About this Recording
8.550187 - LISZT: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Totentanz

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)

Piano Concerto No.1 in E Flat Major
Piano Concerto No.2 in A Major Totentanz

Franz Liszt was born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of a steward employed by Haydn's former patrons, the Esterházy family. As a boy he showed extraordinary musical ability, and money was raised, after he had played to the Hungarian nobility in Pressburg (the modern Bratislava), to send him to Vienna, where he took lessons from Czerny and was kissed by Beethoven, impressed by the boy's playing, in spite of the fact that he was almost stone deaf. In 1823 the family moved to Paris, a city that Liszt was later to regard as essentially his home. From here he undertook concert tours as a pianist and it was here, in 1831, that he heard the violinist Paganini, and resolved to follow his example.

Liszt became one of the most remarkable pianists of his time, fascinating audiences in a way that has its modern parallel in the adulation accorded to much less worthy popular performers. A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children, led to extensive travel abroad, and after their separation to an important change of direction, when, in 1848, he settled in Weimar as Director of Music to the Grand Duchy, solaced there by the presence of Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, estranged wife of a Russian prince. Here he turned his attention to the creation of a new form of orchestral work, the symphonic poem, and it was here that he wrote the final versions of his two piano concertos.

The last 25 years of his life Liszt described as a vie trifurquêe, largely divided, as time went on, between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. In 1860 Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had gone to Rome, hoping to have a first marriage annulled, as it had already been by the Russian Orthodox Church, and thus to be able to marry Liszt. He followed, in October 1861 reaching Rome, where he expected to marry. Permission, however, was not granted. Liszt settled in the city, lodging with a religious order, although not without material comforts, and turning his attention to church music, while the Princess continued her 24-volume study of the interior causes of the exterior weakness of the Catholic Church, living elsewhere in Rome. In 1869 he undertook to return from time to time to Weimar to teach and in 1871 he made a similar undertaking to Budapest, where he was regarded as something of a national hero. He died in 1886during the course of a visit to Bayreuth, where his unforgiving daughter Cosima, the widow of Richard Wagner, continued the festival of her husband's works.

Liszt's legacy as a composer is a remarkable one. As a performer he led the way to new feats of virtuosity, a fact that has led some to regard his work as nothing more than facile showmanship. Yet even in those popular transcriptions where an element of the meretricious may seem to predominate, there is evidence of a strong and extraordinary musical intelligence and originality. His influence on his contemporaries was considerable: subsequent generations have found in his music some justification for claims that he and Wagner put forward as propagators of the music of the future.

Piano Concerto No.1 in E Flat Major was completed in 1849 with the assistance of Joachim Raft, who claimed a considerable share in Liszt's early orchestral compositions. It was twice revised, in 1853 and 1856.

Piano Concerto No.2 in A major was written in 1839 and revised during the Weimar years, to be published in 1863. Liszt played it in public for the first time in Weimar in 1857, two years after the first performance of the earlier concerto there under Berlioz. The concerto is structurally in one continuous movement.

The source of Liszt's Totentanz, a work described in its published sub-title as a paraphrase of the >Dies irae, the great hymn for the dead in the Requiem Mass, was pictorial rather than literary. In 1839 Liszt had visited Pisa with Marie d'Agoult and their three children, accompanied by the two children that the countess had had by her husband. There he had seen the fresco of the Last Judgement by Orcagna and it was this experience that led him, ten years later, to write the first version of his own Dance of Death, music that he dedicated to his son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, so soon to be deserted by his unfaithful wife Cosima. The work was first written in 1849, to be revised in the following years. It was first performed in The Hague in 1865.

Joseph Banowetz
Joseph Banowetz is internationally recognized as an artist whose performances of the Romantic literature of the piano have earned the highest critical acclaim. Fanfare Record Magazine (U.S.A.) termed him one of "the pre-eminent 'three B's' of Liszt playing."

Born in the United States, part of Banowetz's early training was received in New York City with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann. After continuing his studies at Vienna's Hochschule fuer Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Banowetz's career was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano. He was then sent by the Austrian government on an extended European concert tour. Subsequently he has performed throughout North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia. In 1966 he was awarded the Pan American Prize by the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.

Following his first appearances in the Orient in 1981, Banowetz's tours there have received ever-increasing enthusiastic response. He is the first foreign artist ever to be invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture both to record and to give world premiere performances of a contemporary Chinese piano concerto (Huang An-lun Piano Concerto, Op. 25b). Banowetz has recorded with the CSR Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing.

Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain.

Oliver Dohnányi
Oliver Dohnányi was born in 1955 and studied the violin, composition and conducting at the Bratislava Conservatory, in the Slovakian capital, pursuing further studies in Prague under Václav Neumann and others, and in Vienna under Otmar Suitner. He graduated in 1980 but had already established himself as artistic director of the Charles University Art Ensemble and the Canticorum lubilo chamber ensemble in Prague. He has won distinction in various competitions, including the Respighi Competition in Italy and international competitions in Budapest and Prague. From 1979to 1986 Oliver Dohnányi was conductor of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava and has appeared with major orchestras there, in Prague and in Hungary, as well as with the West Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and since 1986 has been principal conductor of the opera of the Slovak National Theatre. In addition to work with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, he has appeared as a guest conductor in the concert hall and in opera in France, Italy, Austria, the USSR, Cuba, East Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland and elsewhere.

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