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Franz Liszt is a composer which, I feel, doesn't have the appreciation he deserves on this forum.

Thus, I wanted to start a discussion with other people, about Franz Liszts place in musical composition. 

He certainly was a genius, no denying that, he wrote in a very extraordinary way and even though he composed pieces that were impossible to play, basically just to prove he can play them, they sound utterly beautiful.

My absolute favorite composition by Liszt is definetly Liszt's Totentanz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGBXA1tBiLw)

In my opinion Liszt's Rondo fantastique el contrabandista is to date the most difficult piece of music to have ever been performed and mastered by any musician.

Some people might argue, that there are much more difficult pieces of music that have been performed by humans. But not Feux Follets, not La Campanella and not Mazeppa can match the piece in difficulty. 

Other than being the most difficult piece, in my opinion, El Contrabandista is a wonderful piece with a beautiful tremolo and stormy end sections.

Do other users feel the same about Liszt (Which I would frankly rank as my 2nd-3rd favorite composer, only suceeded by Bach and perhaps Beethoven) or do they have vastly different opinions?

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I don't really listen to piano music, though I must know some Liszt without knowing it, but Totentanz seems about the worst introduction to him I could personally have! I'm completely unmoved by it. The difficulty of a piece isn't the first thing I look for. From what I've heard, I'd far rather listen to Chopin. Perhaps you can recommend something less marked by thunderous dissonant virtuosity - not that any of those qualities are bad in themselves.

My favorite among Liszt's transcendental etudes is Chasse-neige ("blizzard"). It is mostly soft and subdued, but only an incredibly talented pianist can pull off the right effect, because it is also exceedingly difficult to play. :-D  The way virtuosic techniques are exploited to give the impression of a snowstorm is simply astounding.



Dave Dexter said:

I don't really listen to piano music, though I must know some Liszt without knowing it, but Totentanz seems about the worst introduction to him I could personally have! I'm completely unmoved by it. The difficulty of a piece isn't the first thing I look for. From what I've heard, I'd far rather listen to Chopin. Perhaps you can recommend something less marked by thunderous dissonant virtuosity - not that any of those qualities are bad in themselves.

Liszt composed multiple pieces that are not dissonant in any way, Totentanz is my personal favorite because I am a big fan of dissonant and thunderous music.

I'd never first look at the difficulty of the piece, nobody with the right mind would choose their favorite composition. I just find it extraordinary, that Liszt's expertise and technical abilities reached so far, that he could create beautiful music that noone could play.

If you don't really listen to piano music, I assume you also don't listen to organ music, which Liszt also composed for.

You could listen to La Campanella by Liszt, that maybe better for someone who doesn't like dissonant or loud music. Personally I find Chopin to be a fine composer, I don't particularly get excited for him, I do however like one or two of his compositions alot.

Liszt wrote some amazing music and a whole lot of crap. The Sonata in b minor is beautifully composed, pianistically amazing, attractive and moving music. So is Un Sospiro. The Prelude and Fugue on BACH for organ is a fine work. Having said that Liszt also wrote music that's lots of arpeggios and scales, but precious little actual music.

You say you like dissonant and thunderous music, that's your preference and Liszt certainly composed lots of it. Just understand that loud and fast music doesn't impress everyone.

Fabian, I would find it difficult to rank Listz. Obviously a creative genius and virtuoso,

but somehow, at least to me, in a class different than Bach and Beethoven and Mozart

and Hayden and others etc.

I think it is that element of 'performance showmanship' that permeates his music and

simply puts him in a different 'class' of composers. Though I haven't listened to much

of Listz, what I have heard is always 'creatively entertaining' and usually demonstrates

the unique versatility of the piano.

ps- I love to watch a talented performers fingers 'dance' on a keyboard.   RS

I'm not sure why you'd say that Rondo is Liszt's most difficult work. I would say the Sonata in B minor would be the hardest, musically, whereas some of the transcriptions/paraphrases/arrangements are definitely more challenging in terms of technique. And if we are to go there, I would say playing Chopin's op. 25 no 10 legato without any pedal throughout the outer sections would be the most impressive thing to pull off, if unnecessary, unstylistic and even unartistic.

