Adrienne Krausz The Twilight of Liszt
Ferenc Liszt, the superstar, a man of the world, idolised by women, ambassador of freedom, who revolutionised piano technique, the first true ‘European’... A never-ending series of descriptives could follow Liszt’s name - but even all of them combined cannot express sufficiently faithfully the dazzling personality and influence that is just as vivid and decisive even 200 years after his birth...
Adrienne Krausz - piano
About the album
Recorded by L. V. Hang Studio at the rehearsal hall of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra (Palace of Arts), Budapest, 25-29 October, 2010
Recording producer: Katalin Pusztási
Recording engineers: László Válik, Krisztián Keszei
Edited by Katalin Pusztási
Mixed and mastered by László Válik
Photo: Barna Burger
Artwork & design: Bachman
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Fund of Hungary
Franz Liszt: Deux csárdás (1884)
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
Ferenc Liszt, the superstar, a man of the world, idolised by women, ambassador of freedom, who revolutionised piano technique, the first true ‘European’... A never-ending series of descriptives could follow Liszt’s name - but even all of them combined cannot express sufficiently faithfully the dazzling personality and influence that is just as vivid and decisive even 200 years after his birth.
To be born as a Hungarian pianist means one speaks the musical mother tongue of Liszt and Bartok, which from the first steps in learning music is gradually incorporated into one’s cells and slowly becomes vital for one’s existence. My relationship with Liszt’s works is lifelong, true love, and if from time to time I venture into other musical fields, the return is always sweet, because I need Liszt like bread and butter.
Naturally a beginner pianist selects pieces on an emotional basis, and it does no harm if the piece is mighty difficult and showy (Oh, youth - folly!), so for years I overlooked the treasure of music Liszt’s last six years of life and work left to us. A few years ago I had to learn the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19 and the Csárdás macabre for a commission. I was taken aback by how different this world was to the Liszt I had known; it frightened me, I was shocked by its gravity, but as with everything that strikes fear into one, it also attracted me. It is black music. I was not mature enough for it – I needed lots of notes, a cavalcade of colour, romance, poetry, in other words, the young, fiery Liszt.
This came completely unexpectedly, a kind of ‘back to the future’. When I felt truly at home in Bartók’s music, then I put aside my doubts and fears about the elderly Liszt’s depressing musical confession. Suddenly I was gripped by the sense that some pieces would open the seventh door of Bluebeard’s castle.
In spite of his fast deteriorating health, the elderly Liszt remained extremely productive (how unfair of fate that many tortuous illnesses would be completely curable by modern medicine). Of the countless pieces, this selection includes those which mean something important to me.
At first sight it might seem odd to find the last four Hungarian Rhapsodies here, but these pieces were written in this period. Their mood is very similar to that of the csárdás and quite unlike the grandiosity of the first fifteen rhapsodies. There are far fewer virtuoso elements - as if Liszt no longer wants to decorate the melody, but to sour it.
Alongside the sombre Hungarian pieces (rhapsodies and csárdás) the Valses oubliées and the Romance oubliée have a rather nostalgic effect. We hear the caricature of a world that has gone, with a wan smile.
The third group includes the pieces of the character of a dirge (La lugubre gondola Nos. 1 and 2, Unstern! Sinistre, and Nuages gris). Liszt seems to converse with death, and in it we hear darkness, freezing coldness and fear. It is as if he knew in advance in what undignified circumstances he would have to pass away. We find respite only in the piece En rêve, where the dream finally brings light and hope, perhaps in the world beyond.
‘The Twilight of Liszt’ is a bridge. A bridge between the Romantic and Modern music, the path leading to Béla Bartók.
Translated by Richard Robinson
On Liszt’s Last Piano Works
The works of the latest creative period of Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886) were utterly misunderstood by his contemporaries, and even Richard Wagner declared them to be the product of a decrepit senile mind. The majority of them appeared in print long after the composer’s death. Only starting in the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to a few excellent British and Hungarian musicologists (mainly Humphrey Searle and Bence Szabolcsi), have they come to the focus of attention. These scholars have shown that these last compositions, pared down to the essentials as they are, have discarded all former Romantic impulse, rhetoric and glitter trappings and sensation-seeking externalities, to represent a new method of harmony and composition, a new way of thinking about music, and offer a multitude of possibilities for moving forward to the coming generation of composers. They are, in actual fact, the peak of Liszt’s creative work. Although some Liszt researchers question this fact, since Horowitz, Richter and Pollini, an increasing number of performers have programmed these ‘unflashy’ (and therefore all the more important) late Liszt pieces.
The sixteen works on Adrienne Krausz’s CD by were all written in the Master’s final years, between 1880 and 1886. Of these, six were published only long after his death. They are highly varied in character. One group of them, the nostalgic, ironic, mordant ‘oubliés’ illustrate what became of former salon pieces in Liszt’s hands. One of these is the B major nocturne written in 1885 and dedicated to his pupil Arthur Friedheim, En rêve (LW 207), with its shockingly simple arrangement, the cluster of pedal-points making a rasping harmony, with subtle dynamics, an enigmatic triple pianissimo close.
