CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Monday, February 27, 2012 | 7:30 PM

Simon Trpceski

Zankel Hall
From Macedonia to the world, Simon Trpčeski has established himself as one of the most remarkable young pianists to emerge in recent years, performing with the greatest orchestras and delighting audiences across the globe. With impeccable technique and delicate expression, he performs a virtuosic program that includes Schubert’s epic “Wanderer Fantasy.”
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The Program

FRANZ LISZT
Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (after J. S. Bach); Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 from Années de pèlerinage; Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-sharp Minor

About the Composer


A peerless virtuoso known for his “transcendental” keyboard technique, Liszt took Europe by storm as a young man. In the early-19th century, only a handful of performers, including violinist Nicolò Paganini and pianist Sigismund Thalberg, matched his star power. As audiences in city after city succumbed to “Lisztomania,” the Hungarian’s name became a byword for showmanship as well as pianistic prowess. In 1848, at the height of his fame, he virtually retired from the concert stage and devoted the rest of his life to composing, conducting, and proselytizing (with his future son-in-law, Richard Wagner) about the “Music of the Future.” In his piano music, symphonic tone poems, and vocal works, Liszt experimented with forms, harmonies, and sonorities that anticipated the musical language of impressionism and modernism.


About the Works


In addition to writing a prodigious number of original works for piano, Liszt made dozens of arrangements of other composers’ music, ranging from faithful transcriptions to freely creative fantasies and “paraphrases.” Among the fruits of his early exposure to Bach’s organ works is a set of six transcriptions published in 1852, including the A-Minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 543. Both the Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 and Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este appear in the three-part collection titled Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), composed between 1838 and 1882. The “pilgrimage” in question was both physical and spiritual: Some of the pieces relate to Liszt’s travels as an itinerant virtuoso, while others reflect his late-life decision to enter holy orders in the Catholic Church. The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 highlights Liszt’s nationalistic side. Written in the late 1840s, during Hungary’s war of independence from Austria, the score is dedicated to a prominent political reformer who served as ambassador to France during the short-lived Hungarian Republic.


A Closer Listen


Like Bach, Liszt was a master improviser, so it makes sense that he was drawn throughout his life to Bach’s keyboard works, which are essentially written-down improvisations. The majestic Prelude and Fugue in A Minor needed little adapting for the piano beyond the addition of occasional octaves to reinforce the bass line and simulate the organ pedal points. Both Bach’s lapidary harmonies and his labyrinthine figurations lent themselves readily to pianistic treatment. Liszt’s version, like all his transcriptions, succeeds in keeping faith with the original while sounding thoroughly idiomatic on its own terms.

Petrarch’s poetry captured Liszt’s imagination during his early sojourns in Italy. (It’s worth noting that Schubert, too, set three of Petrarch’s sonnets as lieder.) The Sonnet No. 104, from the second book of Années de pèlerinage, explores the conflicting emotional states engendered by love. Liszt’s impetuously syncopated octaves give way to a pensive, yearning melody, accompanied first by rolled chords, then restated con passione against surging arpeggios in the left hand—a reminder that Liszt originally conceived the piece as a song for tenor voice. The music builds to an ecstatic climax with dazzling roulades, chains of thirds, and other pyrotechnics, then subsides in an achingly tender coda reminiscent of the beginning.

In the three decades that separated the Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 from the religiously inspired pieces of the third book of Années de pèlerinage, Liszt the dashing salon idol reinvented himself as the pious Abbé Liszt, an ancient of days with a flowing mane of white hair. Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountains at the Villa d’Este)—with its harp-like arpeggios, tinkling tremolos, and polychromatic harmonies—magically evokes the play of light on jets of water. But Liszt makes his subliminal message clear in a footnote to the score, quoting from the Gospel of John: “For the water I give him will become in him a fountain of the eternal life.”

Liszt’s credentials as a musical ethnographer are questionable—not until Bartók and Kodály undertook their research in the first decade of the 20th century did Hungarian folk music become the subject of serious study—but there is no doubt about his enthusiasm for the subject. He took particular pleasure in the music of gypsy bands, which he imitated in his rousing Hungarian rhapsodies, much as Chopin imitated Polish folk music in his polonaises and mazurkas. The C-sharp–Minor Rhapsody is in two sections: the first bold and waywardly rhapsodic; the second light, capricious, and dancelike. Just before the end, an improvised cadenza provides an opportunity for a climactic display of devil-may-care bravura.


