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Liszt and the Keyboard

Author(s): Alan Walker


Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 118, No. 1615 (Sep., 1977), pp. 717+719-721
Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd.
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LisztandtheKeyboard
Alan Walker
The genesis of Liszt's Etudes d'execution trans-

cendante('TranscendentalStudies') is complex.
Lisztwas only13 when in 1824he composedthe
firstversionof thesepieces;1two yearslaterthey
were publishedsimultaneously
by Boisselot of
Marseillesand Dufant & Dubois of Paris. They
wereannouncedas '48 Exercisesinall themajorand
minorkeys',but only 12 studiesappeared.Not
they show the influenceof Liszt's
surprisingly,
masterCarl Czerny,in particular
of his Schoolof
achievement
for
Velocity.
Theyare an outstanding
one so young.Theirtonal connections
revealan
adventurousoutlook.Liszt unfoldsthe circleof
5thsina descending
spiral,andeveryalternate
study
is linkedto itspredecessor
by beingin therelative
minor.The resulting
scheme-C major,A minor,
F major,D minoretc-means thatthe collection
of 12 breaksoffafterBb minor.Clearlyit was
Liszt'sintention
to completethesequence,but he
neverdid.
In 1838he prepared
a revisedversion,
12 Grandes
witha dedication
toCzerny.24 wereannounetudes,
ced thistimeand againonly12 appeared;theywere
publishedbyHaslingerofViennain 1839.A review
copy foundits way intothe handsof Schumann,
who astutelyobservedtheirconnectionwiththe
juvenilepieces,overlaidas theyare withmonstrous
technicalcomplexities,and describedthem as
'studiesin stormand dreadfor,at themost,tenor
twelveplayersin theworld'.2
The years1839-47are stilldescribedby Liszt's
as his 'periodof transcendental
execubiographers
tion',whenhe embarkedon a virtuosocareerunmatchedin thehistory
of performance.
His recitals
have neverbeen properlychronicled.He visited,
among other countries,Spain, Portugal,Italy,
Germany,England,Turkeyand Russia. Since he
oftengavethreeor fourconcerts
a week,3he must
haveappearedin publicwellovera thousandtimes
duringthisbriefperiod.It was partlyas a resultof
the exigenciesof playinghis Grandesetudesin
that
public,underwidelyvaryingcircumstances,
Liszt revisedthem yet again (afterhis official
retirement
fromtheconcertplatform
in 1847,aged
outtheirmoreintractable
difficulties.
35),smoothing
He publishedthisthirdversionin 1852as Etudes

1 Prelude, C major
2 Molto Vivace, A minor
3 Paysage, F major
4 Mazeppa, D minor
5 Feux-follets, B[ major
6 Vision, G minor

7
8
9
10
11
12

Eroica, E[ major
Wilde Jagd, C minor
Ricordanza, Ah major
Allegro agitato, F minor
Harmonies du soir, Db major
Chasse-neige, B[ minor

The New LisztEdition5(NLE) does a gravedisserviceto Liszt scholarshipby suppressingthe


earlierversions,
arguingthattheydo notrepresent
Liszt'sfinalthoughts.
For Liszt,however,a comAll hislife,he wenton
positionwasrarely'finished'.
somereshaping,reworking,
adding,subtracting;
timesa composition
existsin fouror fivedifferent
To say thatit progresses
versionssimultaneously.
Liszt's
towardsa 'final'formis to misunderstand
As one of thechiefarchiart,as Busoniperceived.
tectsof the old BreitkopfCollectedEdition of
thatall theversionsbe printed,
1907-36,he insisted
It givesone a fascinating
to facilitate
comparison.
glimpseinto Liszt's composingprocess. Entire
across a span of 25
worksare 'metamorphosed'
and sheddingdetailalong the
years,accumulating
way. The famousF minor study,for example,
originally
(1826) startedas shownin ex.la; in the
intoa workof
1838version,
ex.lb,itis transformed
and in 1852Lisztreformulated
difficulty,
prodigious
thetexture
ofbar3 (and theotherbarsmodelledon
it) and notatedit as inex.lc. Nowadayswetendto
Ex.1
J =96
I Moderato
.

p egale

;Z ;Z
4
p 24

iiJJ9:

ELL
IAWrrrri
b

moltoagitato
Presto

d'execution transcendante,
again with a dedication

to Czerny.At thesame timehe added 'programmatic'titlestoall buttwooftheindividual


numbers.
The originaltonal connectionswere meanwhile
preserved.4
Theyunfoldas follows:

J= 104
molto
Allegro
agitato

icgton.

ten.

