Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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Movement 1: Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Andante cantabile con moto
Movement 3: Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace – Trio – Menuetto da capo
Movement 4: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace
Right at the outset Liszt’s score offers two solutions to an effective piano rendering. As so often with Liszt, one version is clearly designed with concert performance in mind, the other with more modest music-making. (And, just as often, Liszt offers a simpler solution for only some parts of the work and leaves other serious technical problems without alternatives. Thus, despite his desire for all sorts and conditions of pianists to study the pieces, these transcriptions have remained the province of the few.) The pizzicato strings and the held wind chords are neatly approximated with acciaccaturas. In the introduction, and later with the oboe melody, Liszt lowers some material by an octave in order to throw the counterpoint into better relief. At the end of the exposition two versions of the right hand offer a choice between an emphasis on the string tremolos or the wind syncopation. A feature typical of many of Liszt’s transcriptions of orchestral music is the substitution of octave triplets in short descending or ascending groups in the place of four semiquavers. Semiquaver octaves would usually prove impracticable at high speed, and a single line of semiquavers would fail to achieve the correct weight.
For anyone wishing to try his hand at one of these transcriptions (especially anyone hitherto raised on one of the worthy piano-duet versions which abound) the second movement of the First Symphony would be a good place to start because, apart from the occasional demand of the stretch of a tenth, the writing is very agreeable. Liszt’s practice, when faced with too much material to transcribe in a manner clearly distinguishable in the part-writing, is to add a supplementary stave or two to give background information. Thus the chords which alternate between strings and winds at the end of the exposition are not required to be played, but have been deemed of lesser importance than the melody triplets, the repeated bass line, the held trumpet and just a hint of the accompanying staccato chords.
In the Scherzo (Beethoven’s description of it as a minuet is surely a joke), some of the trumpet and drum parts are printed as a guide only. It would be impossible to add them without their becoming distractive from the moving lines. Liszt has decided in many cases thoughout the series of all nine Symphonies that the actual notes of the restricted trumpet and drum of Beethoven’s time are much less important than the added weight their presence gives. His attempt in the Trio to hold the wind chords under the rushing string quavers is a splendid effect, certainly not requiring the use of the middle ‘sostenuto’ pedal, but rather a deliberately blurred texture with both the other pedals employed.
The finale is very straightforwardly transcribed, and one or two adventurous passages are given easier alternatives. But it is better for Beethoven’s sake to grit the teeth and essay the wicked scales in thirds at the coda.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993