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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Liszt At 200: Five Essential Works

Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was a prolific composer, making vast contributions to the international repertory of piano and orchestral music. Here are some great examples of his art to get the curious listener started.

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major
From its majestic opening figuration, Liszt set out to make a grand statement with this, the first of his three piano concertos. As usual, the composer broke new ground, giving the piano equal voice in the opening moments and bringing the role of the instrument deeper into the orchestra.

Polonaise from Eugene Onegin
Liszt wrote many opera transcriptions, setting works by Wagner, Verdi and others for the piano. This version of a dance from Tchaikovsky's opera is one of his finest. It bursts with the same enthusiasm and rhythmic joy as Tchaikovsky's work, bursting with a propulsive force from the keys.

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C Sharp Minor
Liszt decided to explore the music and national identity of Hungary with his set of 19 Hungarian rhapsodies. The No. 2, with its sturdy rhythms and glissando passages, is among the most famous--and not just because it's featured in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

La lúgubre gondola No. 1
This dark composition for piano depicts a Venetian funeral procession. Composed in 1882, it prefigured the death of Liszt's son-in-law Richard Wagner. (Wagner, married to Liszt's daughter Cosima von Bülow, died in Venice in 1883.) The piece also exists in an orchestration (by contemporary composer John Adams) called The Black Gondola. Both are recommended.

Bagatelle Sans tonalité
This short piano piece, written in 1885 (a year before Liszt's death) is characteristic of the composer's late style. It is also one of the earliest examples of a work without tonality, relying on shifting chromaticism instead. Liszt was part of the "music of the future" movement during his lifetime. With this late composition, he predicted what was to come.

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