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Cantique d'amour by Robert Finley - Orchestrated by Rich DiSilvio

Commentary & Bio on Liszt

Leader of the Romantics

Franz Liszt has emerged as one of the most awe-inspiring figures in all of music history. Regarded as the greatest pianist of all time, who outplayed such greats as Chopin and Thalberg, his genius extended far beyond the piano to push musical composition and performance well beyond its 19th Century limits. His unique compositions bewildered, inspired and inflamed the imaginations of his own era, yet quite miraculously he also laid the seeds for a series of schools that would flourish in the near and distant future. Such as; the late Romantic, Impressionist and Atonal schools. For this... Liszt is unique, and his immense-influence monumental.

A brief overview indicates; (1) His piano compositions stand as pinnacles of the literature, (2) he invented the symphonic poem, a new and elastic form to pour his unique ideas, (3) his music evoked deep psychological and emotional impact exceeding what existed, (4) he was one of the first modern conductors breathing life into a score in lieu of merely beating time, (5) he developed the transformation of themes, later imitated by Wagner as a leitmotif, (6) he was the true inventor of impressionism and atonal music- contrary to Debussy and Schoenberg, (7) he was the first to fully orchestrate on the piano- utilizing all its undiscovered resources- earning him the title King of the piano, (8) he taught freely creating a school of disciples (Von Bulow, Rosenthal, Siloti, Friedheim, d'Albert and others) that carried his blazing torch forward, (9) he created strikingly original orchestrations utilizing unconventional instruments such as the triangle Piano Concerto #1 , harp Dante Symphony and bass drum Heroide Funebre , (10) he was a philanthropist offering solo piano recitals (which he invented and named) to raise funds for national disasters, charities or erecting the Beethoven monument which was largely due to his efforts, (11) he selflessly promoted the works of fellow composers; Wagner, Grieg, Smetana, Berlioz, Debussy, Saint-Saens, Faure, Borodin and others who all likewise gained valuable artistic insights into their own creativity by this grand master of sound, (12) and most importantly he altered the course of music history, more so than even Beethoven, as the future would follow Liszt's direction, not Brahms or the traditionalists- who followed Beethoven's adopted classical structure!

Yet, to comprehend the rare and powerful genius of Franz Liszt it's crucial to not only examine the complex higher being that he was, but also to understand and reveal the ignorance of his detractors with the aid of hindsight and wisdom. For they sadly amassed a dark cloud of skepticism that obscured reality, and can still be witnessed today.

For those deeply interested I suggest Alan Walker's enlightening three volumes, or books by Ernst Burger or Derek Watson, yet to briefly touch upon this issue it is evident that many rivals and turncoat friends did a great injustice to this man. None of them; Hanslick, Clara Schumann or Joachim to name a few, were as magnanimous or gifted as he was and perhaps they resented it. Like the high praise Liszt once received from Clara until he became a superstar, when she completely reversed her opinion - adding how she loathed how the frenzied woman fell at his feet.

That Liszt's works were not seriously considered was in part due to his catering to the public with show pieces. These dazzling crowd pleasers also helped make Liszt popular and famous worldwide, as he was breaking ground on several fronts. First; by devising the piano recital, second; playing demanding virtuoso pieces, in vogue at the time, to become the first musical superstar, third; to expose and promote works of the masters, to an audience that didn't have a radio or stereo, both in original form and operatic transcriptions -which he was a master, and fourth; by playing to broader mixed audiences not just for Kings & Queens. Liszt brought music to the general public and established modern musical practices. The crowds craved pure excitement and Liszt played many difficult virtuoso pieces that only he could play. But the glitter offended the intellects.

Henceforth, some critics condemned him from the very beginning - a dark cloud that hung over him for a lifetime. Yet some intellects that did hear his serious works couldn't comprehend their complexity, or they dismissed his works on the grounds that no one can be an exceptional performer and be a great composer. Liszt couldn't win with these mental midgets, but reviews by Berlioz, Robert Schumann and countless others reveal the awe generated by his superlative performances and ingenious compositions.

