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#463982 - 02/06/07 01:12 AM Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
Awadagin Pratt did masterclasses here this morning, and gave a recital tonight. He played the Liszt B Minor Sonata, and also some Brahms and Franck.

It was pretty cool.

And I noticed something neat that I never noticed before. Actually, I laughed out loud (shame on me!) some time into the piece when there was all this flowery stuff going on, and then the original theme popped in out of nowhere in the bass (you know, the fugue theme), and then more flowery stuff, and then it popped in again. It seemed kind of funny for some reason, and it happened again later on, and I laughed again.

But it's actually kind of serious. It's kind of a demonic theme. And the beginning is so demonic and infernal. There's also a choral theme that pops around -- quite different. Throughout the sonata, this little demonic theme with the repeated notes pops out every now and then, when it doesn't seem to fit at all.

Remember also the way that the piece starts, with the downward "scale." Kind of scary.

At the very end, there is a soft ending. This big loud chorale theme, and then it's very soft. Then, in the bass, the develish repeated-note theme repeats over and over and over and over again, trying to do something, but it seems to be constantly repressed. More of the chorale, very softly. Then, the downward scale from the beginning comes in, but before it finishes, it actually turns a little and starts again going down and down. More of the chorale theme, with all of these very strange harmonies.

That's pretty amazing. It's basically the whole sonata is a struggle between Heaven (the chorale) and Hell (the repeated note theme, the theme that is later the fugue theme, and the downward scalar thing). I laughed each time that hellish theme popped out of nowhere, but it wasn't really funny, in retrospect. The devil was constantly popping his head out, and I laughed because it just seemed so unsuspecting and surprising (even though I've listened to this sonata more than a few times before). Finally at the very end, there is this huge strugle (devil theme repeated over and over again against the clash of the chorale, the downward theme trying to finish, but being more and more altered and taken over by the harmonies of the chorale) the demon is crushed, Hell is destroyed, Heaven prevails.


I imagine at least somebody is reading this now and thinking I'm nuts. That's ok. It made sense to me at the time, and it's a little bit past my bedtime right now.

Anybody else interpret it that way? I never noticed that before... but it made the whole experience so much greater!
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#463983 - 02/06/07 01:29 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
gerg Offline
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Registered: 02/02/07
Posts: 1651
Loc: Houston, TX
On the contrary, I think your interpretation is a masterful one - you "got" Liszt's message, the story he tried to tell, even in this Sonata.
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#463984 - 02/06/07 01:34 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
But wait, there's more!

The very very very very end.

Downward theme. *except* for the last note of that pattern! It is cut off *one note* short by the chorale. And you think that's the end -- you think Heaven's got the last word.

Nope. That one note that was cut off by the chorale pops back in the final note of the piece. So who won? Or is this last note at the end just a final dying breath?
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#463985 - 02/06/07 01:51 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
And there's more -- at the end, when it's got that repeated-note theme repeating over and over and over and over and over again in the bass, struggling to actually go somewhere, constantly being repressed, what is repressing it in the right hand? *upward* chords. It is an inversion of the opening demonic downward thing -- now it is moving up (towards Heaven?) with the choral texture.


And there's more -- I read somewhere that Liszt originally wrote a big flashy ending for this, but then changed his mind and rewrote the ending to be this softer idea. What sort of ending to this struggle was the original? Was it the big chorale theme triumphant, loud, banging away at its victory over Hell? Or was it fiery hell banging away at its triumph over Heaven? I don't know how it sounded -- all I know is what we have now in the final version of the Sonata. Did Liszt change his mind about the outcome of this sonata-long struggle? Or did he merely change the way that he expressed that outcome?

OK, I'm going to bed now.
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#463986 - 02/06/07 08:17 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Antonius Hamus Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/24/05
Posts: 2230
I'd recall that according to Arrau it was well known among Liszt's students that Liszt had been inspired by or concerned with Goethe's Faust (or somebody else's Faust, or just the legend of Faust; can't recall which) in the sonata.

So there's Faust, or you, or me, in the middle, and perhaps Mephistopheles and Gretchen as two polar forces (though there's something very redundant about ascribing such symbols to music).

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#463987 - 02/06/07 01:19 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Shellman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/05
Posts: 133
Loc: East Riding, Yorkshire, Englan...
pianojerome,

That's correct, Liszt did write a flashy ending in B major, for the sonata, it has actually been recorded recently on a CD called Liszt / Wagner Sonatas & Metamorphoses, Thomas Hitzlberger is the pianist and the label is Ambronay. I've heard it and, in comparison to the quiet ending, it doesn't quite work (having said that, maybe i'm just used the the familiar version!)

