s Childe Harold: ‘The morn is up again, the dewy morn, / With breath all incense, and with cheek all bloom, / Laughing the clouds away with playful scorn, / And living as if the earth contain’d no tomb …’ A more fresh-faced and guileless piece of Liszt would be hard to imagine.

La regata veneziana (‘The Venetian Regatta’) S424/2 is one of twelve transcriptions of Rossini’s Soirées musicales, originally a collection of vocal solos and duets with piano accompaniment. In the present piece, as one might expect, Liszt makes a magnificent job of including all the details of voice and piano parts in a bubbling confection with wickedly rapid arpeggios. (The subtitle Notturno has nothing to do with the nocturne, but merely describes a song to be sung of an evening.)

Feuilles d’album (‘Album Leaves’), S165 (1841), somewhat misleadingly titled in the plural, is really a charming salon waltz – a great favourite in its day, and the kind of ingenuous trifle which Liszt composed all too rarely, preferring to confine this spirit to the world of his transcriptions.

The Consolations – Six Pensées poétiques, S172, whose final versions date from 1849/50, have always been very popular among Liszt’s works, especially among amateurs, relieved at the relative absence of transcendental technical requirements. (However, they do not cry out for the desperately ‘worthy’ style of performance to which they are so often subjected!) The title originated with an anthology of Sainte-Beuve which had appeared in 1830, although there are no specific references by Liszt to that poet’s work; indeed No 5 in E major, heard here, is titled Madrigal in one manuscript. Liszt transcribed quite a number of his own songs (of which there are more than a hundred) and he customarily prints the whole poem with the music as a guide to the interpreter of the transcription. Heine’s famous Die Lorelei tells the familiar story of the siren-like witch who haunts a rock in the river Rhine – Liszt’s dramatic setting (in either version) is vastly superior to the tawdry little Silcher version beloved of amateur children’s choruses, but the revised version (S532, 1861) is more subtle, less foursquare, and there may even be a deliberate hint of the Tristan Prelude in the introduction.

Liszt the Patriot
Liszt was born in a Hungarian town – Raiding, near Sopron (these days in Austria) – where both Hungarian and German were spoken, but his mother was German, and so young Liszt, although he would forever declaim his Hungarian origins and leanings, first spoke German, and his household nicknames were also in the German style: Franzi; Putzi. After very few months in Paris, whence he travelled as a teenager, Liszt came to speak and write a fluent and beautiful French which was to be his preferred language for the rest of his life. His compositions were published either with his Christian name as François or Franz. (Of course, his baptismal name, which he was later to use during his Roman period in the 1860s, was Franciscus.) He also used Francesco when in Italy, but towards the end of his life, when he decided to make serious efforts to learn Hungarian, his works were published with his Hungarian name: Liszt Ferenc. As a boy, Liszt had been fascinated by gypsy music and, like most musicians of his time, did not particularly distinguish between Hungarian folksong and gypsy improvisations, many of which were based on specifically composed dance pieces. His most famous endeavour to represent the music of Hungary in his own work remains the corpus of nineteen Rapsodies hongroises (‘Hungarian Rhapsodies’), but there are many other works with strong Hungarian connections.

Puszta Wehmut (A Puszta Keserve) (‘Longing for the Steppes’), S246 (after 1880), is apparently based on a work by the Countess Ludmilla Gizycka, née Zamoyska, although no mention is made of this in the original publication. Zamoyska’s work, in turn, is based on a poem by Lenau. The piece is a sort of miniature rhapsody with a rather simple texture with the characteristic slow (lassan) and fast (friss) sections, and with a reprise of the opening flourishes at the end.

The forerunners of the Rhapsodies were a set of 22 pieces titled Magyar Dalok and Magyar Rapszódiák. Liszt probably collected the melodies for this first series during two trips to Hungary, the first around 1839/40 and the second about six years later. But there is no knowing how many of the themes might have been familiar to him from much earlier on. No 2 in C major is a simple dance-song (origin unknown) in 2/4.

When Liszt transcribed the 24 pieces through all the keys which Ferdinand David had composed for violin and piano under the title Bunte Reihe (‘A Miscellany’) he remained absolutely faithful to David’s text, allowing himself no harmonic or virtuosic elaboration. The single exception is Liszt’s second version of Ungarisch, S484/19bis (1850) which adopts a new tempo – ‘Allegro marziale’ instead of ‘Allegretto moderato’ – adds a new introduction and develops David’s opening theme along very different lines, discarding the original middle section completely, and working up to rather a frenzied conclusion.

