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#364324 - 07/23/07 04:17 PM Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
radiogaga Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 12
Loc: South Africa
Previously there have been two posts on this topic, though I wanted to learn a little bit more than I have gathered from those topics.

As I understand it, the second (1837; S.137) version of the Etudes are, technically, far more difficult to play than the final version (S.139) of the Etudes.

Now, Schumann remarked that at the time, perhaps ten pianists in the world would be able to play the Etudes. I don't know how true this is; nevertheless, are the pieces really that difficult that even today, only one "decent", albeit under-tempo, recording (Howard's) exists? Would these pieces be beyond the technical abilities, say, of Berezovsky, who is able to play the easier S.139 Etudes at breakneck speed?

If you know of any respectable recordings, other than Howard's, please let me know.

Now, "mechanical" aspects aside, how do these etudes compare musically to the final version? More "polished", I have read? Is it because they were more polished, or simply easier to play, that there are vastly more recordings of the S.139 etudes?

Thanks \:D

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#364325 - 07/23/07 05:40 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Goldberg Offline
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Registered: 02/08/03
Posts: 1231
Loc: U.S.
I have a VHS of Alexander Paley playing the complete cycle of the Grandes Etudes live in a recital, and unless my memory betrays me, I think Janice Weber (not entirely sure on the spelling) was the first to record all of them. At any rate, I'm almost certain she has a recording out there of them, but although I have not heard them myself, I understand they're about on par with Howard's--fine recordings, but like you say they still leave a little to be desired, musically. Paley's performance is the best I've heard (and seen!), but even with the extra musical intensity and fidelity to tempi, the playing has its fair share of sloppiness and so on, not like anyone can blame him. I believe he's going to release a studio rec of the works sometime soon, if he hasn't already. I imagine that a fair amount of today's "supervirtuosi" including Berezovsky and so on, would be able to manage these etudes just as well as Howard, given enough time--but the whole reason Liszt made the revisions was so the musical qualities, which he placed first, would be enhanced without over-complicating technical demands. So, many pianists would wonder what the point is in going back to the 2nd editions.

My personal opinion is that there are a few interesting musical ideas, involving various textural details for the most part, in the Grandes Etudes that we're unfortunate not to have in the Transcendentals--actually, I sometimes feel that the 2nd edition is more deserving of the name "Transcendental" due to the etudes' amazingly thick textures in some cases. Some of the etudes are almost completely unchanged between editions (Feux Follets, Preludio, etc.), but others have fairly obvious and major differences, like Harmonies du Soir, and Etude no. 10; for some, I prefer the 2nd edition (I love the 2nd edition of No. 12, with its grand opening and even more furious tremelos!), but for most I still like the familiar versions. Liszt himself realized that the technical demands in most cases far outweighed the musical features, I think, and really I don't want to dig through unnecessarily thick chords and complex cross-rhythms to feel the poeticism of Etude no. 10.

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#364326 - 07/23/07 05:42 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
playliszt Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/01/06
Posts: 449
Loc: Oh/Fla
The adage "less is more" is appropriate for the final version of the T.E's.

Get one of those diamonds out of your S.Africa mines, polish it up and it looks good. That's the 1837 version. The final version is like taking the diamond to a Master cutter; now you you have a gem that shines with brilliance even though there is less material there.

My own opinion is that anyone who is considered today as Maestro at the piano (especially those that have recorded Liszt already) would be able to play them. (They do look bloody awful though.)

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#364327 - 07/23/07 09:32 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Beethoven Fan Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/06/07
Posts: 191
this is just a quick question, but are these the most difficult pieces Liszt contributed to the piano repertoire?

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#364328 - 07/24/07 02:32 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8840
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Beethoven Fan:
this is just a quick question, but are these the most difficult pieces Liszt contributed to the piano repertoire?
A good case could be made for that. I've heard Leslie Howard's recording, but until Hamelin gives them a go round, it is unlikely we'll be able to make a sound judgement. For now, we'll have to be content with looking at the score and using our imagination.

There is little doubt that the final version is incomparably superior to the 12 Grandes Etudes, but there are some moments in Liszt's earlier extravaganza which I miss in the revision.

Two examples: in the G minor (later titled Vision), the first 12 measures are taken by the left hand alone. Much more difficult of course, but it would result in an entirely different sound. The Db (later Harmonies du soir) is much better realized in the revision, but in the "grandioso" climax the earlier version has rich, rolled chords instead of the later bare octaves. Probably impossible for anyone but Liszt, yet it really could work better.