‘I now only have forgotten objects,’ said the old Maestro when on 8 July 1885 a pupil brought Valse oubliée No. 3 to the lesson. According to a note made by another pupil, August Gollerich, he continued this line of thought: ‘Valse oubliée, Romance oubliée, etc. The next time there’ll be a Polka oubliée too.’ In the case of the E minor-major Romance oubliée (LW 132-527) the work was actually forgotten: the small piece was originally written in July 1848, and Simon publishers of Hannover wanted to republish it in 1881. Liszt would not allow this, and instead wrote the work again so that the Russian-style sentimental Romance melody sounded only once and even then only half of it, but in spite of this the entire composition is woven organically from this theme. At the end of the piece the texture thins out, the music slows, and dies out in a transfigured (verklärt) pianissimo. It was composed first and foremost for viola and piano, though simultaneously versions for violin and piano, cello and piano and piano solo were published.
Of the four Valses oubliées the spirited and elegant first (F-sharp major, LW 215) published in 1881, is characterised by delayed resolutions and alien notes sliding into the harmonies. At the end of the coda it transpires that the two bodies of material are in fact related. The fourth, the E major Valse is oubliée in two senses, not having been published until 1954. It is based on the trichord do-re-mi, sometimes climbing, elsewhere falling, or the two in combination. No contrasting material is present.
For decades one important inspiration for Liszt was Mephisto, in the version by Goethe and even more so that by Nikolaus Lenau: he depicted this Satanic figure brilliantly in various pieces. The Mephisto Waltz 4/a composed in 1885 later named Bagatelle sans tonalité was not published until 1984, edited by István Szelényi, who wrote of the piece: ‘its melody cannot be straitjacketed into any one known key, and not a single one of its chordal progressions could be explained with the harmonic system of the Viennese classics.
The Maestro’s late ‘Hungarian’ pieces were characterised by typically sinuous Lisztian melodic lines, constructed from the so-called Gypsy or Hungarian scale with two augmented seconds, abrasive harmony, harsh percussive sounds and a new way of writing: so with the Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 16, 17, 18, and 19, written a good thirty years after the first fifteen. Only No. 19 was written to another composer’s theme: ‘D’après les ‘Csárdás nobles’ de K[ornél] Ábrányi’. Rhapsody No. 16 was dedicated to his painter friend Mihály Munkácsy. What Bence Szabolcsi wrote of the three Csárdás applies to these late Hungarian rhapsodies too: ‘the elderly Liszt’s Allegro barbaros’. The Csárdás macabre (LW 224), with its hollow-sounding percussive parallel fifths, was not published until 1951. The other two pieces, Two Csárdás (LW 225) are linked thematically: the No. 1 is a kind of introduction, and in No. 2, the Csárdás obstinée, Liszt uses a principle of ancient origin but hitherto not used in European art music: maniacal repetition until the point of frenzy, always varied a little, a ‘dance unto the death’.
La lugubre gondola No. 1 and 2 (LW 200/1,2) of which only the second appeared in the Maestro’s lifetime, are some of Liszt’s most sincerely felt, most expressive laments. They were written in memory of his old colleague in art, a beloved, faithless friend, the son-in-law hugely respected as a composer, Richard Wagner. The two pieces are variants of each other, but not in the sense that the later one invalidates the first. This first, strangely, like a bad presentiment, was written while Wagner was still alive, in his home Palazzo Vendramin, in the depressing Venice winter. The first piece has two parts, the second five. Besides the mournful atmosphere, they are linked by the sounding of a ‘canto’ of deep sorrow, with an accompaniment in a barcarole rhythm in ostinato (a technique Liszt was partial to in his other mourning pieces too), and also by the presence in both of a common leitmotif (which occurs in Liszt’s other two Wagner laments and, in a slightly varied form, in Wagner’s music itself): an augmented triad with a minor second gliding into one of its notes.
The two independent, suggestive pieces Nuages gris (LW 199) published in 1927 and Unstern! Sinistre (LW 208) attest to a shockingly new way of musical thinking at the end of the nineteenth century. The scale and rhythm of Nuages gris are both highly sparing. But its notes, and even the rests, and the pedal notes have an inimitable place and function in the highly organised, deliberate concept. With its woeful atmosphere and tension wound up to the point of cataclysm, far from convention even in its resignation, the Unstern! Sinistre (LW 208) parades a whole range of new compositional devices and unique scales. The volume and mass of sound, the increase in density and intensity of dissonances contribute up to the dramatic climax along with the triple-dotted marcato rhythm of the final judgement. Neither is the work’s close a source of calm: as if Liszt, who for so long concluded his works in a bombastic manner, or later a transfiguration, bids farewell in an uncertain vacuum, with an unconvincing gesture.
Translated by Richard Robinson