Movement 1: Exposition des sentimens à l'aspect des campagnes riantes: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Scène au bord du ruisseau: Andante molto moto
Movement 3: Scherzo: Lustige Zusammensein der Landleute – Allegro – Allegro – Da capo, tutto – Tempo I
Movement 4: Grande tempête: Allegro
Movement 5: Sentimens de joie et de reconnaissance après la tempête: Allegretto
In the ‘Awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the countryside’ (Liszt gives only French titles in the first version) one revels in the joy of finding all of Beethoven’s textures so faithfully reconceived in such grateful writing. And not a ripple or birdsong is missed in the ‘Scene by the Brook’ – to the extent of some dangerous left-hand stretches simultaneous with combined trills and melodies in the right hand. And tranquil athleticism is the only way to describe the requirements at the recapitulation with its added clarinet and violin arpeggios.
Liszt apparently told Berlioz that he played the second eight bars of the ‘Happy gathering of the country folk’ slightly slower because they represented the old peasants – in contrast with the young peasants at the opening. Few conductors would gamble their reputations upon such a risk in performance, but it seems like an excellent idea to have in mind whilst performing the piece. High points of the transcription include the wonderfully mad bit with the fiddle ostinato, the oboe melody and the artless bassoon – quite a challenge at the keyboard – and the whole 2/4 section which imitates the bagpipe and brings the flute counterpoint into much finer prominence than most orchestral balance usually achieves.
‘The Thunderstorm’ is an inspired piece of virtuoso writing. Just as Beethoven extends the demands on his orchestra in the interest of special effects, so does Liszt mirror them in equivalent pianistic devices, and the relief when the storm subsides is almost tangible in both cases.
Similarly, the ‘Shepherds’ Song. Joyful, thankful feelings after the storm’ finds Liszt at one with Beethoven’s spirit. In the matter of the text there is one serious blip at bar 225 where Liszt has mistakenly mistranscribed the harmony (the mistake carries over unnoticed into both the later editions of the work): he has a simple dominant seventh where he ought to have an F instead of an E. (The F is restored in the present reading.)
There are many differences of varying importance between the first and final versions of this transcription, far too many to detail here, but at least two in the finale deserve pointing out: Liszt’s conscious decision to make a clean final cadence and sacrifice the last falling semiquavers of the basses is only found in the final version; and the problems raised by the transcription of the last full statement of the main theme from bar 133 produced several quite different solutions, althugh this first one is the closest to Beethoven’s score.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1997