The programme includes:
Piano Sonata in B Minor, S. 178
Mephisto-Waltz in A Major, No 1 S. 514
Études-Tableaux for Piano, Op 39:
A Minor, No 2; A Minor, No 6; D Major, No 9
Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23, No 5
Prelude in G Sharp Minor, Op. 32, No 12
Fugue in D Minor
Piano Sonata No 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 36 (second version)
Although Franz Liszt's Sonata in B Minor is dedicated to Robert Schumann, its closest musical “relative” would be Wagner’s musical dramas and Liszt’s own symphonic poems. Hearing the sonata for the first time, Wagner was ecstatic, and there was much to rejoice at. Piano works on such a scale had not been written since Beethoven’s time. Moreover, Liszt’s grandiose sonata is in one section; without interruption it lasts over half an hour and the piano sounds at times like the orchestra and at times like the organ.
Liszt did not give the sonata a programme title, but there is no doubt that it does not belong to the world of “pure music”. The uninterrupted development of the three themes that are subjected to various metamorphoses, even transforming into the reverse of what they began as, bears witness to the fact that there is a “plot” and there are “characters” in the sonata. Most of all, Liszt was interested in two great subjects – The Divine Comedy and Faust, which formed the basis for two of his symphonies.
Liszt completed this Sonata in B Minor in February 1853, but the public at large heard it only in 1857 when it was performed by Hans von Bülow. In the 19th century this work was rarely performed and only came to be appreciated in the 20th century.
Images of Faust and Mephistopheles accompanied Franz Liszt (1811–1886) throughout his life. He composed the Faust-Symphony after Goethe’s tragedy, virtuoso adaptations of highlights from Gounod’s Faust and Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust, four original Mephisto Waltzes and a Mephisto Polka. The four waltzes were inspired not by Goethe’s masterpiece but by the poem Faust by the Hungarian Nikolaus Lenau (1836). The poem stands out for its exaggeratedly romantic interpretation of the theme and may rightly take its place in the assembly of “romantic devilry” – Lenau’s Mephistopheles is more vivid than Faust himself, which naturally did not escape Liszt’s attention.
Mephisto Waltz No 1 (with the secondary title The Dance in the Village Inn, an episode from Lenau’s Faust) was composed between 1856 and 1861 and was orchestrated immediately. The waltz deceptively opens with an imitation of a village orchestra tuning up and goes on to develop into an entire symphonic poem, a veritable apotheosis of the romantic waltz which appears languorous, fantastic and demonic... to conclude in phantasmagoria. Moreover, the first Mephisto Waltz, dedicated to virtuoso pianist Carl Tausig, is a staggeringly brilliant concert piece!
Of all the compositions for piano solo by Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, a great pianist himself, miniatures stand predominant: preludes, moments musicaux and études-tableaux... Written in the autumn of 1892, the nineteen-year-old composer gave his five solo piano pieces a common title – Morceaux pour piano, Op. 3. First performed by the young composer at the Electrical Exhibition in Moscow on 26 September 1892, the Prelude in C Sharp Minor from this opus literally electrified the audience. Stunning success accompanied the prelude when it was performed in Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA – there came a “cascade” of publications of the sheet music, recordings on mechanical piano (the gramophone record industry had yet to develop fully) and all sorts of orchestral versions (including jazz ones)...
“The man who composed the Prelude in C Sharp Minor” was the accolade awarded by British newspapers to the young Sergei Rachmaninoff, who conducted his symphonic poem The Rock in London in the spring of 1899 and who performed solo piano recitals. Whatever the Russian pianist performed the audience wouldn’t let him leave the stage until, as an encore, he played the Prelude that left other stage hits in the shade...
It is amazing, but several other pieces from this first published anthology of works for piano by Rachmaninoff (Elégie, Polichinelle) also achieved enviable popularity. Their only rival is the Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23 No 5, in equal demand by audiences in general and musicians alike, be they amateurs or virtuosi.
The romantic surge and stormy drama in some of the composer’s piano miniatures interchange with poetic, lyrically contemplative country landscapes, scenes of nature and genre sketches. When the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi took it upon himself to orchestrate the Études-tableaux, Rachmaninoff even resolved to add several programme names. For example, Étude-tableau in A Minor, Op. 39 No 2 was given the title The Sea and the Seagulls, while Étude-tableau in A Minor, Op. 39 No 6, according to Rachmaninoff, is “an inspired tale of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.” Rachmaninoff included an explanation of the Eastern flavour in a letter to Respighi in addition to his remark about Étude-tableau in D Major, Op. 39 No 9 – Tempo di marcia. The Prelude in G Sharp Minor, Op. 32 No&bnsp;12 – one of the pearls of Rachmaninoff’s lyricism – is imbued with the vast boundless expanses of Russia’s lands, Gogol’s “troika-bird”, and it unintentionally brings to mind something incredibly close to the Russian heart: “Monotonously tolls the bell...” Meanwhile, the virtuoso Fugue in D Minor, which Rachmaninoff wrote when he was a student in the class of Anton Arensky, was a forerunner of the Moment Musical in E Minor, Op. 16 No 4.
Piano Sonata No7nbsp;2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 36 was composed in the spring and summer of 1913 in Ivanovka using sketches made by Rachmaninoff earlier in the year in Rome. In 1931 the composer created a second version of the sonata, making a series of cuts and structural amendments. The romantically adorned three-part sonata is contiguous in style with Rachmaninoff’s late preludes (Op. 32) and études-tableaux. The parts follow without interruption, which gives the sonata the features of a compact, one-part, separate concert cycle.