Q. How does a titanic musician like Franz Liszt pay homage to another composer?
Through his fingers, naturally. Another formidable pianist, one from our own time has a new CD of Liszt’s music. Yes, WFMT is hitting Verdi hard this week, but this CD is no exception: the music of Verdi thunders forth in this new release by Valentina Lisitsa. Here’s The New Releases Host Lisa Flynn to answer some questions about the two Romantic composers.
The New Release of the Week would seem like a break from our big focus on Verdi, but not really, right?
Valentina Lisitsa’s new recording gives us a small sample of Liszt’s incredible range as a pianist and composer. It includes some of his most challenging original pieces but also shows what an amazing arranger he was. Lisitsa performs the paraphrase (essentially a 19th-century remix) of themes from Verdi’s Aida. Liszt interweaves the sacred dance from the first act with the duet that the entombed Aida and Radamès sing at the end of the opera.
Do you think Liszt felt much connection to Italy and Verdi’s world?
Liszt spent a lot of time in Italy, living there several times during his life. He loved the culture, the language and the beauty of the country, and the music, especially opera, made a huge impact on him. Next to Wagner, Verdi was the opera composer whose works inspired the greatest number of arrangements by Liszt.
How do you think these pieces came about? They’re so free. They almost sound improvised.
From accounts of the time, Liszt was an astounding improviser. One of his students described the abandonment and liberated feeling in his playing. Many of the works on this program probably began as improvisations. But, as Valentina Lisitsa has said, Liszt was very meticulous in the way he wrote the music and the tempo and articulation markings. Somehow, he was able to capture that sense of freedom and put it on paper.