Isee Liszt'sletterto AlfredDorffel,17Jan1855;see also Robert

Bory: La vie de Franz Liszt par l'image (1936), 52:


2Gesammelte Schriften,iii, 166-8
3Correspondance de Liszt et de Madame d'Agoult (1933), i,
405

4Lyapunov,a Liszt admirer,composed a setof 'Transcendental Studies' which complete Liszt's key-scheme,startingin
F#major(thenextkeyin Liszt'sdescending
spiral);he dedicated
his piecesto Liszt's memory.

SBudapest,1970-,Zoltin Girdonyiand Istvin Szelenyi.Only


thefirst
fivevolumeshaveso farappeared;forsome reason the
NLE

translates Etudes d'execution transcendante as' studies

in increasingdegreeof difficulty',
whichof coursetheyare not.

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717

equate the printedscore with the composition


the notionof music which
itself.Consequently,
isaesthetically
existsinseveralforms
simultaneously
disturbing.
Accordingto this view, the F minor
studyhas no Urtext,unlesswe argue that it is
threeworks,notone. Busonidwelton thisproblem,
in general:
theartof arrangement
whendiscussing
of an abstract
'Notationis itselfthe transcription
thepentakespossessionof itthe
idea.The moment
thoughtloses its original form . . . From this first

short
to thesecondis a comparatively
transcription
and unimportant
step. Yet, in general,people
onlymakea fussabout thesecond'.6
Liszt himselfwas responsiblefor the virtual
of thetwoearlierversions
duringhis
disappearance
He boughttheengravedplatesfromHaslifetime.
lingerbefore1852and puthimundercontractnot
tosellanymorecopies.7Thisclearedthewayforthe
third,'authorized'version,publishedby Breitkopf
Lisztmade no money
in 1852.(Characteristically,
in
out of them.He gave the rightsto Breitkopf
exchangefora pianotheyhad lenthima shorttime
and whichhe nowwishedto pass on to
previously,
Lisztdeniedtheearlierversionsnotbea friend.)8
cause he believeda workof art shouldbe 'fixed'.
he wasmerely
their
Withthe 1838versions
denying
excessivevirtuosity;
by 1852therewereaspectsof
his Glanzperiod
('splendourperiod') that he was
anxiousto disown.As for the juvenileversions,
In 1836,
therewerepiratededitionsin circulation.
on the
had issuedone,withan engraving
Hofmeister
ina cradlebearingtheinscription
coverofan infant

severalnotesor chordsat once.


embracing
innature,
is oftenimpressionistic
Liszt'spedalling
in a manner
boldlymixingtonalitiesand textures
today.The editors
courageto implement
requiring
of the NLE state: 'More moderninstruments
demandin placesa morefrequent
changeofpedal',
and thenproceedto changeit. Liszt'spedal indicationinPrelude,forexample(ex.3),is terminated
Ex 3
Presto( = 160)

(t

ks
4
sI

r
,

V
......

six notesearlyin the NLE, whichsurelycontraHis occasionallywayward


dicts Liszt's intention.
featureof muchof
notation(a charming
rhythmic
see ex.4,Mazeppa)has also herebeen
his writing:
= 112-16
Ex.4 Allegro

ccon
sepito
semprefof,irssimo

2 2m..

44 2

4 44

travail de la jeunesse (Liszt was then 25). His well-

knownaversionto prodigiesin laterlife('artists


the
who are to be!') did therest.Today,however,
early versions have become an indispensable
researchdocument;likesketches,
theytakeus into
It is thefunction
ofscholarthemaster'sworkshop.
butas hewas.
shipto see Lisztnotas hesawhimself
Duringthe 1830s Liszt evolvedan interesting
shorthand
seriesofsymbols-a kindof performer's
-and someof themfoundtheirwayintothe1838
texts.Theytellus a greatdeal aboutthewayLiszt
lineovera groupofnotes
himself
played.A straight
meanta holdingback, an oblongbox a hurrying
forward.It was reallyan attemptto capturethe
finernuancesof temporubato.A typicalexample
occursin the 1838textof Ricordanza
(ex.2).These

