Recorded on 08/03/2000, uploaded on 06/17/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Franz Liszt notoriously composed etudes that only he could perform. In fact, his Études d'exécution transcendante d'après Paganini, the original version of his Grandes études de Paganini, are among the most difficult compositions ever written for the piano and catered to his own technical abilities (such as his large hands that were able to span large intervals no other pianist could), and it is quite possible that Charles-Valentin Alkan was the only other pianist besides Liszt capable of performing them. Luckily for successive pianists and audiences alike, Liszt removed many of these outlandish technical challenges in the final versions of his etudes. Yet, even in these final forms, the skill required of performers is great. This is no less the case with his 2 Concert Etudes of 1862-63, and the second of these, Gnomenreigen (“Dance of the Gnomes”) is considered one of Liszt’s most difficult creations for the piano.
Besides its technical demands, Liszt employs his characteristic ingenious approach to color and imagery in his depiction of Gnomenreigen’s impish scene. Essentially a scherzo (though with no trio section) and designated to be executed at a breathtaking Presto tempo, the etude opens with a puckish theme in F-sharp minor embellished by crisp grace notes before each tone. Offsetting this delicate opening theme is a subordinate melody in the relative major with a subtle fanfare-like dignity. Liszt presents the two themes again, this time modulating away into the key of B-flat major at the arrival of the second theme. At its conclusion, Liszt then introduces an episodic section and for the first time in the etude ventures into the low register of the piano. Arpeggios lead the left hand down to reiterated eighth notes first on the dominant of G minor, then descending a halfstep to the same scale degree of the tonic key. During the left hand’s descent, the right keeps up the playful antics, though here one feels that they have turned somewhat more roguish. Feigning a sonata-like return, Liszt leaves this central episode and reprises the second theme in F-sharp major, yet returns to it again for the etude’s coda. Joseph DuBose
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