Further reading of David Dubal's great "Reflections from the Piano" indicates how the majority of great Pianists from Liszt's era up to the present were all enamored and influenced by Liszt's fertile mind and visionary achievements. In fact a brief summation of Liszt in the book states, "he possessed the most pianistic mind in history." He explored, expanded and revealed the full potential of the instrument more than ANY other composer in history. And that does not even touch his fantastic orchestral achievements.


This commentary hopes to clear the air, since the reader is probably familiar with the lies, misconceptions or the attacks on his work and personal life. Yet we won't lose sight that he did make mistakes. The trail to unexplored horizons is full of failures. Liszt has many works that attempt novelty and don't succeed in total, but usually even these failures contain small seeds of pure gold. Some seeds would remain trapped in these failures, while others would be transplanted into more successful works. This Godlike figure was in fact human- yet his saintly critics never gave him that consideration. Expecting any human, who is pushing the boundaries as far as he did, to produce only flawless works is unrealistic. What is key to remember is... we mortals all have flaws, yet none of us can create like Liszt!

Some critics relished Liszt's amorous affairs which fueled their scathing attacks and vivid imagination. But it must be noted it was the women who primarily hounded Liszt and his affairs were only with single or separated women, unlike Wagner and others. Yet, along with his weakness for woman Liszt was sited by many as being kind, generous and a gentleman. Although his relationship with Marie d'Agoult was unorthodox he did stand firm to gain custody and support his children. He even refused Wagner a loan on the grounds of saving for his children's education. Fortunately for Liszt's mother, who raised the children, they obtained some emotional stability amid the parent's turmoil.

Marie d'Agoult and George Sand, partners to Liszt and Chopin respectively, plagued the air with catty gossip - disguised in the form of pathetic literature. Each woman dipping their pen in poison to concoct a nasty novel about their former lover. Both scathing novels painted lame pictures of Liszt and Chopin, with the failed hopes of making fiction nonfiction.

Yet, it's keen to note that Sand was informed of a back-stabbing letter that Marie wrote about her and Liszt, while they all were still friends, and retaliated by painting a grim picture of Marie in her novel Horace. Sand also informed Balzac of Marie's cold nature prompting Balzac to cast a cold portrait of Marie in his book Beatrix, which many feel is a fairly accurate portrayal. Those who rallied behind the notion of the angelic Marie coldly abandoned by the demon Liszt were only duped by this feline fabricator of fiction.

Amid these character assassinations Liszt and Chopin remained gentleman, never lowering themselves to the malicious hen-pecking of their counterparts. That in itself reveals a good deal about each of the real life characters involved. Additionally, the letters of Liszt and Marie that have now come to surface clearly reveal their characters in nonfictional words. In light of the new reports of Marie's mental instability, even previous to meeting Liszt, it's understandable why Liszt never retaliated. We too, must grant her sympathy, but the scars still remain.

To further attest to his good nature it goes without debate that Liszt is regarded as the most generous and helpful of the great composers concerning his pupils and peers. The numerous lives that have benefited by Liszt and the abundant praise written about him by those in personal contact with him attest to his being too good to a fault. Even when he was not on speaking terms with Wagner or shunned by the Schumann's later in life he never abandoned his regard or promotion of their work.

As for the critics attack on his avant-garde music their inability to grasp something far greater than their own self-inflated intellect caused their own demise. Their fate fell to the course of time only to reveal Liszt's colossal influence and their own Lilliputian limitations. Liszt was never forgotten as they would have hoped, as many great pianists like; Bulow, Friedheim, Horowitz, Earl Wild, Cziffra, Arrau, Jorge Bolet and others kept Liszt alive over the past century since his death. Additionally, many Hollywood films featured his work such as "Captain Blood" with Errol Flynn (Prometheus, Mazeppa) "Flash Gordon" (Les Preludes) and even the Marx Brothers who loved his Hungarian Rhapsody #2. Likewise, not many composers have films made about them but Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt did, even though Liszt's movie creates a pathetic character of him. Yes, Liszt was flesh and blood and made mistakes but his miraculous, musical achievements and his selfless goodwill to his fellow man reach the pinnacle of human endeavor. Thus earning him the title "Godlike" from many then and perhaps even more now. In hindsight Liszt's influence was monumental!


