November 4, Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Seully Hall, 8pm, Free Admission
An evening of passion and contemplation, where music becomes your gateway to profound and intimate emotions. Through the masterworks of C. Franck and L. van Beethoven, the piano transcends its boundaries, echoing both the grand organ and a full orchestra.
Franck, Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Beethoven – Liszt, Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 55 “Eroica”
1. Allegro con brio
2. Marcia funebre. Adagio assai
3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
4. Finale: Allegro molto
a towering figure of the Romantic era, gifted the music world with compositions that delicately balance emotion and architectural beauty. His “Prélude, Chorale, and Fugue” from 1884 stands out as a shining example of this mastery.
This composition is a heartfelt nod to Franck’s deep admiration for Johann Sebastian Bach. In an age dominated by free-form piano compositions, Franck boldly revived the intricate “fugue,” a form hailing from the Baroque period. However, Bach wasn’t the only inspiration. Echoes of Liszt’s virtuosity permeate the piece, while Franck’s fascination with Wagner’s revolutionary harmonic language is unmistakably present in its chromatic twists and turns.
Franck’s use of the cyclic form in this piece is nothing short of genius. As the three movements progress, listeners are treated to a recurring set of themes, weaving a sonic tapestry that combines familiarity with anticipation. But there’s more than just repetition at play here. Franck uses chromaticism, a technique of using notes not naturally belonging to the scale of the piece, to bring out a kaleidoscope of emotions. This interplay of harmonies adds layers of depth to the cyclic themes, making the experience rich and multifaceted.
One of Franck’s magical touches in this work is his ability to evoke the grandeur of an organ using just the piano. In the piece’s softer, more reflective episodes, the piano transcends its nature, sounding eerily reminiscent of a cathedral’s majestic organ. This rich texture, combined with moments of intense virtuosity, showcases Franck’s capacity to extract an expansive palette of sounds from a single instrument.
The culmination of the piece is a musical tapestry where all primary themes converge in a dramatic, cohesive resolution. This merging of themes stands as a testament to Franck’s genius in thematic development and integration.
In “Prélude, Chorale, and Fugue,” we witness the brilliance of Franck, where the structural discipline of Bach meets the virtuosity of Liszt and the harmonic innovations of Wagner. This composition offers a rich tapestry of sound, emotion, and technical brilliance, serving as both a delightful listening experience and a masterclass in Romantic piano composition.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3,
affectionately named “Eroica,” is a cornerstone in the pantheon of symphonic masterpieces. When Liszt transcribed this colossal orchestral work for solo piano, he not only showcased his own genius but also brought Beethoven’s brilliance closer to intimate settings.
Beethoven’s Third Symphony stands tall not just for its musical significance but also for its poignant backstory. Initially dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte as a beacon of democratic and anti-monarchical ideals, Beethoven’s admiration turned to dismay when Napoleon declared himself Emperor of the French. In a fit of disillusionment, Beethoven dramatically tore off the symphony’s title page bearing Napoleon’s name. What remained was a piece dedicated “to the memory of a great man.”
- Allegro con brio: This opening movement is known for its grandeur and ambitious scope. The development section, particularly, is expansively crafted, showcasing Beethoven’s knack for intricate thematic exploration and evolution.
- Marcia funebre. Adagio assai: The symphony’s second movement, a funeral march, is replete with gravitas and somber beauty. One can’t help but hear the echoes of a requiem, especially in the “Tuba mirum” segment, where Beethoven’s genius paints a vivid picture of the Last Judgment.
- Scherzo. Allegro vivace: Beethoven’s lively scherzo, a departure from the weightiness of the preceding movement, offers an energetic interlude, imbued with rhythm and vigor.
- Finale. Allegro molto: The final movement is a masterful set of variations. The theme around which these variations revolve is not just a casual choice; this infamous melody also makes appearances in Beethoven’s op. 35 and in his ballet music, intertwining different facets of his oeuvre.
Franz Liszt’s transcription is a testament to both his veneration for Beethoven and his own unparalleled pianistic prowess. Liszt, through these arrangements, had a two-fold mission: to popularize great orchestral and operatic works in settings where an orchestra was not feasible, and to elevate the piano to an orchestral stature. In his “Eroica” transcription, the piano is transformed into a one-man orchestra, capturing the symphony’s vast emotional and sonic landscape. This was not just an act of transcription but a labor of love, and a continuation of Liszt’s commitment to make monumental music accessible to wider audiences.