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Liszt Sonata "Programs" #2304234
07/19/14 11:49 PM
07/19/14 11:49 PM
Joined: May 2001
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McAllen, TX
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Brendan Offline OP
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So, I'm pulling this delightful chestnut off of the shelf for some recitals this year. It's been in my repertoire for a while now (about 12 years?), and I'm trying to rethink my interpretation for this year's college try. According to Alan Walker's research, there are several theories about this work and its programmatic content, or lack thereof:

1) It's a sonata, plain and simple. Liszt didn't specify any programmatic content to the work; there's nothing on the page or anywhere in his correspondence to suggest that there is a program. Thus, one could see it as the next logical step after late Beethoven/Schubert (especially given Chopin's radical departure from the form).

How to realize this: play very rhythmically; highlight the architecture; avoid too much cadential rubato; balance the textures and voice appropriately, as one would do in late classical sonatas.

Performers who do this: Aimard, Richter (sometimes), Leslie Howard, Laplante, Brendel.

2) It's a cosmic battle between good and evil, with distinct themes for both. Some point to the use of the Via Crucis motive as evidence for this, and this certainly has weight considering that Via Crucis emerges as the triumphant motive at the end. The other motives can be characterized as demonic/dark, and the constant interplay between them, their transformations, and Via Crucis imply some sort of struggle.

How to realize this: highlight the extremes of dynamic, register, and texture; play more gesturally and less "precisely"; balance dark and light themes to the appropriate hand.

Performers who do this: Trifonov, Hough, Horowitz, Gilels, Argerich, and most other people who play the Sonata (it seems to be the most popular interpretation).

3) It's autobiographical. This is very hard to bring across without some sort of verbal introduction to the audience, but is, IMO, the coolest program possibility. So, Liszt is in the middle of his career when he wrote the Sonata and had recently retired from the concert stage to instead focusing on teaching and composing. In a way, it seems that abandoning his concert career was a mid-life crisis of sorts. In this respect, the Sonata vacillates between being an outright virtuoso work that echoes his earlier years and the work of a serious composer who was comfortable in employing sophisticated formal designs and compositional techniques to great effect. The use of the Via Crucis motive evidences Liszt's growing interest in Catholicism. By rejecting the original "fff" ending and opting for a quiet one, the Sonata brings to a close his years as a touring pianist beset with emotional problems (Marie d'Agoult, his sometimes troubled relationships with Chopin and Schumann, being blocked from marrying Carolyne zu Wittegenstein, etc.) and opens the door to the more refined and contemplative works of his middle and late years.

How to realize this: heck if I know! Play it as more of a virtuoso work when applicable; highlight the emotionalism of the thematic transformations; take a "sacred music" approach to the slow movement and the last two pages; explain it to the audience beforehand?

Performers who do this: Yuja Wang (as a virtuoso piece), Zimerman (to an extent), hopefully me.

They all have their merits, and one interpretation might please some more than others, but it blows my mind how many possibilities there are with this piece. As of now, I'm staring down the barrel of nine performances of it this year, so that's enough to try each possibility a few times!

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Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2304307
07/20/14 08:21 AM
07/20/14 08:21 AM
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New York
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Any idiot knows the answer!! Or at least I do. ha

It's all of them. grin

And BTW it seems to me that actually those individual views don't necessarily (or particularly) lead to the specific renditions you described, nor do those renditions necessarily imply those views!

But, something else that any idiot knows:
When you're thinking about all that stuff and coming up with ideas like that, you're on a good track. smile

(Very interesting ideas, greatly laid out!)

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2304323
07/20/14 09:01 AM
07/20/14 09:01 AM
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Posts: 25,642
New York City
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If you use the third program perhaps you could give a brief introduction to explain it to the audience?

I heard Magadalena Baczewska perform at the Mannes IKIF last week and, although I don't think she usually does this, she gave a brief talk of around 2-3 minutes before each work. I thought it was incredibly effective and might also work especially well if any of your recitals are college type audiences. You certainly write brilliantly, and as a college professor have the advantage of probably being comfortable talking to an audience.

Or maybe you've already done something like this before?

This was Baczewska's program:

Gibbons: The Lord of Salisbury his Pavin
Bach: French Suite No. 5, BWV 816
Chopin: Barcarole, Op. 60
Ravel: Sonatine
K. Szymanowski: Mazurkas, Op. 50 (1925)
Cuckson - Selections from "Antinomia" (2001)
Kapustin: Variations Op. 41 (1985)

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: pianoloverus] #2304326
07/20/14 09:07 AM
07/20/14 09:07 AM
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(I thought he meant that he would intend to do that, but maybe he didn't....)

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2304368
07/20/14 11:25 AM
07/20/14 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Brendan

How to realize this: heck if I know! Play it as more of a virtuoso work when applicable; highlight the emotionalism of the thematic transformations; take a "sacred music" approach to the slow movement and the last two pages; explain it to the audience beforehand?


Maybe play it like #2 up to the fugue, then #1 strictly to the end.

