Friday, 16 January 2015

Love Beethoven Symphonies but getting a bit jaded? Try Liszt's piano transcriptions! Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

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Almost everybody who likes classical music rapidly listens to Beethoven's nine symphonies - buys recordings, picks out their special favourites - and then listens then to death!

Eventually what Colin Wilson terms 'the robot' in our minds takes over listening to Beethoven Symphonies it can become hard to listen afresh.

Well, one way to renew the experience is to listen to Liszt's piano transcriptions which bring out whole new aspects of the pieces, with a wonderful clarity, lyricism and excitement.

Glenn Gould played a few, including the wondrous Pastoral (number 6) :


And some kind person has put ALL of the transcribed symphonies on YouTub played by a chap called Cyprien Katsaris who has a real feel for this music. Here is number 5 - Daa-Da-Da Daaah:


So which are my favourites?

1. Number 3 the Eroica. One of my very favourite pieces of music of all, one of the most significant pieces of music ever written. Exciting, optimistic, delicious, noble and superbly adept and innovative.

I love the first and last movements especially. (Actually this one does go significantly better with full orchestra - but I love the alternative tonic dominant end cadences on piano).

2. Number 6 the Pastoral. The first one I liked, a joy from first to last, and a wonder indeed.

These two above the rest - and all the others I like except... number 9, the contrived and clunky 'choral' symphony; which I usually don't enjoy much, except for the short tenor solo in an otherwise mostly raucous and shrill finale.

Still - in the piano transcription you can escape the endlessly shrieking sopranos...!

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Note: In general, and with one shining exception, I do not agree with the sophisticated view that 'late' Beethoven is the best - I find the late stuff to be too constipated; Beethoven is trying too hard to overcome the loss of his lyrical facility and being too consciously experimental and innovative. The shining exception is the Piano Sonata number 32in C minor Opus 111 - the second 'variations' movement is simply one of the most wonderful things ever written by anybody; as was recognized by Thomas Mann who put a whole chapter analyzing it into his novel Doktor Faustus. BUt as a rule I accept the common consent of the middlebrow concert-going, record-buying masses that the best Beethoven is in his 'middle' period.