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Volodos in Vienna

“You can keep your Lang Langs, your Yuja Wangs, your Evgeny Kissins… I’d swap their collective virtuosity for one evening of Arcadi Volodos’s consummate pianism. To my mind, he has produced nothing finer on disc than this live recital, captured in Vienna last spring.” — Gramophone Magazine

Volodos in Vienna is a recital album by Arcadi Volodos recorded live at the Musikverein in Vienna. Gramophone Magazine rated this performance in its CD version as the best instrumental recording of 2010.

The first half of the recital consists of six pieces by Scriabin and Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales. The second half starts with Schumann’s Waldszenen followed by Liszt’s “Dante Sonata” which we hear Volodos perform here:

Liszt – from Années de pèlerinage, Second Year: Italy

No. 7, Après Une Lecture De Dante


Vivaldi/Bach: Concerto In D Minor, BWV 596 – Sicilienne
Tchaikovsky: Children’s Songs, Op. 54/10 – Berceuse
Scriabin: Pieces For Piano, Op. 45/1 – Feuille D’Album

Reveiw in Gramophone Magazine


Sigismond Thalberg’s 200th Anniversary

The recent anniversaries of Chopin and Schumann in 2010 and Franz Liszt in 2011 inspire us to once again travel back in time and set focus on another tremendously important, yet almost forgotten virtuoso pianist from this golden era of pianism: Sigismond Thalberg.

Sigismond Thalberg was born in midwinter in 1812. Wednesday, 8 January 1812 saw not only the birth of Thalberg but also Wellington’s siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. Barely six months later, Napoleon would begin his ill-fated attempt to conquer Russia and James Madison would sign into law the American declaration of war against Britain. Thalberg was born into a world rife with conflict. The world knows remarkably little about Sigismond Thalberg before his mother brought him to Vienna in 1822 at the age of 10. That same year, Liszt, who was three months older than Thalberg, would also arrive in Vienna. Little did the piano world know that a rivalry would develop that would nearly equal the military conflicts of the day.

The first record of Thalberg’s education is from the spring of 1826, when Sigismond was 14 years old. Ignaz Moscheles took him under his wing, and Thalberg profoundly impressed him. In fact, Moscheles wrote to his good friend Mendelssohn, saying there was little else he could teach him. Very shortly thereafter, Thalberg gave his first public performance, playing Hummel’s Concerto in B-Minor. He then became a regular on the Vienna stage. Thalberg further developed his playing by befriending Clara Wieck. She was another very talented, young pianist in 1830s Vienna. Clara was slightly younger than Sigismond and may at the time have looked up to the dashing teenager. They would get together and share concertos they had learned or composed. Interestingly, Clara married Robert Schumann, who was an early Thalberg critic. At roughly this same time, Thalberg began studying counterpoint with Simon Sechter, a strict disciplinarian who demanded considerable attention to detail. Sechter was famous for a lack of elan, and it is his instruction that very likely inspired Thalberg’s nearly immobile, unemotional posture at the keyboard.

Thalberg in Paris

At 24, Sigismond Thalberg arrived in Paris. Taking it by storm, he began with a concert at the home of Count Rudolph Apponyi, the Austrian ambassador. He continued with concerts on nearly every stage in the French capital. Rossini, Meyerbeer, and Berlioz adored this newcomer, but Chopin did not. Berlioz even elevated him above Liszt and Chopin, saying he was the premier pianist in the world. Chopin countered, saying that, although Thalberg played splendidly, he was little more than a diamond-studded salon acrobat who had to use the pedals to play with dynamics. The public did not seem to care about the debate, however. They loved Thalberg, and the Swiss sensation raked in 10000 Francs for a single concert in April of 1836. It was at this time that Liszt became aware of his main rival. On Thalberg’s 25th birthday, Liszt published a scathing, highly controversial review of Thalberg’s compositions.

The Duel

Italian refugees poured into Paris in the early spring of 1837. Italian princes drove many Italians to flee by hiring Austrian mercenaries to put down the many rebellions of that year. Both Liszt and Thalberg were sympathetic to their plight and agreed to stage a benefit concert for them. It became a “Duel of the Century” between the two titans of the keyboard. Critic Jules Janin, along with many other musicologists and historians, called it a draw. He noted:

“Never was Liszt more controlled, more energetic, more passionate; never has Thalberg played with more verve and tenderness…thus, two victors and no vanquished.”

