If the Sonata was Liszt’s attempt to address the legacy of Beethoven, then the Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H
was a homage to another great German master, Johann Sebastian Bach. The piece was, appropriately enough, originally written for organ, specifically for the consecration of the new instrument in Merseburg Cathedral in 1856. A revised version for piano—heard in the present recording—was made in 1870. Bach had himself sometimes used the letters of his name as a musical theme. ‘B’ signifies B flat in German notation, and ‘H’ represents B natural, resulting in the short chromatic figure B flat-A-C-B natural. This Liszt develops in a variety of guises, ranging from a plethora of complex chromatic sequences to the contemplative fugal section that begins the second half of the work. Towards the end, the theme rings out as a series of majestic fortissimo chords, which again might have brought the piece to a perhaps too obvious close had not Liszt then unexpectedly produced a new, quietly rapt chromatic harmonization of the theme—offering a glimpse of mystical revelation in the midst of celebratory splendour.
from notes by Kenneth Hamilton © 2011