Programme Notes (cont.)

R. Wagner - F. Liszt, Isolde's Liebestod

Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner shared a mutual admiration for each other’s work. Wagner openly admitted that Liszt was his only living contemporary who had an influence on his own music. Liszt, on one occasion, had come to Wagner’s rescue, conducting the premiere of Lohengrin in Wiemer in 1850 while its composer suffered in political exile because of his part in the Dresden uprising. When Wagner passed away in Venice in 1883, it was an emotional blow to the aged Liszt and not surprisingly wrote four compositions in memory of his friend and colleague. Liszt also showed his appreciation of his friend and colleague much earlier by transcribing selections from his operas for piano solo.

Interestingly, Liszt chose only one excerpt from the revolutionary Tristan und Isolde to transform into a piano solo: the oft-performed and intensely dramatic Liebestod from the opera’s final scene.It comes at the very close of the opera as Isolde grieves over the body of her love, Tristan. She sings, "How softly and gently he smiles, how sweetly his eyes open..."

The music starts off gloomy and sounding quite native to the piano, almost like a passage from one of Liszt's darker late compositions. But shortly it begins to yearn and fill with regret as notes shimmer and search, the sound of Wagner's orchestration coming to mind. As the emotions build the music struggles to explode with the impassioned love theme. Finally the climactic moment comes: It is sad, it is ecstatic, it is tragic, but it is beautiful. Then the music fades, and at this point in the opera Isolde falls gently onto the body of Tristan. From classicalconnect.com

Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Sonata no. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83

The nine piano sonatas of Prokofiev are the most significant body of work in this genre of the 20th century. Composed between 1909 and 1947, these scores have been compared to the piano sonatas of Beethoven with their combination of Classicism and complexity. Certainly Beethoven was relevant to the later sonatas. According to Prokofiev's second wife Mira Mendelssohn, in the summer of 1939 the composer had read musicologist Romain Rolland's book on Beethoven and was strongly influenced by Rolland's insightful commentary when composing the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Sonatas - all of which were written simultaneously over the following years.

Prokofiev finished the Seventh Sonata in 1942 in Tbilisi. (The composer had been evacuated from Moscow after Germany attacked the Soviet Union.) The sonata was given its premiere on January 18, 1943 at Moscow's Hall of the Columns by the brilliant young piano virtuoso Sviatoslav Richter. (Prokofiev would dedicate his Ninth Sonata - his final completed work in this genre - to Richter.) Richter has written that the sonata is a portrait of disorder, uncertainty, and the rage of death dealing forces. The work's conclusion - in Richter's view - "expands into a gigantic, life affirming force." The sonata was awarded the Stalin Prize - the first of numerous such awards the composer would receive.

In contrast to the neo-classicism of some of the composer's earlier sonatas, the three wartime sonatas are sometimes violent and agonizing in their musical turbulence. The Seventh Sonata opens with an Allegro Inquieto. An agitated opening subject leads to a quieter Andantino section. After a fierce development section, the two principal themes are reversed in the recapitulation. The central Andante Caloroso is hypnotic, almost expressionistic but with a sense of unease. This movement contains some of Prokofiev's most beautiful writing for the keyboard. The Precipitato finale is often fierce. This music clearly speaks of the sounds of war and danger. The movement concludes with the ultimate rapid fire virtuosic display in a clear and affirmative B flat major. These last pages are a daunting technical challenge to any pianist who essays this monumental score! From lawrencebudmen.com