Liszt It Is (2008)
Duration: 7:30 minutes
Instrumentation: solo piano
Premiere: November 30, 2009 at the Juilliard School by Shiau-uen Ding, piano
In 2008, pianist Shiau-uen Ding commissioned me and several other composers to write pieces in response to Liszt’s Dante Sonata with the idea of creating an entire program out of the original Liszt work and contemporary reflections on it. Liszt It Is is my contribution to this “Dante Project” and a reflection on Liszt’s flamboyant work in general.
When I think of Liszt as a composer, I have a hard time believing that he sat placidly at a desk, diligently putting pen to paper. This may be a product of my own cartoonish imagination, but my Liszt would bang out a few chords on the piano, belt out a melody, stomp around the room in rhythm, and the music would emerge from these visceral impulses. I like to think that Liszt composed from the gut and that he sounded fairly ridiculous while doing it.
My piece is a collection of very different scenes, much like the Dante Sonata, except in my version these scenes are unconnected non-sequitors that only add up to the whole picture at the very end. First, there is a raucous introduction, during which the pianist sings along and imitates cymbal crashes. From all this noise, a descending chromatic theme emerges, which is treated to angsty development before a second, more lyrical theme enters. But just as that theme gets started the music abruptly stops. A series of very different episodes follows, each cutting off or evaporating, just like the lyrical theme, without ever coming to anything. Finally, the music from the first cut returns and the piece ends as if it was never interrupted in the first place.