Most modern Thalberg historians agree with this assessment. Most Liszt biographers, however, have Liszt trouncing his counterpart by exposing Thalberg as “Old Apreggio,” who had a “neat trick” of making two hands sound like three by playing the melody with the thumbs while embellishing it with scads of arpeggios up and down the keyboard. The debate is likely never to be settled since, obviously, no recording exists.
Read more about the duel:
The Battle Between “Il penseroso” and “The Old Arpeggio”

1838 and Beyond

Despite their intense rivalry and Liszt’s sometimes acidic comments to the press and public, they both remained friends their whole lives. Liszt was a frequent guest of Thalberg and his family, and Thalberg graciously promoted his friend to the King of Saxony in 1838 while on his own tour. Liszt, in turn, loudly cheered and applauded at Thalberg’s concert in Vienna ten years later. Additionally, in 1841 Fetis indicated that Thalberg influenced Liszt’s style in his Transcendental Etudes. Liszt himself agreed with this assessment.

Thalberg took a break from playing in 1840 to vacation in Germany’s Rhineland. He only wanted to relax as a tourist. The Tsarina of Russia persuaded him to play one concert for her, but that was it for nearly a year until he picked up where he left off with an 1841 concert in Frankfurt.

In 1843, Thalberg got married and settled into a routine of teaching lots and playing sporadically for the next decade or so. Thalberg developed a touch of Wanderlust in 1855 and decided to go to America to play. For three years straight, he played five or six concerts a week and made a fortune. Suddenly, in 1858, he and his family packed up lock, stock, and barrel and mysteriously moved back to Italy. No one knows why, even today. From then on, except for an 1863 Brazilian tour, Thalberg was silent at the keyboard until his death in 1871.


Because of his incredible style, Thalberg bred many imitators. Not all of them were worthy, and they have buried this virtuoso’s lasting influence under their mediocrity.

“From a composition point of view, the winning shot of Thalberg were the Fantasias on favourite opera arias, where he introduced a series of innovative and revolutionary technical formulas that made his pianism, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the only one capable to set itself against the supremacy of Franz Liszt…”
(Sigismund Thalberg biography, Il Centro Studi Internazionale Sigismund Thalberg)

Selected Piano Works by Thalberg

Fantasia on Rossini’s ‘Moses’, Op.33 – Stefan Irmer, piano | Part 2

Fantasy on Don Pasquale – Earl Wild, piano | Part 2

12 Etudes op.26: no. 5 -Stefan Irmer, piano

Souvenir del Rigoletto di Verdi op. 82 – Francesco Nicolosi, piano

Thalberg’s piano method

Thalberg’s respected work L’art du chant appliqué au piano, Op. 70 (The Art of Song Applied to the Piano), published in 1853-54, was offered by music publishing houses throughout Europe and is seen as Thalberg´s contribution to the world of piano pedagogy. A fine baritone himself, Thalberg seeks to translate qualities of vocal music into piano playing honoring legato, cantabile, listening and inner hearing. The treatise, or method comprises twenty-five transcriptions of vocal works by other composers, primarily operatic material. Each piece usually included Thalberg’s own introductory comment, consisting of some remarks and instructions based on a set of rules which is beautifully summed up in Danny L. Hithcock´s words:

1. Eliminate all tension, especially in the forearms.
2. Avoid striking the keys; rather, depress them as an extension of arm and body movement.
3. Dynamic markings are relative, not absolute; make the vocal line predominate.
4. Subordinate the left hand to the right except when it carries the melodic responsibility. Convey the overall harmony of the chords rather than their specific elements.
5. Shun the affectation of delayed entries for melodies.
6. Hold notes for their full values; slow, careful practice of fugues will develop this.
7. Modify and vary the sound rather than merely executing the notes. Learn thoroughly the resources and correct usage of the two pedals. Honor scrupulously all tempo indications.
9. Refrain from gratuitous fast playing; steady tempi, accuracy and expression demand and display greater ability, again facilitated by the study of fugues.
10. Play close to the keys. Listen to the music as you play; work with the mind more than the fingers. Study vocal technique and repertoire; listen to fine singers at every opportunity.

