Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 44 – The Early Beethoven Transcriptions
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Movement 1: Poco sostenuto – Vivace
Movement 2: Allegretto
Movement 3: Presto – Assai meno presto [ – Da capo tutto] – Presto – Assai meno presto – Presto
Movement 4: Allegro con brio
The mighty introduction somehow emerges with its full stature, even though many elements have to be transposed up or down an octave in order for all the lines to fit within the mortal compass of the hand. If the spirit of the dance informs Beethoven’s Vivace it becomes quite a high-kicking affair in Liszt’s arrangement where the leap is the predominant step, to such an extent that one often seems to be playing in three different registers of the piano at once, especially in the coda. The myriad differences from the later version are typified by the marvellous recklessness of the writing at the point of recapitulation.
As with so many of the slow movements, Liszt’s version of the Allegretto is a masterpiece of the transcriber’s art. In every variant of the melody after the countermelody has joined in there are at least two disparate things which must be managed by the right hand, whilst everything else must somehow be reached by the left. And although Liszt has to resort to octave transpositions from time to time he does a marvellous job of keeping everything going, even in the treacherous fugato. The earlier version of the coda, with its greater attempt to include all the pizzicato string notes, makes a good first point of comparison with the quite different later version.
Whether or not one attempts the ossia passages, the Scherzo remains a prodigious piece of pyrotechnics – just as it is for the orchestra. These alternatives come at every bar where Beethoven has a trill in the original. Liszt begins the trill and ends with an arpeggiated Nachschlag which spirits the line to the upper octave for each answering bar. The resulting colours are well worth the effort, even though the nine consecutive trills at the end of the Scherzo are not for the faint-hearted. The repeat from bar 148 back to bar 25 is respected by Liszt, if not by many a contemporary conductor. One of the greatest alterations between the two versions of Liszt’s transcription concerns the Trio, which is given very grandly in the first version but approached with a much simpler attitude in the second, even leaving out Beethoven’s octave doublings until the fortissimo shortly before the da capo. Here Liszt gives two solutions to the left hand, and since the passage is immediately repeated, both can be given in succession. In the second version Liszt simply indicates a repeat of the Scherzo and Trio (probably, therefore, without repeats), which is how the movement is given in Volume 22 and stems from the earliest Beethoven source. Clearly, the written-out reprise of the Scherzo and Trio as found in the later editions of the full score was made to accommodate a decision (Beethoven’s, presumably) to reduce the dynamics for much of the Scherzo. In his first transcription Liszt indicates no return at all, but goes straight into the coda version of the Scherzo. In the present performance, Beethoven’s full reprise is given, with Liszt’s main text rather than his trilled ossias given to accentuate the different dynamic level.
The finale, like the first movement, requires a good deal of stamina but manages to convey just the right rumbustious atmosphere. The few proposed simpler alternatives are of so little respite in the face of the general order of things that they are best ignored, as here. A curiosity in the first edition of the Liszt transcription is that the publisher, when printing the main theme at the recapitulation, goes beyond the reprise of the first sixteen bars to add the next sixteen bars as at the beginning. This is clearly an error, and has nothing to do with Beethoven or Liszt. In a few places Liszt specifies ‘ossia più difficile’ passages which are not found in the second version, but which are adopted in this performance.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1997