In the late collection of Hungarian Historical Portraits Liszt set out in some way to write musical epitaphs and characterizations of seven nineteenth-century Hungarian statesmen and artists. Teleki László, S295/4 (1885) is a homage to the famous Hungarian politician and writer, in the form of a brisk march on a four-note ground bass.

Extraordinarily, there are still many pieces by Liszt which have never been published. Among them is a collection of eighteen pieces on Hungarian melodies (some fully worked out, some just sketched) called Ungarischer Romanzero (‘Hungarian Songbook’), S241a (1853). No 10 in G minor is a miniature rhapsody with typical slow and fast sections, the first based on Beni Egressy’s Kornéliához (‘For Kornelia’), the second, marked ‘Allegro guerriero’, on an unidentified theme. Although much shorthand is employed in the manuscript, the piece is finished, and it ends with a very jolly coda which is derived from the ‘Allegro’.

The Csárdás obstinée, S225/2 (1885) is one of Liszt’s late avant-garde dances for piano, full of very daring harmonic turns which anticipate the music of Bartók. The obstinée (ostinato) of the title refers to the insistent repetition of the left-hand rhythm.

Rapsodie hongroise II (S244/2), in C sharp minor/F sharp major was published in 1851, and the cadenza towards the end was added in 1885 for Liszt’s pupil, Antonia Raab. This most famous second Hungarian Rhapsody has been a staple repertory warhorse from the beginning, and was even taken up by Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry!

Liszt the Magician
‘How did he do that?!’ is a sentence which must have escaped many lips when Liszt introduced his new compositions at the piano. The magic of his pianism, combined with the complete originality of his musical style as a composer, created a furore wherever he went. It is clear now that, even without Liszt himself to show us the way at the keyboard, the wizardry contained in the music itself can still be spellbinding.

Using a set of studies he had composed at fourteen as a starting point, Liszt developed the astonishing Douze Grandes Études, S137 (1837). No 2 in A minor, marked ‘Molto vivace a capriccio’, presents a technique of repeated notes where the first is struck by the index finger and the second by the thumb, accompanied by its octave with the fifth finger – a technique only employed by Liszt in a few early works, and much better suited to the pianos of the 1830s than to the modern machine with its ungratefully heavy repetition mechanism.

Liszt made more than sixty operatic paraphrases, transcriptions or fantasies in which he tried to do several things: the propagation of the deserving but unknown; pre- or post-theatre familiarizing of an audience with the material; the challenge of a new form akin to but different from variation; the sedulous imitation of voices and orchestra at the keyboard; the encapsulation in a relatively small work of the dramatic ambit of a much larger one – these all play their part. I Puritani – Introduction et Polonaise, S391 (1840) is a marvellously effective concert piece which perfectly conjures up the spirit of the dance from Bellini’s opera.

Towards the end of his life Liszt wrote four waltzes which nostalgically evoke times and dances past, with the charming title of Valse oubliée (‘Forgotten Waltz’). The Quatrième Valse oubliée, S215/4 (1885) almost became permanently forgotten until the manuscript surfaced in 1954 and the piece was belatedly published. Like many of the visionary pieces of Liszt’s last years, the ending is enigmatic: a beautiful irresolution of a striving dominant seventh over the immovable keynote.

The Grand Galop chromatique, S219 (1838) figured prominently in Liszt’s own recital programmes, and its enormous popularity probably accounts for the quick publication of the simplified version and the version for piano duet. But Liszt returned to the concert version on several occasions over the years, adding ossia passages and extending the overall structure. The present version represents his fullest extension of the original. The obvious lightness of the work’s character made this piece an instant crowd-pleaser, but the imaginative undercurrent throws in a marvellous sequence of whole-tones and some wickedly unresolved chromatics at the coda.

Gnomenreigen (‘Round dance of the gnomes’), S145/2 is one of a pair of concert études which Liszt published in 1863. The many instructions to play very quickly and still faster remind one of Schumann, and, as with Schumann, the performer dares not be too literal about it. This ever-popular study alternates between two themes: a ‘Presto scherzando’ in F sharp minor of half-lit crushed notes, as if at play in secret; and a brilliant toccata, ‘Un poco più animato’, as if hidden spirits are revealed, which first appears in A major. The work is a sort of benevolent Mephisto Waltz – these gnomes are good spirits, as testified by Liszt’s bringing them home in a key which he always reserves to describe the joy of the life to come: F sharp major.

