Franz Liszt was a kind of Mephistopheles, Casanova, Byron and St.
Francis rolled into one singular musician. He single-handedly invented
the piano recital, and his staggering prowess at the keyboard had all of
mid-19th Century Europe's salong society at his feet.
Under his fingers, the piano thundered and purred with a seductive power that had adoring women throwing their jewelry at him. Many did not stop there: His liaisons were nearly as legendary as his piano playing. One admirer observed that if his rival, Sigismond Thalberg, was the best pianist in the world, Liszt was the only one. Musical poet, genius, innovator and revolutionary, Liszt somehow found time to compose an enormous amount of music. Some Liszt scores are nothing but gallumphing bombast and tinselly glitter. But there is much else that ventured far beyond the known formal and harmonic boundaries of the Romantic era, uncannily anticipating the music of our own time.
For years, it was universally assumed that Liszt wrote only two piano concertos, No. 1 in E-flat and No. 2 in A Major. Now, thanks to some shrewd and persistent detective work by a University of Chicago student, we know otherwise.
With Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska as soloist, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of associate conductor Kenneth Jean will present the world premiere of a third Liszt concerto - in E-flat Major, Opus Posthumous - at subscription concerts Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday nights in Orchestra Hall.
It's a commonplace that there are no undiscovered musical masterpieces. Nevertheless, whenever any unknown work by a major composer is unearthed, that is Big News. The news first broke in January of last year, when it was announced that Jay Rosenblatt, a doctoral candidate in historical musicology at the U. of C., had pieced together a forgotten and unheard Liszt composition for piano and orchestra while researching materials for his dissertation at archives in Central Europe. "It was this kind of moment . . . when you know you're holding in your hand something significant to the music world," the 34-year-old Rosenblatt told the Associated Press.