Along with the Sonata in B minor and the oratorio Christus
, the Faust Symphony
has always been recognized as one of Liszt’s pinnacles of achievement. Although Liszt produced the whole symphony (and all of the Dante Symphony
) for two pianos, Gretchen
, the second movement of the Faust Symphony
, is the only movement that he published in a version for solo piano: a pity, because he has done the job so beautifully, in exactly the same spirit in which he approached the transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies. The piece is a character portrait of Goethe’s heroine, cast in a simple ternary form. The main material is woven around two of Liszt’s finest themes, one a delicate melody with a single line of more florid accompaniment, and the other a theme whose opening chords reveal some splendid part-writing in the imitations of the inner voices. The music of the central section is effective enough without the need to have observed its origins in the first movement. Those who wish to follow all of the extra-musical possibilities would need to hear the whole Symphony, but as a single movement piano piece, the work does not stand in need of further gloss.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1991