It is very rare in music for a completely new sound and direction to emerge and when it does it often causes conflict and derision from the established stars and conventions of the day. The Beatles being the most obvious example with the totally new sound embraced by the young of the day and hated by the older generation.
Franz Liszt was such a man, born in 1811 by the age of 8 he is performing piano pieces that it took me 20 years to even consider tackling and he always showed an amazing aptitude for improvisation. He completely changed the classical form that had been used up until this point getting rid of the pause in between movements and creating pieces that flowed seamlessly into one another, he so upset the established musicians and composers of the time that Brahms was inspired to publish a manifesto against him.
Jorge Bolet (pronounced with the T) was a Cuban pianist who didn't really achieve international acclaim until his later years. He died in 1990 at the age of 75 and his late recordings of Liszt really helped to keep his reputation alive following his death.
Liszt's music is very popular amongst young soloists; it is very flashy, great to show off musical technique. Liszt was the first performer to really create the solo piano performance, having the piano on the stage as a centre piece and turned round so the audience could see the performer. This means that although every individual performance is of course different, you tend to get the young impetuous, showy performances of Liszt's music with boy racers showing off their techniques and the more considered, more mature performance which is usually infinitely more musical but can at times sacrifice a degree of excitement. Just occasionally a soloist comes along that can encapsulate the musical with the excitement. Whilst Bolet is in no way the most exciting player I have heard playing Liszt, he has a real deep understanding of the music behind the notes and so this produces a very fresh performance.
This is a 9 CD collection of Liszt's music, and as Liszt did tend to throw the rule book out of the window and did not follow certain forms like his predecessors there is a uniqueness between them. As such I will not review each track individually or we will be here a long time.
CD 1 Hungarian Rhapsody no. 12, Lieestraum No 3, Mephisto Waltz No 1, Funerailles Ritoletto Paraphrase, La Campanella.
This is possibly one of the most popular of the 9 CD's.
Listz wrote a number of Hungarian Rhapsodies the most famous of which is number 2 which was immortalised by Tom and Jerry sadly isn't on this album (well worth a look on Youtube just search on Tom and Jerry Liszt) I stumbled across a definition of Rhapsody that said a feeling of enthusiasm. This definitely has that but the lead in to the excitement is really beautiful music.
The Liebstraum, this is the famous one that is very often over romanticized as there is a simplicity about it that is often missing, this is certainly not the case with this recording.
During the nineteenth century there was a real fear of the devil and a few very brave individuals had started to question the existence of God. The Mephisto Waltz, plays on the fear of the devil based on Mephistopheles the devil from Faust's novel. These waltzes are really dramatic and again often played to show of technical skill.
The Campanella (bell) is another really famous piece that is very often ruined by a technical, flashy pianist, to play this requires considerable keyboard acrobatics. Again in this case its true beauty is evident.
Schubert Song Transcriptions - Schubert/Listzt Wanderer Fantasie
I really don't want to trivialise these at all - they are truly amazing works, but cover versions are not a new thing. In these Liszt had embellished and arranged various Schubert Leider (songs) sometimes faithfully, in others an almost complete rewrite.
Sonata in B Minor, Valse impromptu, 3 Liebstraume, Grand Galop chromatic.
The B minor sonata is the Everest of sonata's but it is not in traditional Sonata movements, it is 33 pages of continuous playing (I can play the first 2) it includes the bottom A on the piano and I believe it is the reason the modern piano now goes down to a bottom A
CD 4 and 5
Finally two CD's I can discuss together. Liszt was possibly the first 'modern' celebrity, he eloped with a Countess, later dumped her, and she went back to her husband. These pieces were written during his travels around Europe with her. They are based on a series of poems by Petrarch. These are wonderful to play, but not particularly approachable by the average pianist. As I mentioned earlier, Liszt was a natural improviser, and as such tended to add Cadenza's into his music (think impressive electric guitar solos) they are fiendish. Disc 4 was written in the second year of his European travels in Italy and Disc 5 the first year in Switzerland.
Venezia e Napoli, Les Jeux d'eau a la Villa D'Este, Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude, Ballade No 2.
If it had not been for Listz and in particular pieces like Les Jeux d'eau a la Villa D'Este we would not have had all the beautiful, very famous pieces that followed by Debussy and Ravel. These are impressionist pieces written to create an image of a place or a feeling. Impressionism certainly was not restricted to Monet and his water lily's.
Etudes d'execution transcendante
Etudes are studies, these are real virtuoso pieces that really make you marvel, not only at how anyone could write them, but how anyone can play them with this level of skill making them sound easy.
Etudes de concert, Consolations, Reminiscences de Don Juan
The Etudes again include some very famous pieces like gnomenreigen, which is actually really sweet and very funny to listen to, Bolet also doesn't take it too fast which is a common mistake. In the nineteenth century there was an obsession with the great lovers like Don Juan, Mozart had written his opera the century before, the novels of Giacomo Casanova were popular, so here is Listz's two penneth, also borrowing themes from the Mozart opera, well worth a listen. My favourite though are the consolations, just beautiful and very much in the impressionist image again.
Reminiscences de Norma Totentanz, Malediction, Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes.
This is a very fitting end, if you are seeing this as a collection as you have the Totentanz which s spectacularly difficult very flashy, and ending back on an adaptation of one of the Hungarian Rhapsody.
This is a really lovely collection of Liszt, and unlike earlier music Liszt is often quite a good introduction to non modern music, as there is an excitement and an energy about it that really led us to where we are today with our music. This collection is maybe better suited though for the more serious listener and is currently available on Amazon at £35. There is however a much shorter 2 CD collection available for £7.83 again recorded by Bolet, where there are individual pieces available for download.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH