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.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1997