While considering Liszt’s Paganini Etudes, a few other points should be mentioned -Busoni also made piano transcriptions of Paganini’s Caprices, as did Schumann. Liszt dedicated both his 1838 and 1851 editions to Madame Clara Schumann, who, née Wieck, was one of the finest pianists of her generation; sadly her attitude towards Liszt became increasingly hostile, as did her husband’s. It is probably unlikely that she ever performed any of these pieces.
But to return to the Etudes – above left is a reproduction of Paganini’s first Caprice for violin, in the composer’s manuscript. Below right is Liszt’s piano transcription in the 1851 version –
and even at this small size, the resemblance is apparent. It appears as Etude no 4; Liszt replaces the bowing technique demanded of the violinist with the need for a delicate, springy piano touch, the LH frequently crossing over the RH, the double-stops replaced by staccato thirds in the pianist’s RH.
In E Major, it is followed by another in the same key, ‘La Chasse’. We visit the familiar musical territory of the hunt with its instrumental calls; even Paganini demands this of the violinist, writing ‘Sulla Tastiera imitando il Flauto’ (playing over the fingerboard imitating the flute) and ‘imitando il Corno sulla 3a e 4a corda’ (imitating the horn on the 3rd and 4th string). Liszt’s pianist is asked to do the same, without reference to fingerboard or strings. This is a delightful piece, playful, leaping about con bravura at times, but leggero, and, after a perdendosi dying away towards the end, two final loud chords. Liszt had a sense of humour. Here is Gilels:
Liszt concludes his six Grandes Etudes de Paganini with Paganini’s concluding Caprice, No 24. It is a Theme and Variations, and the theme is well known, having been used by many composers since Paganini – Rachmaninov, Lutoslawski, Brahms and Lloyd Webber spring to mind. Paganini’s variations run the gamut of violin technique; Liszt’s do likewise, pianistically. One can almost sense Liszt relishing the challenges of each short, sixteen-bar variation testing yet another technical feature. Clarity, evenness, octaves, staccato thirds, leaps, alternating hands, trills, arpeggios – the list goes on, but this catalogue of technical skills has to be put to musical use rather than mere gymnastic display.
Here is Alexander Lubyantsev.