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Hyperion Records

CDA67406/7 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI
CDA67406/7
Recording details: December 1998
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: March 1999
Total duration: 153 minutes 0 seconds

'A bombshell selection that promises to hold the listener for hours on end. One almost imagines the fire of Liszt himself at the keyboard. Another jewel in Hyperion's legendary series.' (The Sunday Times, Malta)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI
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This is the sixth and final instalment of Leslie Howard's thorough survey of Liszt's opera paraphrases and transcriptions. The series now includes all the significant versions of every such work he composed. There are some real rarities, here including three complete works, never published by Liszt, which our pianist has prepared from the manuscripts. Also present is the legendary Tannhäuser Overture transcription – one of the most monumental of all piano works.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
This final offering of Liszt’s piano pieces on operatic themes presents works which range from the unpublished (Ernani, Freischütz, Il giuramento), through lesser-known versions of more familiar music (Huguenots, Sonnambula, Ruslan, Lucia/Parisina, Puritani) to one of the most notorious (Tannhäuser). Although there are some pieces which are missing from the present series because they have never turned up – Bellini’s Pirata, for one – or because they are so little different from other versions of the same title (tiny simplifications in the Tristan transcription or in the Einzug der Gäste from Tannhäuser make the final editions slightly less interesting; a version of the Masaniello Tarantella with a small cut seemed unnecessary, etc.), this collection completes the survey. (There are a few pieces of this genre which remained unfinished – the surviving fragments will appear in Volume 56.) The twelve discs of this series have thus presented far and away the most important body of works of this kind in the whole literature, at whose range and scope of invention and reinvention one can only marvel. The number of operas which Liszt attended, conducted, supported and transcribed is legion – his only failing in this respect was not to have written a mature opera of his own. A concise listing of the operas he transcribed, paraphrased or fantasized upon shows the vast extent of Liszt’s knowledge and concern:

Auber: La fiancée; La muette de Portici (Masanieo)
Bellini: I puritani; La sonnambula; Norma
Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini
Delibes Jean de Nivelle
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor; Parisina; Lucrezia Borgia; La favorite; Dom Sébastien
Erkel: Hunyadi László
Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: Tony; Diana von Solange Glinka Ruslan i Lyudmila
Gounod: Faust; La reine de Saba; Roméo et Juliette
Halévy: La juive
Handel: Almira
Mercadante: Il giuramento
Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots; Robert le diable; Le prophète; L’africaine
Mosonyi: Szép Ilonka
Mozart: Don Giovanni; Le nozze di Figaro; Die Zauberflöte
Pacini: Niobe
Raff: König Alfred
Rossini: Ermione; La donna del lago; Armide; Otello; Le siège de Corinthe; Guillaume Tell
Spohr: Zemire und Azor
Spontini: Olympie; Fernand Cortez
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Verdi: I lombardi; Ernani; Il trovatore; Rigoletto; Don Carlos; Aïda; Simon Boccanegra
Wagner: Rienzi; Der fliegende Holländer; Tannhäuser; Lohengrin; Tristan und Isolde; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Das Rheingold; Parsifal
Weber: Der Freischütz; Oberon

(There are additional kindred works on themes from a zarzuela by Garcia and from an unidentified work by Soriano.)

A lapsus in a note to Liszt at the Opera V (Volume 50 of the series) suggests that the first version of the La fiancée fantasy is to be found in Volume 42, whereas it opens the present recital. The other information in that note, however, remains accurate: this work appeared – as did many a Liszt operatic fantasy – hard on the heels of the first performance of the opera upon which it is based (both works date from 1829) and is the first of Liszt’s mature works based upon operatic themes. (There are early sets of variations, and an Impromptu – all in Vol 26.) As we have previously noted, Liszt revised the piece in 1839, and reissued it in 1842, in what the Neue Liszt-Ausgabe somewhat ingenuously describes as a third version, with alterations so tiny (the piece is bar-for-bar the same as the second version, a few wrong notes are corrected, and half a dozen accompanying chords are slightly redistributed) that the second version does not merit separate performance or recording. The whole piece is based on the tenor aria from the second act of the opera, and is really an old-fashioned introduction, theme, variations – each with its concluding ritornello – and coda. In the original version the work consists of a long and very florid introduction (much shortened in the later versions, although there we find an added anticipation of the last variation) followed by the theme, four variations and finale. Liszt later dropped the original second variation, and altered the tonality at the beginning of the martial variation 3, whereas in the present version the music clings fairly rigidly to the tonic, only moving to the subdominant for the Barcarolle – variation 4. Without making great claims for its intrinsic musical merit, the piece remains important for being the first in a long and distinguished line, and for presenting for the first time the fully-fledged Liszt the pianist, with a devilish delight in what extreme demands may be made upon two hands at one keyboard. (We must remember that this is 1829: Schubert, Beethoven and Weber were only recently departed, Chopin’s Opus 10 Études had not appeared, nor had Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, and Liszt had not yet heard Paganini.)

