Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 22 – The Beethoven Symphonies
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Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
Movement 2: Molto vivace Presto Da capo tutto Coda Presto
Movement 3: Adagio molto e cantabile Andante moderato Tempo I Andante moderato Adagio
Movement 4: Presto Allegro assai 'Ode to Joy'
Throughout the transcription of the Ninth, Liszt is careful to keep the texture as clean as the amount of independent lines would permit and, as so often, trumpet and drum parts are often set aside where their import is of reinforcement rather than harmonic or melodic essence—bar 17 is the first such case, where adding them would detract from the clean octaves of the rest of the orchestra. It is astonishing that so few conductors have ever spotted the appalling wrong note in the melody of the second subject which is, for example, on Furtwängler’s, Karajan’s, and practically everybody else’s recordings. The mistake dates from the very Breitkopf edition which Liszt transcribed in good faith, believing all previous errors to have been corrected. But if one looks at Beethoven’s manuscript (published in facsimile), the early Schott editions, or even George Grove’s marvellous book on the Symphonies, it is clear that, at the key change at bar 80, the wind melody should read: D, G, F, the higher D, down to A, whereas Breitkopf has the fourth note a third lower: B flat, which is what we have all known in our innocence as correct. So Liszt, who had the D perfectly right in the two piano version, substituted B flat in the solo version. Naturally, D has been restored here. (Of course, at the recapitulation, the material is different anyway, and the fourth note is definitely a D, rather than a mistaken reading of an F sharp.) Liszt’s solutions to the transcription are always interesting, and when he finds it necessary to add inner chords at the half bar to fill out the proper texture in the closing pages (from bar 531) we can only imagine them to be absolutely right. However, we take the liberty of correcting Liszt’s reading of the harmony in bar 538 (also in error in the two-piano version, but corrected in the old Liszt-Stiftung edition). The present reading also adopts Liszt’s ossia in octaves in the last line.
The text of the Scherzo is less problematic, and Liszt’s view that all repeats should be observed is honoured here—and how delightful the second repeat in the Scherzo is, allowing for a quite different circle of harmonies in the twelve bars which we only hear if the repeat is taken. The vexed question of the metronome mark at the Trio can probably not be resolved to general satisfaction. Breitkopf has semibreve = 116; the original edition has minim = 116, although clearer at the top of the score than at the bottom. Beethoven’s letters on the subject, neither of which is in his own hand, both have dotted minim = 116. (Added to which is Beethoven’s sometime decision to alter in the manuscript the time values of the whole section by a factor of 2:1.) Now the last is clearly wrong, since the passage is in duple time, so, if Beethoven’s dictation to his nephew was at fault, the real number might have been something else altogether. 116 minims makes a nonsense of the preceding stringendo, and 116 semibreves is frantically fast. Liszt’s transcriptions are not playable at this last speed and indicate by their context some middle course, which is adopted here. Although Beethoven writes ‘Da capo tutto’ at the end of the Trio, he really only intends the Scherzo to be repeated and for the coda to follow.
Apart from his reasonable decision to place the string pizzicati on an extra stave, not to be played (at bar 85, where the treacherous solo for the fourth horn begins) Liszt incorporates a munificent proportion of the material of this most beautiful of slow movements, and the result is a piano piece which bears comparison with Beethoven’s own most wonderfully sustained slow movement for piano in the Opus 106 Piano Sonata.
Whatever the inadequacies of the transcription of the finale, it were a terrible thing had Liszt not made the attempt and left us a three-movement torso. As it stands, his attempt at the orchestral parts is heroic if distressingly difficult to execute, and it is actually easier to hear some of the counterpoint without the vocal distractions, if one may be permitted a small heresy. It is only at the slower section (where the choir enters with ‘Seid umschlungen, Millionen’) that a really divergent reading emerges for want of the choral parts, and at the end of the Adagio the orchestral parts give nearly four long bars of the same repeated harmony without the rhythmic variety that the choral parts would supply. From the Allegro energico to the end of the Symphony, even the orchestral parts produce a terrifying task to reproduce with two hands with any respectable combination of accuracy and spirit. One more textual problem: the present performance follows Liszt’s solo piano text five bars before the Allegro non tanto, in which he alters Beethoven’s woodwind C naturals at the first beat to C sharps to agree with the choir and the strings. He allowed the clash in the two-piano version, where it is easier to assimilate. No one can establish what Beethoven wanted since this problem stems from his very clear (at this point!) manuscript. Most conductors have either adopted all C naturals or all C sharps at the beginning of the bar. The clash might have been intended, and is certainly listenable without being lovable, but it does not really work on one piano. Liszt will not be thanked for his uncompromising upward-rushing Prestissimo scales in thirds at the final choral passage, but the arrangement of the final orchestral coda is an excellently risky conclusion to the work, and to Liszt’s whole act of homage throughout these transcriptions of this greatest canon of symphonies.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993