About this Recording
8.553237 - LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor / CHOPIN: Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
English 

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Piano Sonata in B Minor

Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1849)
Piano Sonata No.1 in C Minor, Op. 4
Piano Sonata No.2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 35

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborján) near Odenburg (Sopron) in a Gennan-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Odenburg in 1820, followed by a concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearance brought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow the family to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and composition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had taught Beethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as a foreigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but was able to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist and as a composer.

On the death of his father in 1827 Liszt was joined again by his mother in Paris, where he began to teach the piano and to interest himself in the newest literary trends of the day. The appearance of Paganini in Paris in 1831 suggested new possibilities of virtuosity as a pianist, later exemplified in his Paganini Studies. A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, a blue-stocking on the model of their friend the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of three children, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuoso pianist, a role in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences.

In 1844 Liszt finally broke with Marie d'Agoult, who later took her own literary revenge on her lover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to his withdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director of Music, accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theological propensities. Lisztnow turned his attention to new forms of composition, particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate into musical terms works of literature.

Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had proved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in 1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquée (a three-pronged life), as he divided his time between his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, where he held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, and his appearances in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero.

Liszt's illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His final years were as busy as ever, and in 1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, now controlled by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.

The Sonata in B minor was published in 1854, at a time when Liszt was busy revising his earlier symphonic poems. Unlike these last, the sonata has no literary or extra-musical programme, but is itself a remarkable summary of Liszt's own characteristics as a composer and performer. In a much enlarged structure of sonata form, it includes within its single, continuous movement, a remarkable formal innovation in itself, a slow movement and a rapid finale.

The sonata opens with a brief introduction, containing the first theme, a descending scale. There follows a more energetic and dramatic figure, with an accompanying secondary melody, forming the first subject proper of the sonata. A modulating passage leads to the second subject, in the form of a third theme, marked Grandioso. A third subject is added, derived from the second element of the second theme, now in a form that Chopin would have recognised. The development of the sonata is in two parts. At first the three themes are treated in various ways, before giving way to the fourth theme, which serves as a first subject for the slow movement, marked Andante sostenuto. The subsidiary element of the original second theme now appears as a second subject, the other themes re-appearing in a middle section, before this part of the sonata comes to an end. As the music fades to the softest dynamic marking, the development of the whole work resumes with a fugal treatment of part of the second theme, followed by a recapitulation and a coda in which earlier thematic material returns, the second and first themes, in that order, bringing the whole sonata to an end, a formal tour de force.

Fryderyk Chopin was born in 1810 at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw. His father Nicolas Chopin was French by birth but had moved to Poland to work as an accounting clerk, later serving as tutor of the Laczynski family and thereafter to the family of Count Skarbek, one of whose poorer relatives he married. His subsequent career led him to the Warsaw Lyceum as a respected teacher of French, and it was there that his only son, Fryderyk, godson of Count Skarbek, whose Christian name he took, passed his childhood.

Chopin showed an early talent for music. He learned the piano from his mother and later with the eccentric Adalbert Zywny, a violinist of Bohemian origin, and as fiercely Polish as Chopin's father. His later training in music was with Jozef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, at first as a private pupil and then as a student of that institution.

In the 1820s Chopin had already begun to win for himself a considerable local reputation, but Warsaw offered relatively limited opportunities. In 1830 he set out for Vienna, a city where he had aroused interest on a visit in the previous year and where he now hoped to make a more lasting impression. The time, however, was ill-suited to his purpose. Vienna was not short of pianists, and Thalberg, in particular, had out-played the rest of the field. During the months he spent there Chopin attracted little attention, and resolved to move to Paris.

The greater part of Chopin's professional career was to be spent in France, and particularly in Paris, where he established himself as a fashionable teacher and as a performer in the houses of the rich. His playing in the concert hall was of a style less likely to please than that of the more flamboyant Liszt or than the technical virtuosity of Kalkbrenner. It was in the more refined ambience of the fashionable salon that his genius as a composer and as a performer, with its intimacy, elegance and delicacy of nuance, found its place.

