About this Recording
8.573390 - LISZT, F.: Transcriptions of J.S. Bach (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 39)
English  German 

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Transcriptions of Works by Johann Sebastian Bach
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor [BWV 542], S463/R120 • Six Preludes and Fugues for the Organ [BWV 543–548], S462/R119

 

L’Europe m’a loué: que m’a donné l’Europe? Rien! J’ai payé bien cruellement hélas! mes vers. L’Allemagne m’imita; La France peut me lire; Angleterre, tu reçois en ami ton hôte en proie au trouble. Cependant que m’importe que le Chinois peigne d’une main peu sûre Werther et Lolotte sur la porcelaine…?

(Europe has praised me: what has Europe given me? Nothing! I have paid cruelly for my poems. Germany has imitated me; France can read me; England, you have welcomed a guest in trouble. Yet what does it matter to me that the Chinese paints with hesitant hand Werther and Lolotte on his porcelain…?)

– Franz Liszt: Letter to Karl Hugo, Woronince, 7 November 1847

In a letter to the German-Hungarian-French dramatist Karl Hugo Bernstein in 1847, written from Woronince in Ukraine, from the château of Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Liszt seeks the original lines of Goethe, from the Venezianischen Epigrammen. Liszt’s visit to Woronince, after a concert tour of Ukraine, marked a change in his life, the start of a new liaison, and the end of his career as a virtuoso, something of his mood reflected in his search for the text of Goethe’s poem.

Franz Liszt was born at Raiding, the son of a steward in the service of Haydn’s patrons, the Esterházy family. With the encouragement of his father Adam Liszt he was able to develop his obvious talents as a pianist, studying with his father and, after a concert in Pressburg, winning support from the Hungarian nobility that enabled him, at the age of eleven, to move with his parents to Vienna. There he studied with Czerny, who provided him with a solid basis of technique and repertoire, and with the old imperial Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose pupils had included Beethoven and Schubert. It was said that he received the approval of Beethoven, a kiss that anointed him as the latter’s successor, a story that Lizt did not deny. In 1823 the Liszts moved to Paris, where the boy’s playing caused an immediate sensation, although Cherubini refused to admit him to the Conservatoire. The piano manufacturer Erard, however, was ready to sponsor Liszt, bringing a successful series of concerts in England, followed by concert tours in France and elsewhere. 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 on the piano. 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 pianist. 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.

Liszt gave his first concert in Weimar in November 1841 and the following year, on the occasion of a second visit to the city where Goethe had until recently reigned, he accepted the position of Court Kapellmeister Extraordinary, an appointment that initially brought limited duties. Weimar had once been the city of Bach, whose early appointments ha been at the court there. Under the Grand Duke Carl August it had been the home of Goethe, attracting a group of poets, writers and dramatists. Now the young Heir Apparent, Carl Alexander, Carl August’s grandson, saw the opportunity, through Liszt, to add renewed artistic fame to the Grand Duchy. It was natural that Liszt’s association with Weimar would turn his thoughts again not only to Goethe but to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer whose works had always been a part of his repertoire.

Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, couples two works that may originally have had a separate existence. They have been variously dated, either from Bach’s period of employment in Weimar as court organist or from the following years at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, which he left in 1723, to spend the rest of his life as Thomascantor in Leipzig. Liszt’s transcription of the Fantasia, of which there is an alternative version, and of the Fugue were made in 1868. The textures of the Fantasia are particularly elaborated and the transcription was dedicated to the Stuttgart musician Sigmund Lebert (né Samuel Levi) and was included in the influential Grosse theoretisch-praktische Klavierschule compiled by Lebert and his colleague Ludwig Stark.

Liszt’s transcriptions of organ music by Bach, published as Six Preludes and Fugues for the Organ in 1852, bring together piano arrangements made between 1842 and 1850. In Berlin in the winter of 1841–42 Liszt had included in his recitals two of the Bach transcriptions, the Prelude in Fugue in A minor and the Prelude and Fugue in E minor and it was in the following years that he completed and, in 1852, published the set of six, recorded here in the order in which they appeared in the Leipzig Peters edition.

The Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543, dates from Bach’s period as court organist in Weimar from 1708 to 1717. The Prelude is in the style of a toccata, unfolding over a sustained pedal note, and the Fugue, with a long subject, follows Liszt’s usual meticulous observation of detail in transcription, pedal entries emphasized by the use of octaves. The Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545, again from Bach’s Weimar years, includes a more elaborate initial pedal entry and a fugal subject that starts with the first four ascending notes of the major scale, developing as a four-voice fugue, with Liszt’s tempo indication Allegro maestoso. The third of Liszt’s set, the Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546, has been dated in origin to 1722 or later. The solemn and imposing Prelude leads to a five-voice Fugue.

The second of the two volumes in which Liszt’s transcriptions were published opens with the Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 547, conjecturally dated to Bach’s Leipzig period. The Prelude sets out in the style of a three-part invention, to which the pedals add, in left-hand octaves, a characteristic motif which provides the ultimate conclusion. The Fugue has a short subject, with the pedal entry long delayed, but providing a final sustained pedal-point for the closing bars. The Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548, dates from Bach’s Leipzig years, known from the shape of its melodically expanding fugal subject as ‘the Wedge’, and among the best known of all. The set ends with a transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544, dated to the end of Bach’s first decade in Leipzig and culminating in a fugue that continues to make extraordinary technical demands in Liszt’s piano transcription.


Keith Anderson


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