Celestial tones of heavenly music full of pride

05. April 2018

“My favourite piece is generally the one I am currently playing.” We asked pianists István Gulyás, Yohei Wakioka and Jenő Jandó to talk about their experiences of Liszt’s music. In the interview, the musicians evoked the figure, music and world of the eponymous founder of the Liszt Academy.

Do you have a favourite Liszt composition, and if so, which one?

István Gulyás: My favourite piece is generally the one I am currently playing, but I have some especially cherished compositions: Piano Sonata in B minor; Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude (‘God’s Blessing in Solitude’), a wonderful piece that one can’t even mention without being moved; but I could also list Pensée des morts (‘In Memory of the Dead’). I’m very fond of the entire cycle Années de pèlerinage. Most of it is part of my repertoire; only a few pieces are missing. This is how the idea occurred to me to play the entire cycle in three sets, the second of which was performed on this year’s Liszt Memorial Day. When I was a student at the Liszt Academy, I enjoyed playing these pieces for their virtuosity; but now, being perhaps somewhat wiser, I am especially touched by their closeness to nature and their impact on human nature.

Liszt Museum.

 

Yohei Wakioka: My very favourite Liszt work is the Piano Sonata in B minor, as this piece reflects the incredibly dramatic strife between man, Satan and God. Having said that, I find all of Liszt’s compositions very beautiful, profound and sacred.

Jenő Jandó: The most perfect Liszt composition is the Piano Sonata in B minor, but I could also say that I like whichever one I am currently focussing on best. I’m also keen on the Mephisto Waltzes, one of Liszt’s excellent pieces, but the Sonata in B minor is absolutely outstanding in its perfection. Liszt has quite a few works with too many notes for my taste – less would have been more – but in the Sonata in B minor there is not a single redundant tone.

What is your favourite memory connected to the Liszt Memorial Museum or to the Chamber Hall of the Old Academy of Music?

IG: My most recent memory is my recital that I gave in the Chamber Hall. I was very glad that silence prevailed in the audience, which means that they were focussing and understood what was going on. This is crucial feedback for a musician. I believe that just by entering the Old Academy of Music in Vörösmarty Street and walking along its corridors, we can feel that Liszt did leave his mark there; we can almost see his footprints and sense his presence. Beyond the joy of the concerts, it also means a lot to me that whenever I visit the museum, I can learn something new about Liszt from the knowledgeable staff, who all adore him.

YW: Naturally, my most exquisite memories are my piano recitals that I gave there; but nor can I forget about the exhilaration that I felt when I had the opportunity to practise on Liszt’s very own concert piano, or when I could be physically close to his objects and instruments.

JJ: Some years ago, a recording was released of me playing the instruments on display in the Liszt Memorial Museum. This is one of my dearest memories. I became really fond of these instruments,

though prior to the recording I had to familiarize myself with them, as we are talking about antique objects. The piano-harmonica came closest to my heart: it is still an uplifting memory that I could perform Liszt’s music on it. I might say it has a celestial sound. I am, of course, not just keen on Liszt’s pianos but also on the spirit of the place, as Liszt himself used to live and teach here.

Is it possible to emulate the great virtuoso in any sense?

GI: With regards to the Sonnets of Petrarch, I wish I could show so many facets of love as he could. I would also love to present those shades so richly as he did, to evoke emotions with tones and to be able to put those shades into words with utmost accuracy and precision while I am teaching my students.

YW: I would love to match Franz Liszt in his ability to sight read perfectly.

JJ: It is impossible to match him, but at least, I do strive to get close to the spirit of his compositions as much as possible. I am trying to be near him, as one can become enormously enriched through his works.

If the maestro were sitting here with us now, what would you want to ask him?

IG: If I could have but one question, this one question would be in connection with the Sonata in B minor. I would ask Liszt to reveal that miraculous key and whisper me the secret of the piece, so that I may quote Karinthy and say: “I must not tell it to anyone, so tell it I will to everyone.” I have been playing and teaching this work for many years, but my problem is that, no matter whose opinion or performance I hear, it is always only very convincing and authentic in fragments and not as a whole. I feel somehow urged to solve this riddle. My professor, Mihály Bächer, who had a great impact on me, never talked to me of the actual meaning of the Sonata. Indeed, it is Faust-like, satanic: there is eternal damnation and ascension into heaven in it. Nonetheless, we cannot be sure whether it has an actual plot; it is not programme music but an instrumental piece that has no explicit storyline. This is definitely what I would ask Liszt. Word has it that on one occasion Liszt was playing the Sonata in B minor among his friends. Wagner was there, too. At the end of performance, Wagner went up to Liszt, enthusiastically congratulated him on the composition and asked him the following question: “It is a Faust sonata, isn’t it?” But Liszt only smiled enigmatically and said not a word in reply.

YW: I would certainly choose to ask the maestro what a musician needs most, what he or she must learn and do to become a real artist.

JJ: I wouldn’t ask Liszt a question, but would instead point to the piano and ask him to play me something! I could ask him about the tempo, for example, but what for? I’m sure he never played anything twice the same way. If he were sitting here with us, I would be watching and listening to him attentively from the corner of the room to observe how he makes tones sound, to what extent he feels aware of himself, and what sounds he would get from the piano in this small room.

 

Patrícia Keszler