Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Andante con moto [ – Più mosso – Tempo I]
Movement 3: Scherzo [ – Trio – Scherzo]
Movement 4: Allegro – Tempo I [Scherzo] – Allegro – Presto
It will be noticed by those who listen with twentieth-century ears to this work—the listening-out for modernisms used to be such an unproductive feature of musicological education in the West!—that Liszt sometimes leaves out the trumpets and drums when they are being used more for reinforcement than for the intrinsic harmonic value of their tones. It has long been recognized that many a dissonance in music around 1800 is caused by the impracticability of either abandoning the trumpets and drums in a passage where they are not always consonant, or of adapting them to be more flexible in their pitch. However, those who lament the absence of the trumpet C in bars 197 and 201 should try what a false perpective of the harmony is achieved should one play the cluster B flat–C–D flat with the left hand. And the same may be said of the long repeated drum C at the end of the Scherzo which Liszt abandons four bars before the Allegro because that is what the ear does perforce when the rest of the orchestra plays a dominant seventh on G. (Liszt differentiates very clearly with the later passage, at the reminiscence of the Scherzo during the finale, where the intruding tonic pedal is doubled by cellos and basses.)
Liszt allows one or two suggestions for facilitation in the first movement, but since the rest of the work requires a fully fledged technique they seem rather superfluous. The main feature of the piece, apart from the necessity to find a sufficient variety of colour for the dogged repetitions of the four-note rhythm, is the sheer amount of leaping from one part of the keyboard to another which is constantly required to be executed without damaging the flow. Liszt opens the slow movement with crossed hands, partly because the left hand is better shaped to carry the cello melody and partly to prevent the profundity of musical simplicity being lost because of technical ease. Among the many memorable inspirations that Liszt had in trying to preserve as many details as possible the passage in A flat minor (at bar 166) stands out: in order to preserve the theme in two voices the first violin figuration has to be undertaken by constantly alternating the thumb and index finger of the right hand in a fashion whose tranquillity masks its precariousness.
The Scherzo is transcribed cleanly and clearly, with some clever fingering in order to cope with the wind chords above the melody at the approach to the Trio, which is dominated by unfriendly octaves. The imitation of pizzicato in the reprise of the Scherzo is marvellously written, while the mysterious drums at the transition to the finale are helped by being played at the bottom of the range of the piano.
There are many virtuosic alternative passages in the finale, which deviate somewhat from Beethoven’s text but which certainly compensate for the innate puniness of the piano in the face of the full orchestra—in which Beethoven is now including trombones and piccolo for the first time. At the outset, Liszt offers a filling-out of the left hand part to account for this increased weight. The present performance declines his alternative reading from bar 58, however, where triplet octaves move rather too far away from Beethoven’s melodic line for comfort. But Liszt’s insistence on Beethoven’s exposition repeat is gladly complied with, as is his inventive main text which replaces Beethoven’s tremolos from bar 290 with octaves con strepito. It is easy, too, to live with Liszt’s reinforcement at a lower octave of the piccolo part at the coda, though rather less easy to execute the piccolo trill and the first violin part with one hand. Liszt’s piano rhetoric is at one with Beethoven’s orchestral rhetoric in the peroration.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993