More about Thalberg:

Centro Studi Internationale Sigismund Thalberg
Sigismond Thalberg – 200 Years | Classical Music Diary
The International Sigismund Thalberg Prize 2012
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol. 58 – Pixis & Thalberg


The Battle Between “Il penseroso” and “The Old Arpeggio”

Before the time of television and the internet, live music performances were a primary form of entertainment. Performances were held in private homes, as well as concert halls. Many rivalries formed among pianists and composers. This created a unique angle for entertainment as individuals could then debate the merits of each musician and choose sides. One of the more famous piano duels was held between Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg.

J. Rosenhain, T. Döhler, F. Chopin, A. Dreyschock, S. Thalberg, P. E. Wolff, A. von Henselt and F. Liszt

J. Rosenhain, T. Döhler, F. Chopin, A. Dreyschock, S. Thalberg, P. E. Wolff, A. von Henselt and F. Liszt

The rivalry first began in 1836 when Liszt had written a critical review of Thalberg’s most recent concert held in Paris. Though the rivalry was a friendly one, a few scathing remarks were made to the press from time to time, most often by Liszt. Meetings of the two were frequent and were always cordial. Liszt even spent time as a guest in Thalberg’s family home near Vienna in the spring of 1838.

The Gazette musicale announced the program on March 26. “The greatest interest will be without question the simultaneous appearance of two talents whose rivalry at this time agitates the musical world, and is like the indecisive balance between Rome and Carthage.” On the evening of March 31, 1837, Princess Cristina Belgiojoso held a benefit concert for Italian refugees in her Paris salon. Though many musicians performed, the rivalry between Liszt and Thalberg took center stage that evening. So, which pieces were played? Here opinions and sources differ. Some say Liszt began his portion of the concert with his “Grand Gallop Chromatique” and that Thalberg countered with his fantasy variations on Bellini’s “Norma.” Harold C Schonberg mentions Liszt playing his Niobe Fantasia and Thalberg his Moses Fantasia. American pianist Steven Mayer´s re-creation of the duel on the ASV label (1993) suggests the following works.

Divertimento on favourite themes by Rossini, Op. 18 “Les Soirées Musica”
Fantasia on “God Save the Queen”, Op. 27

Divertissement sur la cavatine “I tuoi frequenti palpiti” by Pacini, S. 419
Transcription of Konzertstück in F minor by Weber
Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S. 173 no 3, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude

Unbeknownst to the other pianist, each one had prepared a new composition to play as their final piece of the night. Liszt’s “Reminiscences de Roberts le Diable” by Meyerbeer is the more well known of the two compositions played that evening. Thalberg’s new piece was “Fantasy” Op. 33, based on Rossini’s “Moise.” The evening was regarded as a draw.

“Never was Liszt more controlled, more thoughtful, more energetic, more passionate; never has Thalberg played with greater verve and tenderness. Each of them prudently stayed within his harmonic domain, but each used every one of his resources. It was an admirable joust. The most profound silence fell over that noble arena. And finally Liszt and Thalberg were both proclaimed victors by this glittering and intelligent assembly… Thus two victors and no vanquished …’ wrote critic Jules Janin in the Journal des Débats although the Princess Belgiojoso´s opinion was: ‘Thalberg is the first pianist in the world – Liszt is unique.”

Erard Grand serial number 13317 purchased in 1834 by Franz Liszt and given to the Princess Belgiojoso as a present.

Erard Grand serial number 13317 purchased in 1834 by Franz Liszt and given to the Princess Belgiojoso as a present.

In 2001, the piano used for this benefit concert was discovered in a private home near Miami, Florida. Records show that in 1834 Liszt accompanied Princess Cristina Beliojoso on a visit to the House of Erard to purchase a new piano. The piano purchased was an Erard Grand piano with gothic details carved from solid rosewood. Read more about the instrument at palacepianos.com.

2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the Austrian Sigismond Thalberg but why is he almost forgotten today? Chopin said of him: “He plays splendidly, but he’s not my man. He’s younger than I and pleases the ladies – makes potpourris on La Muette – produces his piano and forte with the pedal, not the hand – takes tenths as I do octaves and wears diamond shirt studs.” and Clara Schumann: “On Monday Thalberg visited us and played to the delightment beautiful on my piano. An even more accomplished mechanism than his does not exist, and many of his piano effects must ravish the connaiseurs. He does not fail a single note, his passages can be compared to rows of pearls, his octaves are the most beautiful ones I ever heard.”