A lot of Liszt is overly complicated, for me. Chopin was much more masterful when it came to balance and proportion (in every imaginable application of the terms: form, harmony, texture, physical difficulty, etc.). And I like Chopin's pianistic textures, whereas Liszt's seem too much of an inadequate orchestral translation for me (post-1840 or so, anyway). But Liszt was very inventive with rhythm and metre.

Yes, Liszt was undeniably a genius, but so was every other canon composer from that era...? I'd be hard-pressed to name a composer whose music we still remember who wasn't intellectually gifted in some way.

Gnomenreigen is among my favorite piano compositions. I respect the man's astounding performance capabilities, though as far as his actual compositions go, I'm still yet to get familiar with Franz's works. 


Nate Fain said:

I'm not sure why you'd say that Rondo is Liszt's most difficult work. I would say the Sonata in B minor would be the hardest, musically, whereas some of the transcriptions/paraphrases/arrangements are definitely more challenging in terms of technique. And if we are to go there, I would say playing Chopin's op. 25 no 10 legato without any pedal throughout the outer sections would be the most impressive thing to pull off, if unnecessary, unstylistic and even unartistic.

A lot of Liszt is overly complicated, for me. Chopin was much more masterful when it came to balance and proportion (in every imaginable application of the terms: form, harmony, texture, physical difficulty, etc.). And I like Chopin's pianistic textures, whereas Liszt's seem too much of an inadequate orchestral translation for me (post-1840 or so, anyway). But Liszt was very inventive with rhythm and metre.

Yes, Liszt was undeniably a genius, but so was every other canon composer from that era...? I'd be hard-pressed to name a composer whose music we still remember who wasn't intellectually gifted in some way.

I know the Sonata in B minor very well, and it is certainly a great piece by Liszt.

However, measuring objective evidence Rondo fantastique is still on another difficulty level.

What makes Rondo fantastique so difficult, is the endless skips (especially at the end), that stretch far wider than anything that can be seen in the Sonata in B Minor.

Hitting those notes is a gamble, no matter how hard you practice. Most of the Sonata in B minor is actually pretty manageable for a master pianist.

However Rondo fantastique has been repeatedly described as "Virtually unplayable" and "Not worth the effort". Valentina Lisitsa called it the most challenging piece of music she has ever encountered.

Even though the Sonata in B Minor is certainly beautifully difficult, when you study both pieces objectively Rondo fantastique is clearly more difficult. I say this with great confidence, because I love both pieces and have gone through both scores countless times, even trying some of the passages and the subjective and objective evidence suggests that those skips Rondo fantastique has at the end can only be played after countless tries.

There is to my knowledge no person that has ever performed Rondo live. Valentina lisitsa is the only one that I can find that has ever played it perfectly (I have heard other recordings, they have plentiful mistakes).

To prevent misunderstanding by others that might read this comment: It is not useless or wrong to talk about the difficulty of a piece as a big factor in it's beauty, however I don't love these pieces just because they're difficult, I rather find the difficulty of these pieces fascinating.

I have to admit though, a lot of Liszt is overrated. However Chopin doesn't really intrigue me as much. 

Lol. The German music discourse remains ever so quaint. The 'objective' evidence of what? Sure, you can measure stretches (that's where the 'objectivity' lies, I suppose). Let's take it for grated that you are correct, anyway, about the stretches in the rondo being much wider than anything to be found in the B minor sonata (Which skips are you referring to? I would appreciate it if you could provide time-stamps in this video of a score, as that would make discussing this much easier. Is it 9:37 onwards that you mean?). But what makes stretches the deciding factor? Does the context of the stretches make a difference? How? Would the majority of pianists rate stretches as the 'objectively most difficult' component in piano-playing? Whom do we include in this survey? Is the difficulty of an isolated element of piano-playing directly comparable to another? How would you calculate the sum total of a piece's 'objective difficulty'? Is there some model for 'objective difficulty'? Let's say you come up with one. How different would this be from saying, 'these are my subjective reasons for why I think the Rondo fantastique is the most difficult piece ever'? (Hint: Not really. Why? Couching subjective reasoning in mathematical language does not make it 'objective', especially when the concept--difficulty--is subjective at its core.) I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Don't get me wrong; you (and others whom you quote, named and unnamed) are certainly entitled to think that the Rondo fantastique is the most difficult piece ever. I just found the 'objective' reasoning insupportable.



