About this Recording
9.70217 - LISZT, F.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (version for 2 pianos) / RITZEN, P.: Improvisation on Et Incarnatus Est (Ritzen, Pelinka)

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Original Version for two pianos


Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborjan) near Ödenburg (Sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Ödenburg in 1820, followed by a concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearance brought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow the family to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and composition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had taught Beethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as a foreigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but was able to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist and as a composer. Liszt won enormous fame as a pianist in the following years, touring widely and exciting the wildest enthusiasm in many who heard him.

A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, a blue-stocking on the model of their friend the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of three children, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuoso pianist, a rôle in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences. 1844, however, he finally broke with Marie d’Agoult, who later took her own literary revenge on her lover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to his withdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director of Music, accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theological propensities. Liszt now turned his attention to new forms of composition, particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate into musical terms works of literature and other subjects.

Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had proved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in 1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The marriage did not take place and the couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquée (a three-pronged life), as he divided his time between his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, where he held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, and his appearances in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero. Liszt’s illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His own final years were as busy as ever, and in 1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, now controlled, since her husband’s death, by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.

By the age of fourteen Liszt had written two piano concertos, now lost. The first surviving concerto, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, was sketched out in 1832, but only orchestrated in 1849, with the help of the young composer Joachim Raff, revised in 1853, and given its first performance in Weimar in February 1855 with Berlioz conducting, before further revision and publication in 1857. The concerto is novel in form, with movements that are cyclically connected, and caused some scandal by its inclusion of a triangle in the Scherzo, leading Hanslick, a hostile critic in Vienna, to describe the work as a ‘triangle concerto’.

The original version of the concerto, scored at first for two pianos, a version that later became useful for Liszt as he accompanied pupils, himself, in later years, playing the second piano, has an opening motif that has an important to play in the concerto. It is , answered by the octaves of the solo piano, which goes on to a cadenza, before the opening motif continues to be transformed in various ways. The B major Quasi Adagio brings a rhapsodic passage for the solo piano and elements of quasi-recitative. The soft rhythms for triangle that introduce the Allegretto vivace are followed by the return of the opening motif, softly at first from the soloist, and then with full force from both players, before echoes of the Quasi Adagio. The concerto ends with a virtual summary of what has gone before. Themes from the Quasi Adagio are transformed, and elements derived from the opening motif of the whole work return, leading to a brilliant conclusion.

Liszt wrote his Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major in 1839 and revised it during the Weimar years. It was published in 1863. Liszt had conducted the work in public for the first time in Weimar in 1857 with his pupil Hans von Bronsart as soloist. Structurally the concerto is in one continuous movement. Two thematic elements are presented in the opening Adagio, the first heard at the outset and the second with sharply marked accompanying figuration. A descending display of chromatic octaves leads to the B flat minor Allegro agitato assai, which introduces third and fourth thematic elements. A brief cadenza leads to an E major section, marked Allegro moderato, which opens with the fourth theme now transformed, with the direction dolce espressivo. Here the first theme is heard again followed by a fifth theme, marked con abandono. A brilliant cadenza is followed by a D flat major Allegro deciso, in which the fourth theme can be heard in another transformation, accompanying a metamorphosis of the second theme. The first theme undergoes a further transformation into a march in the final Marziale in A major, capped by the concluding Allegro animato, providing a triumphant ending.

The two concertos are now first recorded in their original two-piano version.

Keith Anderson

Peter Ritzen (b. 1956)
Improvisation for piano solo ‘et incarnatus est’

Peter Ritzen was born in the historic Flemish city of Ghent, in Belgium. He studied piano and chamber music at the Royal Conservatory there, continuing his studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg (1981–83) with the renowned Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva. He graduated with the Diplome Supérieure d’Exécution for piano from the Alfred Cortot Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris in 1984. As a concert pianist, Ritzen has appeared throughout Europe, Asia and the United States, winning particular acclaim as an interpreter of Franz Liszt and Theodor Leschetizky, with the recording for Naxos of works by the latter. His deep immersion in Chinese culture has given Ritzen, a composer of large-scale works, a whole repertoire of compositions inspired by China and Chinese traditions. Peter Ritzen possesses an unparalleled gift for free improvisation on the piano, drawing strongly and unmistakably on the great traditions of the nineteenth century. He is a recording artist for Naxos.

Composer’s Note

People who are familiar with Gregorian Chant will clearly recognize the mastery with which my free improvisation was conceived without any preparation, and no cuts, as is usual in studio recordings. The producer, and sound engineers have witnessed the event, as it also was captured on camera, during this recording session. The passage in the Creed, ‘et incarnatus est’ (‘and was made man’) is a familiar phrase from the statement of belief that is part of the Ordinary of the Mass. Gregorian chant melodies for the Creed are included in the Missale Romanum, the Roman Missal, and were once widely familiar to Catholic congregations.

Peter Ritzen
Werner Pelinka (b. 1952)
Mysterium Fidei , Op. 48, for piano solo

Werner Pelinka was born in Vienna, studying there at the Conservatory. In the years from 1975 to 1979 he attended summer courses for pianists with François Glorieux om Antwerp and until 1985 studied at the Vienna Music University, where he graduated with a Master’s degree, followed by a Doctorate in Musicology and Cultural History. He has taught at the Vienna Conservatory since 1995. As a composer he has some forty works to his credit and as a pianist has appeared in concerts throughout Europe, North America and elsewhere, generally performing his own compositions.

Composer’s Note

Mysterium Fidei was composed in December 2012 and consists of three parts: 1. Thy death, oh Lord, we preach; 2. Thy resurrection we praise; 3. Until Thy return in glory.

At the very beginning, in the dark tomb, you can meditate with the rhythm of Credo in unum Deum. After the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ , the second part, with Hosanna, hosanna in excelsis Deo, culminates in Freu dich, Du Himmelskönigin (Gl 576) (Rejoice, thou Queen of Heaven). The joy and praise lead to Pater noster (a quotation from my Op. 1), and ends in a triumphant apotheosis.

Werner Pelinka

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