It's odd that despite his popularity some sadly neglect the full breath of his worldly visions. Liszt wasn't all thunder and lightening. As Leonard Bernstein praised Mahler for his worldly variety Liszt in comparison exceeds even Mahler. Whereas Mahler tried to incorporate the World into his symphonies from a personal and inward perspective Liszt's Worldly philosophy was cultivated by a life of traveling and being a multicultural-sponge. Thus he was able to achieve what others could only imagine. Simply put, Liszt had more to offer.

His oeuvre included multinational pieces (Spanish Rhapsody, Abschied etc.), deeply religious works (the Oratorios, Psalms, Masses etc.), silly romps (Grand galop chromatique), doleful laments (La lugubre gondola), dreamy pieces (Piano Concerto #2 - intro), triumph over adversity (Tasso, Prometheus), portraits (Hamlet, Orpheus, Ladislaus Teleki), impressions (Les Jeux d'Eaux a'la Villa d'Este, Les cloches de Geneve), folk songs & waltzes (Hungarian Rhapsodies, Mephisto Waltz) spine tingling virtuosity (Totentanz,etc.) and of course tender love melodies (Liebestraume, Romance oubliee, etc.).

Liszt's music vividly takes us on a journey to the various realms and mysteries of life. Both, outwardly from his worldy interest in people, cities and nature - to inwardly into depths of his profound beliefs in Art, Literature and God.

Numerous reviews highly praised his achievements as he was the first superstar adored by the masses and no other composer in history received as much media attention in their lifetime, yet that sinister sector of bitting critics and vicious gossip columns did soil his reputation. The result being a culmination of improprieties that "temporarily" blurred the vision of history. It's unfortunate that Liszt had to endure such humiliation, as he would in later life insist to his students not to perform his works in public, since the selfless Liszt didn't wish to hinder their careers. Yet it's comforting to know truth does eventually prevail. For music history has dramatically been altered by the ingenious inventions of this superlative master far more than any such rivals, and possibly more than any other composer in history.

It's truly gratifying to see how Liszt's sublime influence cascades over the centuries like a beautiful glissando.

What made Liszt so fascinating was his relentless quest to experiment with sound. A pioneer at every stage of his life Liszt had no rivals, only jealous detractors or enlightened followers.


  • As a young man; his music could be; radical like Mazeppa, enigmatic like Chasse -neige, or enchanting like Harmonies du soir. And, while he did obviously learn from Paganini (virtuosity), Chopin (lyricism) and Berlioz (orchestration) close scrutiny reveals his predisposition towards these elements, as some of his early compositions dating before their acquaintance attest. Such as Ricordanza which was said to be Chopinesque was actually written before he ever met Chopin!

    It was he who devised the Piano Recital and as such he faced the piano sideways for the audience's visual and acoustic pleasure. This common place event today was unheard of before Liszt. Previously soloists were expected to share the stage with singers and an orchestra. But Liszt's new style of orchestrating on the piano was sufficient enough to conjure up the demons and angels of his Sturm und Drang  visions, without assistance. That coupled with new advances in piano technology lead to unprecedented performances.

    While sometimes wearing gloves and honorary medals the frenzied spectacles that occurred from these electrifying events was the true embryo of modern day hysteria at Rock concerts. How novel that modern Rock stars with long hair and ornamental garb play to adoring fans. Little do they know the true pioneer in stage performance existed over a hundred years before they were even born!

  • In mid-age; in 1848, the world's greatest pianist retired from the concert platform and settled in Weimar as Court Kapellmeister. It was here in this quaint German village that Liszt devised the symphonic poem, which subsequent composers would openly embrace. This gave vent to his revolutionary forms of musical expression which rocked and cracked the fragile and orderly walls of classical restraint. This is the era of; Les Preludes, A Faust Symphony, Hamlet, and Prometheus. It was these innovative works that served as Wagner's home study course for writing the "music of the future." An undertaking which Wagner never wished to acknowledge in public. Hence, Richard stole the crown from the king.

