Fast Fingered Franz

The day before yesterday I read a fascinating essay in The New York Review of Books about Franz Liszt. I’ve spoken before of how much I appreciate The New York Review. In my opinion it is the single best, all around, English language periodical, bar none. The essay on Liszt is another in a long line of examples why that still holds true.

I enjoy symphonic music and have since my little sister introduced it to me in my late teens but I would not normally seek out a 5,000 word essay on Franz Liszt. It’s my policy, however, to read each issue cover to cover. After reading the essay I made a note in my iPhone to seek out some of Liszt’s music on the morrow. I forgot to do so, but this morning The Brunette emailed me an *.mp3 of his music. This one was ‘Love Dream’ which is a wonderful piece of composition and immediately after listening to it I sought out one of the pieces of music suggested in the essay: Piano Concerto No. 1in E-flat Major. (There is a hint of Chopin in this piano concerto, as well.)

Not only is it a soulful piece of music, but it’s powerful, as the author of the essay notes:

He invented the principal musical effect that for almost two centuries has sent audiences roaring to their feet with applause: the single musical line played strongly and rapidly with both hands spanning octaves for a lengthy dramatic passage, fortissimo and staccato. The right-hand octaves in the higher register provide metallic brilliance, and the lower left-hand octaves a thunderous sonority. In addition, when the musical line makes large leaps quickly from side to side, an attractive acrobatic element is added visually for the audience’s enjoyment, as at the opening of Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major.

The finger work is damned impressive. As a musician myself, I can appreciate not only the artistry but the skill and showmanship happening here. And it reminded me of something my little sister told me once about Liszt: before him the pianist played the piano facing the audience, not to the side as they do now. Franz Liszt changed all that. Minor point, but how different it makes the experience, no?

Anyhoo: chalk up another win for The New York Review of Books. If you want to maintain a well-rounded intellect you can do no better.

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