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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Happy Birthday Franz Liszt

Yesterday was the birthday of composer and pianist Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 - July 31, 1886). He was my hero for a time -- he inspired me to give up the guitar for a couple of years in a misguided attempt to master the piano, and I even had my hair cut like him (coincidence, I assure you). In the academy he is not considered a great composer, in part because he often appeared to substitue cheap showmanship for compositional ideas.

But his position as history's greatest pianist (hyperbole, perhaps, but that's how he is often remembered) allowed him to explore the sheer timbral beauty of the piano in his compositions in a way that no other composer has. Chopin may be more accessible, but while Chopin mastered an understated and elegant approach to the sounds of the piano, Liszt favored the melodramatic. His is a music of large gestures (supposedly his hands could stretch across more than octave and two keys -- in fact, an octave plus 3 keys or 4 keys, from C to F an octave higher) and powerful emotions.

I prefer Liszt's pieces for solo piano. With his ability to create lush, full orchestrations using only the piano, to my ear an orchestra only gets in the way of what is wonderful about his music. You can listen to samples of Liszt's "Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude" S. 173 (The Blessing of God in Solitude) at amazon, tracks 5, 6, 7. The piece is around 22 minutes long, so these short samples don't give really give you a full sense of the large gestures, powerful emotions, and full orchestrations using only the piano... But this is my favorite piece of his, so around here it is representative of his work.


Blogger Vitriolix said...

He must have been good, 'cause the man sure didnt win any beauty contests.

8:18 PM  

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