Mr. Hanke is a talented
pianist. He plays much better than I
ever could; he gets all the notes right
which is something some virtuosi do
not; however, compared to the usual
virtuoso who plays Liszt, these performances
are timid, graceless and texturally
How can I fault him
for playing inauthentically when I have
elsewhere in my reviews praised other
pianists for their "fresh viewpoint?"
First, the Liszt who wrote these works
really was a flamboyant showman and
a performer. His written works had a
particular kind of performance in mind.
Playing Liszt as though it were early
Mozart is not only historically and
stylistically erroneous, it also doesn’t
work. To cite another example, playing
Granados as though he were Brahms may
be (or may not be) stylistically inauthentic,
but it works, and that is the final
criterion. Some people didn’t like Liszt
the showman and perhaps they would like
to pretend he was other than he was
and play his early music as though it
were not showy and colourful. This is
wishful thinking. It won’t work.
Liszt was a difficult
personality, a mixture of the sacred
and flamboyant; if I had not known a
similar such person in school I might
never have been able to understand Liszt
who could be completely sincere, profoundly
spiritual and playfully deceptive, vulgar,
even deceitful, at almost the same time.
But Mr. Hanke may be right. Perhaps
Liszt at an odd moment may have played
these pieces this way. But he didn’t
play them this way in public and didn’t
allow his students to do so either.
Another argument is
that Liszt — Liszt the elderly mystic
— did write music that should be played
quietly and carefully, much of it is
his finest work. If Mr. Hanke wants
to play this way, why doesn’t he play
the later Liszt works?
At least one other
critic disagrees with me and feels this
recording is valuable and insightful.
You may agree with him. If you have
a personal reason for wanting this record
— say to remind you of a concert you
attended or as a record of teacher’s
playing — then be assured that the disk
is professionally competent in recording
quality and packaging. A nice touch
is that the liner notes include the
words to the songs of which some of
these pieces are (Liszt’s) arrangements.
Len Mullenger recently
forwarded me your review of my all-Liszt
CD. I feel you have unfairly criticized
my interpretations, and I believe that
a number of your points do not bear
Before I begin, let
me say immediately that I absolutely
support your right to follow your own
personal taste in music, and that I
do not hope or wish to change your mind.
I do however want to raise several points
that will shed some light on my artistic
choices, and may I hope appeal to more
objective values outside of our own
personal likes and dislikes.
Firstly, and perhaps
most obviously, I must point out that
the entire CD consists only of Liszt's
most poetic works, and does not include
any of his showy or flashy pieces. The
program notes included in the CD booklet
I believe make that clear. Of course
I am well aware of "Liszt the Showman",
but I chose not to focus my attention
on those particular works. Of the 12
Transcendental Etudes, you will notice
that I chose to play Harmonies du Soir,
perhaps the most poetic, beautiful and
majestic work in Liszt's body of work.
This is not a work of bombast, sentimentality
or vulgarity, all adjectives that are
frequently (and most often erroneously)
used when describing Liszt's music.
I could just have easily played #2,
#4 or God knows #8 if I was interested
in showcasing the diablerie that was
such a part of Liszt's character. I
fully agree with you that Liszt, perhaps
more than any other composer, had a
certain, fascinating, Mephistophelian
side to his personality. However, I
would be very, very interested to know
exactly how to apply this character
to works such as Au Lac de Wallenstadt,
Un Sospiro, Consolation #3 or any of
the Petrarch Sonnets. In fact, I would
be very interested to hear any of the
works I played on my disc approached
from a "flamboyant", "playfully
or even "deceitful" perspective.
I will save anyone who wishes to engage
in such a project the trouble, and right
away state that it is not possible for
these pieces to played in such a way.
Moreover, it would be artistically bankrupt
to do so.
Secondly, I believe
you are in error in bringing up the
point that some people wish Liszt's
early music was not "showy and
colorful". While this may or may
not be true, I don't see how it applies
to the situation at hand. None of the
works on the present disc are "early".
Only such pieces as the Grand Fantasie
sur le Clochette de Paganini, the 12
Grand Etudes, a few of the opera fantasies,
or the Grand Galop Chromatique might
qualify as as such. Indeed, many of
the sections in Years of Pilgrimage
and the Transcendental Etudes have their
roots in earlier compositions. These
versions often are more showy and colorful,
but they are also not as great. Liszt
was remarkable in that he often took
his earlier works and refined them musically
and technically into complete masterpieces.
The very first, nascent, version of
the Transcendental Etudes is fairly
banal, but after all, Liszt was only
a teenager. How much more amazing it
is then that after many years and two
revisions Liszt achieved the greatest
artistic heights, melding poetry and
deep feeling with the most colorful
and effective pianistic techniques,
using the same musical material that
he first produced in his teens.
The version of Harmonies
du Soir found in the 12 Grand Etudes
(revision #1 of this material) truly
is more showy, more colorful and maybe
even a little bit vulgar. It is also
not very good, compared with its final
incarnation. The latter is profound,
spiritual and possesses multitudinous
poetic and psychological depths. The
former is merely pretty and pianistically
effective. Surely these qualities have
their place in the creative pantheon,
but given the choice I will almost always
go with poetic meaning over flash.
Finally, I want to
take issue with your comparing my Liszt
interpretations to "early Mozart".
I would be fascinated to hear you elaborate
further on this point, since I'm truly
at a loss to understand what you mean.
I can easily see Granados being played
like Brahms (well, maybe not easily,
but it's less of a stretch) because
the two occupied vaguely similar pianistic
and harmonic worlds. Liszt and Mozart,
though? I just don't see it. You might
as well say that someone played Wagner
in the style of Scarlatti, just to stretch
the absurdity to a breaking point.
In closing, I hope
that I have been able to explain to
you of few of the guiding reasons behind
the artistic choices I made on my disc.
I would hope that as a result you might
put the CD on again at another time
and perhaps listen to my work in a different
Los Angeles, California