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Author Topic: The Programme content(or lack of it) in the Liszt's B-minor Sonata  (Read 1817 times)
Bulgarian
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« on: June 26, 2005, 02:47:35 AM »

Hi,

Iwas just wandering what is your opinion regarding the endless speculations about an extramusical content in the Liszt's B Minor Sonata. I have the feeling that in most of Europe the idea of Goete's Faust is still dominating. I have also read several other theories about parallels with the Bible, Milton's "Paradise Lost" and what not. Some also view it as Liszt's self-portrait.
Do you believe in any of those theries or you view the sonata as purely abstract piece of music?
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iumonito
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« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2005, 05:01:49 AM »

Liszt was as literary as it gets.  Likely there is more than one program going on in the sonata.  The Faust analysis is too accurate to be false, although note that Goethe's is just a reworking of a much older story, and the it is unlikely Liszt would have follow just on eauthor, but rather the concepts behind it: temptation, desire, innocence, inner conflict and redemption. 

There is also a very strong connection with Schumann's fantasia, which is full of musical and poetic references as well, althoguh not faustian at all.

Great work, don't you think?
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maxy
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« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2005, 05:20:52 PM »

I would say it is probably the "purest" musical piece by Liszt. Purest in the sense it can't really be related to a clear "extra-musical" content.  Some hear some mephisto-esque laugh, maybe there is.  Still, I don't buy the "theories" about the work.  I find it is a true masterwork that stands much higher than most "weak" speculations about it.

But heh, we can't let musicologist try their best to find "something"...  Roll Eyes
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pita bread
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« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2005, 09:24:10 PM »

Can any of you explain the Faust analysis of the Liszt Sonata please? or point me towards any resources regarding this, online or books?
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Bulgarian
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« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2005, 12:50:49 AM »

Liszt was as literary as it gets.  Likely there is more than one program going on in the sonata.  The Faust analysis is too accurate to be false, although note that Goethe's is just a reworking of a much older story, and the it is unlikely Liszt would have follow just on eauthor, but rather the concepts behind it: temptation, desire, innocence, inner conflict and redemption. 

There is also a very strong connection with Schumann's fantasia, which is full of musical and poetic references as well, althoguh not faustian at all.

Great work, don't you think?

It surely is a great work.
What you said it is really interesting, so you would not consider the themes to be derived from the "characters" of Faust, but rather from philosophical concepts.
Yes, of course there were much earlier versions of the Faust's legend, but I think Goethe's is the first one to use an "optimistic" redemption ending (very different from the 16th-century Marlowe's version for example). Anyway I was just wandering what theme you would call "innocence". In case you are referring to the first lyrical theme that appears in D major, how do you explain that it is clearly based on the satanic theme (the one with the repeated eighth noted)? I am sorry I don't have the score right now to give you the bar numbers. Hopefully you understand what I am referring to.
Cheers, Dimiter
 
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Bulgarian
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« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2005, 01:09:27 AM »

Can any of you explain the Faust analysis of the Liszt Sonata please? or point me towards any resources regarding this, online or books?

Thought you maybe interested in 2 alternative theories

1. This article discuses the “Liszt and Caroline Wittgenstein Portraits” Theory. Unfortunately without the accompanying graphics, it does not make much sense.

http://www.gobelle.com/p/articles/mi_qa3870/is_200304/ai_n9187322?pi=gbl
2. This book “Revolution and Religion in the Music of Liszt promotes the “Bible” theory
Hope you can find it.
Perhaps Iumonito can help you with sources of the "Faust-theory"
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ajw400
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« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2005, 06:22:09 AM »

When I first played this piece many years ago, I read a very good analysis summary by the Cambridge Notes series or something like that. I think it was there that I read about the cross motifs that liszt uses from different other pieces that he wrote that have definite programmatic content. For example, one of the themes in the sonata comes directly from the oratorio Christus, which of course leaves no doubt insofar as about what Liszt was thinking, albeit, perhaps, subconsciously.

Actually though, I prefer not to hammer out specific programmatic interpretations. It lessens the music considerably to specifically attribute characters to each theme, as the music is always in a state of becoming --- rarely one dimensional and never static. In this way, the piece opens up a whole new world of consciousness and subtlety in the right hands. Also, most performances of this piece that are truly awful by reputable artists are a result of this kind of programmatic oversimplification of the score, IMHO.....
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dimiter
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« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2005, 09:20:51 PM »

When I first played this piece many years ago, I read a very good analysis summary by the Cambridge Notes series or something like that. I think it was there that I read about the cross motifs that liszt uses from different other pieces that he wrote that have definite programmatic content. For example, one of the themes in the sonata comes directly from the oratorio Christus, which of course leaves no doubt insofar as about what Liszt was thinking, albeit, perhaps, subconsciously.