The justly famous Rigoletto – Paraphrase de concert, S434 (1859) is a stunning recreation of the quartet between Rigoletto, Gilda, the Duke and Maddalena in Act IV of Verdi’s opera. Verdi apparently didn’t mind Liszt’s slight alteration to his melody, and the introduction – which the manuscript reveals to have been composed last – is a stroke of genius.

Liszt the Franciscan
The Abbé Liszt has always been a familiar figure. Even though Liszt took only the four minor orders in 1864 (as a Franciscan), and thus never became a priest (although he was later made Canon of Albano), his preoccupation with religious thought actually goes right back to his teenage years in Paris, and the subsequent friendship with some of the important religious writers of the day. The contradictions between Liszt’s perceived lifestyle and his devout intentions were a regular subject for speculation and even ridicule, but any proper investigation of Liszt’s life and letters reveals a deeply thoughtful and complex man whose religious sensibilities must be taken absolutely seriously. His efforts to produce a new and viable language for church music, incorporating the language of the music drama, earned him as many enemies as friends, but the actual range of style of his religious music encompasses everything from the dramatic gesture to a return to an austere simplicity echoing a much earlier age. The piano works of a religious character show the same variety, and a good few of them are transcriptions of his own choral pieces.

St Francis of Paola was one of Liszt’s patron saints, and the second of his Légendes – St François de Paule marchant sur les flots, S175/2 (c1863) – depicts that saint walking on the waters. A ferryman having refused to carry him without payment, the saint is obliged to cross the Straits of Messina with but a cloak and staff to assist him. This is music of colossal power, especially in the depiction of the storm which threatens to engulf St Francis.

Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth, S534iii (1880s) (‘The Nonnenwerth Cloisters’) was something of an obsession with Liszt. At the last count, beginning around 1841 and continuing until the last years of his life, he seems to have made three versions of a song to Lichnowsky’s poem, an Élégie with a different text over the same music, four versions of it for solo piano, the second of these with an alternative reading effectively making version number five, just one version for piano duet, and versions for violin or cello and piano. The present piano version is the last, and the simple song has become a nostalgic reflection upon happier times and gives rise to the speculation that, in old age, Liszt mused upon one of the happiest periods of his life: when he and the Countess d’Agoult holidayed on the Rhenish island of Nonnenwerth with their children Blandine, Cosima and Daniel in the summers of 1841/43 – some of the few occasions when that extraordinary family was united.

Liszt’s fascination with Beethoven was lifelong – at the age of eleven he had been presented to the great master, and he did more than anyone to proselytize for Beethoven’s music. Among Liszt’s Beethoven transcriptions, which include all the symphonies, are many songs. Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, S467/6 (1840) (‘God’s Glory in Nature’) is one of the six sacred songs to poems by Gellert which Beethoven published as his Opus 48. Liszt changed the order of the songs in his transcription to allow his lovingly embellished version of this mighty hymn to conclude the set.

Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen, S562/1 (1840) (‘Litany for All Souls’ Day’) is a transcription of one of Schubert’s most beautiful songs (D343a). The song is a requiem prayer, which Liszt treats with beautiful simplicity, even in the octave doublings of the second verse. In his last years Liszt wrote a good many sacred pieces, and often prepared versions of them for solo piano. The choral O Traurigkeit (am Karfeitag), S506a/8 (1878/9) (‘O sadness (on Good Friday)’) is one of a group of piano versions of Choräle, and it is also to be found in Liszt’s remarkable musical depiction of the Stations of the Cross, Via Crucis. These pieces were obviously intended for private performance and represent the simplest piano writing to come from Liszt’s pen.

The Inno del Papa, S530 (c1864) (L’Hymne du Pape – ‘The Pope’s Hymn’) appeared in versions for piano and organ (also for piano duet and for orchestra), and was later transformed into the mighty ‘Tu es Petrus’ movement of the oratorio Christus. A version with voices and organ titled ‘Dall’alma Roma’, written, like the present version, in honour of Pope Pius IX, remains in rather chaotic manuscript. A pity, because it would surely have been taken up as a national hymn in Italy, whose present national anthem is among the least musically distinguished in the world!

