Why the Liszt Sonata changed my life

801 1024 Beatrice Berrut

When you play the piano, you are told since childhood that Liszt is a dubious  figure: first seen as womanizer who writes music for pianists who love to show off, then as an abbot whose obscure and mystical end of life has given birth to works that are never performed. He is never considered as the major composer he is: we don’t like womanizers or abbots! And yet without his musical innovations, Wagner, Mahler and many others might not have composed the masterpieces we know. Supreme sin, he has not known an unfortunate existence, an unforgivable flaw he shares with another great underestimated man, Mendelssohn. A life of suffering seems to be the sine qua non condition for beeing called a genius in the Western way of thinking. In truth, those interested in Liszt’s work will discover that he has composed a multitude of pieces – and not only for the piano – the depth and significance of which are overwhelming, including The Legend of St. Elizabeth or his symphonic poems, to name a few.

The Sonata

And then there’s his sonata. This work is so important that Liszt would not have needed to write a single other bar to enter the Hall of Human Genius. Human? Actually, the question arises, because this sonata seems to be out of our reach, so much does its message elevate us. Indeed, the stretched bow from the first to the last note is like a bridge that climbs straight into the sky, its last chords are lost in limbo, giving you a glimpse of the dazzling light of eternity. I’ve never played it without ending up with tears in my eyes. The journey is long, it breaks us, it resurrects us, it inflames us, and eventually lets us take the dimensions of the universe, or at least gives us a vision of it. How can we not be moved by such an experience?For someone for whom Liszt is a spiritual guide in life, it is not insignificant to open the score of his sonata for the first time. It took me many years to dare to embark on its study, and in January, my intuition told me that it was time.

So I started working on it. I was assistant at the Meiningen opera house back then and during the afternoon break, like a mountaineer, I every day would climb a few more steps of this inner Everest. The sonata was beginning to exist under my fingers. Truth is, I was the one who was beginning to exist thanks to it. Perhaps the feeling of never having asked yourself who you really are sounds familiar to you? This is an impression I often have, because my restless daily life makes me be someone who defines myself by my actions, my interpretations, and I never took time to ask myself too many questions about my identity. But the sonata arrived, and its learning brought together all the little bits of me that were floating far from each other. It has given them unity, and meaning. The sonata introduced me to myself in a way, and every day that passed, I was the one who took shape under my own fingers.

Engrossed that we are in our daily lives, it very quickly happens to lose sight of oneself, and that is why I wish each of you to meet his own Liszt sonata!

« If Liszt had written only this sonata in B minor, a gigantic work from a single cell, it would have been enough to demonstrate the power of his mind. »

Richard Strauss ( 1864 – 1949 )





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