Liszt refused to fit a programme to the Sonata himself so we can't really say what he had in mind. Which makes it all the more fun to speculate and make up your own ideas!
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#463988 - 02/06/07 01:32 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
I think "programme" or "programmatic" can be taken to various degrees.

"The chicken ate a rock. Then the chicken died. Then the farmer cried. Then the lonely farmer said 'squawk.'"

That's one sort of chronological, story-like programme.

"The agony of the chicken choking on a rock and his simultaneous struggle for fresh oxygen."

That's another sort of programme, but it is not chronological in the sense of a story; it is more of a scene, or perhaps rather a concept, and the medium of expression is expressing the various aspects and emotions and events of this scene, even if the individual events are not laid out in a particular set order.


So I'm not sure if I would go so far as to say that the Liszt sonata has a chronological programme, in the sense of "First the devil said this. Then the angel chopped off his tail. Then they got into a big fight, and then the chicken rose from his grave." It might just be more of a thematic programme, or a scenic programme, or a conceptual or emotional programme, as in "the struggle between good and evil" which is very different from the other meaning of "programme" as "story."
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#463989 - 02/06/07 02:18 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Palindrome Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/01
Posts: 3910
Loc: Chicago, IL USA
Jeffrey Siegel talks about the Liszt B minor in one of his "Keyboard Conversations," pointing out the analogies with Faust. He also played the earlier ending, contrasting it with the later one. At the end, he had me convinced we're dealing with a great piece of literature here.
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#463990 - 02/06/07 10:13 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Dan Moos Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/06
Posts: 95
Loc: Bellingham, WA
I have always been torn about this piece. At a casual glance, it had always felt too long and repetitive. But closer examination always makes me feel otherwise. For me it is a listen with full attention or not at all thing. I have the Horowitz version, and despite the overly brash sounding piano, find it very good.

I have heard a quote attributed to Mohr at Stienway that he had done a piano once to Horowitz's specs, making the maestro delighed and Mohr appaled at how brightly voiced it was. I've always wondered if it is the piano in this recording that he speaks of.
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#463991 - 02/07/07 02:24 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Bassio Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/24/03
Posts: 2480
Loc: Alexandria, Egypt
Funny thing is, I always thought that Liszt named this piece 'Sonata' to assure it is 'absolute music' and not programmatic. But the music just gives me this story in my head (one of the few pieces that I really imagine a story behind the music).

Same as you PJ, I always thought that the music symbolizes some fight between the Good and the Evil.

And when it comes to the fugue, I imagine a devil sneaking to our hero, then another one as the subject is played in another voice, then another one, then another one. Our hero tries to escape these devilish voices first, but he finds himself that he must fight, (i even imagine something like a like a sword fight), they fight and fight, until there is this sudden pause .. yes he beat the devil.

Victory at last (switches to major here)

But at the very end of the piece, the repeated demonic theme is played softly again in the bass, meaning that the devil is still there but this time he is very weak (as if he is hiding only in the background), and the piece ends peacefully.

But the notion that the devilish theme is repeated again after he was defeated marks that no one is ultimately safe from the devil and he may fall in his hands again anytime, but for now the piece ends peacefully (as if it is hinting for a sequel, or a repetition of these events, maybe even for different persons)

So no Sam, you are not the only one here who is nuts ;\)

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#463992 - 02/08/07 04:38 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
SilentKoala Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/07
Posts: 245
Loc: Seattle
That's an interesting interpretation. Liszt was a person who was torn between religion in one direction and the flesh in the other. So he could have been expressing his own struggle in that sonata.
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#463993 - 02/08/07 04:51 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
JohnEB Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/20/06
Posts: 754
Loc: Belgium
In a strange coincidence I'm listening to this sonata as I read the post. The announcer said he dedicated it to Schumann, who unfortunately was too ill so didn't hear it. However Liszt played it for Clara S and J Brahms (just happened to be together), neither of whom liked it either. Didn't appreciate the revolutionary nature of it, apparently. Wagner loved it though. Big shock there.
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#463994 - 02/08/07 08:34 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Brendan Online   content



Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 5229
Loc: McAllen, TX
There are a few interpretations of this piece. Of course, read the middle volume of Alan Walker's Liszt series for a full discourse, but here are the possibilities according to Dr. Walker:

1. It's a piece of absolute music.
2. It's autobiographical.
3. It's based on Faust.
4. It's a religious piece, with themes for demonic and divine characters (like you suggest).