    Likewise a full stream of rich piano works such as the Sonata in B minor, the 6 Consolations, Dante sonata and more all flowed from Liszt's pen culminating into some of the most powerful pieces ever written for the piano, and certainly pinnacles of the mid-Romantic era. It is key to note that Liszt's musical vision differed from Berlioz,Wagner or the later Strauss in that he chose to express the inner more-profound essence of his subject matter. Rather than merely painting a visual picture of events in sound, which he felt was better left to a painter, he would reveal the dreamy, contemplative and emotional aspects which music's mysterious language was better equipped to express. In doing so his works offer a wider variety of instrumental textures and timbers while elevating his subject from the particular to the universal. Flowing seamlessly between full scoring and chamber-like sections it was crucial for Liszt that poetic content dictate form, not vice-versa.

  • And, as an old master composing in semi-seclusion he wrote what is now considered perhaps his most prophetic and mind boggling works ever. It was with pieces like; En Reve-nocturne, Nuages gris, Les Jeux d'Eaux a'la Villa d'Este, Bagatelle Sans Tonalite'and Unstern!-Sinistre, that Liszt laid the blueprints for the works of Debussy and Schoenberg who made claim to these new forms a century later. Where in the past it was Liszt's colleagues who benefited from his genius now it was to future generations that The Merlin of Music bequeathed his magic.


It is also curious that Franz Liszt had many parallels to Leonardo DaVinci. The old Italian master was of the highest order in the arena of invention and so too was Liszt. DaVinci experimented in science and the arts procuring new techniques and visions never seen before by man while Liszt too created soundscapes so unique and bewildering to his contemporaries that even the great Hans Von Bulow could not fathom how to conduct a work like Hamlet.

Granted both did experience the pitfalls associated with experimentation, as can be witnessed by the deterioration of DaVinci's Last Supper or the stylistic fluctuations in Liszt's Christus Oratorio.  Yet, both pieces are masterworks of the highest order as they both broke ground in countless ways and move us with their profound vision. As for their seemingly precarious methodology it's key to remember, only by abandoning the norms and plodding into the deep, dark abyss of the unknown can one engender and reveal the nebulous wonders that lay hidden to lesser beings.

Franz Liszt has always been assured a lofty place in the Pantheon of Composers, yet on that celestial horizon of stars only a select few burn with fervid intensity... Liszt is one of them.

Biography         top

Born on October 22, 1811 in Raiding (then Doborján) Hungary Franz Liszt was at the age of six recognized as a child prodigy. His father Adam, who played the cello in the local orchestra, taught Franz piano. Employed as a secretary by Prince Nicholas Esterházy Adam asked for extended leave to further his son's musical education.

Adding further to Adam's plea was a letter of request in 1822 by Antonio Salieri, who was astonished upon hearing the young Liszt play at a private house and wished to freely train the child in composition. The Prince finally gave the Liszt's leave to stay in Vienna. Liszt at this time also studied piano under Carl Czerny - Beethoven's esteemed pupil. This lasted only eighteen months.

Tours and many performances generated amazement and praise for the young Liszt by audiences, musicians and Kings. They were especially impressed by his uncanny ability to improvise an original composition from a melody suggested by the audience. Playing on par with established professionals at age 12 Liszt was fast becoming a sensation.

Eventually traveling to Paris seeking admittance to the Paris Conservatory the young Liszt was denied by Luigi Cherubini due to his being a foreigner, even though Cherubini himself was Italian. Adam then resorted to Ferdinando Paer to teach Franz composition in 1824. It was during this time that Liszt wrote his first and only opera Don Sanche, later performed in 1825.

More tours and acclaim followed as Moscheles wrote, "In its power and mastery of every difficulty Liszt's playing surpasses anything previously heard." In 1826 Liszt's father Adam died leaving the 15 year old boy to care for his mother. Depression and disillusion took hold as he earned a living by teaching piano lessons in Paris. Liszt began to lose interest in music and questioned his profession.

Becoming an avid reader Liszt immersed himself in literature and religion, which was to have a profound influence on his life and work. With the Revolution of 1830 as if awakened by cannon fire Liszt engaged his art and life once again. This is the period when Liszt's friend Delacroix paints Liberty leading the people and he hears Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

By 1832 Liszt is further inspired by hearing Paganini and meeting Chopin. In 1833 he meets Comtesse Marie d'Agoult as they eventually elope in 1835 and journey to Switzerland. Here Liszt composes several impressions of the Swiss country in Album d'un Voyageur which would later surface as the Années de Pèlerinage. Première Année: Suisse. Upon hearing of Thalberg's success in Paris Liszt returns for his famous piano duel, to ensure his title as King of the piano.