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2304700
07/21/14 06:52 AM
07/21/14 06:52 AM
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BTW, I once heard a live broadcast of Brendel in which he seemed much more to be in the #2 bunch - and it ended up being one of the "great" performances of this piece I've heard.

Another great one was by Arrau, in a recital I attended - his performance didn't fall into any of the three categories. It was more like some kind of shamanistic trance-inducing incantation that provoked something like an out-of-body experience in me. Garrick Ohlsson also did something close to that in a recital I attended years ago, and interestedly, he had studied with Arrau. But he didn't quite take me as totally and completely "away" as Arrau did, even if it was an amazing experience in its own right. I remember at one point I noticed I was literally having a white knuckle experience, from gripping the armrests so hard - the music was scaring me out of my wits. Now that's a sign of being in the presence of a real honest-to-God Lisztian doing what they can do, IMO.


Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2305218
07/22/14 06:31 AM
07/22/14 06:31 AM
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Brendan,

Thank you for introducing us Alan Walker's research on this sonata. It was a very informative and interesting read.

Of course I am in no way to provide such an analysis, but I would like to offer "my" point of view about the B-minor Sonata.

I would lay out my thoughts under the following headings: RESTS, MOOD, and PHRASING.

RESTS:

Rests, or "moments of silence", I like to call them, make this sonata more of a "sonata of rests" than its musical content. Right from the first bar it begins with a moment of silence, and continues with rests till the last bar where it ends with another long moment of silence.

These might serve as a hesitation before expressing a feeling, or the tiredness of struggling, or as a divine moment.

In any case, I believe they are important, and I like to listen to them. I prefer that, they are extended a bit from their normal duration.

And by rests, I don't only mean the rests that encompass both staves, but the rests at each hand.

MOOD:

I believe the general mood of this sonata is religious. In this regard, I give little credit to the 3rd analysis that it's autobiographical.

It is more about the crucifixion of Jesus, the passion, his life and his miracles.

So, in this regard, a dark, heavy, serious mood can be considered throughout the sonata.

PHRASING:

Throughout the sonata, Liszt has marked very few bars more than 2 or 3 under a slur. All the sentences, feelings are expressed in short phrases.

I believe these short phrases should be clearly executed by themselves and separated from the adjacent phrases. As with the rests, if they are slightly dragged at the end of those 2 or 3 bars, I enjoy listening to them more.

And when there are religious themes such as Via Crucis, we see that there are almost no slurs. I believe, each and every chord or note in these instances are to be played independently of each other.

After all this talk, regardless of what I think or feel about this sonata, I always enjoy when I encounter performances like this, you name in which "program" this falls in:





Last edited by Hakki; 07/22/14 06:59 AM.
Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2305338
07/22/14 12:25 PM
07/22/14 12:25 PM
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Isn't there also a theory that the Sonata is loosely based on the "Faust" legend, and that the cosmic struggle of the divine and the satanic takes place in that context? This is somewhat related to theory #2 but the conflict takes place in the struggle for Faust's soul (and the love story of Faust and Gretchen is mirrored in the lyrical themes.)

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2307113
07/25/14 06:39 PM
07/25/14 06:39 PM
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All very good ideas and remarks, mine will be slight. I think that Liszt had the urge to do something 'serious' after his virtuoso-years, Chopin had just vanished, he himself just settled in Germany, love and religion were still problematic, Schumann wasn't in the best shape, and there was this dedication of op.17 to him, what to write for an answer, he had never had the opportunity to do something back for Chopin's op.10, so, with the whole so called 'Leipziger Schule' against him, may be Liszt got the idea to write some serious music, some abstract music, a sonata. He had played Beethoven/Schubert/Chopin/Weber, knew his Bach, welcomed all newcomers to the scene, and was not present with classic pieces himself. I think Liszt wrote his sonata to write a SONATA and to establish himself as a serious composer, we must be glad he did.


Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, but not anymore!
Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: dolce sfogato] #2307125
07/25/14 07:09 PM
07/25/14 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
All very good ideas and remarks, mine will be slight. I think that Liszt had the urge to do something 'serious' after his virtuoso-years, Chopin had just vanished, he himself just settled in Germany, love and religion were still problematic, Schumann wasn't in the best shape, and there was this dedication of op.17 to him, what to write for an answer, he had never had the opportunity to do something back for Chopin's op.10, so, with the whole so called 'Leipziger Schule' against him, may be Liszt got the idea to write some serious music, some abstract music, a sonata. He had played Beethoven/Schubert/Chopin/Weber, knew his Bach, welcomed all newcomers to the scene, and was not present with classic pieces himself. I think Liszt wrote his sonata to write a SONATA and to establish himself as a serious composer, we must be glad he did.


I don't know the history, but this analysis strikes me as very spot-on.

-J


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2308359
07/29/14 01:50 AM
07/29/14 01:50 AM
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I leave the programmatic aspect to my subconscious. I find it more intuitive and organic that way.

Re: Liszt Sonata "Programs" [Re: Brendan] #2880077
08/16/19 05:00 AM
08/16/19 05:00 AM
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Adding this document to this thread dredged from the graveyard, for safekeeping:

"Liszt Sonata Companion"


across the stone, deathless piano performances

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