Movement 1: Allegro energico ed appassionato, ma non troppo presto – Patetico – Agitato
Movement 2: Grandioso, un poco meno allegro – Andante
Movement 3: Andante sostenuto
Movement 4: Allegro agitato assai – Più moderato
Movement 5: Più mosso – Stretta
Movement 6: Lento quasi marcia funèbre – Andante sostenuto – Allegro mosso – Allegro trionfante
The opening of the Concerto pathétique is a newly composed passage of ten bars in octaves for the orchestra, and the orchestra keeps the ensuing statement of the first theme to itself. The piano enters for a brief cadenza leading to the lyrical contrasting melody which still forms part of the first subject group, and plays throughout the agitated transition to the second subject which is preceded by the first of Liszt’s interpolated solos. This Grandioso theme is taken by brass and drums—the drum rhythm is significant, because it was newly invented by Liszt, who wrote to Reuss (on 10 January 1886) that it would produce a better effect than his original plan of quick reiterated fifths copied from the two-piano piece, and that it would also serve twice as a rhythm for new transition material, and again at the end of the piece. So there is a new added passage in this rhythm for solo piano before the music again follows the two-piano score with the next statement of the second theme with horn and harp (this is the only concertante work of Liszt to include a harp). Liszt modifies the end of this passage and inserts further new material in the link to the Andante sostenuto. Further new material is found before the second, decorated statement of this theme, and the following phrases characterized by initial falling fifths have each been extended with trills and other-worldly harmonies for three bars at a time.
Another extension leads into the Allegro agitato assai, which is a further development of material from the first group, leading directly into a development of the second subject. This breaks off suddenly with another added solo derived from the opening bars, and the recapitulation begins, as in all the versions of this piece, with the reprise of the agitated transition material. Another interpolation precedes the Stretta—a developed reprise of the first theme—which, in this version, is taken by both piano and orchestra, and yet another new passage connects to the funeral march. Here we have muffled drums and solo trumpet in an astonishingly avant-garde piece of orchestration, and Liszt adds to the gloom by adding eight extra bars to the middle of it. The above-mentioned timpani rhythm returns in another new passage—and it is probably no accident that this rhythm is identical to that of the moment in the Stabat Mater speciosa in the oratorio Christus where it is associated with the text ‘Quando corpus morietur, Fac, ut animae donetur Tui Nati visio’ (‘When the body die, grant that the spirit receive a vision of thy Son’); Liszt does not seem to have used this rhythm elsewhere—and the Andante sostenuto is recalled with its previous phrase extensions and a new connecting passage. The succeeding reprise of the second subject was in E major in all the other versions of the piece. Astonishingly, and to great effect, Liszt drops the tonality by a semitone, and then engineers a marvellous chord change to restore E major for the triumphant coda, which is introduced by more new material and extended by some twenty-five bars of defiant but not virtuosic octaves from piano and orchestra.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998