With the devising of the piano recital Liszt begins his world famous tours conquering Europe by storm. In Portugal he is described as, "God of the piano." Along the way Liszt performs charity concerts for various causes. By 1844 Lisztomania is in full bloom, while Liszt's stormy relationship finally ends with Marie d'Agoult after fathering 3 children and repeated attempts to suppress her manic depressive condition. In 1847 Liszt meets Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in Kiev and to the World's shock retires from the concert stage.


By 1848 Liszt settles in Weimar, living in the Altenberg as Court Kapellmeister. Later Carolyne joins him. That Liszt could have made more money performing reveals Liszt's burning desire to concentrate on a higher mission - the creation of new musical forms via a fertile and liberated mind. This he achieves in his symphonic poems and unique piano scores. Taking on pupils without fee Liszt cultivates a new breed of pianists nicknamed the Altenberg Eagles.

In 1858 Liszt resigns from being Kapellmeister based upon attacks from the conservatives against his and his pupils works. By 1860 Joachim and Brahms publish their Manifesto against Liszt and the modern composers in an unsuccessful effort to thwart new forms. But the old classic traditions would eventually fade to the progress forged by Liszt and the Romantics as the Century unfolded.

In 1860 Liszt and Carolyne attempt to wed in Rome but on the eve of their marriage the plans are thwarted due to her unsubmitted divorce papers. They remain separate but soul mates for life. In 1865 Liszt decides to enter the Vatican and receives the tonsure and minor orders. Liszt later sets up residence in three cities, Rome, Weimar and Budapest. Establishing the Conservatory of Music in Budapest he is elected its first president. Amidst the bewildered conservatives who dismissed most of his output as radical and unmusical Liszt scores success with several pieces, his St.Elizabeth Oratorio among others.

Liszt's later years are marked with a new reflective nature with greater simplicity of form yet more extreme in harmony. Criticism of these misunderstood pieces would prompt Liszt to instruct his students not to perform his works in public, as not to hinder their budding careers. While some obeyed others continued the cause of their great master.

Upon Liszt's visit to Bayreuth to attend a Wagner fest hosted by Cosima, his daughter and widow of Wagner, he fell gravely ill with pneumonia. Surrounded by his adoring pupils Friedheim, Siloti, Stavenhagen and others, who were eventually refused admittance to his room by Cosima, the grand master died at 11:30 PM on July 31, 1886. At the organ playing solemnly at his funeral was Anton Bruckner. Through the succeeding years Liszt's genius as a composer would gradually surface shedding light on many previously unheard masterworks. That Strauss, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Sibelius and countless others would reap the benefits of studying his innovative work would be evident in time and indelibly mark Liszt's profound impact on music history.

Recommended Recordings            top

A Faust Symphony   (James Conlon- conductor/ Erato or Sinopoli - conductor/ DG)
A pinnacle for Liszt and the Romantic Era this work is truly magnificent. Goethe's timeless classic receives it's greatest expression in symphonic form. A must have! True, some other performances have some brief moments of greater expression but as a whole Conlon's performance works exceptionally well. Sinopoli's more recent recording is loaded with vitality as well. For a first symphony Liszt produced a timeless classic of total perfection. Beware, there are those who would sell their soul for this work.

Dante Symphony  
(James Conlon- cond./ Erato or try Varujian Kojian-cond./ Citadel)
To translate Dante's complex work into symphonic form was a tremendous task yet I could think of no other composer in history capable enough to rival Liszt's comprehension and execution of this subject. The result was amazingly successful albeit those who feel substituting the Paradisio with a magnificat leaves the symphony unbalanced. Under Wagner's advice, that no human could write music depicting Paradise, Liszt composed a magnificat that's so spiritually moving and convincing as a glimpse of what Paradise is - no human could ask for more. This work is harmonically innovative and emotionally enthralling. Needless to say, Liszt's depiction of Hell is down right nasty. It's a symphonic spectacular of demonic and angelic beauty. It was a favorite of Rachmaninoff, and I can certainly see why. Both CDs are superb offerings with interesting interpretations.

