Franz Liszt

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C# Minor

        Liszt was Hungarian, although he never spoke the language, his family having been assimilated Germans.   He was greatly influenced by the gypsy music of his homeland, even playing recitals as a young man in native costume.   He was, of course, one of the greatest piano virtuosos who ever lived, and his music for the piano is central to its literature.   While the intellectual level of his music varies greatly, it has always been immensely popular.   He wrote a series of “Hungarian Rhapsodies” for solo piano, nineteen in all, but number two has enjoyed the greatest reputation.  It was composed in 1847, and its smashing success led soon to its orchestration.   The enormous appeal of its soulful slow section, followed by the scintillating virtuosity of the driving concluding sectio

Les préludes, “after A. de Lamartine,” LW G3

            “What else is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song, the first and solemn note of which is sounded by death?”  So goes the putative source of the title of the first of Liszt’s thirteen tone poems.   It is from Alphonse de Lamartine’s “Nouvelles méditations poétiques,” and alludes to life as but a prelude to death.  Scholars have fought over the truth of the inspiration for Liszt, but it fits, and the evidence has some weight.

Mazeppa

            Liszt was in the forefront of composers who were committed to striking out in completely new directions during the nineteenth century, and who largely abandoned traditional forms, such as the symphony.  Liszt’s solution was his origination of what he called a “symphonic poem,” a single-movement composition of symphonic proportions, which focused on the exploration of a single idea, poetic content, or even a narrative depiction.  More or less the antithesis of a symphony—as in Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms—the symphonic poem takes as its subject matter, not abstract musical themes, but something in the real world and develops a depiction of it, and perhaps a narrative.  It is the darling of those who prefer music to be “about” something, and went on to become an import

Piano Concerto No. 1 in Eb, No. 1, LW H4

           In the pantheon of musical greats it would be difficult, indeed, to think of anyone whose reputation as man, performer, and composer has varied more with both scholars and the public.  He was clearly one of the most influential musicians of the nineteenth century, both as composer and as one whose virtuosity as pianist was—and probably still is—unexcelled.  Musical composition during the Romantic period in music tended to roughly align with two schools of thought:  those who believed there was significant life left in the traditional approaches inherited from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and those who pushed ahead into the future with new approaches to basics of form, harmony, and æsthetics.  Only a moment’s reflection will remind us that the former group included Brahms, fo