The present program aims a realization of the unique project – a historically correct combination of the two cycles of Transcendental Studies by F. Liszt and S. Lyapunov
The name of Franz Liszt stands for the quintessential in artistry: supernatural, exorbitant, transcendental. His universal vision, aesthetic ideals and gigantic pianistic prowess has ever served for generations of pianists as a symbol of the ultimate Romantic superhero, capable of bringing audiences to trance.
Not a performer only, but also a genius composer, Liszt created music that would suit his purpose. A set of Twelve Etudes of Transcendental Execution is a composition that expresses Liszt’s spirit at its best. However, despite the obvious in the title the opus serves a much broader spectrum of goals than just surmounting technical peaks. The cycle of etudes is an unsurpassed example of artistic principals and motifs of romanticism in piano music, such as description of nature and poetic contemplation, romantic vision and epic drama, philosophical thought and action in abundance. Following the doctrine of the transcendental philosophy, Liszt appeals here rather to the ideas of the «absolute» reality where music, poetry and theatre exist in some synthetic artistic mystery than aims to surpass his pianist-contenders.
No surprise that the cycle is one of Liszt’s most popular compositions among pianists. The Etudes have been widely played by generations of artists, in sets or as separate pieces. They are represented in all recording catalogues since the beginning of the recording era. There are more than a hundred recordings of the complete set of Etudes. Countless articles, surveys and books have been written about them. Yet one fact remains little known: that Liszt planned to write Etudes in all keys – twenty four in total – the project he never finished. Working down the circle of fifth with parallel keys he reached as far as b-flat-minor.
Sergey Lyapunov, one of the great representatives of the Russian romantiс tradition, Liszt’s adorer, protagonist of his ideas and a brilliant pianist himself, wrote a set of Twelve Etudes d’execution transcendante – all in keys Liszt didn’t use. He dedicated his work to the memory of Franz Liszt, thus completing the epic project, however not referring to the actual origin of the idea behind his oeuvre for reasons of modesty.
Back in 1994, the Russian-Swiss super-virtuoso Konstantin Scherbakov, famous for his adventurous programming ideas made his debut recording of Lyapunov`s 12 Etudes d’execution transcendante op. 11 for the discovery label «Marco Polo». The disc caused a sensation then, both for performance and music alike. It ignited Scherbakov’s intensive recording career, however soon becoming a rarity. Now, almost quarter of a century later Scherbakov comes back to Lyapunov’s cycle, bringing it into a unity with Liszt’s opus magnum in a truly transcendental attempt to restore the historical truth – a monstrously challenging enterprise, a real pianistic tour de force, the act of valour and selfless dedication!
Following the release of Scherbakov’s set of the complete Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies, the Steinway label has expressed interest in recording this unique project. Recording sessions took place at the Steinway Hall, New York in January 2018 and released in April 2019.
All in all this is an intriguing and enjoyable project to anticipate, for the piano connoisseurs and music lovers alike.
F. Liszt (1811-1886)
Twelve Études d’exécution transcendante S.139
— Prelude (C-Major)
The initial sketches of this mostly popular opus by Liszt refer to 1826. It came that time, when the cycle «Etudes for piano in the form of simultaneously composition and piano skill. The fifteen years old boy gave birth to the future material for «Twelve Etudes of Transcendental Execution».
The first twelve etudes among those 48 ones were written in the kind of a united cycle along flat tonalities —C-major, a-minor, F-major, d-minor, B-flat-major, g-minor, f-minor, D-flat-major, B- flat-minor.
The left 36 etudes were not composed at all. The second edition (thoroughly remade) was published in 1838. The final edition provided with the French title «d’execution transcendante» came into being in 1852.
Thus during 26 years the cycle was undergoing significant changes reflecting the evolution of Liszt’s piano outlook — from instructional pieces like Czerny’s «Velocity School», through brilliant virtuoso ones, to vivid romantic poems.
«It seems to me, — Liszt wrote to his teacher Czerny, whom the Etudes were dedicated to,- I achieved the apex, where the style is adequate to the musical idea».
Liszt’s etudes are sometimes nourished with titles of philosophical spirit, however pointing to paramusical purport. Only the First one ( «Preludio»), the second one (a-minor) and the Tenth one (f-minor) are nameless, the others’ names «Paysage», «Mazeppa», «Feuxfollets», «Vision», «Eroica», «WildeJagd», «Chasse-neige», «Ricordanza», «Harmonies du soir», «Blizzard») are inspired by the mythology of the romanticism. Actually all the etudes (with or without titles) maybe defined as the poems for piano, impetuous and passionate monologues revealing gigantic figure of Liszt in full magnitude, i.e. virtuoso, actor, philosopher, poet…
The definition transcendental execution was interpreted by Liszt much more extensive, than just perfect surmounting of technical peaks. Liszt acted according to Schelling’s doctrine of the transcendental philosophy, appealing to the lofty ideas of that absolute transcendental reality, standing behind all the visible world’s phenomena, where music, painting, poetry and theatre pour together in some synthetic artistic mystery.