Fabian Frost said:


Nate Fain said:

I'm not sure why you'd say that Rondo is Liszt's most difficult work. I would say the Sonata in B minor would be the hardest, musically, whereas some of the transcriptions/paraphrases/arrangements are definitely more challenging in terms of technique. And if we are to go there, I would say playing Chopin's op. 25 no 10 legato without any pedal throughout the outer sections would be the most impressive thing to pull off, if unnecessary, unstylistic and even unartistic.

A lot of Liszt is overly complicated, for me. Chopin was much more masterful when it came to balance and proportion (in every imaginable application of the terms: form, harmony, texture, physical difficulty, etc.). And I like Chopin's pianistic textures, whereas Liszt's seem too much of an inadequate orchestral translation for me (post-1840 or so, anyway). But Liszt was very inventive with rhythm and metre.

Yes, Liszt was undeniably a genius, but so was every other canon composer from that era...? I'd be hard-pressed to name a composer whose music we still remember who wasn't intellectually gifted in some way.

I know the Sonata in B minor very well, and it is certainly a great piece by Liszt.

However, measuring objective evidence Rondo fantastique is still on another difficulty level.

What makes Rondo fantastique so difficult, is the endless skips (especially at the end), that stretch far wider than anything that can be seen in the Sonata in B Minor.

Hitting those notes is a gamble, no matter how hard you practice. Most of the Sonata in B minor is actually pretty manageable for a master pianist.

However Rondo fantastique has been repeatedly described as "Virtually unplayable" and "Not worth the effort". Valentina Lisitsa called it the most challenging piece of music she has ever encountered.

Even though the Sonata in B Minor is certainly beautifully difficult, when you study both pieces objectively Rondo fantastique is clearly more difficult. I say this with great confidence, because I love both pieces and have gone through both scores countless times, even trying some of the passages and the subjective and objective evidence suggests that those skips Rondo fantastique has at the end can only be played after countless tries.

There is to my knowledge no person that has ever performed Rondo live. Valentina lisitsa is the only one that I can find that has ever played it perfectly (I have heard other recordings, they have plentiful mistakes).

To prevent misunderstanding by others that might read this comment: It is not useless or wrong to talk about the difficulty of a piece as a big factor in it's beauty, however I don't love these pieces just because they're difficult, I rather find the difficulty of these pieces fascinating.

I have to admit though, a lot of Liszt is overrated. However Chopin doesn't really intrigue me as much. 

Of the three compositions mentioned above-Totentanz, the B minor Sonata, and the Rondo fantastique I feel the Sonata is the most impressive musically of all. For me this musicality basically boils down to virtuosity, but only in servitude to musical expression.

This of course, and all written here are just my personal opinions--but the Rondo (I only lasted about two minutes listening to it), seemed to me to be lacking in musical expression, and the virtuosity fell short of impressing me , as I very much felt the emptiness of a non supporting expressive framework beneath it.

These are just personal opinions and observations and are not meant to insult anyone, ie the OP and composer himself and I just offer them as such.

Liszt's place in musical history seems assured, and I feel the B minor Sonata has contributed to this greatly.

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

I love Franz Liszt's works, although I'm a pleb and listen to the orchestral versions.  I have found good recordings of the Hungarian Rhapsodies on piano though.  I usually skip No. 2 because that is the most overused one.  It isn't a comeplete set of recordings though.  

Totentanz has a special place in my heart.  It was one of the earlier musical pieces that I started listening to, and truly the first that I listened to at least once a day for a time.  

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