Liszt the Romantic
It goes without saying that Liszt embodied the spirit of the Romantic period – probably more than any other musician of his time. Both because of his longevity and his catholicity of taste, as well as his truly Renaissance-man grasp of so many issues artistic, political and historical, the life and works of Liszt are perfectly representative of the age.

Widmung – Liebeslied, S566 (1848) (‘Dedication – Love Song’), the first song from Schumann’s Myrthen, Opus 25, to a poem by Rückert – was, as the world knows, a gift from Schumann to Clara, but we cannot blame Liszt for wanting this great song to be much more widely distributed, and, since Schumann’s song is very easily come by nowadays, there is absolutely no need for any offence to be taken at the glorious expansion of the original in Liszt’s ever-popular transcription.

Although much of their friendship was conducted only in a voluminous correspondence from 1861 to 1886, the Baroness von Meyendorff was the recipient of several of Liszt’s tenderest little piano pieces. One such is the Impromptu, S191 (1872), which stands on the threshold of the extraordinary avant-garde world of Liszt’s final years, and although the piece is cast in F sharp major, there is a colourful ambiguity in some of the harmonic movement.

Bechlarn, S496/2 (1878/9): the title is the name of the place (Pöchlarn in the Nibelungenlied) where the noble minstrel Volker sings a public serenade of tribute to Gotelind. The music originates with Eduard Lassen, who succeeded Liszt as Kapellmeister in Weimar. Lassen wrote incidental music for Hebbel’s Nibelungen and for Goethe’s Faust which inspired an excellent set of piano fantasies by Liszt. This serenade, in Liszt’s hands, is of a touching and naïve simplicity.

Chopin’s relationship with Liszt was often a stormy affair, but the mutual respect was firm enough, no better shown than by Liszt’s efforts to be Chopin’s first biographer and by the time and care which Liszt put into transcriptions of six of Chopin’s Polish Songs. The songs are certainly the only really neglected part of Chopin’s output (can it be simply because most singers are unfamiliar with the Polish language?) and here, as in dozens of other cases, Liszt seeks to propagate that which he already knows to be first-rate. Liszt captures Chopin’s expanded mood exactly in Moja pieszczotka (‘My Darling’, or ‘My Joys’ as it has been strangely rendered) and the poem of desire breaks forth in operatic grandeur. The revised version, published under the French title Mes joies – Nocturne après un chant polonais de Chopin, S480/5ii (after 1860) contains a few small elaborations and sixteen further bars of music at the end.

Ehemals!, S185/10 (1874–6) (‘Old Times’) is the tenth piece of the suite Weihnachtsbaum (‘Christmas Tree’) – at once wistful and impassioned, a nostalgic remembrance of the first meeting between Liszt and the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. The Princess was Liszt’s partner from the end of 1847, and he very nearly married her in 1861 but for family/clerical obstacles.

O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst – Notturno Nr. 3, S541 (c1850) (‘O Love, as long as you are able to love’ – Nocturne No 3) is, of course, the third of the Liebesträume (often quite erroneously titled Liebestraum No 3 – the plural applies to each piece). It is probably only just that the best known work of the greatest transcriber in the history of Western music should be a transcription, but fortunate, at least, that it should be a transcription of one of his own works. For this is one of the world’s most treasured melodies, and it has been the piano transcription, rather than the equally splendid original song, that has claimed a permanent place on the short-list of the best love-inspired themes. The original song, to a poem by Freiligrath, enjoins us to love whilst we may, for love lost is miserable.

Liszt the Prophet
Liszt’s ‘third period’ may be said to begin with his departure from Weimar, and especially with his retirement to Rome in the early 1860s. From this point to the end of his life his music contains a great deal of introspection and almost a disregard of the likely fate of many of the works, only a few of which were performed and published in his lifetime. Orchestral works are rare, and the choral works after the completion of Christus tend to be on a small scale without orchestral accompaniment. The songs and piano pieces become starker, and the textures become leaner, even in the few ‘public’ pieces like the later Mephisto Waltzes and Rhapsodies.