Liszt himself was said to have almost bewitched the audience during his solo concerts. He seemed to serve this highest ritual, plunging everybody into hypnotic agitation. What was more in this effect: the superhuman artistic energy, individual force, or surreal piano technique? Paraphrasing Nietzsche’s aphorism Liszt could exclaim: «He would gain the desirable results in piano skill, who is striving for something supernatural, exorbitant, transcendental, i.e. excelling the borders of fleshy, carnal aspirations!»
None of Liszt’s opuses exposes the great master’s inner world so confessionary as the Transcendental Etudes, which are the kind of the virtuoso’s testament for pianist postulating his artistic principles.
Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924)
Twelve Études d’exécution transcendante op. 11
By the end of the 19th century, Western European romanticism developing and evolving rapidly, vanished in the works of Faure, the symphonic pieces of Dukes and the late compositions of Reger. In fact, the revolution in music which Debussy started in the West at the beginning of the 20th century signified the end of a great historical movement and, at the same time, marked the beginning of the new era producing the genius of Bartok, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schönberg and Messiaen. Russian romanticism, existing alongside the mainstream of Western music and having very specific national characteristics, was able to bridge the turn of the century. Romantic tradition and ideals were so solid that even the works of the pioneers of the «new music», such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Stravinsky, were deeply rooted in the aesthetics of romanticism. The smooth transition infused the «new music» with forms and ideas of truly Russian nature. Russia held firm in the struggle against new ideas, charged with energy in the effort to destroy the old world of romanticism with its stereotyped forms, its old symbols, old ideas and methods of composition. Some composers, e.g. Medtner and Rachmaninoff, did not accept the creative ideas and methods of the new movement, remained faithful to the «high and beautiful», while others, like Prokofiev and Stravinsky moving in different directions, paid tribute to the newest trends of modern music. It was the time of great names firmly connected with the democratic tendencies of the period. There was an impressive number of composers who kept alive and developed further the main Russian tradition, such as Liadov, Arensky, Taneyev and, of course, «The Mighty Handful» led by Balakirev. The powerful body of musical critics influenced greatly, in fact formed Russian taste, music and musical education including such outstanding musicians as Serov, Larosh and Stasov.
Sergei Michailovich Lyapunov belonged to the leading composers of that period. He was born on November 30th, 1859 (according to the new calendar, November 18th, 1859). He studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory with Pabst and Klindworth, composition with Sergei Taneyev. Two years after graduation, he moved to St. Petersburg where he was close to the circle «The Mighty Handful» under Balakirev. He became one of the first teachers at the «Free Music School» and its director from 1908 to 1911. Between 1910 and 1918, Lyapunov taught piano and composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His artistic and aesthetic ideals and convictions prompted him to join a scientific expedition researching ancient Russian folklore. He was an excellent virtuoso pianist and conductor. After the Great October Revolution in 1917 Lyapunov left Russia. He died in Paris on November 8th, 1924. The name of Lyapunov and his music, formerly well renowned throughout the Russian musical world, is now forgotten, though it still appears in music encyclopedias and reference works on musical history. His major compositions were piano music, i.e. two piano concertos, the «Ukrainian Rhapsody» for piano and orchestra, twelve «Transcendental Studies», a sonata and various other solo pieces.