Chopin could not but admire the ability of Liszt, while not sharing his taste in music. His own background had been severely classical, based on the music of Bach, Mozart and Haydn, and by these standards Beethoven, the object of adulation for Liszt and his circle, seemed on occasion uncouth, by comparison with the classical restraint of Mozart's pupil Hummel. At the same time he held reservations about the Bohemian way of life that Liszt followed, although he himself was to become involved in a liaison with the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), which lasted for some ten years, coming to an end two years before his death.

Paris was to provide Chopin with a substantial enough income as a teacher, and there was a ready market for his compositions, however reluctant he might be to commit them to paper. The country retreat of George Sand at Nohant provided a change of air that was certainly healthier for him than that of Mallorca, where, in 1838, the couple spent a disastrous winter that intensified the weakness of Chopin's lungs, already affected by the tuberculosis from which he was to die.

In 1848 political disturbances in Paris made teaching impossible, and Chopin left the city for a tour of England and Scotland. By this time his health had deteriorated considerably. At the end of the year he returned to Paris, now too weak to play or to teach and dependent on the generosity of others for subsistence. He died there on 17th October, 1849.

The greater part of Chopin's music was written for his own instrument, the piano. At first it seemed that works for piano and orchestra would be a necessary part of his stock-in-trade, but the position he found for himself in Paris enabled him to write principally for the piano alone, in a characteristic idiom that derives some inspiration from contemporary Italian opera, much from the music of Poland, and still more from his own adventurous approach to harmony and his own sheer technical ability as a player.

The first of Chopin's three piano sonatas, the Sonata in C minor, Opus 4, was completed in 1828, at a time when the composer was still a student of Jozet Elsner at the Warsaw Conservatory. The sonata was published posthumously, in 1851. It was inevitable that at some point in his career Chopin should tackle a form that had proved of such vital importance in the development of instrumental music of all kinds. Later he was to treat the sonata with characteristic originality, of which there are already distinct traces in this early example.

The first movement, marked Allegro maestoso, opens solemnly, proceeding with an increased chromaticism remarkable enough for its place and period. The second movement E flat major Minuet is precise in its use of the traditional dance, contrasted with an E flat minor Trio. There follows a slow movement in an unusual 5 /4 metre and in the key of A flat major, a gentle interlude before a final Presto of greater energy, interspersed with contrasting episodes, subject to development. The sonata ends with a forceful enough conclusion, the whole representing an achievement that is no mere student work, however it may appear by comparison with the two later sonatas.

The Sonata in B Flat Minor, Opus 35, was written in 1839, including the Funeral March, the work of 1837. It starts with a brief introduction, followed by a more rapid accompanying figure, above which the excited first subject appears. In contrast is the slow second subject in D flat major. Chopin modifies traditional classical sonata form by omitting the first subject from the recapitulation of the movement, which begins, instead, with the major key second subject.

If the central development section of the first movement had been harmonically varied, the central section of the second movement, the trio, is simple in its harmony, a marked contrast to the agitated chromaticism of the Scherzo that frames it. Tranquillity returns with the solemnity of the Funeral March, which is followed by a rapid final movement which is daring in its use of a darting single-line melody, doubled at the octave, its only chord in its conclusion.

Jeno Jandó
The Hungarian pianist Jeno Jandó has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the piano concertos and sonatas of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.

Idil Biret
Born in Ankara, Idil Biret started to learn the piano at the age of three and later studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger, graduating at the age of fifteen with three first prizes. A pupil of Alfred Cortot and of Wilhelm Kempff, she embarked on her career as a soloist at the age of sixteen, appearing with major orchestras in the principal musical centres of the world, in collaboration with conductors of the greatest distinction. To many festival appearances may be added membership of juries for international piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians and Busoni Competitions. She has received the Lili Boulanger Memorial Award in Boston, the Harriet Cohen / Dinu Lipatti Gold Medal in London, the Polish Artistic Merit Award and the French Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Merite. Her more than sixty records include the first recording of Liszt's transcription of the symphonies of Beethoven, and for Naxos the complete piano works of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninov, with a Marco Polo disc of the piano compositions and transcriptions of her mentor Wilhelm Kempff.


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