Recorded on 01/30/2004, uploaded on 01/30/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Between 1859 and 1885, Franz Liszt composed the four Mephisto Waltzes. Liszt maintained a lifelong preoccupation with the legend of Faust, particularly its antagonist Mephistopheles. In his youth, Liszt was greatly influenced by the violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, who himself had garnered a Faustian reputation for having sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his seemingly superhuman abilities. Decades later, Liszt produced both the Faust Symphony, based on Goethe’s telling of the legend, and the four Mephisto Waltzes.
The first of the waltzes, Der Tanze in der Dorfschenke (“The Dance in the Villiage Inn”), is the most well-known of the four. Along with the second waltz, it was originally composed for orchestra and only later appeared in both piano duet and piano solo versions. The scene from which the piece draws its programmatic inspiration comes not from Goethe, however, but instead from Nikolas Lenau. In the scene, a wedding feast is taking place in a village inn. As they pass by, Mephistopheles persuades Faust to take part in the joyous festivities. Inside, he takes a fiddle and proceeds to play upon it a seductive waltz. Under the spell of Mephistopheles’s performance, Faust dances wildly around the room with a woman from the village, eventually waltzing into the night as the devil’s infernal tune fades away.
Liszt’s music for this scene is imaginative and daring, as can be seen by his musical depiction of narrative elements such as the devil tuning up his fiddle. Furthermore, the piece is also seen as a precursor to experimental directions in classical music that took place around the turn of the century. Liszt provided two different endings for the waltz. The first holds true to Lenau’s scene and the music dies away slowly as Faust and the village woman continue to dance after they have left the inn. In the second ending, which is the most often heard and perhaps the more musically satisfying, the music builds into a furious climax. Joseph DuBose
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