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Franz Liszt wrote much of his keyboard music as a display for his own supreme virtuosity and fiery musicianship. Two works which call for a great deal of virtuosity but which also reveal considerable emotional depth – far more than is to be found in most of his music for the piano – are the Sonata in B Minor and Funerailles. Both are revealingly interpreted by Jorge Bolet, himself an amazing virtuoso and one of the great Liszt performers of our day. Mr. Bolet’s playing, in turn, has been reproduced with lifelike brilliance by Everest Records.
His public and private life colored greatly his Sonata in B Minor, the most important, most serious and most highly developed of all his works for piano solo. Some commentators feel that this Sonata constitutes Liszt’s autobiography in music. His biographer, Peter Raabe, believes that Liszt’s entire nature is revealed in the pages of this work – “all that was given to him in the world, all that he had to win by bitter conflict, and that, for all the splendor of his life, barred him perpetually from happiness. Hardly anywhere else in the whole of his works has he so uncompromisingly laid bare the sorrow of struggle as in this psalm that cries out towards enlightment and salvation, in this poem that speaks with the same intimacy of jubilation and lament, of defiance and humility.”
The Sonata was completed in 1853 and published the following year with a dedication to Schumann. It was not performed until January 22, 1857, when the composer’s son-in-law, Hans von Bulow, introduced it in Berlin. For many, this is his greatest masterpiece, though its early history was marred by much adverse criticism on the part of public and press alike. As he was the pioneer in developing the symphonic poem and in integrating the elements of the piano concerto, so Liszt broke new ground in this Sonata. Had it not been received with such hostility, he might have followed it up with other works in this new form.
The Sonata is in one continuous movement, dominated by two thematic fragments which are transferred into all manner of guises. There are also several other melodies of a fine flowing nature. Beginning and ending quietly, the Sonata reaches great dramatic heights during its many intricate developmental passages.
Funerailles is the seventh of a group of ten pieces entitled Harmonies poetiques et religieuses. Composed between 1845 and 1852, these works were inspired by the writings of Lamartine. Funerailles – meaning funeral ceremonies or obsequies dates from 1849. As its title suggests, it is a work of dark, morbid character; but it is also music of considerable dramatic power. Liszt is said to have written it as a memorial to Prince Felix Lichnowsky, Count Ladislaus Teleky and Count Jajos Batthyanyi, three friends who died during the Hungarian uprisings of 1849.
The Mephisto Waltz, also known as The Dance in the Village Inn, is the second work comprising Two Episodes from Lenau’s “Faust”, the first section bearing the title The Nocturnal Procession. Begun in 1858 and finished at Weimar in January, 1861, the present waltz is the first and best-known of three Mephisto Waltzes composed by Liszt at various times. There was even a fourth, but it was left incomplete. This first Mephisto Waltz exists in more than one version. It was originally written for orchestra, and was initially performed by the ducal orchestra at Weimar, Liszt conducting, in the year of its completion. Later, the composer made the brilliant transcription for piano that is heard here.
On the score of this Mephisto Waltz is a quotation from Nicolaus Lenau’s poem. Faust and Mephistopheles, the latter disguised as a hunter, arrive at a village inn, where a peasant wedding is being celebrated. While Faust timidly approaches a black-eyed maiden, Mephistopheles seizes a fiddle from one of the musicians. Playing upon it, he inspires the dancers to wilder steps and strange emotions. Faust and the girl dance out the door, through the meadows and into the forest. The sounds of the fiddle grow fainter and are mingled with the songs of the nightingales.