q.a

imprisonedby the NLE withinthe walls of an


correct
pedantically
unfriendly
8/4time-signature,
but surelynot what Liszt reallymeant.Also of
no pianist
absorbinginterestis Liszt's fingering;
can affordto neglectit. Whileoftenunorthodox,
it occasionallypresents
a startlingly
simplesolution
Considerex.4:
intractable
toan otherwise
problem.
technicalsolutionsof thiskindabound in Liszt's
ofthese
thevirtuosity
music.Saint-Saens,
defending
overcomeis a
studies,wrote:'In art,a difficulty
thingof beauty'.9
Towardsthe end of his life,Liszt broughttoEx. 2 Andantino
getherthe fruitsof his wisdomin 12 volumesof
in 1879,they
studies.Although
technical
completed
until1886,theyearofhisdeath.
werenotpublished
acapriccio
dolce
iJ
2
pianists,
Theyare stilllittleknownto professional
a
to say nothingof teachers.But theyrepresent
of keyboardresourcefoundin no other
66
treasury
bbb |
forexcomposer.Theyare farmorethoughtful,
ample,thanthe53 studiesof Brahms,'endurance
kind.Whetherwe
exercises'of the old-fashioned
symbolsweresuppressedin the 1852 texts;Liszt
scale' with
the audacious 'one-finger
consider
such
to
it
was
better
leave
that
felt
probably
in 'blind
or
the
study
hands,
powerful
interlocking
It
is
subtletiesto individualtaste.
regrettable,
octaves' (oftencalled Liszt octaves,aftertheir
thatthe NLE has omittedthem,for
nonetheless,
theseexercisesbear thestampof Liszt's
inventor),
theyoffervaluableinsightsinto Liszt's own perinnovatory
approach(ex.5).Liszt'sownhandswere
Anotherperforming
formances.
symboluniqueto
werenotablefor
and his fingers
and
narrow,
long
V
inverted
an
Liszt is the 'multi-accent'
sign,
mass of connectivetissue,which
theirlow-lying
6The Essence of Music (1957), 87f
describedin his
EdwardDannreuther
graphically
7letterto Alfred Dorffel, 17 Jan 1855
81etterto Hartel, 30 Oct 1852

9'Liszt the Pianist', MT, xii (1921), 623

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719

Studiesas
ownedition(1899)of theTranscendental
'theoppositeofwebbedfeet'.He wasable tostretch
Ex. 5
a
A

-2

2
-2

.j;i' fp,jT7TL~~

-,

222,

i1

His fourthfingers
were
a 10thquitecomfortably.
unusuallylong, and that sometimesencouraged
difficult
fornormalhands
himto employfingerings
(as in Au lac de Wallenstadt;
ex.6). It wouldbe a

0~

Ex. 6

--

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National

Opera

Coliseum
attheLondon

Toussaint

David Blake
WorldPremiere
September 28 at 7.00
October4, 7, 12, 14 at 7.30

Bookingnowopen-Seats from80p
Bargainpricesat all perfs
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Reservations01-8363161
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12 3 4 5 4 3

2 3 4

4 3

y;bI
sJ7quaJjn P
pp
mistake,however,to assumethatLiszt'skeyboard
He had an unerring
is idiosyncratic.
sense
writing
of the 'topography'of the piano. Thereis not a
that is truly
passage in Liszt, howeverdifficult,
Even Schumannand Chopinoccasionunpianistic.
ally lapsed here: both sometimeswrotepassages
against,ratherthan for,the piano, passages in
whichthelimitations
areignoredwhile
ofthefingers
purelymusicalconsiderations
prevail.That is why
Liszt'spassage-work
is oftensimplerto playthan
Chopin's,althoughit may sound more difficult.
Busoniwrote:'An eye-witness
relateshow Lisztovera cadenza-sat downat thepiano
pondering
and triedthreeor four dozen variationsof it,
playingeach one rightthroughuntilhe had made
his choice . . . The secretof Liszt's ornamentation

0 Thereis a good examplein the


is its symmetry'.
openingcadenza of Totentanz(ex.7); once the
initialpattern
('x') has beengrasped,the restmust
follow.
It is oftensaid thatLisztfrowned
upontheuse of
'mechanicalaids' to developthe hands.This was
trueonlyin laterlife.A wealthof testimony,
based
on his Weimarmasterclasses
of the1870sand 80s,
suggeststhat he was bored by technique,never
whenever
taughtit,and was singularly
unimpressed
his young'matadorsof the keyboard'displayed
it.11 In his youthLiszt's attitudewas different.
Wilhelmvon Lenz,who tooklessonsfromhimin
1828 (Liszt was then17), recalledthatamongthe
threepianosin Liszt'sParisstudiowas one witha
keyboardon whichit was
speciallystrengthened
impossibleto playwithoutgreateffort.12In 1832,
Liszt recommended
to ValerieBoissier,another
pupil,thatshepractiseheroctaves'on thebrace',a
handrailwhichcouldbe attachedto each
mahogany
end of the keyboard,and whichensuredsmooth
lateralmovements
of thearms.He also suggested,
to the same pupil, that repetitiveexercisesbe
masteredwhilereading,in orderto avoid boredom.13As lateas the1840s,duringLiszt'sEuropean
1Oibid, p.155
11A. Fay: Music Study in Germany(1893)
12Die grossen PianofortevirtuosenunsererZeit (1872)
13Boissier: Liszt Pedagogue (1928; see Eng. trans. by Elyse
Mach, as The Liszt Studies, 1973, pp. xx, xix)

