This year, the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) birth, many performers and presenters are commemorating that by playing some of his music on their programs, but relatively few are devoting entire ones to it. After all, Liszt himself probably devoted relatively few of his own recitals entirely to his own works, if by that one means those composed from inspiration; a large portion of his works were based on or started with music by others. New York City-based pianist Rorianne Schrade did give all-Liszt program Sunday afternoon, July 24, at the annual Sevenars Festival. Member of the Schrade family of pianists — parents and five children (some of whom are no longer performing in public) — all have names that begin with the letter ‘R,’ giving rise to the name of the music festival that they have been hosting in South Worthington, MA, since 1968. Homemade refreshments (often including some by the members of the family) are always served at the intermission.
It is always interesting and valuable to examine the works a performer chooses in order to assemble a recital program to see their interrelationships. Schrade’s recital featured the famous – and famously difficult – approximately thirty-five-minute monumental single-movement Sonata in b, S.158 (1852-53), for the entire second half. She sought to offer a representative variety of the composer’s other types of works on the first half, which opened and closed with ones that used works or melodies of other composers: the transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in a, BWV 543 for organ by J.S. Bach, S. 462 (1862), and the Paraphrase on a Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, S. 407 (1861). The aims of the two treatments are different: a transcription seeks to transfer the music to another instrument for a different effect; a paraphrase seeks to develop and expand a melody transforming it into something new, often of significant bravura and virtuosity.
These works enclosed four others of three different compositional types that were representative and somewhat interrelated. The first was the “Wilde Jagd,” No. 8 of the Douze études d’exécution transcendante, S. 139, which Liszt began in 1826, rewrote in 1837, and revised in 1852, all of which are difficult and virtuosic. Liszt was attracted to nature and wrote three Années de pèlerinage collecting pieces inspired by places he visited and texts he read; a successive pair (Nos. 2 & 3) of those from the Première Année, Suisse, S. 160 (Switzerland, 1855, composed 1848-1854, but actually mostly revisions of works in the 1842 Album d’un voyageur, composed 1835-36). “Au Lac de Wallenstadt” and “Pastorale” followed, transitioning by subject from the “Wilde Jagd” to more tranquil, contemplative, and quieter works. The water subject broached by them was extended in “St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots,” No. 2 from Deux Legendes, S. 175 (1862-63), in which the water becomes more active and roiling, the piece ending in a sort of triumphal hymn tune. These three were performed as a set. The fourth, the “Valse-Caprice” No. 6 (of 9) from Soirées de Vienne, S. 427 (1846-52, No. 6 rev. 1879), works based on the music of Franz Schubert that lie between the transcription and the paraphrase because the development and recombination somewhat take precedence over the bravura and virtuosity, closed the group and led in to the paraphrase.
Each member of the Schrade family is a Steinway artist, as is the entire family as a unit, the first such to be so named.) Rorianne Schrade varied her handling of the Steinway concert grand according to the nature of each work. For the Bach transcription, she obtained a depth and volume that suggested the organ. The hunting horn calls of the “Wilde Jagd” rang clear. The two pieces from Suisse were a calm, peaceful interlude. The waves of the sea were less deafening than some of the louder chords in other bravura moments elsewhere. The Schubert-inspired waltz was more delicate than the Gounod. She told the audience that this was the maiden voyage of the Sonata, having learned it several years earlier and promptly broken her left wrist, so was unable to perform anything, and not taken it up again until now. She successfully navigated its dangerous waters and perilous shoals and arrived safely at the final shore. The work itself is a sort of round-trip voyage that ends up back at the quiet notes with which it begins after rising to several climaxes and setting out again from them, and offering many opportunities for memory lapses, none of which hers took. She is an all-about-the-business sort of player, whose business is executing the music impeccably, without any nonsense, but with lots of expression, often with a large Romantic interpretative style, appropriate for this music.
These concerts are informal, more like salon performances, so the printed program is always a single sheet listing the works in order without any further information. Dates of composition and Searle numbers did not appear. Both of those are quite complex for Liszt’s works because of his constant revisions, so I have added them here for BMInt readers. Schrade supplied in addition a very full sheet of notes on the program that she wrote herself like a letter to her listeners, giving information about the each piece. The musicians never view the informality as an opportunity to slack off, and the audience is always affectionate and appreciative. Schrade will present the same recital in Carnegie Hall on October 23.
Liszt played many different makes of pianos, but did not know Steinways like our modern ones. He was notoriously hard of the ones he played, pushing them to their limits and wanting them to produce more sound than they were capable of. Indeed, this was one of the reasons that makers sought to make their instruments stronger and louder and that led to the development of the cast iron frame in the mid-19th century. His preferred make was Érard; he owned more than one. Readers will be able to hear his Sonata in b performed on an Érard instrument (albeit not one like those he owned, but he may well have played a similar one in a public concert) when Junghwa Lee plays the 1877 Extra-grand model de concert , in the Frederick Collection in Ashburnham on October 2.
Marvin J. Ward, a retired translator and teacher of French (Ph.D., UNC Chapel Hill), has been writing for Classical Voice of North Carolina, a professional journal, for a decade and was founding Executive Editor of Classical Voice of New England through December, 2009.