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Feux follets (Will-o’-the-wisps) is the most intricate of the studies, at one level a notorious double-note study, at another a mystical half-lit piece full of strange modulations. Vision is a broad, grand piece, very imposing in its use of arpeggio and tremolo, and Eroica is a triumphal march full of octaves. Wilde Jagd (Wild Hunt) is marked ‘Presto furioso’ and in the matter of leaps is the most reckless of the studies, beginning with jagged cross-rhythms which are later contrasted with a more four-square, fanfare-like theme.
The last four studies are among Liszt’s finest works. Busoni’s epithet ‘like a packet of yellow love-letters’ is among few such bons mots about music that could ever be said to have hit the mark squarely, for Ricordanza is just that, with its old-fashioned operatic melody (marvellous tune for a boy to have written in 1826!) and its tender figurations. The great F minor study is well described by its direction ‘Allegro agitato molto’, and is the only example of a standard form in these studies—sonata form, with two subjects strongly contrasted in character and tonality, and rigorously developed. Harmonies du soir conjures up far more than peaceful scenery and distant bells, creating almost an orchestral dimension of sound as each theme is extended to cover the whole compass of the keyboard in the fullest Romantic grandeur. Chasse-neige (Whirlwinds of snow) achieves its grandeur by its very relentlessness, in which bleakness is conveyed by constant tremolo, and the blurred Impressionistic effect is heightened by the pedalling chromatic scales into the prevailing texture. That Liszt’s intentions were musically irreproachable is borne out by his clear rejection of any kind of applause-raising coda to the set: Chasse-neige ends imposingly but firmly without any change of mood.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1989
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