The way Thalberg played his instrument was probably the exact opposite of Liszt’s approach. The performance of Liszt was all emotions and dramatic movements, a suggestive experience made even more powerful by his blonde mess of hair and the turbulent waving of his hands. Thalberg, on the other hand, was painfully reserved and hardly moved on his chair – while both of them played equally complicated and challenging pieces. Liszt was often called a ’piano-killer’: he could almost destroy instruments of a weaker build with his heavy blows on the keyboard. But Thalberg had his own special skills, too, which Liszt had known nothing about before the crucial concert: his unique way of handling the pedals, and the so-called ’thumbs-effect’ technique, which consisted of, a principal melody in the middle register, played alternately by both thumbs, while both hands are traversing with rapid arpeggios the whole range of the keyboard, producing ever so delicate, crooning tunes from the piano.


The Complete Liszt Coverage – Dr. Alan Walker’s Liszt Biographical Works

Alan Walker’s three-volume biography of Franz Liszt, which took him 25 years to complete, has been very influential. Common adjectives attached to the work include “monumental” and “magisterial” and it is said to have “unearthed much new material and provided a strong stimulus for further research”. Walker himself says that when he found, as a BBC producer compiling notes for program announcers, that “there wasn’t a decent book in English on Liszt”, he eventually decided to write one himself, but was determined “not to make a major statement that couldn’t be supported by documents …and because Liszt himself was a traveler the archives were everywhere.”

The final volume of Walker’s monumental study (Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-47, Franz Liszt, Vol. 2: The Weimar Years, 1848-61, Franz Liszt, Volume 3: The Final Years, 1861-1886) draws upon some recent scholarship to present a more complete picture of Liszt’s life and achievements than had been previously possible. Liszt’s remarkably peripatetic existence creates manifold challenges for the conscientious scholar but Walker is more than equal to the task. His narrative is copiously footnoted yet never seems to bog down in minutiae. In fact, quite the opposite: the prose is so lively that the reader is often swept along by the narrative.
A particularly fascinating section concerns the infamous Cosima Liszt-Hans von Bülow-Richard Wagner triangle, which is skillfully dissected by Walker to separate legend from accurate history. Liszt emerges as an unmistakably generous and self-effacing man in his later years whose prodigious gifts as a composer and pianist were undimmed until the very end. Walker provides frequent musical examples throughout, and his comments on them are not too technical for the general reader. Walker’s meticulously researched and engagingly written book is well illustrated and contains numerous musical examples and insightful analyses. It is an impressive conclusion to a biography that should become the standard work on its subject.

“A conscientious scholar passionate about his subject, Mr. Walker makes the man and his age come to life. These three volumes will be the definitive work to which all subsequent Liszt biographies will aspire.”

– Harold C. Schonberg, Wall Street Journal

“What distinguishes Walker from Liszt’s dozens of earlier biographers is that he is equally strong on the music and the life. A formidable musicologist with a lively polemical style, he discusses the composer’s works with greater understanding and clarity than any previous biographer. And whereas many have recycled the same erroneous, often damaging information, Walker has relied on his own prodigious, globe-trotting research, a project spanning twenty-five years. The result is a textured portrait of Liszt and his times without rival.”

– Time Magazine

“If you want the single best study of Franz Liszt, and one at a surprisingly reasonable price at that, Alan Walker’s study is the one to get. It has won numerous awards, understandably, and can be recommended without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a long undertaking to read from 1811 (or rather, from the chapters on Liszt’s family background) to his death (and, again, the musical context of his surviving family members). But it’s also sufficiently readable to make even bedtime reading as much as responding to the work as a scholarly study. Enjoyable. Illuminating. Gripping. Definitive.”
– Classical Net

Books in the series, available from Cornell University Press:
Franz Liszt, Vol. 1: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-47
Franz Liszt, Vol. 2: The Weimar Years, 1848-61
Franz Liszt, Volume 3: The Final Years, 1861-1886

Two new Liszt books by Walker (2011):

Reflections on Liszt

In a series of lively essays that tell us much not only about the phenomenon that was Franz Liszt but also about the musical and cultural life of nineteenth- century Europe, Alan Walker muses on aspects of Liszt’s life and work that he was unable to explore in his acclaimed three-volume biography of the great composer and pianist. Topics include Liszt’s contributions to the Lied, the lifelong impact of his encounter with Beethoven, his influence on students who became famous in their own right, his accomplishments in transcribing and editing the works of other composers, and his innovative piano technique. One chapter is devoted to the Sonata in B Minor, perhaps Liszt’s single most celebrated composition.