The cycle of twelve «Transcendental Studies», written during the years 1897 to 1905 and dedicated to Franz Liszt, is one of Lyapunov’s best compositions. It follows traditional patterns established by Chopin and Liszt during the 19th century and continued by Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Scriabin during the 20th century. The term «Study» becomes somewhat arbitrary, possibly referring to a variety of sources; it is closely related to «Prelude», and might also be called «Descriptive Mood» or «Etude-Tableaux», titles used subsequently for the famous compositions by Rachmaninoff. However, the title «Transcendental Studies» was originated by Lyapunov as a continuation of Liszt's cycle of the same name. Apparently, Liszt planned to compose twenty-four studies in all keys but, starting with C-major, moving downwards by the circle of fifths and including parallel minor keys, he reached only as far as B-Minor. The concept was eventually realized by Lyapunov, who however did not refer to the actual origin of his musical attempt for reasons of modesty. His twelve studies continue the principle of the «circle of fifths» from F-sharp to E-Minor. Lyapunov's music, continuing the tradition of Russian piano romanticism and Russian music at the turn of the century in general, adheres to the aesthetic principles of European romanticism, of Schumann and Liszt. Two idols of Lyapunov, Balakirev and Liszt, influenced his music decisively, to the extent of his creations becoming a symbol of the union of those two inspirational sources: the West and Russia. Thus Stasov called him «Black Balakirev», not only because of his physical resemblance, but also because of the somber quality of his early works due to the influence of his oldest friend. Talking about Liszt, Balakirev is known to have said to Lyapunov: «Don't even try to escape his ever dominating influence». This is hardly surprising, Balakirev's influence being most powerful at the time, while Klindworth emphasized Liszt's pianistic inheritance simultaneously. Western in its «grand style concertante» and in true keeping with western piano romanticism, its classical clear forms, programme basis and subjects of it: woods, water, wind. Yet it is Russian in its interest to the Orient, images of Caucasus and Russian fairy tales, in use of the authentic melodies. And, at last, Lyapunov's personality equates that very Russian spirit, which pervades his entire artistic work powerfully. These two lines exist simultaneously. They do not resist or oppose each other, but, on the contrary, are united by musical contemplation and by the absence of active, heroical impulse. And at the end of the cycle this successful union is proclaimed most convincingly in the splendid and magnificent «Elegie», in which both themes merge within an apotheosis symbolizing the union between European and Russian artistic traditions.
As in many other instances, music considered secondary for a certain period of time remained in the shadow of works of great and renowned composers, buried in oblivion, but is eventually rediscovered and recognized in its true and lasting artistic value.
(Konstantin Scherbakov: CD-Programme notes, «Marco Polo» 8.223491 4, 1994)
12 Etudes d'Execution Transcendante, op. 11
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano
Marco Polo 8.223491, 1994
«Scherbakov tackles the outrageous pianistic hurdles of Lyapunov's Twelve Transcendental Studies, Op. 11, with utter assurance and an insight into the music that predicts a glittering career… he is an outstanding talent and am entirely sure that his name will be in very large lights very soon… The technique required to play this stuff has to be of the first order – nothing else would come close even to getting all the notes – but a real interpretation requires something else again: technique has to fade into insignificance for the musical demands to be addressed. Perhaps that's why not many pianists have tackled these pieces on record – you can imagine more than a few reputations coming to grief. I was very impressed by the recording I heard most recently, Malcolm Binns on Pearl, but much as I admire Binns, Scherbakov's apocalyptic performances have to take pride of place. Scherbakov has more assurance, finds more character in the music, more space for coloration; the weighting of the voices (often at terrifying speeds) is completely under control; the Russian-ness of the music is more fully realised; and he has a better recorded sound than Binns. Indeed, the control that Scherbakov exhibits is sometimes difficult for your ears to accept – and yet it is obvious that not a bit of this dazzling display is intended to dazzle: the technique is there to serve the music. Some of Marco Polo's missionary work for little-known music has been achieved by recording it with orchestras and conductors who get away with their insufficiencies in the music of, say, Tansman or Furtwängler because we're pleased merely to be able to hear the scores at last; here they have found a musician of the highest rank, playing music that demonstrates the measure of his abilities. Any concert agent with half a nous who comes across this disc will be sending a contract to Moscow before the afternoon post. Outstanding. No, more than that – superlative.» Martin Anderson, CD Review
«This is one of the best solo piano records ever made. From the opening bars of the Lullaby, rising slowly like incense, it casts a spell that is hard to break. Scherbakov's touch and delineation of melodic lines (often several at once) is faultless, he exercises dazzling velocity and clarity in runs and glittering passagework, and has a dynamic range from the whispered to the positively thunderous. This unjustly neglected music, fit to stand alongside the Transcendental Studies of Liszt (their inspiration), deserves a far wider audience for its colour, variety, and evocative power. Scherbakov is outstanding in the turbulent studies, conjuring up the swift, icy waters of a Caucasian torrent, the brooding menace of a Siberian storm and the mighty open spaces of Central Asia, yet equally impressive in delicate, perfumed twilight or the dances of ghosts and goblins by night. The most famous of the set, «Lesghinka», a whirl of Muslim tribesmen worthy of Balakirev, is given a typically concentrated and exciting performance, but the disc is worth the price alone for the final «Elegy in Memory of Franz Liszt». This Hungarian-Russian rhapsody, sombre, magnificent and finally triumphant, is played exultantly and with absolute command.» Amazon.com
«This disc is a must for pianofiles… Alpine level of pianism.» American Record Guide