Thursday, March 6, 2014

Liszt - Grosses Konzertsolo For Piano

Franz Liszt wrote his Grosses Konzertsolo (Grand Concerto Solo) in 1849-1850, three years before hisSonata In B Minor.   Liszt wrote it for a piano competition that was to be held at the Paris Conservatoire in 1850. Liszt dedicated the work to Adolf von Henselt, one of the premier virtuoso pianists of the time. The work proved so difficult that Henselt couldn't master it which caused him to comment:
"It is not in the realm of possibility for me to play this piece..."
Liszt made two other versions of the work; one for piano and orchestra under the title Grand Solo de Concert which was not published,  and another arranged for two pianos published under the title Concerto Pathétique.  

The work is an experiment in form and substance that Liszt continued and refined in his Sonata In B Minor.  It is in one continuous movement. The opening begins with a dramatic main theme followed by a quiet section that leads to a transitional passage that brings the music back to the main theme. Next there is a grand theme played in large chords that is marked grandioso. This theme continues in the middle register of the keyboard as the accompaniment flows around it. This is basically the exposition of a sonata form movement. Liszt then inserts what amounts to a slow movement marked Andante sostenuto. This theme slowly unfolds and gains in complexity until a cadenza appears, after which the music grows to a double forte as the theme is hammered out. Themes from the exposition reappear and the drama of the opening section returns. Themes are developed, the music continues in dramatic fashion until a section is reached that is written in 4 staves and marked Andante, quasi marcia funebre:

  Themes continue to be developed,  the music again grows in intensity and ends in the major mode.

Henselt wasn't the only virtuoso of the day that refused to play this work. Liszt sent a copy of it to Clara Schumann but she publicly begged off the work claiming excessive technical difficulties while in private she criticized the work for what she considered empty virtuosity. There is no record of the piece being played at the piano competition in Paris, and outside of Liszt's pupil Carl Tausig who Liszt said was the first pianist to perform the piece, it may have been only Liszt himself that could have surmounted the technical and musical difficulties of the work.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for calling this work to the public's attention. The more I listen to Liszt and have come to appreciate his particular art, the less the "empty virtuosity" rap seems to pertain, really. The work under discussion is a case in point: it is quite rich and repeated listenings open up its richness little by little. I really can't find any "empty virtuosity" here or elsewhere. Clara Schumann could not quite get away from her understandable fixation on Robert's work and that of Brahms, (the latter who operated on a much narrower scale than Liszt.)

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  2. I've just mastered this piece and frankly I don't think it's all that hard--except for the length perhaps. Remember, Franz Liszt was a piano virtuoso so everything he wrote is playable for the piano. Every pattern fits the hand comfortably and nothing is awkward or out of place. If you're having trouble playing Franz Liszt it means you need to practice your scales, chords and arpeggios on a regular basis.

    I can see why some people would dislike the Grand Concert Solo--it does lay pretty heavy on some of the embellishments in the accompaniment in the second part--and I found it a little jarring too but like Anonymous has said, the more I listen to and play Liszt's music the 'empty virtuosity' (I can see where Clara Schumann where coming from) doesn't bother me that much because of the layers upon layers of details.

    If you want less showy Liszt listen to his Six Consolations and Two Elegies.

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