Otherwise, the opening of the original C minor (Wilde Jagd) would seem almost impossible on a modern piano. Liszt was very smart to slim it down in the revision.
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#364329 - 07/24/07 03:45 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
I thought that Liszt's main reason for undertaking the revision was that the pianos of the time had become more massive: the textures simply needed some trimming.

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#364330 - 07/24/07 04:02 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8840
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Antonius Hamus:
I thought that Liszt's main reason for undertaking the revision was that the pianos of the time had become more massive: the textures simply needed some trimming.
Good point. I'm sure Charles Rosen has some comments to that effect, yet it can't be denied that many of Liszt's later adjustments (the opening of Harmonies du soir is a good example) would be musically superior on any piano.
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#364331 - 07/24/07 04:22 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
I think I read that in Walker's excellent Liszt biography. I haven't heard the Grand Etudes, except for a couple in the form of midi, so I wouldn't know much of any musical differences between that and the later revision. Nevertheless, I don't think Liszt considered the earlier version overly virtuosic or difficult when played on the lighter pianos of the beginning of the century. Whatever real musical improvements the newer version contains, I'm not so sure Liszt would have made them had not the pianos changed. After all, he rarely revised his later works...

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#364332 - 07/24/07 05:43 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
radiogaga Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 12
Loc: South Africa
Thanks for your informative replies.

Apart from the musical ideas - textural details and so on - that Goldberg mentioned, which I find interesting, to me these etudes still hold some other magical allure. Partly, I think, it is because I love the S.139 Etudes very greatly, and so naturally I would be intrigued by their recondite precursors. And partly it is because of their legendary difficulty - if these Etudes are (probably?) the most difficult of all of Liszt's work, then in terms of their difficulty they must certainly be pieces nonpareil.

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#364333 - 07/24/07 06:35 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Mike090280 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 159
Loc: Texas
Hi. Do the Lizst etudes compare in difficulty whith Alkan or the Godowsky etudes?

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#364334 - 07/24/07 06:56 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
 Quote:
Originally posted by Beethoven Fan:
this is just a quick question, but are these the most difficult pieces Liszt contributed to the piano repertoire?
I'd say that all depends on what you mean by "difficult". I personally have an easier time with the études than with extended works, such as "Reminiscenses of Norma" or the "Sonata in B minor". For me, stamina is more of an issue than technique.
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#364335 - 07/25/07 12:25 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8840
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by whippen boy:
For me, stamina is more of an issue than technique.
But, maybe, I thought that stamina is part and parcel of technique... the more once practises, the greater one's stamina? Shouldn't that be the case? I'm not certain I understand, particularly as you have superbly demonstrated to some of us lucky folk how you have managed the Widor Toccata... as written...
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#364336 - 07/25/07 01:27 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Shellman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/05
Posts: 133
Loc: East Riding, Yorkshire, Englan...
Goldberg and others,
I have the Janice Weber and the Leslie Howard recording of the Douze Grande Etudes and both are good. However, Weber does make a meal of the thicker textures whereas Howard seems to clarify things. She also slows things down a lot in certain pieces (especially no.12) My other criticism of Weber's recording is that she plays the intermediate 1841 version of Mazeppa rather than the 1837 version (which differs by having the theme start immediately and no split chords as an introduction). Don't get me wrong, she is certainly a superb pianist but she isn't quite so able to play these pieces as Howard.

Incidentally, the John Ogdon recording supposedly of Harmonies de Soir is actually the equivalent from the 1837 set and is misidetified on the CD!!
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#364337 - 12/18/07 04:59 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
radiogaga Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 12
Loc: South Africa
Sorry to trawl up this old topic -- still intrigued though! \:D

I found MIDI sequences of the S.137 Etudes on this page: http://www.classicalarchives.com/liszt.html

I'm listening to the 10th at the moment...wow...I see what you mean about them being less polished, in a musical sense. But, jislaaik! (as we say in S.Africa), these S.137 etudes are really quite diabolical and grand. As I mentioned, I find them especially intriguing because of their legendary difficulty, over and above the usual Liszt mythos.

Now, if today no pianist has the technical abilities to play these pieces, or the inclination to do so, why not run these midi's through say the Bosendorfer 290 samples (or something similar) -- not quite Liszt (or Berezovsky or some other supervirtuoso) playing, but it would still make for interesting listening, no? We could imagine what it might have sounded like, were Liszt himself at the piano...

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#364338 - 12/18/07 10:46 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Cheeto717 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/06/07
Posts: 696
Loc: Pennsylvania
Does anyone have the translations of the pieces nicknames, specifically Wild Jagd. Just curious.
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#364339 - 12/18/07 11:32 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
Wild Jack.

