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8.557366 - LISZT: Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (Transcription) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 21)
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Franz Liszt (1811–1886):
Piano Transcription of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (S464/R128)

I should be sorry to be the occasion of you losing a bet, but since you ask whether Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed in Pest in 1840 I must reply ‘No’. It is, moreover, not surprising that the performance of this remarkable work in Pest should have suffered such delay. In 1840 the Ninth Symphony was considered an absolute terror by most musicians and so-called connoisseurs of music, in Europe. It was tried out after a fashion, fragmentarily at first on some special occasion …
Liszt to Kálmán von Simonffy. Vatican, 21st May 1865

Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to move to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire. Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.

The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt’s relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn- Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.

It was in 1861, at the age of fifty, that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.

Whatever the accuracy of Liszt’s account, fifty years later, of his meeting with Beethoven in Vienna through the insistence of his then teacher, Czerny, he continued always to hold Beethoven in the greatest respect, a reverence reflected in his activities in the cause of the Beethoven Monuments in Bonn and Vienna and festivals of Beethoven’s music, and in his inclusion of Beethoven’s piano compositions in his recitals. Among particularly treasured possessions itemised in the will he made in 1860 were the death mask of Beethoven and his Broadwood piano, which, after Liszt’s death, was presented by Princess Carolyne and her daughter, Princess Hohenlohe, to the National Museum in Budapest.

In the summer of 1837, spent at the country house of George Sand at Nohant, Liszt, accompanied there by Marie d’Agoult, had worked on his piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, which were published, with a transcription of Symphony No. 7 in 1840. These early versions of Beethoven symphonies were later to be revised and supplemented by transcriptions of the six other symphonies, including, after some reluctance, the Choral Symphony, which he had transcribed for two pianos in 1851. Something of the contemporary view of the latter symphony is apparent from Liszt’s letter to Kálmán von Simonffy, quoted above. The new transcriptions were made in 1863 and 1864, with the last movement of the Choral Symphony, over which he had hesitated, added in 1865. This final movement had caused him some difficulty, eventually only partly resolved by the inclusion of the choral parts on two staves printed above the orchestral reduction. This makes the musical structure clear enough, with the choral parts implicit in the transcription on the two lower staves. In 1863 Liszt had moved to a retreat outside Rome at the monastery of Madonna del Rosario on Monte Mario. Here he occupied a room of great simplicity, with a small and defective piano at his disposal, although the relative tranquillity of his life was occasionally interrupted by visitors, including, on one significant occasion, Pope Pius IX. It was at the urging of Breitkopf and Härtel that he now undertook the revision of his earlier transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies and the completion of the whole set. The proofs were corrected by Liszt while he was preparing for admission to minor holy orders, lodging in the Roman residence of his friend, the future Cardinal, Prince Gustav Adolf von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, whose brother had married one of the daughters of Princess Carolyne. The transcriptions were published in 1865 with a dedication to Liszt’s son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow.

The transcriptions must speak for themselves. Liszt is meticulous in his accurate reproduction of original phrasing and his specification, where necessary, of the original instrumentation. Critics have compared his transcriptions favourably with the earlier piano versions of the symphonies by the virtuoso pianist Kalkbrenner, a pioneer in this field. Liszt does not primarily seek for technical display, however demanding the transcriptions may be. He is particularly adept in his solution of problems of balance and sonority, and helpful in the suggested fingerings that are included and in the care taken to distinguish parts in notation.

Keith Anderson


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