A look beyond the virtuosity of Romanticism’s piano superstar.
Pianist Paul Roberts recasts Franz Liszt as a composer of poetic feeling rather than just a purveyor of technical brilliance. Reading Franz Liszt: Revealing the Poetry behind the Piano Music immerses readers in Liszt’s world through a vivid exploration of his most beloved pieces and the literature that inspired them—from Petrarch’s love poetry to the sensibilities of Byron, Sénancour, Goethe, and others. The origins of artistic inspiration can be obscure. However, for Franz Liszt, literary quotations in his scores provide fascinating insights into the sources of his creative imagination, revealing a breadth of reading that inspired some of the greatest piano music of all time.
A knowledge of the writers whom Liszt revered and often quoted at length enriches an understanding and appreciation of his music. Roberts shows how Liszt in his pioneering piano works created a new concept of musical expression comparable to the emotional and dramatic power of the opera and novel. This book leads us into the essence of Liszt’s poetic world, revealing the relevance of his literary inspiration for today’s listeners as well as for performers coming to terms with its expressive demands.
Paul Roberts is a British concert pianist and a leading practitioner of French music. He is a professor of piano and a fellow of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, and is director of Music at Chateau d'Aix, an international summer school for pianists. He is the author of Reflections: The Piano Music of Maurice Ravel and Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy.
List of Figures
Introduction: Making a Sound
Chapter 1: Life, Literature, and Music
Chapter 2: The Pianist as Actor
Chapter 3: The music of desire — Petrarch Sonnets
Chapter 4: The question of Goethe’s Faust — Sonata in B minor
Chapter 5: Music as metaphor — Sonata in B minor
Chapter 6: The Romantic Image — ‘Vallée d’Obermann'
Chapter 7: The aura of Byron — Années de pèlerinage—Suisse
Chapter 8: Mental theatre — Années de pèlerinage—Suisse
Chapter 9: Music and Poetry — Dante Sonata
Appendix: Lamartine; Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust; The Two St. Francis Legends; Thomas Wyatt’s translation of Petrarch’s sonnet “Pace non trovo”; A note on “Mazeppa" and an Afterthought
About the Author
Critics have often described Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s (1811–86) music as showy and bombastic, but in this book the British concert pianist Roberts seeks the poetry behind Liszt’s compositions. The book seeks Liszt’s influences (which Roberts argues include Petrarch’s Sonnets, Goethe’s Faust, and the poetry of Lord Byron). Frequently, Roberts has as much (or even more) to say about these literary works as about Liszt’s compositions. The text is accompanied by numerous illustrations and citations from Liszt’s scores. Readers looking for a musical biography of Liszt will find here instead an excursion through European culture of the 19th century and earlier. Roberts’ accessible style reads like a conversation with his erudite friends.
No pianist interpreting the music of Liszt should deny themselves the wealth of inspiration and insight that this book offers. It is a duty of anyone who performs his piano music to understand the spirit in which it was written and to be able to see its multi-dimensionality. Paul Roberts has performed a priceless service to those who are sympathetic to Liszt’s genius.
This book reflects a deep understanding of Liszt based on a lifetime’s experience and conveys the broader intersection of prose and poetry with art and music, and in the end, with life. The writing is that of a true poet, and I shall be returning again and again to its pages.
This is a moving portrait of Liszt, revealed with eloquence and passion. It is stimulating and accessible, and a must read for artists and music lovers.