November 3, 2017

Lizst and his legacy

One of Tomoko’s favorite piano composers is Lizst.  His works enable the performer to showcase technical virtuosity and strong emotional interpretation.

Lizst’s life is certainly reflective in his writing. 

At age seven Lizst started piano lessons from his father, started composing at age eight, and started public performances at age nine. Lizst was a wildly popular performer because of his technical brilliance and intense delivery, which his compositions could showcase. His enthralled audiences led to Lizstomania – and enough income that he could gave away much of his profits to charity. 

Thus, because Lizst was first a performer, his compositions reflect natural hand motions, and are more natural to play. That characteristic enabled Lizst to create works that could maximize kinesthetic ability. Additionally, Lizst was inspired by the violinist Paganin’s technique, and wanted to be as excellent as him, so much so that he wrote a series of etudes based on Paganini’s own violin’s technically challenging compositions. As a result, his compositions are often used by piano teachers to improve students’ technical skills. In fact, Tomoko remarks: “Sometimes a child – or the parent – wants to choose a masterful piece of music, such as a Liszt ├ętude. They want the status of playing such a composition, but it might not be appropriatea at their stage of development. “Their motivation may be to show off,” says Tomoko, “but they will be miserable.” Instead, Tomoko asks the student to try it for themselves. “Then they recognize for themselves what is really involved.” If they really want to put in the effort, Tomoko tells them, “I will prepare this piece for you.” Tomoko explains each part, and then they agree on doing the hard work together. 

Tomoko also likes Lizst for his philosophy and emotional power. Tomoko relates to his spiritual side. “Listen to Liszt’s compositions. His philosophy is so beautiful. He was a very religious man.” While Lizst is not known for religious compositions, he contemplated joining the Catholic clergy in his twenties (after a romantic break-up) and  in late life did join a monastery. 

Lizst’s compositions also capture human emotional life: adapting folk dances and translating human expression, including violence, into  his music. Tomoko asserts: “Lizst is great for pianists in their twenties because they don’t have to think so much as express lots of action.”

Tomoko herself has masterfully performed Lizst’s works over the years. In her 1964 television interview with UCLA Opera Theater director Herbert Jan Popper, Tomoko She Hungarian Rhapsody A minor #11 by Liszt on the show. Almost fifty years later, in 2012, on the show “The Piano Matters with David Dubal,” Tomoko played Liszt’s "Au Lac de Wallenstadt." 

Just as Lizst was inspired by his experiences, Tomoko and her students find inspiration in Lizst for their own lives.