Vision and Eroica – Transcendental Etudes Nos 6 and 7

Vision – of what? The titles of the Transcendental Etudes were added long after the music was conceived. Vision gives the imagination a free rein. Berman’s recording is particularly atmospheric –

Lento, pesante, and we are in the serious, sombre key of G minor at the opening. And Liszt the polyglot gives us clear directions in Italian along the way: ben pronunziato ed espressivo il canto, leggero ed armoniosi gli arpeggi, a tempo ma largamente etc., not merely sprinkling a few familiar Italian terms here and there, but actually telling us how to play it, as if he were standing beside us as we learn the notes.

Although marked Lento, the chosen speed has to make sense of the musical line in the low register LH thumb, which must stand out in the foreground against a backdrop of RH arpeggiated figures, and above the rhythmic pulse of an off-beat, accented bass note. A free wrist and a relaxed lateral movement are needed for the arpeggios throughout, which cover a wide span. The piece also needs the ability to ‘see the wood, rather than the trees’ musically, pruning the inessentials so that the structure is evident. Liszt’s studies always incorporate more than one technical feature; octaves are also on the agenda, accuracy in leaps, tremolando, and a powerful, singing tone.

In the triumphant march Eroica, Transcendental Etude No 7 in the key of E flat major – as is Beethoven’s symphony of the same name – Liszt the polyglot is joined by Liszt the orchestrator and conductor. Following the introductory flourishes, the Tempo di Marcia (ma commodo, he advises) hints at the main theme quasi corni, and presents it fully quasi trombe, and we mustn’t forget sempre marcato il canto e piani  gli accompagnamenti while we’re playing it, either.

This study needs rhythmic vitality and precision, plus the clarity and incisive attack of good brass playing. There are opportunities to use the third pedal to sustain the march melody while playing the outlying chordal accompaniment, and keeping a careful eye on Liszt’s varied use of accent and tenuto signs will show how to point the phrases. The main theme makes a climactic appearance in double octaves towards the end. Start practising arpeggios and diminished sevenths in octaves now in order to tackle it. Terrific fun!

Here is Berezovsky –

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