Symphonic Poems Volumes 1 &2; (each vol. is 2 CDs) 
(Kurt Masur conductor/ EMI & Musical Heritage Society)
These 4 CDs comprise all 13 of Liszt's Symphonic Poems along with several other orchestral works, each a gem in their own right. Although Die Ideal is perhaps too long and episodic and Festklange a bit repetitive Liszt always offers something fresh and interesting. Although there are better recordings of certain individual pieces, Orpheus and Prometheus for example, this collection as a whole is the best at present. Masur effectively captures the brutality and futility of war in Heroide Funebre, while his near perfect rendition of Hamlet's varied moods from internal brooding to outward rage effectively captures Liszt's psychological portrait. Too bad this neglected masterpiece doesn't appear in concert halls. Other gems abound in this splendid collection albeit some rough handling by Masur on certain pieces.

Les Préludes, Prometheus, Mephisto Waltz & Tasso  
(Sir Georg Solti-conductor/ London)
Prometheus and the Mephisto Waltz receive outstanding interpretations in this powerful recording. Prometheus being the best available. The other two pieces although less impressive under Solti's baton still make this a good buy.

Les Préludes, Legends, etc. 
(James Conlon-conductor/ Erato)
Two episodes of Lenau's Faust the Nocturnal Procession  and the Mephisto Waltz  (the latter recorded here with a rarely heard and superior alternative ending by Liszt) are two well recorded renditions by Conlon. The Nocturnal Procession is a beautiful piece that is sadly neglected in the concert hall. The other pieces rounding out this CD are also impressive interpretations.

Piano Concertos 1&2;, Hungarian Fantasy 
(James Conlon- conductor,Francois-Rene Duchable- piano/ Erato)
The popular Concerto #1 and it's awesome sibling are given a fantastic performance here as both soloist and orchestra play so tightly woven that jagged edges seldom appear. The second concerto opens with a most beautiful and dreamy rendition, which dramatically builds to their unrivalled Allegro agitato assai section. As it should be. Bravo James & Francois;-Rene'!


Totentanz, Piano Concertos 1&2;  (Seiji Ozawa- conductor, Krystian Zimerman- piano/ Deutsche Grammophon)
The Totentanz or "Death Dance" is played with feverish gusto by both soloist and orchestra. It's a spine tingling performance with intense interpretations by Zimerman. Ozawa plays with clarity especially in the chamber like sections but unfortunately lacked power in places such as the opening where the piano dominates. The two concertos are mediocre perfomances.

Liebestraume & other song transcriptions Vol.19 
(Leslie Howard- piano/ Hyperion)
Leslie Howards immense undertaking to record Liszt's entire catalog of piano works is quite admirable and historically necessary. This volume offers the famous Liebestraume (Bolet & others are better) but more importantly it contains 15 other masterworks each beautifully rendered. A great selection and a fine recording.

Etudes D'Execution Transcendante 
(Vladimir Ovchinikov- piano/ EMI)
Liszt's "Transcendental Studies" are so perfectly worked together as a whole, contrary to Chopin's, that one seems to travel through a broad spectrum of worldly events which inevitably transports the listener into the transcending realm of Liszt's vivid imagination. A brilliant opus by Liszt and a great performance by Ovchinikov. Also check out Jorge Bolet's version on the Ensayo label.

Fantasy, Variations,etc. Vol.3 
(Leslie Howard- piano/ Hyperion)
The "Fantasy and Fugue BACH/ Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen,Zagen/ Trios Odes Funebres " are all powerfully moving works each performed with insight and full-blooded passion by Leslie, who has unjustly been attacked by some as a weak interpreter of Liszt. Granted, his huge Liszt project is not without weak performances, but one must remember... it is impossible to play all 1000 plus works of Liszt each to perfection, unless one IS Franz Liszt! His project is of immense importance as he has revealed ALL of Liszt to the world. Hopefully these recordings will inspire others to concentrate on specific works to polish and reveal the inherent beauties in Liszt's lesser know or sadly neglected gems. Yet, this disc shows Leslie as the great Lisztian performer he can be with certain works. An outstanding disc!

