Recorded on 12/29/2010, uploaded on 05/31/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Franz Liszt held a lifelong fascination with the Faust legend, beginning with his idolization of Niccolò Paganini, the great violin virtuoso who himself had garnered a Faustian reputation, to his Mephisto Waltzes and grand Faust Symphony. It is no wonder then that Liszt admired Charles Gounod’s operatic treatment of the legend and paid his respects with a piano transcription of two numbers from the opera.
Based on a French play, which in turn was loosely on Goethe’s Faust, Gounod’s five act grand opera premiered in Paris at the Théâtre Lyrique on March 19, 1859. Initially ill-received by the Parisian public, it nevertheless was taken on tour through Germany, Belgium, Italy and England. A few years later, in 1862, it was staged again in Paris to great success and eventually became one of the most oft-performed works at the Paris Opéra and a staple of the repertoire.
Composed in 1861, near the culmination of his time in Weimar, Liszt’s transcription is in the manner of his earlier concert paraphrases of selections from Verdi’s operas. Based on the waltz scene that concludes Act I and the love-duet, O nuit d’amour between Faust and Marguerite in Act II, Liszt freely borrows from Gounod’s music and combines it with his own musical tangents. However, he never departs from the sentiments of his source. The waltz opens the piece with open fifths on the dominant and uncertain of its tonality, followed by an angular introductory melody. Settling into D major, there is a wry and subtle devilish quality to the waltz, despite its outward and seemingly optimistic mood. The waltz eventually gives way to the love-duet, a melodious Andantino in A-flat major. The music is affectionate and free of the demonic influences of the waltz and evaporates into glowing figurations in the upper register. Leaving this untainted depiction of love, the tempo quickens and returns to the waltz. A lively coda, incorporating some material from the introduction, concludes the piece in a spectacle of virtuosity. Joseph DuBose
Unlike Franz Liszt, Ravel did not call himself a virtuoso, but wrote for pianists who followed Liszt's daring and demanding writing. Liszt could play almost everything written by the time he was 10, and his searching intelligence sent him eagerly after new sounds, tonalities, and narrative effects. Although he never wrote an opera, he found a narrative base for almost everything. With Wagner, later his son-in-law, Liszt promoted "Music of the Future," that is, instrumental music which conveyed a dramatic scene or situation. Although a premiere performer of Beethoven, his own music multiplied the sound of the piano, evolved new narrative forms and made the recital hall a theater.In our age of instant access to almost every piece of music extant, it is easy to forget how slowly news of the explosive world of opera spread in opera's golden age. Liszt, and others of the age of virtuosos, wrote fantasies and meditations on the operas they heard as a way of letting audiences hear the newest operatic news. Liszt made frequent transcriptions to vary his own programs but also to spread the word about Rossini, Bellini and a host of others. The meditation on Gounod's Faust had wider meanings, too, for Liszt was drawn to stories of the Devil. He wrote a Faust Symphony with choral finale and hugely successful Mephisto Waltzes and Polkas. His method involved playing an introduction, glimpses of arias and significant scenes, and a dazzling conclusion that exalted both opera and his enormous gift. Program notes by Daniel Webster.
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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