The Music Plays On — Liszt Piano Sonata in B minor

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Liszt, 1858

Franz Liszt, perhaps the most famous of 19th century pianist composers, wrote only one piano sonata. This thirty-minute work, music that is played without pause or break, is one of the Himalayan peaks of the piano repertoire.

By the time Franz Liszt completed the Piano Sonata in B minor in 1853, his career as a barnstorming virtuoso soloist had purposefully slowed down. He was comfortably living in Weimar, concertizing only when he wanted, and devoting most of his attention to composing. The sonata was dedicated to the composer Robert Schumann, who had dedicated his Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 to Liszt in 1839.

It is worth noting that Liszt composed arguably his most successful orchestral piece, Les préludes, in 1853, as well.

The sonata’s initial reception by the critics was not positive. Johannes Brahms apparently fell asleep when Liszt performed it for him in 1853 and the pianist, Anton Rubinstein was unimpressed. Richard Wagner, however, liked it and by the early part of the 20th century entered the repertoire of the pianists who could play it.

Here is a wonderful discussion about the sonata by the British pianist, Leslie Howard.

Here are my favorite performances.

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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