The standard Ernani paraphrase was issued with the paraphrases on Il trovatore and Rigoletto. It was based, in part, on an earlier, unpublished work, which is performed here: the later paraphrase confines itself to the finale of Act III – the King of Spain’s aria and chorus at Charlemagne’s tomb – and is an elaboration, transposed from A flat minor to F minor, of the second part of the earlier work (Verdi’s key is F minor). In the earlier piece the A flat minor section is preceded by an exceedingly florid transcription in E flat major (Verdi’s key) of a chorus from the finale of Act I: Elvira’s would-be lover is revealed to be Don Carlo, the King.

Two versions of the fantasy on Les Huguenots have already appeared in this series – the original version in Volume 50, the final version in Volume 42. The second version, recorded here, is almost identical to the first except that it allows for a large cut and a smaller one (neither observed here), and replaces the original frenetic final section with a grand statement of the Lutheran choral Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott – which coda is also adopted in the final version. In many ways this version is the best text of all, because it allows us the whole duet, which the final version does not, and yet has the better ending.

In the case of the Sonnambula fantasy, the second version appeared in Volume 50, and the final one in Volume 42. The present version is the first, although it was announced as a revised version when it first appeared, simply because the very first edition went out without any dynamics or other performing directions. The musical texts are otherwise identical.

The Chernomor March from Ruslan i Lyudmila appeared in its final form in Volume 6 – Liszt at the Opera I. By the time of the revision the language of the title had changed from French to German, and the text was somewhat simplified. The present version finds some quite different textures in its various treatments of Glinka’s splendid material, and Liszt’s coda (Glinka’s original does not have one) is another composition altogether in the later version (which was further recomposed when Liszt made his version for piano duet).

The Valse à capriccio is that rare specimen of a fantasy upon themes from two different operas (Liszt also combined Figaro and Don Giovanni – see Vol 30), and in the first version also contains material at the end which comes from neither of the operas in question: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and his lesser-known Parisina. If the later version, called Valse de concert (see Vol 30 – issued as the third of Trois Valses-Caprices, along with the final versions of the Valse de bravoure and the Valse mélancolique – see Vol 1) is a more subtle and refined piece, the early version contains a good deal of interesting music which was cut in the later piece. (The revision, however, restored the four bars missing from the F sharp major waltz – reinstated here by analogy with the corresponding passage eight bars earlier – an error not corrected in any subsequent publication of the early version.) For listeners familiar with the later version, it will be easily seen that the two pieces are similar in structure until the point where the first version breaks into a brisk 2/4 variation where the second version proceeds directly to the peroration. In the first version the waltz is resumed, but in 3/8, and the themes from the two operas are combined. This leads to the coda proper, which contains the above-mentioned foreign material (perhaps even composed by Liszt in the appropriate style) and a delightfully crazy passage with repeated octave semiquavers in 1/4 in the right hand against the 3/8 waltz in the left.

For some inscrutable reason Liszt subtitled his transcription of the Tannhäuser Overture Konzertparaphrase. A paraphrase it most certainly is not, and, with the tiniest exceptions, it proceeds faithfully, bar-for-bar, with Wagner’s score (the Dresden version, of course) and deserves to be considered alongside the transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, the Weber overtures, the William Tell Overture and the major orchestral works of Berlioz. Uniquely amongst Liszt’s works, the score contains no pedal directions at all, but the performer is instructed to use his discretion in the matter. On the face of it, the job is plainly to attempt an orchestral fullness of sound, and the few directions that one can transfer from parallel passages in the transcription of the Pilgrims’ Chorus suggest that one is to paint in broad strokes, and that the brass chords are the important foundation – upper details being of secondary importance. The transcription used to be a very popular warhorse at piano recitals, and it was memorably recorded by the great Benno Moiseiwitsch. Nowadays it is very seldom attempted in public – a pity.

The Puritani fantasy has remained a rarity, because of its great length and difficulty no doubt, and, as we have seen, Liszt extracted and somewhat simplified the concluding Polonaise for separate performance (the original fantasy and the Polonaise are in Vol 42). For the second edition of the fantasy – which must have followed the first almost immediately since it is not marked as a nouvelle édition in any way and still bears the Opus number 7 – he introduced some alternative left-hand chromatic rumbles towards the end of the first section and an optional shortening of the second section, with an entirely newly-composed bridge passage, giving a completely different atmosphere to the work.

