Saturday, October 22, 2011

Franz Liszt Rawks

Today is the 200th birthday of one of my Top Five composers, Franz Liszt. He is not only recognized as one of the greatest pianists ever with his unmatched technical virtuosity and flamboyant expression, but was also accomplished and influential with his orchestral compositions and arranging style. His emotive approach reflected the passion and culture of his central European heritage. He was one of the leaders in the Romantic Era, which also includes some of my other favorites like Mussorgsky, Wagner, Debussy, Rossini, and Chopin, among others.

I was smitten with Liszt's work at age five. My mother would play various classics while we did chores around the house on Saturday mornings, and I was immediately drawn to his sometimes moody and other times playful expressions. I fancied myself as some sort of apprentice understudy to Leonard Bernstein as I would direct the full symphonic assault in front of our family hi-fi with two of grandma's knitting needles.

You can listen (and read some intriguing facts about Liszt) on this Youtube piece that features one of his more famous works, the frolicking Hungarian Rhapsody #2. You may recognize it from a popular Tom and Jerry cartoon, or numerous bar room brawl scenes from the silver screen and television (the best part begins at 6:03):

When people ask of my love of progressive rock, I have to nod to Liszt's music as a cornerstone. In the 60s, when many of my comrades were listening exclusively to the Stones, Beatles, and Doors, I was doing likewise, but with a heavy dose of Franz, Ludwig, and Pyotr as well. I always felt that Romanic Era of the 1800s produced the most fully-realized sweep of music's emotional expression, and that even the most basic rock riff had its roots in the life embracing joy, grief, and fury of these composers from 150 years earlier. Additionally, when listening to cinematic scores of the past fifty years, or Broadway musicals, or many hymns (both sacred and patriotic) one has to hear the influence of artists like Liszt clearly embedded within. And certainly groups as diverse as Emerson, Lake and Palmer to Radiohead, or from Yes to Muse, or Kansas to Transatlantic owe a huge debt to Liszt and his cohorts from that bygone era for the freewheeling blend of musicianship and epic scope.

Thank you, Franz, for being a central figure in the soundtrack of my life. You were one of the best, sir, and your creativity will live for eons.

Here are a few other renditions of Hungarian Rhapsody #2 you might enjoy:

Solo piano:

Tom and Jerry:

Bugs Bunny:

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