The later works are an altogether outstanding body of work from an indefatigable imagination, in their way comparable to the Beethoven late quartets or Bach’s Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue. The psychiatrist Anthony Storr, in his book The School of Genius, writes: ‘The old often show less interest in interpersonal relationships, and are more content to be alone, and become more preoccupied with their own internal concerns … This change … can be most clearly seen in the productions of those who leave behind a series of works of abiding interest’. Storr rightly defines the first period of an artist’s life as a training time, the second as the advent of mastery and individuality, often combined with a need for a wide public, and the third as ‘a time when communication with others tends to be replaced by works depending more upon solitary meditation’.

It has long been asserted that, in his last years, Liszt grappled with a great many ideas about the possible future that music might take, even prefiguring the destruction of the Romanticism of which he was so much a part. He often anticipated Debussy, Scriabin, Schoenberg and Bartók in just the same way that his younger self had been such an important precursor of the harmonic and motivic techniques of Wagner. There is nothing experimental about this music, whatever a number of commentators have suggested: the breakdown of tonality, the openness of the form, the avant-garde harmonies, the avoided comfortable cadences and the trailings away into silence are the products of intense care. Even little album-leaves take on the characteristics of a new order of musical thinking. Whether the mood is nostalgic, miserable, unworldly, elegiac or even patriotic, the old language no longer serves. And the old virtuosity is almost completely absent: the musical demands far outstrip the purely technical ones.

The Bagatelle sans tonalité, S216a (1885) (‘Bagatelle without tonality’) was also designated as the fourth Mephisto Waltz, but another Liszt work also bears that title, so this piece has even been printed with the subtitle ‘Fifth Mephisto Waltz’! Although the piece is by no means dissonantly atonal, it is true that no tonality ever holds sway. Nuages gris, S199 (1881) (Trübe Wolken – ‘Grey clouds’), drew admiration from Debussy and Stravinsky for its simple perfection. The ostensible key, G minor, is strained by dissonance, first growling then lyrical, not at all resolved by the enigmatic cadence.

As we have seen, Antonia Raab, who died in 1902, was a pupil of Liszt, and her poetry which inspired Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort, S203 (1883) (‘Sleepless! Question and Answer’) has not come down to us. But it is easy to imagine the thought behind this miniature, where the tossing and turning is resolved by a simple transformation of the theme and the arrival of tonality which brings rest. Liszt’s subtitle Nocturne is surely ironic, but in the next piece it may be taken at face value: En rêve – Nocturne, S207 (1885) was a gift to Liszt’s young pupil August Stradal and, like Nuages gris is in a perfect binary form in which a guileless melody is transformed into ethereality.

The Toccata, S197a (composed, like the next piece, some time between 1865 and 1881) is an extraordinary little study unusual among the late pieces for its ‘Prestissimo’ tempo direction and the ambiguous ‘white-note’ flavour to the harmony before the parallel chromatic movement of the closing passage. Whilst a sense of humour is apparent in a good deal of Liszt’s music, at least within the bounds of scherzando, and often with a Mephistophelean edge, actual joking in his music is pretty well absent, save in the one piece inspired by the sight of the corpulent, hapless Madame Pelet-Narbonne (a friend of Olga von Meyendorff) taking her pleasure-ride on a roundabout: Carrousel de Mme. Pelet-Narbonne, S214a. It must be admitted that Liszt’s view of the incident is less than kind – with the marking ‘Allegro intrepido’, and sounding not far away from the spirit of Bartók’s ‘Allegro barbaro’.

Petite valse (Nachspiel zu den drei vergessenen Walzer), S695d (1884?) (‘Little Waltz – Pendant to the three Forgotten Waltzes’): it would seem that the unpublished Petite valse was written some time between the composition of the third and the fourth Valses oubliées, since it is described as a pendant to the three waltzes. The manuscript in the Goethe-Schiller Archive is in a terrible state: at some stage it has been torn asunder, both from top to bottom and from side to side. A crime if the deed was not perpetrated by Liszt himself in a moment of self-doubt, merely a pity otherwise, because the fragment is of that other-worldly nostalgic beauty unique to the gentler works of Liszt’s old age. The piece consists of 101 bars of music, and a final change of key signature indicating a return to earlier material. The present writer has completed the piece by adding 25 bars, 20 of which are entirely Liszt’s, and the last five bars only contain the vanishing spectre of the previous phrase, in imitation of a passage in the Troisième Valse oubliée. This is simply too haunting a piece to discard unheard.

