Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 44 – The Early Beethoven Transcriptions
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Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Andante con moto [ – Più mosso – Tempo I]
Movement 3: Scherzo [ – Trio – Scherzo – Trio – Scherzo]
Movement 4: Allegro – Tempo I: Scherzo – Allegro – Presto
Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 was probably begun hard on the heels of the Eroica, but was postponed during the composition of the Fourth Symphony. The work was completed by early 1808 and was published with a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Rasumovsky. Liszt probably began his transcription around the end of 1835 and it was complete by mid-1837. It was ready for publication along with the Sixth in 1839, and appeared in 1840. 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 bear in mind 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.)
The transcription of the first movement is slightly more cluttered than the later version in its attempt not to leave out some of Beethoven’s repeated chords (e.g. in the left hand, from bar 37), and in general there are rather more notes here than in the later version. The coda in particular has an extra bass chord and the ending is an octave lower. As in the later version, 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 writer is indebted to his friend Lucy Hayward for pointing out the derivation – obvious in hindsight! – of this passage from La Folia – apparently Beethoven’s only reference to this much-used theme.)
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 first version of the transcription preserves an early tradition of printing two extra bars (originally for cellos and basses alone) indicating a reprise of the whole of the movement to this point (a practice already adopted by Beethoven in Symphony No 4, and occurring again in Nos 6 and 7). Pierre Boulez is one of the few conductors who have permitted themselves this repeat, and in his hands it seems well worth the possibly controversial reading. With a nod to that maestro, and confident that there is some real textual justification in making it, this repeat is observed in the present performance. The imitation of pizzicato in what becomes the second 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. In this first version Liszt allows an optional octave doubling of the first-violin melody at the end of the passage.
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. The major points of difference with the later transcription appear mostly in heavy tutti passages, where Liszt’s original text is usually much bolder in its encompassing of the entire keyboard.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1997