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#364340 - 12/18/07 01:22 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Shellman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/05
Posts: 133
Loc: East Riding, Yorkshire, Englan...
Cheeto, this 1837 version of these studies was published without any nicknames - it's only the final version from 1852 and called Transcendental Etude that had names. These (roughly translated, in my head and without checking) are as follows:
Prelude, (no title), Landscape, Mazeppa, Willo the Wisp, Vision, Heroic, Wild Ride, (don't know), no title, Evening Harmonies and Whirlwinds of Snow.
Hope this helps!
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#364341 - 12/18/07 02:38 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
radiogaga Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 12
Loc: South Africa
@Antonius: Is that a joke? Lol, I'm not sure if it was meant to be. But funny nonetheless...sorry \:D

Wilde jagd = Wild HUNT. Why it has a German title I don't know...

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#364342 - 12/18/07 02:56 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
Yeah, it's a joke. \:D

I didn't remember what the name might have meant.

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#364343 - 12/18/07 05:13 PM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
xtraheat Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/20/07
Posts: 625
Loc: WV
Whoever asked if they compare in difficulty with Alkan and Godowsky etudes...From my understanding, they are around the same difficulty, with Godowsky the hardest, some of the Alkan etudes harder, then the Liszt etudes. I am not positive if this is right or not. And btw, I think Ligeti wrote the most difficult etudes
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#364344 - 12/20/07 12:32 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Fleeting Visions Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/06
Posts: 1501
Loc: Champaign, IL
You can't really compare those etudes in difficulty like that. They hve different difficulties. The Alkan is a kind of absurd tour-de-force, but Liszt needs to be polished and controlled in ways that the Alkan does not.

The Godowsky etudes are ridiculously difficult.

For most difficult etudes, Bartok, Stravinsky (for one who's personally bad at polyrhythms), and Ligeti each have some contest.

On topic, formally and musically, the 1851 version is the best. There are some textures and ideas which I really like from previous versions, like the Harmonies Du Soir climax previously spoken of and some parts of Wilde Jagd. More difficult? There are certainly more notes and things on the page, but I don't see reasons why one couldn't play the 1838 set if one could pla the 1851 set well.

The Coda of Etude #10 is interesting on paper and I'd like to hear it sometime, and #12 has an introduction which might be interesting to try in front of Chasse-Neige.

Then again, I don't see any *reason* why one would play the 1838 set either.

Cheers,

Daniel

P.S. Anyone who plays the 1851 set should have a copy of the 1838 set and at least be familiar with the earlier set.

1. The 1838 set has interpretational directions and markings absent in the 1851 set. This includes rubato, telling us where Liszt himself used it.

2. The 1838 set has passages which were formed in his mind before those of the 1851 set. If you're having a particularly nasty time with any passage, see the analagous one in the 1838 set to find a good preparatory passage. Along the way, you might even find some passages you could use in the 1851 which you like better.

3. See where Liszt trimmed, nipped, tucked, extrapolated, and expanded. This will give you greater insight into both the music and his compositional method.
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#364345 - 12/20/07 01:30 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8840
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by dnephi:
Then again, I don't see any *reason* why one would play the 1838 set either.
Well yes, but that is not to say that there aren't some effective moments in the earlier set, per a previous post of mine regarding the G minor and Db etudes. Otherwise -in general with certain exceptions- Liszt's later thoughts are to be preferred.

Regarding the polyrhythms in Stravinsky, I would assume you're referencing the "Allegro brillante" in the 4 √Čtudes. It looks more fearsome on the printed page than it is to learn.

IMO, Stravinsky wrote beautifully for the piano, and plenty of hands separate practice should overcome the difficulties. I learned it at uni: slow practice hands together is rather a waste of time. Get the hands separate up to speed first.

At least that worked for me...
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#364346 - 12/20/07 03:50 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Fleeting Visions Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/06
Posts: 1501
Loc: Champaign, IL
I'll keep that in mind.

About Stravinsky, that was the one. Particularly frightening is the concept of expanding and contracting the hand so quickly while thinking it through. However, I think that your idea might work quite well. I will keep that in mind if I attempt the piece.

And... absolutely off topic, I have listened to a better recording of Ad Nos and changed my mind.
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#364347 - 12/21/07 11:35 AM Re: Liszt: 12 Grandes Etudes (S.137)
Shellman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/05
Posts: 133
Loc: East Riding, Yorkshire, Englan...
Ok, my brain wasn't working when I was typing my vague translations!

Compliments of the season to you all!!
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Jonathan

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