Liszt – Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, S. 125

by Max Derrickson

Franz Liszt    (b Raiding, Hungary on October 22, 1811; Bayreuth, Germany on July 31, 1886)


Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, S. 125
1. Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai
2. Allegro moderato
3. Allegro deciso – Marziale un poco meno Allegro – Allegro animato


The lush and poetic theme that opens Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto is a most extraordinary slice of music, and it’s the soil from which the musical variations of the entire Concerto will grow.  The first two chords are the most surprising – an A Major chord followed by the very remotely related chord of F7 – a chord progression that you would never hear in Beethoven’s works.  But Liszt’s second chord invites us into harmonic and psychological places that a “properly” progressed chord could not have dreamt.  And these are only the first two chords of Liszt’s musical magicianship – what follows is one the most Romantically drenched, and intriguing, works to have yet been written.  Since its premiere in 1863, it has enchanted audiences ever since.

That Liszt’s First and Second Piano Concertos were both fully sketched out in 1839, only 12 years after Beethoven’s death, is a testament to the speed and ingenuity with which approaches to art music were evolving.  Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, 1830, for example, introduced the idée fixe, a theme that unified all of the movements in the work.  This idea certainly caught Liszt’s attention, as did Schubert’s extraordinary Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano.  Schubert took the unifying theme concept even further, though.  His mighty work built an entire sonata around one theme, without breaks between movements, and yet deftly used the theme to propel the piece through massive transformations.

[. . .]

The poetic opening to Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2, with those first two extraordinary chords, continues softly in the winds, but as envelope-pushing as it is, the brilliance of it is that it all sounds to be so natural.  The whole phrase-theme is more about mood and color than melody, really.  As is always the case with music, it’s a little impossible to say exactly what the music is expressing, but Liszt appears to be raising some pretty deeply philosophical questions.  For certain the theme is full of beautiful soft hues and mysterious backlighting.    [. . .]

[. . .]     Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto is one of those masterpieces that require the listener to pay close attention, as otherwise they might miss some of the most brilliant, but fleeting, masterstrokes.  And yet, there are so many of them, surprises always await the next listening.