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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies (arr. F. Liszt for piano), Vol. 3 (Biret) - Nos. 7, 8 (Biret Beethoven Edition, Vol. 9)
‘Listening to Beethoven through Liszt’s keyboard transcriptions can put a fresh perspective on these familiar symphonies. Idil Biret has taken on the complete cycle, and I admire her taste, technique and sound musical decisions.’ (New York Magazine) ‘…Idil Biret has just put her signature to an impressive achievement. Bravo!’ (Brussels Arts Magazine) ‘The performance of the 8th Symphony (in Milan) succeeds in the sustained tension, the prominence of logic in building up the colours, the autonomy as well as the interplay of the parts…Biret conquers by dominating the whole, with an implacable left hand in the Allegretto or with lightness in the fury of the Allegro vivace. (Corriere della Sera)
By John Sheppard
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
By Robert Cummings
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (transcribed by Franz Liszt, S464/R128)
It was in 1822, ten years after Beethoven had completed his Seventh Symphony, that Liszt, who had been studying in Vienna with Czerny, gave his first public concert there. In April 1823 he gave his final concert in Vienna, before leaving for a brief visit home to Pest and then for Paris. Whether there is any truth in the popular legend that the boy was kissed by Beethoven, the so-called Weihekuss, Liszt certainly met Beethoven and treasured a special relationship to which he gave expression in his concert performances, whether as pianist or conductor, and in his pious transcriptions of works such as Beethoven’s symphonies.
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to move to Vienna. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire. Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.
The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt’s relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.
In 1861, at the age of fifty, Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, former wife of Hans von Bülow and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, more concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.
Whatever the accuracy of Liszt’s account, fifty years later, of his meeting with Beethoven in Vienna, he continued always to hold him in the greatest respect, a reverence reflected in his activities in the cause of the Beethoven Monuments in Bonn and Vienna and festivals of Beethoven’s music, and in his inclusion of Beethoven’s piano compositions in his recitals. Among particularly treasured possessions itemised in the will he made in 1860 were the death mask of Beethoven and his Broadwood piano, which after Liszt’s death was presented by Princess Carolyne and her daughter, Princess Hohenlohe, to the National Museum in Budapest.
During the summer of 1837, from May to July, spent at the country house of George Sand at Nohant, Liszt, accompanied there by Marie d’Agoult, worked on his piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, published in 1840, with a transcription of Symphony No.7. Three years later he made a transcription of the funeral march from the Eroica Symphony. These early versions of Beethoven symphonies were later to be revised and supplemented by transcriptions of the six other symphonies, including, after some reluctance, the Choral Symphony. The new transcriptions were made in 1863 and 1864, with the last movement of the Choral Symphony, over which he had hesitated, added in 1865. In 1863 Liszt had moved to a retreat outside Rome at the monastery of Madonna del Rosario on Monte Mario, Here he occupied a room of great simplicity, with a small and defective piano at his disposal, although the relative tranquillity of his life was occasionally interrupted by visitors, including, on one significant occasion, Pope Pius IX. It was at the urging of Breitkopf and Härtel that he now undertook the revision of his earlier transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies and the completion of the whole set, which was published in 1865 with a dedication to his son-in-law, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow.
The transcriptions must speak for themselves. Liszt is meticulous in his accurate reproduction of original phrasing and his specification, where necessary, of the original instrumentation. Critics have compared his transcriptions favourably with the earlier piano versions of the symphonies by the virtuoso pianist Kalkbrenner, a pioneer in this field. Liszt does not primarily seek for technical display, however demanding the transcriptions may be. He is particularly adept in his solution of problems of balance and sonority, and helpful in the suggested fingerings that are included and in the care taken to distinguish parts in notation.
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was first performed in Vienna in December 1813 at a charity concert in aid of soldiers wounded at the battle of Hanau. The event, which included Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, was a collaboration with Mälzel, inventor of the metronome and, to be heard on this occasion, a mechanical trumpeter, as well as of the panharmonicon for which Wellington’s Victory had originally been intended. The occasion brought together many of the leading musicians of Vienna for the performance, of which the violinist Spohr left an account, describing Beethoven’s curious methods of conducting and the difficulties his deafness now caused. The concert, however, was successful, and the symphony soon appeared in a variety of arrangements. Liszt’s piano transcription, which includes indications of the original instrumentation, provides careful instructions for pedalling and makes considerable use of octave passages, and of the highest and lowest registers of the keyboard. The Allegretto is allowed to build up to a great climax, replete with the cross-rhythms of the original work, and the Scherzo offers the player some choices of ornamentation, before a technically demanding piano version of the final Allegro con brio.
The Eighth Symphony was first heard, together with the Seventh and Wellington’s Victory in February 1814, at a time when Beethoven was busy with his revision of Fidelio. Liszt’s transcription opens with an arpeggiated accompanying chord, with the melody heard in octaves. Careful indications of pedalling suggest sustained notes in what follows, and Liszt has occasional resort to three staves and to the inclusion, at times, of notes that cannot be played, but that form part of the original orchestral score, the instrumentation, as always, indicated. In the Allegretto scherzando the accompanying wind parts are transposed to a lower register, with the right hand playing the opening violin phrase and crossing to give the answer from cellos and double basses. The third movement, again with the usual proliferation of octaves, gives full attention to contrasts of dynamics. Suggested fingerings are included in the last movement, while the final climax avoids the wide range of the original orchestration to provide a fitting conclusion to the transcription.
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