Monday, May 12, 2014

Liszt - Six Consolations

Franz Liszt was not only a musician of astounding technical abilities, but of pure musicianship as well. He could sight read the most complex piano music, and could play from a full orchestra score while transcribing the many staves into an intelligible interpretation for piano.  There was hardly an aspect of musical performance that he was not a master of.  So it is not too surprising that when he began to compose, very little of his music would be easy or simple.

Some of his piano compositions have tremendous technical difficulties, not to mention musical and interpretive problems, and it is doubtful if any other pianist at the time could play some of them. But later in his career as a composer he began to simplify some of his work. The Six Consolations for piano are a case in point. He sketched some of the pieces as early as 1844, with the six pieces being completed in 1849. This first version was not printed during Liszt's lifetime, and Liszt rewrote the set in 1849-1850 and replaced some of them with new compositions and simplified the rest. There's no known record of why Liszt titled them Consolations, but all six pieces are in the general vein of nocturnes.

I. Andante con moto - There is a harmonic pattern to the set as the first two pieces are in E major, the middle two in D-flat major, and the last two in E major. The first consolation is also the shortest and acts as a prelude to the set.

II. Un poco più mosso - The second consolation is full of graceful runs and a gentle melody that is treated in different ways in different registers of the piano. Although this piano piece can sound simple, there are still plenty of technical problems in keeping a proper focus on the melody that shifts from one hand to the other, as well as keeping the delicate accompaniment far enough in the background so as not to overcome the melody but yet keeping it audible enough to help with the feeling of the piece.

III. Lento placido - Written in in D-flat major, this is the most popular piece in the set. This nocturne shows the influence Chopin's music had on Liszt. The runs towards the end are not of the glittering kind, but are gentle and of a slightly burnished sheen that caps off one of Liszt's most subtle and satisfying pieces.

IV. Quasi Adagio - Another piece in D-flat major with a theme that is repeated in different ways, all the while remaining true to its introspective and calm nature.

V. Andantino -  The key returns to E major with a simple melody. Liszt maintains interest in this short piece by subtle means and keeps the melody singing throughout.

VI. Allegretto sempre cantabile -  Another singing melody that upon each repetition grows more complex. Balance between melody and rolled chords in both hands is one of the difficulties of this piece, along with the short quicksilver cadenza at the end of the middle section. After the singing melody is heard fortissimo accompanied by large rolled chords, music that harks back to the first consolation acts as a coda to the last piece and along with the harmonic structure of the set, gives us a clue that Liszt may have preferred these pieces be played one right after the other.

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