The Death of Franz Liszt
– Based on the Unpublished Diary of His Pupil Lina Schmalhausen

“If only I do not die here.” After falling ill during a visit to Bayreuth, Franz Liszt uttered this melancholy refrain throughout his final days, which were spent in rented rooms in a house opposite Wahnfried, the home of his daughter Cosima and his deceased son-in-law Richard Wagner. Attended by incompetent doctors and ignored and treated coldly by his daughter, the great composer endured needless pain and indignity, according to a knowledgeable eyewitness. Lina Schmalhausen, his student, caregiver, and close companion, recorded in her diary a graphic description of her teacher’s illness and death. Alan Walker here presents this never-before-published account of Liszt’s demise in the summer of 1886.


Prize Winners in Utrecht Celebrate Franz Liszt

To celebrate Franz Liszt’s 200th birthday, the Liszt Competition Utrecht organized a unique concert at the Vredenburg Concert Hall.
The organization made a huge effort to bring out the best of 25 years of Liszt Competition history: all nine 1st prize winners were gathered here to play some of their beloved composer’s less familiar works. Some pianists shared the stage with a colleague, some performed their pieces solo.
In historical order of the competition the prize winners were: Martyn van den Hoek (1986), Enrico Pace, Sergey Pashkevich, Igor Roma, Masaru Okada, Jean Dubé, Yingdi Sun, Vitaly Pisarenko, Masataka Goto (2011).

The concert began with two pianists who have performed together regularly in recent years. Martyn van den Hoek and Jean Dubé played Liszt’s arrangement of “Les Preludes” for two pianos. This composition originates from the composer’s Symphonic Poems, and is the third in a series of thirteen.

Some of these Symphonic Poems have also been published for piano solo, such as numbers two (Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo) and six (Mazeppa). This arrangement provided for (possible) intimate interaction between the two pianists. Taking over each other’s melodies, delicate timing in certain passages and simultaneous, instant change of pace are all part of making or breaking this performance. Fortunately, both pianists made it absolutely clear that their ideas were performed as one.

Being quite familiar with Liszt’s repertoire for the piano, hearing this version of “Les Preludes” was an experience of recognition. Many themes and gestures used by the composer are “quoted” from his other pieces such as the Sonata, his Piano Concerto no.1, some of the Hungarian Rhapsodies and the famous “Totentanz”. Funnily, one could say the same about his “Concerto Pathétique” S.258 (which in its turn is an arrangement of Liszt’s “Grosses Concert-Solo S.176/R.18)”.

Concerto Pathétique was performed later that evening by two other musical friends, in fact two pianists who are both regular guests at all the major concert halls in The Netherlands: Enrico Pace and Igor Roma.
Having collaborated since 2002, playing this relatively unknown work together was a joy for both themselves and the audience. Enrico Pace, the “funny man” of the two, walked on stage with an enormous curly wig on his head. Now that he has otherwise lost quite a bit of his wild haircut from the 1980s, the audience instantly got the joke. Pace took on the role as conductor behind the piano, and led the piece with great confidence and virtuoso gestures.

Yingdi Sun talks to Alexander Buskermolen

Yingdi Sun talks to Piano Street's Alexander Buskermolen about his experiences of Liszt's music

Because this composition originated from another piano (solo) piece, you can hear that compared with the arrangement of “Les Preludes”, Liszt found it less difficult to maintain the great pianistic elements. The techniques used here were written with a deep understanding of the instrument, very different from the “translation” of an orchestra to a single instrument.
Other “quotes” that passed by were “Un Sospiro” S.144/3 and the “Reminiscences de Don Juan” S.418.

The fact that a pianist who performs Liszt will “meet the orchestra” sooner or later was also underlined when I asked Mr. Dubé what makes a Liszt pianist good:

Jean Dubé: “Obviously the works of Franz Liszt are technically quite demanding, so the pianist should possess a proper technical level and kind of virtuosity. On the musical side you should always consider the piano as an orchestra and try to find the orchestral colours in the instrument. When studying the works of Liszt I always involve his orchestral music to get a good perspective in terms of sound quality and colouring.”

The last piece played before the intermission was the “Danse Macabre” S.555 as transcribed from Camille Saint-Saëns’ orchestral work. The perfect man for the job was the youngest of the prize winners on stage: Vitaly Pisarenko. His technical capabilities were overwhelming and made his performance one to remember. The most remarkable aspect of his playing is his articulation. Although many of the passages in the Danse Macabre are very fast, all the notes came out crystal clear and highly rhythmic. If you ask me, this is how the composer himself would have played this work: virtuoso with a sense of style and a great eagerness in his relationship to the piano.