Liszt’s gift of seeing into the musical future is, of course, clear from the beginning. Works like the Apparitions, Lyon, Album d’un voyageur, Paralipomènes à la Divina Commedia or Litanies de Marie are all well ahead of their time, as is much of the orchestral music of the Weimar period. It is also from this period that we have one of his most original conceptions for piano and orchestra: Totentanz. The work is performed here in its final version: Totentanz – Paraphrase über ‘Dies iræ’, S126ii (1852–1859) (‘Dance of Death – Paraphrase on the Dies iræ’).

Plainsong themes were important to Liszt, both for reasons of his faith and because of their intrinsic musical value, and whilst one might expect to encounter them more often in the works of his Roman period in the 1860s, they feature over the whole range of his composing life. Unlike Berlioz, who had already employed two phrases of the Dies iræ in his Symphonie fantastique, Liszt’s Totentanz uses the whole first verse of the theme, whose three phrases mirror the famous text from the Sequence of the Requiem: ‘Dies iræ, dies illa / Solvet sæclum in favilla / Teste David cum Sibylla’ (‘Day of wrath, the day / that will dissolve the world in ashes, / as David and the Sibyl prophesied’). Liszt introduces the material dramatically: the piano and timpani accompany the lower winds, brass and strings in the first two phrases, then a series of spiky cadenzas culminates in a restatement, followed by the third phrase, played three times. Finally, the piano reiterates the first two phrases alone. Variation I is a double variation where bassoon and violas play a new rhythmic counterpoint to the first two phrases in the lower strings, which the piano then repeats, and then clarinet and bassoon are in counterpoint with the strings for the third phrase, again repeated by the piano, which takes control of Variation II, with a new counter-theme from the horn and multiple glissandos from the soloist. Oboes and clarinets add another new counter-theme in Variation III, whilst Variation IV is a much freer affair for solo piano cp where each phrase is introduced in four-voice canon.

So far the work has remained firmly in D minor, but the piano now takes very gentle wing in a delicate cadenza leading to B major and thence to G minor, where a lone clarinet joins in for ten bars before D minor is abruptly restored in the brilliant transition to Variation V. This fugato uses just the first two phrases of the theme for its subject and leads to a development in which the full orchestra plays a part. The section is brought to an end by a grand cadenza which makes a brief excursion into F sharp major before bringing matters to a close in D minor.

That which Liszt marks Variation VI amounts to a new theme and six variations – also in D minor, also on a theme which fits the verses of the Dies iræ text, but which is quite different, and whose origins are found in a version of the Burial Service which Liszt knew well. The last of these miniature variations is extended to introduce a final cadenza, which brings back the original theme. The coda begins with piano glissandos over the third phrase of the theme, after which the soloist is left to improvise until the end, since Liszt’s score is blank in the solo part for the last statement of the first two phrases. The tradition of adding the scale in contrary octaves to the orchestra seven bars from the end certainly stems from Liszt’s lifetime, and is also found in the (otherwise very unreliable) edition/version produced by Liszt’s pupil Alexander Siloti.

