Liszt Totentanz, S. 126/2

Totentaz, Paraphrase über Dies Irae (Dance of the Dead, Paraphrase on Dies Irae), S. 126 is a symphonic piece for solo piano and orchestra by Franz Liszt, notable for being based on the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies Irae as well as for daring stylistic innovations. The piece was originally planned in 1838 and completed in 1849; it was then revised twice in 1853 and 1859. The romantic age saw a surge of fascination with everything medieval, and a musical aspect of that may be found in the last movement of the Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz which quotes the Dies Irae (Day of Judgment) melody in a shockingly modernistic manner. In 1830 Liszt attended the first performance and was struck by its powerful originality. Liszt was inspired to write his own piece on the melody, and he came up with the idea for Totentanz around 1838, though the piece would only materialize ten years later. Revisions followed in 1853 and 1859, and its final form was first performed at The Hague on 15 April 1865 by Liszt’s student Hans von Bülow, to whom the work is dedicated. Since it is based on Gregorian material, Liszt’s Totentanz contains Medieval sounding passages with canonic counterpoint, but by far the most innovative aspect of the scoring is the shockingly modernistic, even percussive, nature of the piano part. The opening comes surprisingly close to the introduction in Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, a work composed almost a hundred years later. This may be no coincidence since Bartók frequently performed Liszt’s Totentanz. Other modernistic features are the toccata like sections where the pianist’s repeated notes beat with diabolic intensity and special sound effects in the orchestra—for example, the col legno in the strings sound like shuddering or clanking bones. Like most Liszt pieces, a number of versions exist. Besides the first version of the Totentanz a De Profundis version has been prepared from manuscript sources by Ferruccio Busoni (1919). The standard version is the final third version of the piece (1859). Besides these a two piano as well as a solo piano version by Liszt can be found.


Neal O Doan - Totentanz



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