Saturday, February 25, 2012

Liszt - Fantasy On Motifs From Beethoven's Ruins Of Athens

Liszt was a tireless champion of Beethoven and his music. He was the first pianist to play the late piano sonatas, he gave a series of concerts where all the proceeds went to the cost to erect the Beethoven commemorative statue in Beethoven's birthplace of Bonn. Liszt did this with many other composers besides Beethoven.  His arrangements of other composers works runs the spectrum of literal transcriptions such as the Beethoven symphonies and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, to the 'paraphrases'  other composers operas where he would use a tune or a theme from the work as the basis of his original thoughts.  The ruins Of Athens Fantasy on the incidental music that Beethoven wrote for the play of the same name by playwright August von Kotzebue.  Beethoven's work was written in 1811 in Pest, Hungary for the dedication of a new theater there.

Beethoven's original music was comprised of eleven musical numbers interspersed throughout the play.  Liszt uses three of these numbers for his fantasy. Liszt wrote three versions of this fantasy, for piano solo, for two pianos, and for piano and orchestra. It is the version for piano and orchestra that is heard on the video.

Liszt begins the fantasy with an introduction that uses material from a March and Chorus section from the original music. The introduction is for orchestra only, and is brief. The second part begins with the solo piano loudly making an entrance and the theme of the first part is replaced by the whirling dervish music of the original. After the initial statement of this theme, the orchestra joins the piano. The third part is the Turkish March taken from the original. It is slowly introduced by piano and various instruments before it is given full voice. There is a short return of the preceding themes, and the work ends.

Liszt was one of the best sight-readers ever known. He could take a piece of music he had never seen and play it perfectly, in tempo, at sight. He could reduce orchestral scores to the essence of the music and play the most complicated music from sight. It was also said that the only time Liszt could play a piece of music and be faithful to what was printed on the page was the first time. After that, he began to change things in the score to suit him, at least with the new composers of the time. He was forever tinkering with other composer's music as well as his own. This musical tinkering no doubt lead to his many transcriptions, and lead to things like the Ruins Of Athens Fantasy.  But it also must be remembered that piano versions of great works were sometimes what made the work well known. The expense of an orchestra has always been great, no less so in Liszt's time,  and to be able to hear a new orchestral work was a luxury many listeners did not have. Liszt himself made Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique more well known when he would play his piano solo version of it in recital.  As it had been many years since Beethoven's original music had been heard, Liszt no doubt wanted to expose the listener to what he considered some of the best parts of it.  Liszt was a man inspired by other composers music in many ways. The use of another composer's tunes can be a sign of respect, and with Liszt's known regard for Beethoven's music, he no doubt meant it as such.

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