Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai, second version
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Trio [ – Scherzo]
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro molto – Poco andante – Presto
If there is anything which an amateur might essay in the transcription of the First Symphony, the Third is merciless in its demands upon the complete gamut of concert technique. In his obvious desire to reflect the might of the original, Liszt makes the most of the grandest textures of which the piano is capable. And, as he suggests is his preface, the piano of the 1860s had become very grand indeed, and the serious differences between a Steinway of that era and the present time are really rather few. Hands capable of taking tenths are an inevitable prerequisite from the first bar. To avoid placing tremolo chords at every place where Beethoven writes tremolos for the strings, Liszt makes many excellent suggestions for alternative textures which sound less oppressive on the piano and which do not detract from the original idea.
The earlier transcription of the Marcia funebre has some interest in itself and, whilst some of the more complicated passages have found a more congenial solution in the revision, nevertheless served as a close model—the new version was written into a printed copy of the old one. Liszt prints Beethoven’s rhythms of the dotted melody line with the triplet chords underneath exactly as Beethoven has them, but, without wishing to open up the whole question of interpretation of such things in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for sheer practicality, the last note of the melody may occasionally fall with the last note of the triplet chords. Liszt’s fingerings are daringly original too: tracing detached lines with the only spare finger to hand (usually the fifth finger or the thumb) whilst the rest of the hand—indeed, body—is occupied elsewhere, is typical of the whole series.
Sometimes difficulties manufacture themselves where Beethoven could not have intended them: the moto perpetuo of detached chords in the Scherzo is a case where for the orchestra the passage in eminently playable but for the piano is rich in awkwardness, whilst the converse may also apply: the often-mauled horn parts of the Trio are much less notorious at the keyboard.
A study of Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations for piano makes very reasonable practice ground for the finale of the Symphony; Beethoven’s piano fugue is as uncompromisingly unpianistic as his counterpoint in the symphonic variations turns out to be in Liszt’s thorough effort to let nothing be lost. Liszt’s solutions at the end of the movement are especially interesting. In order to reflect the enormous variety of orchestral colour which Beethoven brings to the last triumphant statement of the melody, Liszt takes the orchestral chords on the second and third quavers of the bar and deposits them with much ado at the bottom of the keyboard, leaving the middle ground for the chords surrounding the theme and the upper reaches for the semiquaver triplets of the strings, and, just before the Presto coda, Liszt risks leaving out the cello and bass line altogether in order to give a fairer presentation of the delicate chords tossed from winds to upper strings. And the coda itself avoids fatiguing the ear with endless semiquaver chords by discovering alternative piano textures every few bars to the end.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993