LISZT: Rossini Transcriptions
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Complete Piano Music,Volume 7
\The truly great havealways been cosmopolitan: this is especially true in the language of music - aworld language which all people understand. Liszt speaks this internationallanguage of music, with his own individual accent, of course. It was often saidof him that he was too French for the Germans and too German for theHungarians. Liszt's great gift was his genius for works of a stature in whichthe national coloring of all countries was served."
Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932), German pianist,conductor, composer and pupil of Liszt. Franz Liszt first met GioacchinoRossini in Vienna in 1822. In that extraordinary and musical city, Liszt tooklessons from Antonio Salieri (who taught him figured bass, score-reading,composition, and singing) and Carl Czerny (who became his primary pianoteacher). By September/October of 1822 Liszt appeared in Viennese aristocraticcircles and performed at several private concerts. On December 1st, theeleven-year-old Liszt gave a major public concert at the Landesstandischer Saalin Vienna. He performed Hummel's Piano Concerto in A minor, andimprovised on a theme from Beethoven's Septet and on an aria fromRossini's Zelmira. Eight days later (this time in Vienna's Karntnerthortheater)he performed the rondo from Ferdinand Ries's Concerto in E flat.
Rossini was nostranger to Vienna. Many of his operas received performances there. L'ingannofelice and Tancredi had been heard in 1816; Giro in Babilonia andL 'italiana in Algeri in 1817; Demetrio e Polibio and Elisabetta,regina d'Inghilterra in 1818; and Il barbiere di Siviglia, Otello (inGerman), La gazza ladra, and Ricciardo e Zoraide (in German) in1819. The following year, 1820, Torvaldo e Dorliska and La cenerentola(in German) were performed; and then, in 1821, Mose in Egitto and Edoardoe Cristina (in German) were also performed. From April 13th to July 8th of1822, Vienna became virtually a Rossini festival. The performances at theKarntnerthortheater were an affirmation of the growing popularity and successthat Rossini had experienced over the last five years. Although the operaseason had occupied Rossini, he did attend other functions and concerts. Manyyears later he wrote to Franz Liszt: "It was at Vienna in 1822 that Ibegan to love and admire you... The years which have passed since then haveserved but to increase the affection I feel for you."
Rossini's popularitywas not lost on the young Liszt. Two years later, in 1824, he wrote a set ofseven variations on a theme from Rossini's Ermione. It was published inParis and London as Liszt's Opus 2! Liszt's Opus 3 (published in 1825 inVienna) was the Impromptu brillant sur des th?¿mes de Rossini et Spontini. In1836 Liszt once again took Rossini's themes as inspiration for two large-scaleworks: Grande fantaisie sur des motifs de Soirees Musicales (based on Laserenata and L'orgia) and Deuxieme fantaise sur des motifs desSoirees Musicales (based on La pastorella dell'Alpi and Limarinari). These were published by Schott at Mainz in 1837. A year later,Liszt published a set of twelve Rossini song transcriptions entitled SoireesMusicales (S424/R236). The inspiration for these was a set of eightariettas and four duets published by Rossini in 1835. The original texts byMetastasio and Count Carlo Pepoli, as well as the original piano accompanimentsby Rossini are characterized by great simplicity. After composing the two"grande fantaisies" Liszt, too, adopted a more intimate approach forthese twelve song transcriptions. He adhered with greater fidelity to Rossini'ssimpler, melodic style here, artfully combining the vocal lines with the pianoparts.
It is not clear whyLiszt chose to re-order Rossini's twelve pieces when publishing histranscriptions. Only the first and last pieces are in their original places.
The first piece in Liszt's set is La promessa ('The promise'). As withthe rest of the set, Liszt chose to combine the original piano part with thevocal line. At the climax of the piece, Liszt provided a cadenza. The nextpiece is La regata veneziana ('The Venice Regatta'). It is a brilliantpiano part with two vocal lines; in the Rossini original it is a duet forsopranos. This allowed Liszt more flexibility to create a virtuosictranscription with passages in thirds and chords and fast arpeggio ornaments.
Although La regata veneziana is subtitled "notturno", weshould not be mislead into believing it to be a "nocturne" of thetype Chopin would write. Notturno is simply used by Rossini to indicate a pieceof music for use at night or on a nocturnal subject.
L'invito ('The Invitation') is a bolero in rondo form.
In Liszt's hands the final return of the theme turns into an authenticpolonaise. The piece has a sweet, almost sensual character, with an enticingsmile from beginning to end. In La gita in gondola ('A GondolaExcursion') Liszt only used one of the two original Rossini strophes. Thesimple melody and typically Italianate piano accompaniment was only slightlyembellished by Liszt. Il rimprovero ('The Reproach') is one of elevensettings by Rossini of Metastasio's poem. Liszt's arrangement is captivatingand gently melancholic. The cadenza and fanciful variations make thistranscription one of the best in the set.
La pastorelladell'Alpi ('The Shepherdess ofthe Alps') was the focus of Liszt's second grand fantasy. However, in this morerestrained transcription, he did little to alter Rossini's piece, which is astylized musical setting of the Tyrolean yodel. La partenza ('TheDeparture') is another, almost literal transcription by Liszt. Although Lisztresisted musical embroidery here, the use of the left hand to bring out themelody is quite beautiful. La pesca ('Fishing') is once again, more orless, a straight forward transcription by Liszt. He did, however, giveprominence to both voices in the original Rossini duet. La danza ('TheDance') is a tarantella with sweeping momentum. Musicologist Riccardo Risaliticalls this piece "Pianistically felicitous: a transcription which isalmost a paraphrase... Allegro con brio in Rossini becomes with Liszt a Prestobrillante, almost a double note study." La danza became one ofRossini's most popular pieces and a symbol of the passionate lust for life ofthe Italians.
La serenata ('The Serenade') is almost identical to Liszt'streatment of this song in his first Grande Fantaisie. This transcriptionis a bit more sonorous as a result of the doublings in the bass and in themelody. L'orgia ('The Orgy') is almost identical to Liszt'stranscription of this song as part of the fabric of the first GrandeFantaisie. The final piece in the set is Li marinari ('TheSailors'). In Rossini's original it is a duet for tenor and bass. In Liszt'shands, this is perhaps the most profound transcription of the twelve. Lisztcreated a miniature tone poem by using gloomy, dark tones to depict themenacing storm at sea and the audacious life-and-death struggle of the sailors.
The serene and joyful "calm after the storm" that follows makes thisan extraordinary piece of piano writing.
Rossini composed WilliamTell under the immediate influence of Beethoven's scores which he wasstudying at the time. His choice of subject was th