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8.553961 - LISZT: Rossini Transcriptions (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 7)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 7


“The truly great have always been cosmopolitan: this is especially true in the language of music – a world language which all people understand. Liszt speaks this international language of music, with his own individual accent, of course. It was often said of him that he was too French for the Germans and too German for the Hungarians. Liszt's great gift was his genius for works of a stature in which the national coloring of all countries was served.”

Arthur Friedheim (1859-1932), German pianist, conductor, composer and pupil of Liszt. Franz Liszt first met Gioacchino Rossini in Vienna in 1822. In that extraordinary and musical city, Liszt took lessons from Antonio Salieri (who taught him figured bass, score-reading, composition, and singing) and Carl Czerny (who became his primary piano teacher). By September/October of 1822 Liszt appeared in Viennese aristocratic circles and performed at several private concerts. On December 1st, the eleven-year-old Liszt gave a major public concert at the Landesständischer Saal in Vienna. He performed Hummel's Piano Concerto in A minor, and improvised on a theme from Beethoven's Septet and on an aria from Rossini's Zelmira. Eight days later (this time in Vienna's Kärntnerthortheater) he performed the rondo from Ferdinand Ries's Concerto in E flat.

Rossini was no stranger to Vienna. Many of his operas received performances there. L'inganno felice and Tancredi had been heard in 1816; Giro in Babilonia and L 'italiana in Algeri in 1817; Demetrio e Polibio and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra in 1818; and Il barbiere di Siviglia, Otello (in German), La gazza ladra, and Ricciardo e Zoraide (in German) in 1819. The following year, 1820, Torvaldo e Dorliska and La cenerentola (in German) were performed; and then, in 1821, Mosé in Egitto and Edoardo e Cristina (in German) were also performed. From April 13th to July 8th of 1822, Vienna became virtually a Rossini festival. The performances at the Kärntnerthortheater were an affirmation of the growing popularity and success that Rossini had experienced over the last five years. Although the opera season had occupied Rossini, he did attend other functions and concerts. Many years later he wrote to Franz Liszt: "It was at Vienna in 1822 that I began to love and admire you... The years which have passed since then have served but to increase the affection I feel for you."

Rossini's popularity was not lost on the young Liszt. Two years later, in 1824, he wrote a set of seven variations on a theme from Rossini's Ermione. It was published in Paris and London as Liszt's Opus 2! Liszt's Opus 3 (published in 1825 in Vienna) was the Impromptu brillant sur des thèmes de Rossini et Spontini. In 1836 Liszt once again took Rossini's themes as inspiration for two large-scale works: Grande fantaisie sur des motifs de Soirées Musicales (based on La serenata and L'orgia) and Deuxiéme fantaise sur des motifs des Soirées Musicales (based on La pastorella dell'Alpi and Li marinari). These were published by Schott at Mainz in 1837. A year later, Liszt published a set of twelve Rossini song transcriptions entitled Soirées Musicales (S424/R236). The inspiration for these was a set of eight ariettas and four duets published by Rossini in 1835. The original texts by Metastasio and Count Carlo Pepoli, as well as the original piano accompaniments by Rossini are characterized by great simplicity. After composing the two "grande fantaisies" Liszt, too, adopted a more intimate approach for these twelve song transcriptions. He adhered with greater fidelity to Rossini's simpler, melodic style here, artfully combining the vocal lines with the piano parts.

It is not clear why Liszt chose to re-order Rossini's twelve pieces when publishing his transcriptions. Only the first and last pieces are in their original places. The first piece in Liszt's set is La promessa (‘The promise’). As with the rest of the set, Liszt chose to combine the original piano part with the vocal line. At the climax of the piece, Liszt provided a cadenza. The next piece is La regata veneziana (‘The Venice Regatta’). It is a brilliant piano part with two vocal lines; in the Rossini original it is a duet for sopranos. This allowed Liszt more flexibility to create a virtuosic transcription with passages in thirds and chords and fast arpeggio ornaments. Although La regata veneziana is subtitled "notturno", we should not be mislead into believing it to be a "nocturne" of the type Chopin would write. Notturno is simply used by Rossini to indicate a piece of music for use at night or on a nocturnal subject.