—Harry Haskell

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

FRANZ SCHUBERT
16 German Dances, D. 783

About the Composer


The same qualities that made Schubert a great song composer—his seemingly bottomless stockpile of melody, his ability to invest the simplest of musical phrases with dramatic significance, his quicksilver changes of keys and moods—are equally apparent in his solo piano music. If his sonatas combine the intimacy of the salon with a symphonic grandeur, Schubert’s dances, impromptus, and other short pieces distill the essence of his lyrical genius in its purest and most concentrated form. Like Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, each of these miniature musical narratives seems to express a subliminal text that transcends the bounds of spoken language. 

A contemporary account of Schubert’s piano playing attests the warmly lyrical, human-scaled tone he coaxed from the instrument—so different from the powerful, quasi-orchestral sound produced by string-snapping virtuosos like Beethoven and Liszt. After performing one of his sonatas at a private musical soirée in Vienna, the composer proudly reported that more than one listener had come up to him to say that “the keys became singing voices under my hands, which, if true, pleases me greatly, since I cannot endure the accursed chopping which even distinguished pianoforte players indulge in and which delights neither the ear nor the mind.”


About the Work


Schubert wrote more than 400 dances for piano, most of which were probably intended to be heard (and danced to) at the informal musical soirées known as “Schubertiads” and other social occasions. The set published in 1825 as Op. 33 (D. 783 in the modern Deutsch catalogue) comprised 16 “German dances”—a generic term that comprised ländler and waltzes, among other triple-time dances—plus two écossaises (omitted on our program). All were composed in 1823 and early 1824—that is, around the time Schubert was working on his song cycle Die schöne Müllerin, and the “Rosamunde” and “Death and the Maiden” string quartets.


A Closer Listen


Despite their conventional form (two short repeated phrases in 3/4 time) and lack of distinguishing titles, the German Dances are far from cookie-cutter productions. As in his lieder, Schubert achieves variety and sophistication by astonishingly simple means. The first dance, for example, proceeds in a straightforward “oom-pah-pah” rhythm, but the second features a dotted upbeat figure reminiscent of a barcarolle. The middle-of-the-bar accents in No. 5 impart a waltz-like swing, while tied notes mask the barlines and downbeats in No. 15. The dances are equally varied in the melodic department: Sweeping flourishes lend panache to No. 4; No. 11 is enlivened by wide leaps in the right hand; and turns and grace notes abound.


—Harry Haskell

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

FRANZ SCHUBERT
Fantasy in C Major, D. 760, “Wanderer Fantasy”

About the Work


Composed in November 1822, this majestic and boldly imaginative work anticipates the expansive time frames and formal structures of Schubert’s late piano sonatas. It takes its name from his song “Der Wanderer” (“The Wanderer”) of 1816, whose trudging theme forms the basis of a set of elaborate variations in the fantasy’s dark, brooding Adagio movement. The four movements, analogous to those of a Classical symphony, are separated by brief pauses rather than full cadences. The seamless transitions highlight the work’s cyclical structure, with the finale recalling both the tonality and the thematic material of the first movement. 


A Closer Listen


The thunderous C-major chords that open the Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo present the short figure in dactylic rhythm (long-short-short) that recurs throughout the fantasy as a unifying motif. Later in the movement, Schubert reverses the pattern (short-short-long) in a winsome countermelody. Modulating to the remote key of C-sharp minor for the Adagio, he further transforms it into a slow dirge and then, switching from duple to triple time, into a propulsive long-short-long figure in the scherzo-like Presto in A-flat major. In the final Allegro, the motif returns in its original key and rhythm, this time as the subject of a strenuous, stentorian fugato that steadily gathers momentum on its inexorable course toward a breathtaking, no-holds-barred climax of Lisztian splendor. 


—Harry Haskell

© 2012 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

This performance is part of Keyboard Virtuosos III: Keynotes.

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