Alexis Weissenberg on musical virtuosity

"First of all, one must definitely draw a line between what is really indeed difficult and what isn’t. We all know that what is most difficult is to play a Mozart adagio perfectly well. Technically! I wish more people would understand this; when most people speak of technique, they still speak of the Liszt rhapsodies, as opposed to anything else. A Beethoven adagio, a Schubert sonata (the slow movement) are the most difficult thing to achieve on the keyboard. It reaches such dimensions of nervous control, and of sound control, and if really anybody can achieve this from A to Z, then we can say that this person is not only a great musician, but a great technician.”

Opus sorabjianum

Marc-Andre Roberge's admirable study of the life and works of composer, pianist, critic and general curmudgeon Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. The text contains one of my favorite references to the meeting between a young Sorabji and Ferruccio Busoni, by then a widely-revered master. The tale mirrors innumerable accounts of encounters between young musicians and the Franz Liszt we know from the illustrious Weimar years.

Sorabji recalled that Busoni shook hands with "the courteous grace of manner impossible to the Northern Barbarians," drew out the manuscript of his sonata and asked him to play it. The young composer protested that he was not a pianist and was in the third day of a long fast; he nevertheless had practised carefully in view of the audition, witness the fingerings in the manuscript (the only original ones in his entire output). He thus "got through it, trembling and pouring with sweat," whereupon Busoni said that he could not have played it better. Sorabji asked for a letter that would help him have his work accepted for publication. Busoni, who expressed his surprise that such music was written "in this country," admitted that it had given him "the most extraordinary sensations ... it is like a tropical forest."

"I couldn’t begin to describe what happened to the great Beethovenian poem — above all, the Arioso and the Fugue, where the melody, penetrating the mystery of Death itself, climbs up to a blaze of light, affected me with an excess of enthusiasm such as I have never experienced since. It had greater intimacy and was more humanly moving than Liszt’s performance…" — Vincent d’Indy on Alkan’s performance of Beethoven’s Op. 110

"A man can do all things if he but wills them." — Leon Battista Alberti: artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cryptographer, musician.

“Here is a whole fortnight that my mind and fingers have been working like two lost spirits — Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, and devour them with fury … Ah! provided I don’t go mad, you will find an artist in me! Yes, an artist, such as you desire, such as is required nowadays!”

— Franz Liszt in 1831

He gave one the impression of possessing an almost terrible mastery over every imaginable variety of passage – especially in leaping intervals so wide apart, that to play them with ease is as nearly as possible like being in two different places at the same time. I have listened to him twice in the “Patineurs,” and a cold shiver has passed through me, not so much at what he actually bestowed on us, as what he suggested as having still in reserve. To his interpretations of Chopin – three of whose Ballades, many of the Preludes, several Etudes, three Polonaises, and one Concerto, I heard him play in Weimar – I have listened with delight mingled with awe.

Bettina Walker on the 74-year old Liszt