LISZT: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6 (Transcriptions) (Andrew Walton/ Konstantin Scherbakov) (Naxos: 8.557170)
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Piano Transcriptions of Beethovens Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6 (S464/R128)
Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Op.60
Symphony No.6 in F major, Op.68 (Pastoral)
The first piece that Liszt played in his first concert was the three last movements of Beethovens Pastoral Symphony, "Scherzo, orage et Finale". The transcription of this great and complicated composition for the pianoforte was a task as daring as it was difficult, if it was not to be only a brilliant concert piece, but much more than that, a work without arbitrary additions or omissions reproduced with artistic fidelity and scrupulousness according to its spirit and its innermost being, and only an artist like Liszt, who, with an unbounded reverence for Beethoven, has rare gifts in understanding the great German master, only such an artist was able and dared venture on so dangerous an undertaking.
Heinrich Adami, Allgemeiner Theaterzeitung.
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydns former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to move to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven.From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire.Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked.In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact.His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.
The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso.Liszts relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie dAgoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary.By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince.The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.
It was in 1861, at the age of fifty, that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier.Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city.Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero.He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, former wife of Hans von Bülow and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husbands music.
Whatever the accuracy of Liszts account, fifty years later, of his meeting with Beethoven in Vienna through the insistence of his then teacher, Czerny, he continued always to hold Beethoven in the greatest respect, a reverence reflected in his activities in the cause of the Beethoven Monuments in Bonn and Vienna and festivals of Beethovens music, and in his inclusion of Beethovens piano compositions in his recitals. Among particularly treasured possessions itemised in the will he made in 1860 were the death mask of Beethoven and his Broadwood piano, which after Liszts death was presented by Princess Carolyne and her daughter, Princess Hohenlohe, to the National Museum in Budapest.
During the summer of 1837, spent at the country house of George Sand at Nohant, Liszt, accompanied there by Marie dAgoult, worked on his piano transcriptions of Beethovens Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, published in 1840, with a transcription of Symphony No.7.Three years later he made a transcription of the funeral march from the Eroica Symphony.These early versions of Beethoven symphonies were later to be revised and supplemented by transcriptions of the six other symphonies, including, after some reluctance, the Choral Symphony.The new transcriptions were made in 1863 and 1864, with the last movement of the Choral Symphony, over which he had hesitated, added in 1865.In 1863 Liszt had moved to a retreat outside Rome at the monastery of Madonna del Rosario on Monte Mario. Here he occupied a room of great simplicity, with a small and defective piano at his disposal, although the relative tranquillity of his life was occasionally interrupted by visitors, including, on one significant occasion, Pope Pius IX.It was at the urging of Breitkopf and Härtel that he now undertook the revision of his earlier transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies and the completion of the whole set, which was published in 1865 with a dedication to his son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow.
The transcriptions must speak for themselves. Liszt is meticulous in his accurate reproduction of original phrasing and his specification, where necessary, of the original instrumentation.Critics have compared his transcriptions favourably with the earlier piano versions of the symphonies by the virtuoso pianist Kalkbrenner, a pioneer in this field.Liszt does not primarily seek for technical display, however demanding the transcriptions may be.He is particularly adept in his solution of problems of balance and sonority, and helpful in the suggested fingerings that are included and in the care taken to distinguish parts in notation.
The transcription of Symphony No.4, with indications of the original instrumentation indicated in the score, starts with a slow introduction, allowing the possible use of tremolo, if needed, to represent the sustained woodwind notes of the opening.Recourse is had to arpeggiated chords in the left hand in the Allegro vivace, with modifications of lay-out to ensure the effect of the original.Technical demands increase in the slow movement, with its great intricacy of part-writing, after which the Allegro vivace, an undanceable Beethoven Menuetto, brings some respite.The last movement calls for the full dynamic range of the piano.
The first movement of the Pastoral Symphony, with cross-rhythms that belie its apparent simplicity, is scrupulously transcribed and translated into the language of the piano.The Scene by the brook makes, if anything, greater technical demands, with its accompanying figuration, chords of a tenth and bird sounds.The relatively straightforward Happy gathering of villagers leads to the Lisztian pianistic tour de force of the Thunder-storm and the final song of thankfulness at its passing in a transcription in which art is made to hide art.