Saturday, February 4, 2012

Another basic difference between the compositional technique of Liszt and Chopin was observed long ago by Donald Francis Tovey, and Feux Follets once again offers a good example. When the principal theme in B-flat Major returns in the new tonality of A Major, it has become very awkward for the hands to play the double-note trill and chromatic scale as the relation of black to white keys has changed with the new key,2 and Liszt accordingly rewrites the theme in a new form that fits hands to the new harmony. Chopin, as Tovey remarked, is more ruthless: when a figure that lies well for the hands in the opening key returns in a less convenient form, he generally demands that the pianist cope with the new difficulty, refusing to make any musical concession to the physical discomfort. Liszt is often supremely difficult but almost never really awkward, and always composes with the physical character of the performance in mind. In the conception of modern virtuosity, he was even more important than Chopin, whose achievement was more idiosyncratically personal.

Splendid piece by Charles Rosen on Liszt in NYRB.

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