For all of our (young) readers who want to become Liszt-like “piano lions” like the prize winners from the Liszt competition, I’ve asked some of them about their first experiences with the composer. Maybe this will help you on your way…

Jean Dubé: “I got to know Franz Liszt through his Petrarca Sonettes, La Campanella and his Transcendental Studies. At first I was a bit hesitant about studying these difficult scores, but after some hard work it turned out that playing his compositions came quite naturally to me. It was, of course, years later that my former teacher encouraged me to participate in this Liszt Competition. “

Yingdi Sun: “I was ten years of age when I first played a composition by Franz Liszt. It was one of his etudes, I believe “Mazeppa” (S.100). It’s a Chinese tradition to start building a perfect technique at a young age, and of course the music of Franz Liszt is perfect study material for doing so.”

Igor Roma: “I discovered Liszt’s music at a relatively late age, I think I was 18 years old when I started studying his music. The main reason for this late start was that my unfamiliarity drew me back from these difficult scores. So I started off with his lyrical and highly romantic works such as “Liebestraüme”, the “Consolations” and the “Années de Pèlegrinage”.

Masataka Goto: “The first piece by Liszt that I played was number eight of his Transcendental Studies, “Wilde Jagd”. I was approximately 14 years old when I learned that piece.”

Mr. Roma had some extra advice for all the pianists who have never played Liszt before, especially if you’re not used to page after page filled with thousands of little black notes:

Igor Roma: “It all depends on the technical abilities of the young pianist. For the really young ones/less experienced pianists, the “Children’s Etudes” are quite rewarding. For the pianists who have a solid basic technique I’d recommend studying the “Consolations”, which are both musically and technically very interesting. In the end technique is everything in the service of Liszt’s musical ideas.”

A personal tip from Maestro Igor Roma for more advanced students:

Igor Roma: “In any major piece by Franz Liszt, the deep understanding and communicating of the work comes from thorough study and mental development. I’d advise anyone to just set aside the composition for a few months or longer and take it back, in order to change perspective. In the end you’ll master the composition technically and you’ll find the time and space to really concentrate on the musical gestures.”

Saint Francis preaching to the birds

After the intermission more less-familiar works by Franz Liszt were played. The 2005 prize winner Yingdi Sun played the highly religious “first Légende, St. François d’Assise: La predication aux oiseaux” S.175/1.
This first Légende tells the story of Saint Francis preaching to the birds. The birds, according to the legend, sat silently listening as the Saint held a sermon. Only after the sermon ended were the birds released from their spell to fly away.

Yingdi Sun has all the tools needed to create a hypnotic atmosphere in the hall. His touch is very delicate with trills as smooth as silk. Athough this piece is much more introverted than his second Légende, it’s not as dark and obviously virtuoso. It turns out this first Légende is actually one of Sun’s favourite Liszt compositions, as he told Piano Street when asked which works by Liszt he considered too infrequently played:

Yingdi Sun: “For me the piece I played tonight, the first Légende: St François d’ Assise ‘La prédication aux oiseaux’ (S.175) is such an underrated composition. It has many beautiful characters and introverted but very meaningful gestures. Another composition I like and that isn’t played very often is Liszt’s “Büch der Lieder” (S.531)”

Other pianists answered the same question:

Jean Dubé: “There are actually many pieces I consider underappreciated and which I’d love to hear more, a lot of them were composed later in Liszt’s lifetime. One is his “Berceuse” (S.174). “Schlaflos” (S.203) is another composition I love to play in concert.”.

When asked why these pieces have remained so unexplored, Jean Dubé answered:

“Many of these pieces, especially the later ones, are quite difficult to understand. They were composed in a very dark period of Liszt’s life. This introverted, depressed attitude is always present and difficult for the performer to fully comprehend.”

Igor Roma: “I have the feeling that many of the later pieces by Liszt are highly underrated. To name one in particular: ”Reminiscences de Simon Boccanegro”. Simon Boccanegro is a very special opera by Verdi that Liszt transcribed for the piano.”

And more!
Some of the pianists gave us another peek into their world full of Liszt…

What role did the music of Franz Liszt play in the development of your studies and career?

