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ClassicsOnline Home » LISZT: Bunte Reihe (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 14)
By Jed Distler
Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Piano Works Vol. 14
No composer was as prolific in the art of transcription as Franz Liszt. If one were to play only Liszt's paraphrases, reminiscences, transcriptions, free arrangements or improvisations, it would take at least sixty hours non-stop. No matter how important (the Beethoven symphonies, for example) or inconsequential the original was (for example, Pezzini's mazurka Una Stella arnica)- all was grist for Liszt's transcription mill.
Ferdinand David (1810- 1873) was an eminent German violinist and teacher. He was born in Hamburg and studied with the renowned composer Ludwig Spohr and the equally celebrated theorist Moritz Hauptmann at Kassel. Both Spohr and Hauptmann were superb violinists, and it is no surprise that David became one of their prize pupils. At the age of fifteen, he played in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and two years later became a member of the Konigstadt Theatre Orchestra in Berlin. He became first violin in the private quartet of a wealthy and influential amateur, Baron von Liphardt, whose daughter he later married. David lived in Russia unti11835, when, at Felix Mendelssohn's insistence, he was appointed the leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1836. When the Leipzig Conservatory was opened in 1843, David became violin professor there. He was so influential and important that during his lifetime the Leipzig Conservatory became most famous as a finishing school for violinists. According to contemporary sources, David presided over the Gewandhaus Orchestra "with the rigour of a martinet. And as leader of the orchestra he had the wonderful faculty of inspiring the players with his own enthusiasm." As a teacher he was "obeyed with fear and trembling as a drill-master, and admired as a virtuoso combining the sterling qualities of Spohr's style with the greater facility and piquancy of the modern school, David was revered as the teacher of the most distinguished violinists of the time, among them being August Wilhelmj and Joseph Joachim."
Ferdinand David's student editions of classical works embraced nearly all compositions of the standard violin literature of the time. Felix Mendelssohn became David's close and warm friend, frequently asking his advice and deferring to his judgement, probably the most famous instance of this being Mendelssohn's famous Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64. During its writing David was continually consulted, and he also gave the first performance of he work in Leipzig in March 1845. When Mendelssohn died two years later, David was one of the pall-bearers at the funeral service in the Pauliner-Kirche, with Hauptmann, Gade and Moscheles. Despite his success as a violinist and teacher, David the composer has been almost completely forgotten. He wrote two symphonies, five violin concertos, the opera Hans Wacht (1852), a sextet, string quartet and numerous other chamber works, including pieces for violin and piano. The author musicologist and editor of Liszt' s letters, La Mara (Marie Lipsius), gives a list with fifty opus numbers.
In examining Ferdinand David's compositions, one is struck by his accomplished musical language. His music does not astonish, nor does it leave a lasting impression. What we find is workmanlike fastidiousness. His music does not have the abandon of Liszt, nor the flights of fancy of Mendelssohn, nor the recognisable style of Schumann. David's music is simple, understated and often elegant. The symphonies and violin concertos are perhaps his best works, and they represent some of his most energetic and ambitious efforts. In these works we hear a composer who had enormous musical feeling and understanding, who knew his audience and who created music for a time and place now long gone. Having given this somewhat less than inviting assessment of David's compositional abilities, we must note that the music was successful and much admired in his day. A re-examination and recording of his major works is definitely warranted.
Franz Liszt work closely with David on various occasions. He gave David much support and even recommended the publication of the Bunte Reihe to a publisher in France. The unusual nature of David's Opus 30 is that he created a work traversing the 24 major and minor keys. Bunte Reihe, literally translated, means "varied series" - a varied series of violin and piano pieces. "Moods" is, perhaps, a more fitting description of these nostalgic and lyrical pieces They are miniature snapshots of a more sentimental time. Liszt combines the violin line with the piano part to create a seamless set of pieces. In Liszt's version, we do not have any sense that they were not originally written for solo piano. As a result, there are some pianistic difficulties, for example in the Etude. Toccata, the Allegro agitato, and the Scherzo, which are more easily played on the violin. Liszt was much taken by the nineteenth piece in the set, the Ungarisch, and wrote two versions. The second version is more military in flavour, and cast in a more improvisational language. Rather than separating the two versions, Valerie Tryon plays them back-to-back, as published in the original complete Kistner edition.
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