Leslie Howard © 2001


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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 2 – Ballades, Legends & Polonaises' (CDA66301)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 2 – Ballades, Legends & Polonaises
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'Liszt: New Discoveries, Vol. 2' (CDA67455)
Liszt: New Discoveries, Vol. 2
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'Liszt: New Discoveries, Vol. 3' (CDA67810)
Liszt: New Discoveries, Vol. 3
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 3 – Konzertsolo & Odes funèbres' (CDA66302)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 3 – Konzertsolo & Odes funèbres
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 4 – Transcendental Studies' (CDA66357)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 4 – Transcendental Studies
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 5 – Saint-Saëns, Chopin & Berlioz Transcriptions' (CDA66346)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 5 – Saint-Saëns, Chopin & Berlioz Transcriptions
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 6 – Liszt at the Opera I' (CDA66371/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 6 – Liszt at the Opera I
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 7 – Harmonies poétiques et religieuses' (CDA66421/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 7 – Harmonies poétiques et religieuses
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 8 – Weihnachtsbaum & Via Crucis' (CDA66388)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 8 – Weihnachtsbaum & Via Crucis
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 9 – Sonata, Elegies & Consolations' (CDA66429)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 9 – Sonata, Elegies & Consolations
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique' (CDA66433)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 10 – Hexaméron & Symphonie fantastique
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 11 – The Late Pieces' (CDA66445)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 11 – The Late Pieces
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 12 – Années de pèlerinage III' (CDA66448)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 12 – Années de pèlerinage III
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 13 – À la Chapelle Sixtine' (CDA66438)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 13 – À la Chapelle Sixtine
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 14 – Christus & St Elisabeth' (CDA66466)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 14 – Christus & St Elisabeth
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 15 – Song Transcriptions' (CDA66481/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 15 – Song Transcriptions
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 16 – Bunte Reihe' (CDA66506)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 16 – Bunte Reihe
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 17 – Liszt at the Opera II' (CDA66571/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 17 – Liszt at the Opera II
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 18 – Liszt at the Theatre' (CDA66575)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 18 – Liszt at the Theatre
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 19 – Liebesträume & the Songbooks' (CDA66593)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 19 – Liebesträume & the Songbooks
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 20 – Album d'un voyageur' (CDA66601/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 20 – Album d'un voyageur
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 21 – Soirées musicales' (CDA66661/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 21 – Soirées musicales
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies' (CDA66671/5)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 23 – Harold in Italy' (CDA66683)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 23 – Harold in Italy
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 24 – Beethoven & Hummel Septets' (CDA66761/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 24 – Beethoven & Hummel Septets
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 25 – The Canticle of the Sun' (CDA66694)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 25 – The Canticle of the Sun
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 26 – The Young Liszt' (CDA66771/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 26 – The Young Liszt
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 27 – Fantasies, paraphrases and transcriptions of National Songs' (CDA66787)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 27 – Fantasies, paraphrases and transcriptions of National Songs
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 28 – Dances and Marches' (CDA66811/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 28 – Dances and Marches
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 29 – Magyar Dalok & Magyar Rapszódiák' (CDA66851/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 29 – Magyar Dalok & Magyar Rapszódiák
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 30 – Liszt at the Opera III' (CDA66861/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 30 – Liszt at the Opera III
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 31 – The Schubert Transcriptions I' (CDA66951/3)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 31 – The Schubert Transcriptions I
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 32 – The Schubert Transcriptions II' (CDA66954/6)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 32 – The Schubert Transcriptions II
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 33 – The Schubert Transcriptions III' (CDA66957/9)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 33 – The Schubert Transcriptions III
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 34 – Douze Grandes Études' (CDA66973)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 34 – Douze Grandes Études
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 35 – Arabesques' (CDA66984)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 35 – Arabesques
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 36 – Excelsior!' (CDA66995)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 36 – Excelsior!
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 37 – Tanzmomente' (CDA67004)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 37 – Tanzmomente
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 38 – Les Préludes' (CDA67015)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 38 – Les Préludes
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 39 – Première année de pèlerinage' (CDA67026)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 39 – Première année de pèlerinage
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 40 – Gaudeamus igitur' (CDA67034)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 40 – Gaudeamus igitur
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 41 – The Recitations with piano' (CDA67045)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 41 – The Recitations with piano
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 42 – Liszt at the Opera IV' (CDA67101/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 42 – Liszt at the Opera IV
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 43 – Deuxième Année de Pèlerinage' (CDA67107)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 43 – Deuxième Année de Pèlerinage
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 44 – The Early Beethoven Transcriptions' (CDA67111/3)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 44 – The Early Beethoven Transcriptions
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 45 – Rapsodie espagnole' (CDA67145)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 45 – Rapsodie espagnole
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 46 – Meditations' (CDA67161/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 46 – Meditations
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 47 – Litanies de Marie' (CDA67187)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 47 – Litanies de Marie
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 48 – The Complete Paganini Études' (CDA67193)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 48 – The Complete Paganini Études
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 49 – Schubert and Weber Transcriptions' (CDA67203)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 49 – Schubert and Weber Transcriptions
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 50 – Liszt at the Opera V' (CDA67231/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 50 – Liszt at the Opera V
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 51 – Paralipomènes' (CDA67233/4)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 51 – Paralipomènes
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 52 – Ungarischer Romanzero' (CDA67235)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 52 – Ungarischer Romanzero
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I' (CDA67401/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra II' (CDA67403/4)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra II
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI' (CDA67406/7)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie' (CDA67408/10)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 56 – Rarities, Curiosities, Album Leaves and Fragments' (CDA67414/7)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 56 – Rarities, Curiosities, Album Leaves and Fragments
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies' (CDA67418/9)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies
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