Wednesday, January 6, 2010

After Beethoven's Last Three, is Liszt's Sonata the Most Important of the Romantic Era?

After hearing Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" performed by the great Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (his most recent recording), my first reaction was the realization of the architectonic power of his performance; the manner in which Andsnes put together the multi-faceted structure of this large work in such a comprehensive manner, resulting, from my view, in actuating the most compellingly intelligent perusal of Mussorgsy's intuitive masterpiece in a way I could not have conceived. It was as if Andsnes had done what Mozart describes as seeing "an entire symphony on the head of a pin."
My thoughts veered quickly to a question; namely, what could Andsnes give to the massive sonata by Franz Liszt, his only sonata?
A sonata actually containing, perhaps, four movements, but bound into a continuum which gives the impression of a one - movement sonata - the magic, for me, is the process of Theme Transformation, and the transcendent beauty that Liszt carves out of this process. Not Theme Variation, which is the process of what I call Frozen Improvisation - the process called theme transformation is to transmogrify the nature of the original themes, giving them a totally different role in entirely different contexts, which actually can disguise the original theme so effectively that only those of us who are in the field can recognize these different incarnations which were derived from the primary themes.
Liszt used four (some say five) thematic fragments upon which to build this massive work - this aspect, plus the combining of musical ideas with poetry, which was Liszt's most important contribution to the history of musical composition, gives us a wonderfully compelling view into the world of intellectual and artistic endeavor not experienced before 1852, the year I believe Liszt started writing this sonata - only Beethoven, in his last three sonatas, is at the same level of creative endeavor, as regards writing for the piano.
I hope that one day Andsnes will answer a call from this defining work.



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