Friday, July 04, 2014

How many piano concertos did Franz Liszt compose?

\We learn, of course, that Liszt was “Hungarian” when we take piano, but a little reading shows his German heritage and, besides Wagner, there is hardly any other composer who so typifies “German romanticism”. (Mahler was born in what is now the Czech Republic, so birthplaces don’t mean too much.) 
Hyperion records has a set of the complete Liszt works for piano, and the “Music for Piano and Orchestra 2” is particularly interesting.

It turns out that Lizst gave us four piano concertos, not just two. (Actually, maybe the count is six.  I’ll explain below.)

This set (Leslie Howard at the piano, with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Karl Anton Rickenbacher in 1997) does start with the A Major “Piano Concerto #2”, which I always liked better than the first (I remember listening to it on the little Zenith radio in the bedroom on WGMS in the late 1950s). But it then offers the Psalm “De profundis: Psaume instrumental pour orchestra et piano principal”, a 36 minute “Fantasy”, centered in D Minor, in six connected sections. There is an andante “sonata form” with the “profundis” Plainsong as the second subject, and a cadenza, that leads back to the original material to make a first movement.  Then there is a Chopin-like Polonaise in C# Minor.  The music returns to the opening material to give us a “slow movement” now in A-flat (a tritone away), and becomes quite moving and expansive, Bruckner-like.  The scherzo-material comes bacj, Then the same material gets reworked for a march-like finale.  Before the end, the music dies momentarily, as if to allow some contemplation, than returns with a final burst of D-Major apocalyptic glory.  The orchestra is supposed to be a chamber orchestra, but at the end the music calls for everything, even the organ at the end of “Ad nos”.   Some performances (embedded above) end quietly, without the closing flourish, but on YouTube Imre Rohmann with the Budapest Symphony includes it here

The final chords are omitted on a different recording on YouTube with Stephen Mayer pianist and Thomas Vasary conducting the London Symphony.  I much prefer it with the fortissimo close.

The closing march is (also) important to me because it resembles, at least harmonically, the triumphant theme in the same D Major at the end of my second Sonata (1960), shown above.  I must have heard this work on the radio on WGMS at least once (it’s hardly ever performed) and it stuck.  The theme uses mediant and submediant harmonies a lot.

The first disc rounds out with the Liszt Orchestration of the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy.  It’s fine as piano solo, but with the piano-orchestra transcription (not exactly a “recomposition”) we essentially have a piano concerto from Franz Schubert, on the scale of “The Great” C Major.

The second disc offers the Concerto Pathetique in E Minor.  I recall seeing the piano solo score for this when I started with my second piano teacher, at the end of ninth grade, when the first teacher had suddenly passed away of colon cancer.  The orchestration here seems to be by Eduard Ruess.  As a “piano concerto”, the 25-minute work is very effective. The main theme is very familiar, and was used by Hollywood in the 1940s in a mystery film whose name escapes me.  The coda is prolonged, as Lizst plays one final chromatic game.

The disc goes on to offer Liszt’s “improvement” of Weber’s “Konzertstuck in F Minor”, which seems unnecessary.  I wouldn’t call it a recomposition, Andres-style.

It then offers the “Totentanz” (with its superfluous little coda at the end) and the “Fantasy on Hungarian Themes” which seems to follow one of the Hungarian Rhapsodies.
The set offers a 17-minute “bonus” CD, “Hungarian Gypsy Airs” (“Ungarische Zigeunerweisen”), which seemed relatively trivial to my ear, by Sophie Menter, written with Lizzt’s help and orchestrated by Tchaikovsky.

To explain further (“Vox style”) about the extra piano concertos, the first set includes (besides the Piano Concerto #1 in E-Flat, whose very chromatic-scale-centered score actually invokes the enharmonic  “D#-Major”)  the “Malediction” Concerto for Piano and Strings in E Minor, and “another” (posthumous) Piano Concerto in E-flat, S125a.  There is a recording on YouTube of this work (15 min) with Stephen Mayer, and Thomas Vasary with the London Symphony.     

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