The Sonata form is one of the principal structures of classical music; yet, as Charles Rosen has rightfully and poignantly summarized, we should speak rather of Sonata forms in the plural. Seemingly, the idea of Sonata form is in fact uncontroversial. Though not trivially simple, the schema of the classical Sonata Allegro is rather easily told, and its explanation to Conservatory students rarely takes more than one hour. Synthetically, the classical Sonata allegro is built on the opposition of two contrasting themes, which are presented in two different keys in the exposition, connected through a modulating bridge and followed by a coda. The two themes ought to be as at variance with another as possible: for instance, if one is legato and cantabile the other should be staccato and brisk, one loud and powerful and the other light and tender, and so on. Most importantly, as Beethoven teaches us, they should tolerate an extreme reduction to a memorable motif. Expansive, melodic themes in the Mozartean or Schubertian fashion work less well, in structural terms, than the unforgettable motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: just four notes, but once you have heard them you will never forget them.
This motivic reduction is functional to the Sonata’s second section, after the exposition, i.e. the development. Here, fragments from both themes (and this is the reason why they should be immediately recognizable as belonging to one or to the other) are pitted against each other, interact, at times merge with another, at times engage in a fierce struggle. By the end of the development, some kind of agreement should have been reached, and the opposition of the two should have almost disappeared. Therefore, when, in the third section (recapitulation) the two themes are presented once more (but in the same key), their reconciliation should be clearly apparent.
The Sonata Allegro is normally followed by two or three further movements; typically, the last one is a Rondo (but it may also be another Sonata Allegro), a slow movement should be included, and an optional Minuet or a Scherzo may either precede or follow it.
Seen in these terms, the classical Sonata form is relatively easy to grasp. But this is but the surface. This codified type was strictly followed only by a handful of composers, and, indeed, not by the best. While examples of this type are found in the works of the major musicians of the classical era, none of them did never depart from it. Added movements can frequently be found, or, by way of contrast, the slow movement may become just an Introduction or even less; the first movement may be a Theme with variations, for instance, instead of a Sonata Allegro, or, as in Beethoven’s case, a “Fantasia” (cf. Sonata quasi una fantasia, as he labelled the famous “Moonlight” Sonata). Among the extreme reworkings undergone by the Sonata form are some examples by the late Beethoven: a two-movement Sonata, as the magnificent last piano Sonata (op. 111), but also as the beautiful, less pretentious op. 90; a profusion of variations and fugues, as in the last Piano Sonatas and Quartets; and something previously unthinkable, as the choral movement closing the Ninth Symphony.
It is said that Beethoven brought the Sonata form to perfection, but also undermined it. And this corresponds to the major aesthetical shift occurring during his relatively long lifetime. When Beethoven was an energetic, enthusiastic, and expansive youth, Enlightenment and its values were still all the fashion; at his death, Romanticism was knocking loud at the doors. The dialectics of the Sonata Allegro themes mirrors splendidly the process detailed by Kant or Hegel, the greatest representatives of Enlightenment thinking; the rhapsodic poetry of Beethoven’s last Sonatas anticipates the subjectivity of the Romantic era.
Still, the Romantics were reluctant to discard abruptly such a useful compositional instrument as was the Sonata form, particularly because they all revered Beethoven in an almost idolatrous fashion. Goethe had written memorable pages on the Genius, and they were epitomized by Beethoven’s legendary figure.
All major Romantic composers struggled for years with the impasse in which Beethoven had brought the Sonata form: and this regards also, for instance, the composition of Symphonies. Brahms, in spite of being a precocious genius, only managed to achieve his First Symphony when already in his forties, after no less than fourteen years of gestation. But Brahms was the representative of the “classical” current among the Romantics. With or without his approval, he had become the champion of those advocating “absolute” music; this role had been selected for him by Eduard Hanslick, the dreaded critic who shredded Richard Wagner’s ideas and works as frequently as he could. Brahms had to find an exquisitely and purely musical way out of the impasse. And, eventually, he found it admirably.
Wagner was no symphonist; but, in his army, he could count on the presence of his father-in-law, Franz Liszt, who shared most of his son-in-law’s compositional and aesthetical views. For them both, the way out had been traced by the solution found by Beethoven in his last symphony: the presence of the choir alluded to a fruitful interaction between music and poetry, and, in their view, marked the end of a purely “absolute” music. They advocated the creation of a comprehensive work of art: Wagner eventually found his way with his operas, on librettos written by himself, and with a continuing cross-fertilisation of music, visual art, and poetry.
