Athanor: de התנור (ha tanur) the furnace.
The furnace used by alchemists in their search for the philosopher’s matter is indispensable for the maturation of the Great Work. By extension, this furnace, in the shape of a matrix, has become a symbol of their quest for perfection and the absolute. And that is where Liszt agreed with the alchemists. Eternally dissatisfied, he said that ‘the persistent search for the best possible characterises the true artist’. This search not only had an aesthetic dimension but was also of a moral order, as attest his homage to Paganini: ‘The artist’s role is to awaken and maintain in souls the enthusiasm and passion of Beauty, so close to the passion of Good’.
Why these three works on a same album?
All three were, of course, written for piano and large orchestra. However it seems to me that there is a strong link between them beyond form. Their joint particularity is their very long gestation: it took 23 years between the first sketch and public performance of the first Concerto, 22 years between the earliest sketches and definitive publication of the second, and 20 years between the rough draft of Totentanz and the version recorded here. The twenty-odd years’ gestation that these works spent in Liszt’s athanor was evidently determining: without those years of doubt and constant rethinking of the first sketches, these concertos would never have come down to us in such accomplished form.