Just as it is now almost impossible to listen to the first Prelude of Bach’s ‘48’ without Gounod’s Ave Maria
creeping unbidden into the brain, so the Etudes d’exécution transcendante
overshadow our listening to Liszt’s Opus 6
, but not offensively, and we find ourselves marvelling by turns at the precocity which allowed the boy to write such wonderful music as the ninth Etude of this set at the age of 14, and at how he ever came to write the mighty melody of Mazeppa
over the decorative patterns of the fourth Etude. All but one of these early pieces were transformed into the later set. (Why Liszt did not use No 11 remains a mystery. The theme of No 7 was transposed into D flat and moved to No 11, while the introduction to the Opus 3 Impromptu
was joined to a new work to make the later No 7.) The original plan, no doubt in deference to Bach’s ‘48’ which Liszt had known from a schoolboy, was to write 48 studies (the original edition was announced as Étude en quarante-huit exercises
) going twice through all the keys. As is clear from the pieces completed, the scheme was to go backwards through the cycle of fifths, interpolating all the relative minor keys. Thus, the set of twelve is perforce entirely in the ‘flat’ keys.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1994