Top 10 Liszt works?
In other words…A Top 10 Liszt List?
10. Various Hungarian Rhapsodies
The Hungarian Rhapsodies are a lot of fun, though they are more nationalistic showpieces than anything, so they can feel shallow at times. But the music is so lyrical, a great use of folksy melodies [of course they were accidentally assumed to be “gypsy” melodies when really they were popular music by Hungarian composers played by traveling Romani bands], fun toe-tapping rhythms, and have the fluidity of any improvisation. My favorites of the set of 19 are nos. 3, 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17
Published as his fourth symphonic poem, Orpheus is a beautiful poetic statement, an impressionist painting of the tragic figure. Also, has such a noble theme, very classy.
8. Piano Concerto no. 2
Modeled after contemporary composer Henri Litolff’s “Concerto-Symphoniques”, the work is a single movement synthesis of piano and orchestra, almost like a symphonic poem without a subject, a set of variations on a simple theme. Great stuff. Was by jam back in high school.
7. Dante Sonata
From his second year of pilgrimage. Also my jam in high school. I came for the high concept “Dante’s Inferno” dark imagery and heavy-metal atmosphere, stayed for the high brow thematic transformation.
Bleak and grim, but with a touch of hope. The use of harsh harmonies was a shock to my younger self, who was just getting used to the less “pretty” side of classical music. The drama in this work and the background political origins makes me wonder why it wasn’t used in war films. For some reason I can’t help but think of Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.
5. La Lugubre Gondola
In both existing forms, though “La Lugubre Gondola 2″ is more developed, and the heightened anxiety and harmonic flow remind us that this was essentially a tombeau for Richard Wagner.
4. Vallee d’Obermann
From his first year of pilgrimage. Also has one of the more lovely, underrated melodies in the Romantic piano repertoire. And I still can’t help but be caught up in the Romanticism of it’s subject matter: a forgotten novel about a man living in the countryside alone and finding spiritual fulfillment. Something I would love to have.
3. Fantasy and Fugue on Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem Undam
A magnificent organ piece, like the Sonata in b minor, the entire work develops out of one theme from a Meyerbeer opera based on the Münster Uprising [which resulted in one of the more gruesome executions in history, if you have four and a half hours, listen to Dan Carlton’s Hardcore History: Prophets of Doom]. The fugue part is so wild, I have it memorized.
2. Ballade no. 2
Few composers wrote ballades that are as great as Chopin’s four that started the genre. But this Liszt ballade does reach that transcendence, a great concentrated movement from darkness to light, redemption through love, a lot of extra-musical ideas caught up in the murky depths that I love.
1. Sonata in b minor
His masterpiece, and I think the greatest 19th century piano sonata after Beethoven. It’s so generously written, the main themes interwoven and reused in meaningful ways, no note is superfluous, and the ending is otherworldly. The first time I listened to the work was at a piano recital by Garrick Ohlsson, and I didn’t want the music to end.