Franz Liszt (1811-1886):
Etude en douze exercices Etudes de concert
Morceau de salon Ab irato Mazeppa
On 1st December a very talented boy by the name of Liszt,coming here from Pressburg, gave a concert in the town grand concert-hall, andthrough his playing and his remarkable facility aroused general wonder. ... Hereceived great and rousing applause.
Wiener AllgemeineMusikalische Zeitung. 7.12.1822
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt,a steward in the service of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterhazy 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 famousmeeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refusedhim admission to the Conservatoire. Nevertheless he was able to impressaudiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturerswhose 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 inParis, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectualsociety with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performancewas renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technicalaccomplishments he now set out to emulate.
The years that followed brought a series of compositions,including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of thestock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt's relationship with a married woman, theComtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travelabroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy,Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother ofhis three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until1847, 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 hesettled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now tothe 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 andannulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they nowcontinued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually tookminor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time betweenWeimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he wasable to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as anational hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, formerwife of Hans von B??low and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with thecontinued propagation of her husband's music.
Liszt was a musician of remarkable precocity. His firstconcerts in Oedenburg and Pressburg had been followed by his first appearancesin Vienna, piano lessons with Czerny and composition lessons with Salieri.Setting out for Paris, he gave performances first in Pest, establishing hisHungarian identity, followed by a series of appearances in leading Germancities, as, like Mozart before him, he made his way to Paris, where hisperformances created a similar sensation. A successful visit to England in 1824was followed by a return to Paris and to composition lessons from FerdinandoPaer, who encouraged and collaborated in the composition of Liszt's only opera,Don Sanche, ou le ch?óteau d'amour, staged at the Paris Opera in October 1825.
By the age of thirteen Liszt had started work on the mostsignificant of his first published compositions, the so-called Etude en douzeexercices, issued in Marseille and in Paris in 1826 as Opus 6, under the moreambitious title of Etude en quarante-huit exercices dans tous les tons majeurset mineurs. In fact only twelve studies were published, with a dedication toLydia Garella, of whom little else is known. These, however, formed the basisof later revisions, resulting in the Vingt-quatre grandes etudes of 1837,dedicated to Czerny and again including only twelve studies. These led, inturn, to the Etudes d'execution transcendante of 1851, to which titles wereadded. The original intention is clear in the choice of keys, starting with Cmajor, followed by A minor, and continuing with the circleof fifths, moving downwards into the keys with flats, F major and D minor, B flat major and G minor, E flat major and C minor,A flat major and F minor, D flat major and a final B flat minor. The studiesstart with a brilliant Allegro con fuoco, followed by divided octaves in thesecond exercise. The third of the set is gently evocative, while the fourthprovided the basis for the later Mazeppa. The fifth exercise was the basis ofFeux-follets (Will-o'-the-wisp) and the sixth makes particular demands in thenature of its phrasing. In 1851 the seventh became Harmonies du soir (EveningHarmonies) and the eighth provides ample exercise in its rapid left-handscales. The cantabile ninth offers a graceful contrast to the preceding soundand fury, the tenth is a rapid and brilliant study in triplets, the eleventhhad no counterpart in the 1851 revision, and the set ends with an expressivelegato study.
The two concert studies Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes)and Waldesrauschen (Forest Murmurs) were written in Rome in 1862 and 1863,dedicated to Dionys Pruckner, and intended for Lebert and Stark'sKlavierschule. Gnomenreigen, published as the second of the pair, calls for thealternation of hands in a rapid scherzo. Waldesrauschen is an evocative piece,its melody accompanied by gently rippling figuration.
Three other concert studies are dated to 1848 and werepublished in 1849 with a dedication to Liszt's uncle, Eduard Liszt, in a laterversion acquiring the titles Il lamento, La leggierezza and Un sospiro. Thefirst study opens with a cadenza that brings with it the descending figure onwhich the whole work is based. The second, suggesting the language of Chopin,has a brief introduction, its thematic Quasi allegretto moving forward to themore elaborate figuration that follows. The last of the three studiesaccompanies its now familiar melody, shared between the hands, with arpeggiosof mounting intensity, leading to an ending of great serenity.
The Morceau de salon, etude de perfectionnement, was writtenin 1840 for the Methode des methodes de piano by the Belgian composer andtheorist Fran?ºois Joseph Fetis. This was revised in 1852 as Ab irato, its angerbriefly modified, before a fiercer conclusion.
Mazeppa was derived from material that underwent variouschanges, from its first appearance as the fourth of the Douze exercices andlater emergence in the revisions and developments of that work. The study ofthis name was written in 1840 and published in 1847, with a dedication toVictor Hugo, on whose poetic treatment of the story it is based. It foundfurther place in Liszt's symphonic poem of the same title. Mazeppa, page to theKing of Poland, is found guilty of an intrigue with the wife of a nobleman. Tiedto the back of a wild horse, which is whipped into madness, he is carriedthrough forests and across rivers until the horse falls dead on the plains ofUkraine, where Mazeppa is revived by peasants. The wild ride became a subjectof romantic interest after Byron's poem of 1819, reflected in Hugo's poem andin a painting by Gericault.