Saturday, February 23, 2008

Liszt: Virtuoso Pianist, Amateurish Composer

Everyone seems to mention the B minor sonata in defense of Liszt's greatness as a composer. They admit that most of his output is crowd-pleasing surface music, but they hail the B minor sonata as the continuation of Beethoven’s tradition in the genre. I’ve never understood this argument, since the B minor sonata has never seemed ingenious to me in any way. It certainly doesn't have the Romantic originality of Chopin or Schumann, and where craftsmanship is concerned, one might generously equate it to Beethoven's Op. 14 Sonatas (the worst ones). What does it have? I don't even hear the virtuosic flair that seems to have been Liszt's sole talent. I know it's devilishly difficult to play, but the perceived difficulty is much less than usual for this silly type of flashy music. The time he spent transcribing the Beethoven symphonies was much more productive -- maybe instead of composing such mediocrities as the Faust Symphony, he should have transcribed the Haydn and Mozart symphonies as well.

3 Comments:

Blogger Orly said...

Total nonsense. Liszt was the most influencial pianist of all time. He revolutionized the art of the conductor and was amongst the most influential composers of the entire 19th century. If you want mediocrities, look no further than Brahms, or in many cases, Chopin. The Faust Symphony is probably the greatest post-Schubert symphony prior to Mahler. The B minor sonata is meticulously crafted and, like much of Liszt's music, far ahead of it's time. It is the greatest romantic sonata written after Beethoven's 31st. No composer of the 19th century after Beethoven better understood how to write piano music. If shallow, crowd-pleasing surface music is what you are after, Chopin is the master of this. However he does do rather well in the B-flat minor sonata and the scherzos. The harmonic language of Liszt's mature piano works has practically reached atonality and long before Schoenberg. Unlike Chopin and Schumann, Liszt also wrote wrote magnificent choral and organ works. Without doubt, Liszt changed the course of classical music completely. Chopin's style led on the Moszowski, what influence had he? Liszt led to Busoni, Raff, Reger and ultimately Sorabji. Without a shadow of a doubt, he was, after Beethoven, the single most important musical figure of the 19th century.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Orly said...

Forgot to mention, I suppose you're one of these folks who think Richter was a better pianist than Horowitz. It seems that, by criticizing the performer or composer who is popularly hailed as the greatest in their field, people think they are displaying intelligence but surely this is only true if the lesser appreciated figure they are elevating is truly worthy of such praise. This is a prime example. People love to attack Liszt and Horowitz and elevate Brahms or Richter. Clearly such behavior is nonsensical. However, there are manifold examples where a superior musician is left virtually unrecognized and underrated. How annoying to think that say Brahms, Debussy or Schumann are thought of as greater composers, (though certainly great in their own right), than such wonderful figures as York Bowen or John Ireland. Absurd!

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so silly! Liszt was the best pianist, and composer as well. His pieces, even some people think that are "bombastic" , are very romantic......

8:07 AM  

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