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8.550457 - LISZT: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 (Transcriptions) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 15)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Piano Music, Vol

Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Piano Music, Vol. 15

Piano Transcriptions of Beethoven's Symphonies (S464/R128)

Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 36 .Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op. 67


For us musicians, Beethoven's work is like the pillar of cloud and fire which guided the Israelites through the desert - a pillar of cloud to guide us by day, a pillar of fire to guide us by night, "so that we may progress both day and night."


Franz Liszt, 2nd December, 1852,

letter sent from Weimar to Imperial Russian Councillor of State,

writer on music and Beethoven specialist,

Wilhelm von Lenz in St Petersburg.


There are varied legends about Liszt's meeting with Beethoven. Separating fact from fiction, what we know is that he met Beethoven in Vienna, a day or two before Liszt's concert at the small Imperial Redoutensaal on Sunday, 13th April, 1823. The legend tells us that Beethoven attended the concert, at the conclusion of which, he stepped to the platform, and warmly embracing the eleven-year-old, bestowed on him the so-called Weihekuβ or kiss of consecration, wishing the boy health, happiness and success The supposed event was given further substance in a lithograph of 1873 by Istvan Halasz. We now know that no such public display ever took place.


Beethoven's hearing loss continued slowly but steadily until the age of 52, in 1822, when for all practical purposes he was totally deaf. In that year he was forced to abandon an attempt to conduct his opera Fidelio By the time he met Liszt, his deafness had become profound Despite this, he continued to use ear trumpets and a wooden 'drumstick' applied to his teeth to aid his hearing In 1823, moreover, Beethoven developed a prolonged, painful ophthalmic complaint which lasted from April to the following January; photophobia (an abnormal sensitivity or intolerance to light) was apparently the most prominent symptom It seems unlikely, therefore, that Beethoven would have attended a concert, and even less likely that he would have approached the performer or created a public spectacle with the so-called Weihekuβ.


According to Beethoven’s Conversation Books, it appears that Liszt visited Beethoven the day before the concert, in order to ask him for a theme, in a sealed envelope, on which he could improvise at his concert Beethoven did not provide the requested theme. Many years later, in 1875, Liszt gave the following oral account (printed in many sources on Beethoven and Liszt; this English version is from Paul Nettl's Beethoven Encyclopedia) to his pupil Ilka Horowitz-

Barnay, of his only meeting with Beethoven: 'I was about eleven years of age when my venerated teacher Czerny took me to Beethoven. He had told the latter about me a long time before, and had begged him to listen to me play some time. Yet Beethoven had such a repugnance to infant prodigies that he had always violently objected to receiving me. Finally, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the indefatigable Czerny, and in the end cried impatiently. "In God's name, then, bring me the young Turk!" It was ten o'clock in the morning when we entered the two small rooms in the Schwarzspanierhaus [Liszt made a mistake in the address, since in April 1823 Beethoven was living at Oberepfarrgasse 60, Kothgasse] which Beethoven occupied; I somewhat shyly, Czerny amiably encouraging me. Beethoven was working at a long, narrow table by the window. He looked gloomily at us for a time, said a few brief words to Czerny and remained silent when my kind teacher beckoned me to the piano. I first played a short piece by Ries. When I had finished Beethoven asked me whether I could play a Bach fugue. I chose the C minor Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier. "And could you also transpose the Fugue at once into another key?" Beethoven asked me.

Fortunately I was able to do so. After my closing chord I glanced up. The great Master's darkly glowing gaze lay piercingly upon me. Yet suddenly a gentle smile passed over the gloomy features, and Beethoven came quite close to me, stooped down, put his hand on my head, and stroked my hair several times." A devil of a fellow," he whispered, "a regular young Turk!" Suddenly I felt quite brave. "May I play something of yours now?" I boldly asked. Beethoven smiled and nodded. I played the first movement of the C major Concerto. When I had concluded Beethoven caught hold of me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead and said gently. "Go! You are one of the fortunate ones! For you will give joy and happiness to many other people! There is nothing better or finer!".' Liszt told the preceding in a tone of deepest emotion, with tears in his eyes, and a warm note of happiness sounded in the simple tale. For a brief space he was silent and then said. 'This event in my life has remained my greatest pride - the palladium of my whole career as an artist I tell it but very seldom and - only to good friends!'


Certainly, Beethoven occupied a very important place in Liszt's life When Beethoven's Broadwood piano was sold after his death, it was bought by the Viennese music publisher, Carl Anton Spina, for 181 florins. Spina gave the piano to Liszt in whose house at Weimar it was until his death. In 1887, Princess Marie Hohenlohe, daughter of Liszt's friend, the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, presented it to the National Museum in Budapest.


Liszt spent several months during the summer of 1837 at George Sand's Chateau Nohant with the Comtesse Marie d' Agoult, whom he had first met in 1833. She was six years his senior and married to General Charles d' Agoult. In 1835 she left her husband and followed Liszt to Switzerland. Their sensational relationship lasted ten years and produced three children, including Wagner's second wife, Cosima. It was during the summer of 1837 that Liszt worked intensively on his first piano transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies. Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 were published in 1840 by Breitkopf & Hartel with a dedication to the French painter and violinist Jean Dominique Ingres. Symphony No.7 was also published in 1840, but by Tobias Haslinger in Vienna. In a letter written to his publisher, Breitkopf & Hartel, Liszt refers to '… the Beethoven Symphonies, of which I have undertaken the arrangement, or, more correctly speaking, the pianoforte score. To tell the truth, this work has, nevertheless, cost me some trouble; whether I am right or wrong, I think it sufficiently different from, not to say superior to, those of the same kind which have hitherto appeared. The recent publication of the same Symphonies, arranged by Mr. Kalkbrenner, makes me anxious that mine should not remain any longer in a portfolio. I intend also to finger them carefully, which, in addition to the indication of the different instruments (which is important in this kind of work), will most certainly make this edition much more complete.' These transcriptions and those that followed were pioneering achievements. They brought Beethoven's scores to every home and brought the art of 'symphonic' transcription into a new era. During his busy years at Weimar, from 1848 to 1861, the Beethoven symphonies remained in Liszt's mind and are mentioned regularly in his letters. Breitkopf & Hartel continued to ask him to finish his transcriptions to provide a worthy counterpart to their excellent edition of the symphonies in full score Liszt continued to have doubts. 'How am I to imbue the empty hammers of the piano with breath and spirit, with sound and power, with depth and solemnity, with colour and accent? However, I shall try to eliminate at least the most glaring faults and to give the piano-playing world as accurate a model of Beethoven's genius as I can: By March 1864 Liszt had transcribed the other six symphonies, except for the choral finale of the Ninth, and thoroughly revised the earlier three. In 1865 he had completed the task and Breitkopf & Hartel published the complete set with a dedication to Hans yon Bulow.


These transcriptions by Liszt do not attempt to mimic an orchestra, but rather re-create the combined sound of the orchestral instruments in a pianistic tapestry. In his preface to the published scores, Liszt declares: 'With the immense development of its harmonic power the piano seeks to appropriate more and more all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it can, with but a few exceptions, reproduce all traits, all combinations, all figurations of the most learned, of the deepest tone-creations, and leaves to the orchestra no other advantages, than those of the variety of tone-colours and massive effects - immense advantages, to be sure.' He concludes: 'My aim has been attained if I stand on a level with the intelligent engraver, the conscientious translator, who comprehend the spirit of a work and thus contribute to the knowledge of the great masters and to the formation of the sense for the beautiful.' Liszt certainly accomplishes that and more in these masterful transcriptions.


Marina and Victor Ledin






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