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Like the drunken actress Margo Channing in All About Eve, who insists on endless repetitions of Liebestraum No 3, lovers of Liszt’s piano music try to pigeonhole the composer single-mindedly. Pesce, an American musicologist, points out that Liszt’s late religious-inspired works are more stylistically varied than is commonly seen. She plausibly sees these late works as partly the product of tension between the composer, who no longer wanted to be identified solely as a great performing virtuoso, and his audiences, who continued to see him as such, even decades after his retirement from an abundant concert career. Liszt fed this audience appetite to some extent by continuing to give much-publicised charity concerts. Despite the bitterness of seeing his compositions undervalued, Pesce states that ‘Liszt’s resignation embraced hope’. Part of this hope was for future generations of pianists, and Liszt was generous with his time and money in supporting pupils (including Emil von Sauer and the one-armed Hungarian Géza Zichy). He encouraged composer-pianists such as the idiosyncratic Italian Alfonso Rendano (1853-1931), whose piano concerto he found ‘vigorous, original and remarkable.’ Liszt also remained close to the keyboard by arranging Beethoven’s piano concertos in two-piano versions. The same year, he wrote to a friend, describing a new work from his Années de pèlerinage as ‘disconsolate, illumined toward the end by a beam of patient resignation’. Such was the autumnal mood of the benevolent, inspired Romantic titan of the piano.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing