Liszt Mephisto Polka, S.217

The Mephisto Polka, S. 217 is a piece of program music written in folk-dance style for solo piano by Franz Liszt in 1882-3. The work's program is the same as that of the same composer's four Mephisto Waltzes, written respectively in 1859-60, 1880–81, 1882 and 1885 and based on the legend of Faust, not by Goethe but by Lenau. The Mephisto Polka was dedicated to Lina Schmalhausen, one of Liszt’s “inner-circle” piano students. However, she is remembered more as one among the closest and most ardently devoted of Liszt’s followers, frequently attending to and assisting in the many needs of the aged master whose health was in rapid decline. This work appears the simplest and technically least challenging of all the Mephisto dances; except for the Bagatelle sans tonalité, it is also the shortest. Tonally, it is also mildest and can appear to be a fully tonal composition, with chromaticism limited to neighboring-tone and chordal sonority varieties. These passages are usually realized on the left hand in chordal or arpeggiated figures. However, the simplicity in notation disguises the true character of the music. There is no functional harmony to clearly create the relational behavior of tonic, dominant, and subdominant harmonic functions. If anything, the general impression of the music is modal, with the piece constantly in flux. Any suggested tonality is quickly undermined by the following sonority, which may in turn vaguely (and now even more weakly) suggest another tonal focus. The most haunting touch is at the end, when the piece simply stops without explanation.
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Mephisto Polka
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