Liszt’s Late Pieces 1880-1885

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Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was undoubtedly a towering giant among the pianist-composers of the nineteenth century, but the significance of his late piano pieces has been the subject of much debate.

On the one hand these works are considered heralds of the elderly Liszt’s waning inspiration; on the other, they are often praised as visionary pieces, stark in their radical simplicity, bold in their chromaticism and opaque relationship to the highly evolved tonal system of their time.

Dusting off some of these most remarkable compositions, a new edition by Michael Kube has recently been published by Bärenreiter, which deserves investigation by players, teachers and academics alike…

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Celebrating Saint-Saëns

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Centenary years offer an opportunity to celebrate and perhaps reevaluate the works of significant composers from earlier times, and in 2021 (to be precise, on 16th December) we mark the 100-year anniversary of the death of the great French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).

Though best known for orchestral works, including the universally-known Carnival of the Animals, the Danse macabre, the ‘Organ’ Symphony, and his concertos (including five for piano and orchestra), Saint-Saëns also composed a significant body of solo piano music which, these days, is too little played.

This is no doubt in part because his Liszt-inspired writing renders Saint-Saëns’ solo piano music inaccessible to all but the most advanced virtuosi. Pedagogy occupied little of the composer’s time: a fairly brief stint at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris and thereafter occasional coaching (his students including Godowsky). The result: no music composed for formative educational purposes, pre-diploma.

Saint-Saëns’ legacy has suffered in other ways too, including a not entirely fair perception that his music, though sparkling, is essentially superficial. His infamous derision for younger contemporaries such as Debussy and Milhaud no-doubt further alienated him from the public of his later years.

In this revisitation and celebration of Saint-Saëns’ piano music, I will explore three publications from Éditions Durand, who are regarded as the definitive publishers of this repertoire: Œuvres pour piano books I and II, and The Best of Saint-Saëns, a collection of thirteen miscellaneous pieces.

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