The Late Pieces Vol.11  (Leslie Howard- piano/ Hyperion)
These rare and compelling pieces are from Liszt's twilight years of prophetic genius. With thirty intriguing works rounding out this stellar collection this CD is invaluable. When they say, "Liszt hurled his lance into the future," it's many of these works they refer to. Many great performances by Leslie with only a few weak moments.


Piano Music Vol.3 
(Philip Thomson- piano/ Naxos)
The complete piano works of Liszt by various performers is Naxos' strategy. Here, the first six pieces of Harmonies Poetic and Religious are coupled with 3 other works. The emotionally charged "Blessing of God in Solitude" and the profoundly powerful "Pensee des Morts" are two masterpieces, played extremely well. These pieces offer two polar views of life- 1) the emotional splendors evoked by the beauties of the world and life which God has bestowed upon us and 2) the torturous thoughts of death that carry us into nebulous realms of the afterlife - that afflict, and sometimes console us all.

Piano Music Vol.4  (Philip Thomson- piano/ Naxos)
Here, the last four pieces of Harmonies Poetic and Religious along with the Six Consolations and other works round out a staisfactory disc that is priced to fit anyone's budget. The Consolations are only standard performances, but the famous Funérailles starts the disc very strongly while the Miserere, d'aprés Palestrina and the Cantique d'amour will certainly attract attention to these lesser-known gems.

Orchestral Songs 
(Andras Korodi- conductor, various singers/ Hungaroton)
A collection of 7 songs well sung and nicely orchestrated make this CD a listening pleasure, especially the beautiful Die Loreley.

Saint Elisabeth Oratorio 
(Arpad Joo- conductor, Eva Marton- soprano/ Hungaroton)
This oratorio was quite revolutionary in that Liszt's construction resembles a large scale vocal symphony galvanized by recurring themes. Performed with much success in Liszt's lifetime this recording brings to life this immense work - imbued with great music, singing and choruses.

Christus Oratorio 
(Antal Dorati- conductor, Sandor Solyom-Nagy- baritone/ Hungaroton)
As mentioned in my commentary this epic work broke the "rules" of oratorio which some might find unsettling, yet like DaVinci's Last Supper this deeply spiritual and epic work probes deep into the soul and emerges as a sublime masterpiece. Rather than formulating a questionable text Liszt drew upon the Bible and liturgy to produce an undisputed, spiritual document glorifying Christ. Although there is no plot Liszt's strategic arrangements form an emotional curve that subconsciously evokes the message of purification through suffering.

It begins with Christmas. The March of the three Magi is miraculous as it gently marches the listener up to when they first spot baby Jesus - as the most sublime-melody gracefully caresses and lifts the soul evoking the divine majesty of Christ. It then leads to The Miracle where Christ calms the storm, a magnificent passage filled with drama and profound religious meditations. We eventually reach Tristis est anima mea which is one of the most doleful passages ever written, perhaps Puccini knew of this piece before perfecting his own, as Christ somberly speaks to the Holy Father before his crucifixion. Happily the oratorio ends with Christ's ressurection and a glorious Alleluja!  For those deeply religious this oratorio is a must, while those harboring doubt might very well be converted.

My apologies, Liszt was so prolific that it's impossible to mention all the great works or recordings that need mentioning. As we know the "liszt" is endless.


Ode to Franz Liszt

Oh, divine mystical Father ye touched this man's soul,
Yet forsaking his carcass predators took their toll
While enduring lashes, the venomous serpents tongue,
His magnanimous spirit enhanced both old and young

A prophetic voice, borne on the golden wings of time,
Transcends the beat of the human drum...ever sublime

Ancient strategic dots that plot a masterful score
Slumber for a century till given life once more
Clay digits cascade over ivories, black and white,
Summoning reveries that croon and howl in the night

More profound than the Pole or diverse than all his peers
His rich tapestry of sound soaks in blood, sweat and tears

Once Prometheus bound his exhumed spirit now soars
Enlightening future generations both mine and yours
Enraptured by a Lisztian whirlwind of vivid sound
Heaven joyously splits open... a hero is crowned.

Richard DiSilvio

Published by the National Library of Poetry / Best Poems of 1996


Richard DiSilvio / DIGITAL VISTA inc. ©1996 - 2001