The First Cover Artist

Before there were MP3 downloads, before compact discs and tape cassettes and even phonograph records, there was Franz Liszt. Considered by many to be the first “rock star” of music, he created the solo piano recital and drove his audiences into wild frenzies of adulation with his unprecedented keyboard technique. But he used that popularity to help other composers whose works, he felt, were under-appreciated or insufficiently known. At that time the general public had far fewer opportunities to hear large-scale symphonic and operatic works. Since there was no recording medium yet, Liszt helped disseminate many important compositions by creating transcriptions and arrangements of pieces he felt were noteworthy. Some of his transcriptions were relatively straightforward; others became astonishing fantasies in which various themes from other works were interwoven. But either way, he brought numerous composers to the attention of the concert audiences of his time. Just a sampling of the composers who benefited from his musical proselytizing would include Beethoven, Bellini, Berlioz, Donizetti, Glinka, Gounod, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Saint-Saëns, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Wagner.

On August 16, pianist Bryan Wallick will take us back to those days with an ambitious program that includes Liszt’s arrangements of music from Verdi’s Il trovatore and Rigoletto, as well as Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Tannhäuser. Since Liszt’s arrangements are so fiendishly difficult, they are not encountered that often on recital programs, so this is a great opportunity to hear one musical titan transmuting the masterworks of another, with the added attraction of Liszt’s unsurpassed sense of dazzling showmanship. Musical geniuses are a rare commodity, but with each of Liszt’s transcriptions, you get two for the price of one!