My opinion changes every time I play it in public. I tend to be a little hard-nosed in the practice room and convince myself that it's just a sonata, but onstage I always feel it come alive in one way or another. It really is one of those things that we're better off not knowing. Wouldn't it stifle so much creative playing and discussion if it were, without a doubt, one of the above?
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#463995 - 02/08/07 09:44 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
MMSGA Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/21/04
Posts: 393
 Quote:
Originally posted by Brendan:
There are a few interpretations of this piece. Of course, read the middle volume of Alan Walker's Liszt series for a full discourse, but here are the possibilities according to Dr. Walker:

1. It's a piece of absolute music.
2. It's autobiographical.
3. It's based on Faust.
4. It's a religious piece, with themes for demonic and divine characters (like you suggest).

My opinion changes every time I play it in public. I tend to be a little hard-nosed in the practice room and convince myself that it's just a sonata, but onstage I always feel it come alive in one way or another. It really is one of those things that we're better off not knowing. Wouldn't it stifle so much creative playing and discussion if it were, without a doubt, one of the above? [/b]
A prescient philosophy from which we can all learn.

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#463996 - 02/10/07 10:30 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Numerian Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 1071
It is a work of genius in part because it can't be pigeon-holed into one category. Certainly the demonic and the angelic are interposed throughout, but more importantly, they derive from the same theme. Liszt was very fond of this device but it is difficult to pull off - the Sonata is his greatest success, followed by the Tarantella. The Sonata is also a true representation of Liszt's psyche, since he was forever struggling with his natural impulses and his religious intentions.

Religion won out in Liszt's life, just as it did in the Sonata. That's why the quiet ending works best.

My one wish for the Sonata is that we would hear it less. It is overplayed in competitions and on recital programs. There must be other significant Liszt music that someone will start programming.

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#463997 - 02/11/07 01:20 AM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
 Quote:
Originally posted by Numerian:
My one wish for the Sonata is that we would hear it less. It is overplayed in competitions and on recital programs. There must be other significant Liszt music that someone will start programming. [/b]
An interesting wish for a piece of music -- that it be heard less.

This actually ties in with something that I have been thinking about lately, in regard to "classical" music.

Very often, we like to say that "classical" music is that music that has stood the test of time -- it's the most successful and popular music from the past, which is why it has survived.

But that is only half true.

Not all of Liszt's music is equal in quality and popularity. If his music were anonymous (so we didn't know that Liszt wrote it), then obviously some would survive over time, and some quite simply would not. But because there are certain "classics" -- because there are certain of his pieces that are very popular and get played quite a lot (such as the Sonata, Hungarian Rhapsody 2, Un Sospiro), and because these were composed by Liszt, then we say that *anything* Liszt wrote is "classical", whether we have yet discovered some of these compositions or not (i.e. even if they did not survive over time), and we constantly search for more and more so-called "lost" classical compositions.

Then, because *anything* that Liszt wrote is "classical music", then *anything* that any of his contemporaries wrote in a similar style is also "classical", and we hunt for these other compositions and make them survive, even if they otherwise wouldn't have survived over time.

And soon, any music at all from the 1800s is "classical" -- even if we haven't discovered it yet.

So the term "classical music" is rubbish. Well, sort of. It is sometimes useful. \:D

But I'm writing all this for a reason -- why do you think the Liszt Sonata is played so much more than his other works? This is perhaps because it is a "true" "classic" -- for whatever reasons, it is more appealing and more successful than some of his other music. The HR2 is another one. Beethoven's Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata (especially the first movement) are also classics -- as wonderful as are much of these composer's music, how much of it do you think would be today played and listened to, if not for their association with these big "classics"? As wonderful as are Liszt's 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies (and, I'm sure, any others, if there were others, that have not survived over time), honestly, how many do you think would have survived over time if they were anonymous, or at least if we didn't always try to "discover" as many "classical" pieces as we could? Maybe the 2nd one. Maybe the 6th one. Those are the ones that we say are "overplayed", but IMO, they are "overplayed" because they are the true classics, and they are the true classics because they are overplayed.

So, to end a long post, my greatest wish for the Liszt Sonata is that it be played more. It's a wonderful piece of music, and people like it. If nobody liked it, then it would never be played in the first place -- except by those who insist on preserving it for the sole reason that it was written by Liszt.
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#463998 - 02/11/07 02:27 PM Re: Heard the Liszt B Minor live tonight.
Bassio Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/24/03
Posts: 2480
Loc: Alexandria, Egypt
Look at this post I made 2 years ago ..
What makes liszt\'s sonata so great?

I was wondering what makes this sonata is so great? It was not clicking with me at all at that time.

And now I am sitting here discussing with you my extramusical interpretations of it. \:D

I am happy that my ears somewhat matured over this period of time \:\)

Reading that thread again, BruceD also has not been able to warm to it. I I hope he changed his mind too.

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