Liszt – Totentanz (Dance of Death)

by Max Derrickson

Franz Liszt    (1811-1886)

Totentanz (Dance of Death)
Performing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody and Liszt’s Totentanz on the same program is no coincidence. Rachmaninoff based his Rhapsody on Liszt’s theme and variations, and the “Dies Irae” chant appears in both works.

Composer and pianist Franz Liszt was born in the small village of Raiding, Hungary.   He became such a piano virtuoso that for a century he was considered the most accomplished pianist of all time. Liszt was also a visionary and composer whose works shaped the Romantic musical era. He created the “symphonic poem” (also called “tone poem”), a form that inspired many later composers. The symphonic poem is a single-movement work based on a non-musical idea like a story or picture. Although Liszt’s B Minor Piano Sonata and Piano Concerto No. 1 are played more often, the Totentanz is his most solid creation in the new form.

The piece has a complicated history.   [. . .]

For a work about the triumph of the dead, it is not surprising that Liszt turned to the well-known “Dies Irae” chant. Like Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody,   [. . .]     As you listen, remember that Liszt conceived the Totentanz nearly 100 years before Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody.