Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Franz Liszt!

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt (born October 22, 1811), and, to celebrate, I'm taking a little break from my reissue postings to offer something kinda fun.  I must say at the outset that I cannot count myself a Liszt fan, although I do recognize his pre-eminent position as a pianist (and oh, if only he had lived a few years longer, he could have left us a recording of his playing!).  But as a composer, it seems to me that he took himself too seriously about 90% of the time.  Of course, most of the Romantics did this, but in Liszt's case, it usually backfired.  I suspect his essential temperament was a fun-loving one - no doubt, he had fun playing the piano! - and the works of Liszt that I usually enjoy hearing are those that exhibit this, such as the Hungarian Rhapsodies and the Mephisto Waltz.  I also enjoy hearing Liszt in "fun" arrangements, such as the one I offer here:

Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3 in A-Flat
Chopin: Nocturne in E-Flat, Op. 9, No. 2
J. H. Squire Celeste Octet
Recorded January 29, 1932
Columbia DX 362, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 22.43 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 9.24 MB)

Perhaps J. H. Squire (1880-1956) didn't intend these salon orchestra arrangements, played by an ensemble consisting of strings, piano, harmonium and, yes, celesta, to be fun, but that's how they come across nearly a century later.  Notice how the two cadenzas in the "Liebestraum" are played by the pianist in the group, as if in acknowledgement of their essential un-transcribability!

A number of Edison Blue Amberol cylinders played by the Moss-Squire Celeste Orchestra, which I presume was a precursor to the Squire Celeste Octet, can be heard online at the USCB's Cylinder Digitization Project.  These are fun, too.