Liszt made numerous attempts to create something in the same line: for instance, he wrote numerous pieces inspired by poetry, or visual art, or places, or tales. His “program music” had a (hidden or open) plot, and the succession of the musical episodes and characters was frequently inspired by the “tale” he was trying to narrate. But this worked well when applied to pieces in a free, rhapsodic form. At the same time, a paradox of music with respect of literature is that music not only tolerates, but rather desires repetition. While the Sonata Allegro offered this in the form of exposition and recapitulation, a rhapsodic form eschews repetition, but normally frustrates, in so doing, its listeners. So, it was fundamental for Liszt to find a way to reconcile the innovative, free form, with the reassuring comfort zone of the classical Sonata form. But, at least in this, he was at one with his musical enemy, Brahms: it was no easy task.
The two pieces recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album bear eloquent and abundant witness to this decades-long struggle; and this is evident if one considers the number of reworkings, re-namings and re-arrangements they underwent.
The Concerto pathétique is an arrangement, or rather a reworking, of an earlier piece for solo piano, whose inspiration was probably found in Schumann’s Concerto sans orchestre. The concept of the Piano Concerto, with its virtuosity and heroism, is transposed into a solo work, and this is rather paradoxical: if concerto derives from concentus (playing together) and certamen (competing with another), both meanings of the term suppose the presence of a second musical character beside the soloist. And, in fact, in spite of the interesting results of the Grosses Konzertsolo (which had been commissioned by the Paris Conservatoire as a compulsory piece for the piano examinations), Liszt himself felt the need to restructure it as a piece for two pianos: its composition follows that of the original work by about five to seven years, but it was published only ten years later (1866) as Concerto pathétique. A decade further on, it was reissued with adaptations and a cadenza written by Hans von Bülow, who had been married to Cosima Liszt (the composer’s daughter) before she married Richard Wagner. The version performed here is very rarely heard, as it omits Bülow’s cadenza restoring the original one written by Liszt. Transcriptions for piano and orchestra, normally based on the two-piano version, came out, authored by Liszt’s students, before the end of the nineteenth century.
Liszt’s painful struggle to reach a satisfactory balance between the fixed structure of the received Sonata form and the narrative needs of Romantic subjective expressiveness is apparent here. In fact, he would later start afresh with the musical ideas found here, recombining them – in a more convincing fashion – in what would become the B-minor Sonata.
The same tension is found also in the Fantasia quasi una Sonata (the allusion to the title of Beethoven’s Moonlight is obvious) “Après une lecture de Dante” (“after a Dante reading”), a piano piece found in Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, and bearing witness to Liszt’s enthusiastic love for Dante’s poem. This is rather unsurprising: Dante was a medieval author, and the Romantics prided themselves of “rediscovering” the Middle Ages, as opposed to the rationality of the Renaissance (which they saw mirrored in the Classical/Enlightenment era). Dante was a Christian, a Catholic, and Liszt always had a pronounced spiritual dimension. Dante was a magnificent narrator, and Liszt sought a way to narrate “tales” in music.
The composer had had the idea to write a symphony about the Commedia for years (already in 1839) before actually starting its composition. Originally, he had imagined a three-movement work, with each movement corresponding to one of the ultramundane realms. Yet, Schopenhauer bluntly accused Dante’s Paradiso of being inferior in quality with respect to his Inferno (and, partially, to the Purgatorio): the reason for this, in Schopenhauer’s view, was that Dante had only to open the window in order to find models for hell, whereas he had none for a heavenly society. Of course, the Romantics partially misunderstood the Paradiso, whose seemingly arid theology actually represents the summit of medieval thought and poetry. But, certainly, the Paradiso lacks the powerful immediacy of sentiments and passions found in the lower canticas.
Wagner (to whom the work is dedicated) discouraged Liszt from attempting to write music about Paradise: and for this reason a rather bombastic version of the finale, which ought to represent the glory of heaven, was also discarded. In the end, Liszt decided to write a Magnificat, the Virgin’s prayer, and to have it sung by a hidden female choir, representing the pure transparency of heavenly bliss. This was not to be the only “surprise”: originally, something akin to visual slides ought to be played during the performance, and a wind-machine should have evoked the whirlwind of passion which brings Paolo and Francesca to and fro.