Actually though, I prefer not to hammer out specific programmatic interpretations. It lessens the music considerably to specifically attribute characters to each theme, as the music is always in a state of becoming --- rarely one dimensional and never static. In this way, the piece opens up a whole new world of consciousness and subtlety in the right hands. Also, most performances of this piece that are truly awful by reputable artists are a result of this kind of programmatic oversimplification of the score, IMHO.....

Yes, I agree, that the themes-characters are in a constant state of change and mutual influence, but I thinks they differ in such a way as different photos of the same person do. I don't quite agree that any programme is necessary "limiting". This is a quote taken from J. Goodfriend about the titles of Debusy's music.  I thinks it is quite applicable for our case too.   

     "It is not to say that Debussy wrote “program music” as we commonly understand
     that term. Yes, the music will stand by itself as a totally abstract arrangement of
     pitches, rhythms and tone colors, just as George Seurat’s pointillistic painting of
     an afternoon on the Isle of Grande Jatte will stand “by itself” as an abstract
     arrangement of planes, colors and the particular glowing effect of the technique.
     Making believe that the painting has no subject does not destroy its formal
     qualities, but it does make it a lesser thing that it really is. Removing the title from a
     Debussy Image similarly can not harm the work as pure music, but it
     makes it a lesser experience than the composer intended it to be".
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jhon
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« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2005, 07:06:32 PM »

I am still unfamiliar with this Bm Sonata by Liszt.  I have heard it but haven't learned it yet as I'm busy perfecting these other Romantic sonatas - Grieg, Op.7 (Em), Chopin, Op.35/2 (Bbm), and Schumann, Op.22 (Gm).  Does the Liszt Sonata likewise follows a 4-movement division which is typical for a romantic sonatas?  From what I have seen in it's score, it has too many tempo and expression changes so I just can't determine which marking indicates each movement.  I also heard from someone that Liszt intended it to be a "continuous" sonata, as if just a single, very long piece.  Further, I noticed (at Amazon.com) that many who did a recording of it put the whole sonata in just one CD track instead of dividng it into movements (if it has).
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MattL
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2005, 02:49:15 AM »

I believe that structuraly this sonata is very biblical, but I haven't read Goethe's faust in over a year so I can't exactly verify the relation (if any). But to me it represents was Liszt believed to be the life of every living person, he believed that life was unpredictable as is the emotional context of the sonata (when you first listen to it).
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iumonito
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« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2005, 03:25:40 AM »

Wow, much water under this bridge since last time I read!

Don't read too much into my choice of words, as I write with too broad a brush.

The lyrical theme (yes the beautiful D major section) is Margarita, the maiden Faust falls in love with and corrupts.  I like that Liszt makes an unmistakable connection between Mephistopheles, a fallen angel, one who once lived in grace and has fallen in disgrace, with Margarita, who eventually will follow the same path, even though more clearly lured not now by vanity or selfishness, but rather by, I don't know, lust is too cross a word; perhaps vanity and selfishness as well?

On another note, I think it is very telling that Liszt very early introduces a dychotomy between his religious side (phrygian scale, Liszt the church member) and his gypsy side ("Hungarian scale, Liszt the gypsy").

I apologize I cannot direct you to articles, as I have been removed from that type of academic interest for over ten years.  My source is pure lore, passed from one pianist to the next.  If you want to read such a resource, I would recommend browsing the index of articles on the sonata in a book such as Diamond's and the titles will jump at you.

Nobody picked on the Schumannnesque side of my comments, that too far afield?
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MattL
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« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2005, 07:45:34 PM »

didn't liszt associate his andante sostenuto (i know i spelled it wrong) directly with one of Schumann's melodies.

But overall I tend to agree with you on your comments about its relation to Faust, but I was wonderig which version are you talkning of Goethes Faust or the one from the 1500's ? (unless I'm mistaken and there is only one faust)
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dikai_yang
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« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2005, 10:03:10 PM »

yo, just a thought, is there any possibility that when he, as the matter of fact, as any composer composes anything, he/she actually doesn't "encrypt" it??  it's just simply beautiful music being written on sheets...

ever thought that we all think too much??
you know like any novels we read in high school english,
we try to justify all the symbolism involved,
but could it be possible that they were simply great literatures without the complications?

or must every musical piece or literature be related to the society as a whole, the american dream, the very existence of human life itself??
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