Mária Comensoli, who studied under Bartók in the mid-1920s, reports that her teacher used “peculiar fingerings and peculiar wrist and arm technique.” Examining such comments and the recordings of the composer-pianist, it becomes clear that Bartók played the piano partly according to the 19th-century performance practice. He frequently played chords in arpeggio, even when there were no markings of arpeggio in the score, and he respected the tone color of each finger by relying on the technique of leaping. Contemporary documents suggest that one of Bartók’s technical advantages was the flexibility of his wrists. In Bartók’s case it may have been a fruit of a conscious training by István Thomán. The writings of the Liszt-pupil Thomán suggest that, like his master, he valued the “active” use of wrists, even though he basically supported the modern, “synthetic” piano technique propagated by Breithaupt, who consistently recommended the “passive” use of the wrists. It is likely that, through Thomán, Bartók learned many things from the 19th-century performance practice.
The gramophone recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G major, K. 453, featuring Ernst von Dohnányi as soloist and conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, made in 1928 for the Columbia Company, is important in many respects. The Hungarian pianist and composer made little more than a handful of gramophone recordings until the late 1940s. This performance is also the first audio recording ever to be published that contained a Mozart piano concerto (some piano rolls with concertos or extracts did exist beforehand). From the beginning of his career, Dohnányi had been one of the keenest promoters of the Austrian composer’s piano pieces. In the Columbia recording, the performing style of Dohnányi and his orchestra is characteristic of its time, notably because it chooses to use a flexible tempo. In addition, the soloist makes use of rubato and chord dislocation. Nonetheless, the performers are also playing in an intimate conversational tone and they emphasize Mozart’s structural clarity. The execution of themes by the pianist is both poetic and restrained. These traits will define the “mainstream” performing style of Mozart’s piano concertos over most of the twentieth century. An implicit aesthetic standard comes into force in the critical reviews of the Columbia records: Mozart’s piano concertos require lightness and gentleness from the soloist. The elements given prominence to the recording and in the reviews also appear in contemporary musicological literature and in texts on music. Recordings of two additional Mozart piano concertos (K. 271 and K. 503), played live by Dohnányi in the 1950s, display a broadly similar performing style. Over the ten years that followed the Columbia recording, the majority of Mozart’s “great” piano concertos were published on records. This newly found popular interest is connected with a positive re-evaluation of this group of Mozart’s works.
Musical artists in the 1830s were intrigued by Niccolò Paganini, with pianists being especially interested in transferring his music and style to their instrument. This article focuses on Paganini-inspired compositions by Carl Czerny, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Ignaz Moscheles, which focus on various aspects of the violinist’s artistry, including his performance style, his flair for the dramatic, pathetic, and unexpected, and his technical wizardry. Altogether these and other such works from the early 1830s provide a deeper context — arguably even a tradition — for Franz Liszt’s experimental compositions from the 1830s, particularly the “Clochette” Fantasy and the first version of the “Paganini” Etudes. Not only technically and performatively brilliant, these pieces also help establish the medium of mimesis as artistically valid. Liszt argued that this type of orientation was indispensable for the “artist of the future,” in which “virtuosity is a means, not an end.” Somewhat paradoxically then, after his death Paganini becomes the benchmark by which the transcendent artistry of composer-pianists is measured, and a baseline for further artistic experimentation. Thus Liszt’s return to Paganini in the 1840s and 1850s constitutes an ongoing effort to refine virtuosity in order to bring about artistic unification among musicians, regardless of instrumental specialty.
The article examines the topic of spleen (mal du siècle) as one of the main types of organization in the expressive structures of Liszt’s compositions. A series of relevant literary works are considered, which were read by Liszt and inspired a revolution in his musical language as early as 1834. The writings of Chateaubriand, Senancour, Byron (and a forerunner, Schiller), classified by Albert Thibaudet as the literature of emigration of the first romantic generation, drastically changed the classical concept of the Sublime, while the writings of Lamennais and Lamartine, labelled as the religious literature of the second generation, offered a remedy against the deep malaise by involving the faith in God. Views of another literary historian are also employed: Paul Bénichou distinguishes the spiritual counter-revolution in royalist and Catholic poetry (Chateaubriand), the rather exceptional case of Senancour who rejected religion remaining faithful to the spirit of the eighteenth century, and the humanist Romantic movement hallmarked by Lamartine’s optimism and Lamennais’s vision of Christian democracy. The musical analyses reveals that the themes and doctrines of the intellectual party of the counter-revolution, of emigration, and of Senancour led to Liszt’s use of instrumental recitativo, of French and Italian indications to the performer expressing the mal du siècle and the “negative sublime,” and of a harmonic system extended to the twelve tones Ernő Lendvai called in the 1950s the axis system, in reference to Bartók’s music. The influence of the romantic “humanitarian” literary current is presented in the area of Liszt’s formal conception and use of isotopies. From the synthesis of the narrative strategies, including some of Liszt’s major compositions, it becomes obvious that there is a simple model, invariably going through four stages or thematic complexes (Vallée d’Obermann), which is extended with two or three further isotopies in the case of longer pieces.
repeatedly delayed and finalized only in 1924. Upon completion, Bartók had composed a series of significant new works such as Improvisations for piano op. 20 (1920), two Sonatas for Violin and Piano (1921 and 1922, respectively), both dedicated to Jelly
newspapers, which mostly reported his presence at festive events and sometimes mentioned when he played the piano. The first longer report was published in the Osservatore on 28 March 1863 and also includes some aesthetical statements on Liszt’s music. It
compiled from Beethoven’s own musical works. Finally, I will examine the text of Dohnányi’s lecture, “Romanticism in Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.” 3 Although this essay was written later than the period in question (during his émigré years), it summarizes