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Ex.7

tours,he was stillusinga silentkeyboardon long


journeys.
The modernpiano recitalwas invented
by Liszt.
He was the firstto play entireprogrammes
from
He wasthefirst
to playthewholekeyboard
memory.
fromBachto Chopin.He was thefirst
to
repertory,
its
place thepianoat rightanglesto theplatform,
thesoundacrosstheauditorium.
openlid reflecting
He was thefirstto tourall themajorcountries
of
Europe,fromSpaintoRussia.Theterm'recital'was
his:heuseditforthefirst
timeinLondon,on 9 June
1840,fora concertintheHanoverSquareRoomsit was Liszt'swayof proclaiming
thenewdirection
his concertshad recently
taken.No longerdid he
with'supporting
sharehis programmes
artists'.A
yearearlier,he had adapted Louis XIV's famous
andannounced:'Le concert-c'estmoi!' 14
aphorism
In Berlin and St Petersburg,
he played before
audiencesof3000peopleormore.His Berlinrecitals
of 1841-2areworthspecialscrutiny:
intenweekshe
gave21 concerts,and played80 works,50 of them
frommemory.
The pianoswhichgreetedLisztas he arrivedat
thesmaller,
townsofEuropegiveus pause
outlying
forthought.Liszt playedon Broadwoods,Pleyels
andErards,thenthelastwordinpianomanufacture.
Buttheseinstruments
hada restricted
compass,and
a delicatetonebestsuitedto thesalon; theirlight
materialsmade theminadequateforLiszt'sbigger
works.Some of theoldermodelswhichconfronted
thanboxesofwoodand
him,infact,werelittlebetter
wire,and theysometimescollapsed beneaththe
strain. Clara SchumanndescribedLiszt as 'a
ofpianos',butitisa falseimage;evenClara
smasher
snappeda stringor two in public.Liszt'ssolution
was to have two pianosstandingon the platform
and he wouldmovefromone to the
simultaneously,
otherseveraltimesin thecourseof a recital.Only
when the greatfirmsof Steinwayand Bechstein
reinforced
in
instruments
producedtheirpowerfully
14letterto Princess Belgiojoso, 4 June 1839

the1860s15didtheRomanticrepertory
ofthe1840s
come into its own. Necessitywas the motherof
invention.
Liszt'sfavourite
in lateryears
instrument
was a Bechstein
concertgrand,whichhe keptin his
musicroomat Weimarin theHofgartnerei.
Liszthas oftenbeencriticized
forthelowquality
ofhisprogramme
Whatarewe to makeof
building.
thefollowing,
a recitalhe gave in Kiev in 1847?
Hexameron Variations
Liszt
Concerto
Weber
The Trout
Schubert/Liszt
Study
Chopin
Invitation to the Waltz
Weber
Improvisation on themes given by the public

It is eccentric
but to accuse
by modernstandards,
Lisztofpoortasteshowsa lackofhistorical
imagination.Liszthad no tradition
to guidehim.Indeed,
he feltit quite properto let othersplan his programmesforhim. ('I seldom . . . planned themmy-

self,butgavethemnowintothisone's hands,and
nowthatone,to choosewhattheyliked.Thatwas
a mistake,as I later discoveredand deeplyreGenieoblige: Liszt's mottostillexacts
gretted.'16
posthumous
penalty.)It was easyfora latergenerationof pianiststo avoid his mistakeswhilecriticizinghimforhavingmade them.By 1860,long
afterLiszthad retired
fromtheconcertplatform,
a
legend in his lifetime,scores of long-haired,
virtuosos(oftenwitha mere
champagne-sodden
half-dozenpiecesin theirbrief-cases)
wereroving
around Europe, vainly tryingto emulate his
Even thegreatestpianistsof thesecond
triumphs.
half of the 19thcentury-menof the calibreof
Tausigand Billow,bothpupilsofLisztwhoat their
bestmayhaveequalledhim-did notcomecloseto
his publicimpact.The reasonwas simply
matching
thatLisztwas therefirst.
Historydoes notenshrine
thenamesof thosewho followthepioneers.
15Bechstein was founded in Berlin in 1856, Steinway in New
York in 1853.
16letterto J. W. Wasielewski, 9 Jan 1857

Toussaint

David Blaketalksto GeraldLarner

David Blake's Toussaint will be firstperformedby English National Opera at the Coliseum
on September 28. The libretto, by Anthony Ward, is based on the last seven years of
Toussaint Louverture, the slave who led the revolution against the French domination in
Haiti in the 1790s. The conductor is Mark Elder, the producer David Pountney.
GERALD LARNER:

Whatattracted
youto thissubject?

DAVID BLAKE: It's a marvellousstory.AnthonyWard

had readthebook,TheBlackJacobins
byC. L. R.

and he thoughthe
Ward,some yearspreviously
mightwritea playon thesubject.WhenI approached him about a librettohe said it would suit
721

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