Liszt’s dark tones – an intimate confession

La Délicate. © Charles Thibo

In Greek mythology, the Titans were members of the second generation of divine beings. In the field of piano music, Franz Liszt was a titan. An exceptionally gifted pianist, an impressive composer, a revolutionary spirit, a paragon for many of the next generation of musicians. But being a titan comes at the price of loneliness. Towards the end of his life, Liszt complained that the world did not understand his language anymore, that his gifts were no longer appreciated.

His late works are marked by a distinct sadness, melancholy and a certain resignation over his fate. Between 1865 and 1876 he wrote a set called “Four Little Piano Pieces”, S. 192. They are characterized by a simple, singular beauty. A solitary beauty exuding humility, a tender and discrete love for things past, a meditation about life and fate and lasting values. “The dark tone, that you criticized in your last letter, becomes more and more familiar to me”, he writes in 1874 in a letter to Therese von Helldorff.

Liszt consciously avoids any display of virtuosity and focuses on “obsessive ostinati*, meager melodies, often disrupted by pauses, monophony, bare chors spanning several bars without any tonal function, amorphousness”, says Michael Stegemann in a biography that I warmly recommend. He did not care anymore about the effect of his compositions on the audience, he disregarded the laws that ruled composint in the Classic and Romantic era. His late music was most likely the truest expression of what he felt and at the the same time music orientated towards the future, detached from the world he lived in.

Liszt must have felt a double solitude by not enjoying the public recognition that he had experienced in his youth and by the fact that the audience did not walk the last mile with him. The “Four Little Piano Pieces” have been recorded by Paul Lewis.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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2 thoughts on “Liszt’s dark tones – an intimate confession”

    1. No, I didn’t know that, at least I cannot remember having read it in the biography I read a few months ago. But I am not surprised, he was quite a character, Franz Liszt. A genius no doubt, but I am not sure I would have wanted to live under one roof with him!!! An as a piano student he would have dismissed me for good after the first lesson. No talent, no furor! 😱

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