Yingdi Sun: “After becoming acquainted with Liszt at a young age, I kept playing and learning new compositions all the way through my teenage years and my time at the conservatory. I’ve noticed that I “grew from one piece into the next”. After my first couple of pieces I started to learn the b minor sonata, some of the Petrarca Sonettes and of course his Hungarian Rhapsodies. Being a music student at that time, I had to play many different composers as well. Even in recent years, after winning the Liszt Competition in 2005, I have kept on playing many different composers such as Brahms, Ravel and Beethoven. Logically, Franz Liszt has a prominent position in my life.”

Igor Roma: “I began to realize that even though I “met” Liszt at a late age, I really liked the physical and poetic attitude of the composer. In other words, I felt really at ease with the kind of sound and piano technique playing Liszt requires. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to play of course!”

Why did you decide to enter the Liszt Competition specifically?

Jean Dubé: “I entered the competition twice. The first time was in 1999, the second, and more successful, time was in 2002. In the years between the two I gained a lot of experience and matured in my way of playing and understanding Liszt’s music. In these years I played almost only Liszt. Luckily, he is a composer who comes very naturally to me, so the choice to enter this competition was in a way obvious. The reward you get from winning this competition is enormous, the organiz34w really makes’ an effort to let you play on may stages throughout the world, a unique opportunity to boost your career!”

Igor Roma: “I decided to enter the Liszt Competition in particular because of my special and most of all natural connection to the composer. I thought this competition would suit me well, and it did!
Masataka Goto: “Ever since I started to play the piano at the age of four I loved the music of Franz Liszt. Later I realized this music demands a very energetic approach. I thought it would be very useful to learn as many of his pieces as possible at a young age. Entering a competition that’s all about Liszt gave me the perfect push to do just that.”
Which particular aspects of Liszt’s music stand out to you personally and respond to your qualities as a musician?

Yingdi Sun: “I feel there’s a strong connection between the music of Liszt and Beethoven. I find it especially useful to study their late works. I think the main difference in the way both composers used the entire keyboard is in the balance between the different registers. Beethoven, being deaf at that period in his life, was clearly struggling to find the balance in dynamics and use of different areas of the keyboard. Franz Liszt, although more introvered at the later point in his life, found a better balance in these same aspects. I personally feel more connected with Liszt’s approach to the piano than Beethoven’s.”

How has winning the Liszt Competition influenced your choice of repertoire over the years? Are you expected to play Liszt all the time?

Igor Roma: “In a year such as this, THE Liszt year, concert organizers obviously expect me to play a lot of Liszt pieces. Any other year I like to play as many different composers as possible, especially post-romantic and 20th century composers. Also, I don’t feel like an expert on Liszt, or on any other composer for that matter.

Masataka Goto: “When I entered the Liszt Competition this year I played the first Ballade, a piece that’s not often performed. I think it’s a wonderful composition! I’m not a very big fan of his later works, maybe this will come later. For now I love playing his highly energetic compositions.”

The concert’s finale was an arrangement for five pianos and nine pianists of Liszt’s orchestral work, the Rákóczi-Marsch S.652b. Again Mr. Pace took on the role of conductor and led the rest of the pianists towards the final notes of the evening: a great ending of a great birthday concert, not only for Franz Liszt, but for all those that were present that evening. Thank you Liszt Competition Utrecht!

By Alexander Buskermolen, The Netherlands

Competition performances by prize winners:

Jean Dubé’s live performance of Hungarian Rhapsody no 2 during the semi-finals of the Liszt Competition in 2002 (with his own cadenza):

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Play Video: Enrico Pace in his semi-final in 1989 at the Liszt Competition Utrecht: The Don Juan paraphrase a.k.a. Réminicences de Don Juan

Play Video: Igor Roma in the final stage of the Liszt Competition Utrecht in 1996: Totentanz

Play Video: Vitaly Pisarenko in his final stage of the Liszt Competition in 2008: 1st Piano Concerto

About the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition

The International Franz Liszt Piano Competition is held every three years in Utrecht. This event has a reputation as one of the world´s most prestigious piano competitions, and is also known for the thorough and professional support it offers young musicians.

The Competition is entirely devoted to the piano works of Franz Liszt. This exclusive approach and the Competition’s programme of extensive career support, as well as the many international concert engagements it makes possible for its Prize winners, have given the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition a unique profile.

Website: www.liszt.nl


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