The two remaining works are unpublished. The present writer is deeply indebted to Dr Kenneth Hamilton for copies of the original manuscripts, as well as for the benefits of his scholarly studies upon them, reflected gratefully in these notes: Liszt wrote to Marie d’Agoult in December 1840 that he had written a work upon themes from Der Freischütz (the manuscript is untitled) and wished to do something similar with Don Giovanni – which he did, to great acclaim – and, possibly, Euryanthe – which sadly he did not pursue. He worked on the Freischütz piece in tandem with the Sonnambula and Norma fantasies in 1841, and he may well have played it, but there the story ends. The manuscript is to all intents and purposes complete. It requires a tiny amount of editing for practical use (the addition of one bar at a point where Liszt specifies an addition without providing one, and one chord at a transition where Weber’s original chord can be easily inserted, as well as all dynamics, pedallings and performance directions, some of which can be deduced from Weber’s score). The first section of the fantasy is based on Agathe’s aria from Act III ‘Und ob die Wolke’ and continues into a pastoral rethinking of the rustic chorus from Act I, gently combining the two themes. The following section, based on the scene in the Wolf’s Glen, complete with shrieking owls, is an extraordinary piece of recomposition: Weber’s melodrama would not work in a straightforward piano transcription, and Liszt, in order better to get the music to flow, takes some considerable licence with the material, and yet serves only to illuminate it. The Huntsmen’s Chorus and the theme familiar both from the overture and the end of Agathe’s Act II aria ‘Leise, leise’ generate the third section of the work, and the rustic waltz returns for the coda. We do not know why this piece remained unprepared for publication – it is a worthy companion to Liszt’s other Weber transcriptions and fantasies, and is dramatically a very successful reflection of the spirit of the opera.

Liszt and Marie d’Agoult were living in Como, expecting the birth of their second child (Cosima) towards the end of 1837. Liszt went several times to La Scala in Milan during this period and into early 1838 – his life in Italy at this time has been marvellously reported by Luciano Chiapparì – and heard a number of works in performances which were for the most part not good. He said so in print, along with acid remarks about the state of the opera-goers’ understanding and behaviour, begged for a new masterpiece by Rossini – whose opera-composing days were over – and brought down much criticism upon his head (although if one studies the in-house reports of La Scala it is clear that even the management thought much of the 1837/8 season badly composed, produced and performed). However, in order to placate the enraged Milanese, Liszt organized a charity concert at La Scala on 10 September 1838 in which he played the William Tell Overture transcription, and another work entitled Réminiscences de La Scala. It is now clear that the unpublished and untitled manuscript usually described as a fantasy on Italian operatic melodies must be the otherwise missing work. Since, apart from one melody, all its themes come from Il giuramento by Mercadante – a composer whom Liszt praised in his La Scala article, and whose work he generally admired (see also the Soirées italiennes – Vol 24) – and that Il giuramento was triumphantly given on many occasions in 1837 at La Scala (amongst apparent dross by composers immediately forgotten), as well as the manuscript paper being of the kind that Liszt was using in 1838, make it extremely likely that this work must be the La Scala piece. Liszt played the fantasy again in 1840, and some of the revisions in the manuscript may date from then, and the score is fully marked-up for engraving. Yet the work remained unpublished – perhaps because Mercadante’s star waned so rapidly? – a fate which Liszt’s excellent piece does not merit. Three themes come from Il giuramento, a fourth theme (the bouncing E flat section in 6/8) does not, and to date has not been identified. The present writer begs to differ with Dr Hamilton’s suggestion that Liszt may have written it himself; in an overt act of homage to La Scala, one presumes Liszt would have used material recently familiar there. However, since the scores of much of what was given at La Scala at the time in question have not been available for consultation, and those that have do not yield up the tune, the mystery remains for the moment, and need not detract from the innate joys of Liszt’s fantasy. (The writer confesses immediately his ignorance of Odio e amore by Obiols, Gli aragonesi in Napoli by Conti, L’ajo nell’imbarazzo of Donizetti, Le nozze di Figaro by L Ricci (!), La solitaria delle Asturie by Coccia, Torvaldo e Dorliska of Rossini and Chiara di Rosemberg by Ricci, all of which were performed at La Scala whilst Liszt was in the vicinity. One would also like to hunt down I briganti of Mercadante, which was given on 6 November 1837, shortly before Liszt appeared in Milan.)

Leslie Howard © 1999


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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
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67187  Download currently discounted
'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
'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
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67203  Download currently discounted
'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
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 51 – Paralipomènes' (CDA67233/4)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 51 – Paralipomènes
MP3 £7.75FLAC £7.75ALAC £7.75Buy by post £20.00 CDA67233/4  2CDs   Download currently discounted
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 52 – Ungarischer Romanzero' (CDA67235)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 52 – Ungarischer Romanzero
'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
'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
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie' (CDA67408/10)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie
MP3 £10.00FLAC £10.00ALAC £10.00Buy by post £26.00 CDA67408/10  3CDs Last few CD copies remaining   Download currently discounted
'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
MP3 £12.00FLAC £12.00ALAC £12.00Buy by post £30.00 CDA67414/7  4CDs for the price of 3 — Last few CD copies remaining   Download currently discounted
'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies' (CDA67418/9)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies
'Liszt: Piano Music' (LISZT1)
Liszt: Piano Music
MP3 £4.50FLAC £4.50ALAC £4.50 LISZT1  2CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  
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