L'invito (‘The Invitation’) is a bolero in rondo form. In Liszt's hands the final return of the theme turns into an authentic polonaise. The piece has a sweet, almost sensual character, with an enticing smile from beginning to end. In La gita in gondola (‘A Gondola Excursion’) Liszt only used one of the two original Rossini strophes. The simple melody and typically Italianate piano accompaniment was only slightly embellished by Liszt. Il rimprovero (‘The Reproach’) is one of eleven settings by Rossini of Metastasio's poem. Liszt's arrangement is captivating and gently melancholic. The cadenza and fanciful variations make this transcription one of the best in the set.

La pastorella dell'Alpi (‘The Shepherdess of the Alps’) was the focus of Liszt's second grand fantasy. However, in this more restrained transcription, he did little to alter Rossini's piece, which is a stylized musical setting of the Tyrolean yodel. La partenza (‘The Departure’) is another, almost literal transcription by Liszt. Although Liszt resisted musical embroidery here, the use of the left hand to bring out the melody is quite beautiful. La pesca (‘Fishing’) is once again, more or less, a straight forward transcription by Liszt. He did, however, give prominence to both voices in the original Rossini duet. La danza (‘The Dance’) is a tarantella with sweeping momentum. Musicologist Riccardo Risaliti calls this piece "Pianistically felicitous: a transcription which is almost a paraphrase... Allegro con brio in Rossini becomes with Liszt a Presto brillante, almost a double note study." La danza became one of Rossini's most popular pieces and a symbol of the passionate lust for life of the Italians.

La serenata (‘The Serenade’) is almost identical to Liszt's treatment of this song in his first Grande Fantaisie. This transcription is a bit more sonorous as a result of the doublings in the bass and in the melody. L'orgia (‘The Orgy’) is almost identical to Liszt's transcription of this song as part of the fabric of the first Grande Fantaisie. The final piece in the set is Li marinari (‘The Sailors’). In Rossini's original it is a duet for tenor and bass. In Liszt's hands, this is perhaps the most profound transcription of the twelve. Liszt created a miniature tone poem by using gloomy, dark tones to depict the menacing storm at sea and the audacious life-and-death struggle of the sailors. The serene and joyful "calm after the storm" that follows makes this an extraordinary piece of piano writing.

Rossini composed William Tell under the immediate influence of Beethoven's scores which he was studying at the time. His choice of subject was the result of his contact with Schiller's plays, which were then becoming available in French translations (Guillaume Tell). In William Tell, Rossini combined elements of opera seria, French revolutionary opera, and opera buffa, with those of the music drama and grand opera of the future. It had a tremendous influence on Meyerbeer. Since Meyerbeer was an important precursor of both Wagner and Verdi, the significance of Rossini's last theatrical work cannot be overestimated. From the day of its première, August 3, 1829, Paris, the opera has been much more successful with critics and scholars than with the public at large. The overture, however, became an instant hit. It is an excellent piece of programmatic music. It suggests a sunrise and a storm in the Swiss Alps, includes a shepherd song and rustic dance, and ends with a highly effective march. In popular culture, it became the musical theme of "The Lone Ranger" on radio, television and movies. Liszt composed his piano transcription of Rossini's masterpiece in 1838. It was published by Scholl in 1842. In his transcription, Liszt was faithful to the original score. What is astonishing is that he was able to render every orchestral part, every instrument, on the keyboard. He succeeded in reproducing the symphonic effects with pianistic ones. It is, therefore, an extremely difficult transcription to perform, and one that makes for adrenaline-filled listening. It was a concert favorite of Liszt's. After Liszt performed this work in London in 1840, The Times reported. "The overture to William Tell, brought all the performer's power at once into action. In this overture, Liszt with exquisite taste and tact confined his additions to the harmonies; and though this composition is probably one of the fullest scores that Rossini ever wrote, yet the most complete orchestra by which we have ever heard it performed never produced a more powerful effect, and certainly was very far behind Liszt in spirit and unity of execution. How all this is accomplished with ten fingers we confess ourselves unable to guess; and even could description convey any idea of Liszt's performance, its possibility would still appear incredible, except to those who heard it."

© 1997 Victor and Marina A. Ledin,
Encore Consultants

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