Here too we have numerous versions: three for orchestra, with interventions by Peter Cornelius and Joachim Raff, but also the two-piano transcription recorded here and one for organ. Together, they bear witness to Liszt’s unrelenting attempts to play with the variables of music in order to find his own ideal balance between structure and narrative, form and content, subjectivity and objectivity. And though painfully sought, this result is successfully achieved, as these two magnificent works abundantly testify.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Marco Berrini, conductor
Silvia Del Turco
Ilaria Zuccaro (solista)
Anna Paola Caroni
Monica Susana Elias
Ester Maria Piazza
Marco Sollini: Italian pianist with a solid musical education was definited by Claudio Scimone “a great poet of the keyboard”. He has performed in some of the most important concert halls all over the world, as Salle Cortot of Paris, Musikverein Golden Hall of Wien, Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, Smetana Hall of Prague, Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House, Mailowsky Palace and Caterina Palace of Saint Petersburg, Solti Hall of the Liszt Accademy in Budapest, Manoel Theatre of Malta, Grossesaal of Mozarteum in Salzburg and others. He performed as soloist in recital and in prestigious Orchestras, as Dohnanyi Symphonic Orchestra and MAV in Budapest, Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgard Symphony Orchestra, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Serbian Radio Television Symphony Orchestra, I Solisti Veneti, Sanremo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Metropolitana Città di Bari, I Solisti Aquilani, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Ciudad de Elche Symphony Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Cairo Symphony Orchestra, Kroatisches Kammerorchester, Euro Sinfonietta Wien, Kharkiv Philharmonic Orchestra and many others. He has a large discography with around 40 CDs devoted to the music of Bach, Kozeluch, Clementi, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Thalberg, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Rimskij-Korsakov, Menotti, Sollini. His discography also inclused the first world of Piano Music of Leoncavallo, Puccini, Giordano, Mascagni, Bellini, Verdi, Persiani, Offenbach. His four CDs devoted to Rossini Piano Music have been definited the “reference edition” by the Rossini German Society (Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft). He has worked as contributing editor with the Publishing house Boccaccini & Spada for the complete edition of Puccini’s, Mascagni’s, Giordano’s, Leoncavallo’s, Bellini’s piano music, and other previously unpublished chamber compositions of Rossini and Mascagni.
He plays in duo with Salvatore Barbatano and he has cooperated with several chamber ensembles and with important Artists such as Bruno Canino, Antonio Ballista, Quartetto della Scala, Simonide Braconi, Cremona Quartet, Francesco Manara, Alain Meunier, Claudio Scimone, Elena Zaniboni, Fabrizio Meloni, Maxence Larrieu, Fabio Armiliato, Ugo Pagliai, Paola Pitagora, Paola Gassman and many others. Since 2014 he has been teaching at the AFAM – Superiur Institute of Musical Studies “O. Vecchi – A. Tonelli” of Modena-Carpi.
He hold several master classes at the Arts Academy of Rome, Lima State Conservatory, Tirana Arts Academy, Winston-Salem and Davidson Colleges in USA, Izmir Conservatory, Bogotà Conservatory and Superior Royal Conservatory Reina Sofia of Madrid. He was in the jury of several piano competition, such as the “Roma” International Piano Competition, Ars Kosova Music Competition of Pristina (Kosovo), Aram Khachaturian International Competition of Yerevan, Coppa Pianisti of Osimo, Premio Internazionale Pianistico Alexander Scriabin of Grosseto, Cleveland Youth Piano Competition. He received in Campidoglio of Rome the prize “Marchigiani dell’anno 2001” for his international artistic activity.
He is president and artistic director of the “Marche Musica” Association, founder and artistic director of the international music festival “Armonie della sera”, wich has been organizing public concerts in the most evocative places in the Marche region and around all Italy.
Franz Liszt: (b Raiding, (Doborján), 22 Oct 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. He was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music. His unremitting championship of Wagner and Berlioz helped these composers achieve a wider European fame. Equally important was his unrivalled commitment to preserving and promoting the best of the past, including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Weber and above all Beethoven; his performances of such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata created new audiences for music hitherto regarded as incomprehensible. The seeming contradictions in his personal life – a strong religious impulse mingled with a love of worldly sensation – were resolved by him with difficulty. Yet the vast amount of new biographical information makes the unthinking view of him as ‘half gypsy, half priest’ impossible to sustain. He contained in his character more of the ideals and aspirations of the 19th century than any other major musician.
Profile from The New Grove dictionary of Music and Musicians