Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was the rock star of his day. His piano skills and stage presence dazzled his audiences with sounds and emotional drama that had not been experienced before by concert goers. People would toss handkerchiefs onstage and climb over each other to try and grab a piece of his clothing. Fainting at his concerts was not uncommon. Because of all these theatrics, Liszt was not taken as seriously as a composer in the years following his death up until fairly recently. Now scholars are taking another look at his compositions and discovering that they do hold up to the passing of time and critical scrutiny. And furthermore, his music is still very rewarding to play and enjoyable to hear! While many of his compositions do have in them the gratuitous “show-off” passages, there is still enough real substance and emotional depth to make them worth studying, and the skills they require from the pianist, if gained, will equip one with a formidable technique.
This week’s piece is La Campanella, or the little bell, which is No. 3 of the six Paganini Etudes. It begins with the sound of this little bell which continues to grow with both range of the piano and intensity. See if you can find the pitch of this bell on the piano. Can you guess the time signature? Listen carefully to the wide range of dynamics that this piece demands. I’ve posted two different performances of the same piece. Can you hear any differences between the two? Imagine yourself, someday playing this wonderful piece!