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Today's Program

Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième Année: ItalieFranz Liszt
Sposalizio (1811-1886)
Il Penseroso
Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa
Sonetto 47 del Petrarca
Sonnetto 104 del Petrarca
Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
Après une lecture de Dante, fantasia quasi sonata

Twelve Etudes, Opus 10Frédéric Chopin
No. 1 in C Major (1809-1849)
No. 2 in A Minor
No. 3 in E Major
No. 4 in C-sharp Minor
No. 5 in G-flat Major
No. 6 in E-flat Minor
No. 7 in C Major
No. 8 in F Major
No. 9 in F Minor
No. 10 in A-flat Major
No. 11 in E-flat Major
No. 12 in C Minor

Program Notes by Frederic Chiu

Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième Année: Italie Franz Liszt

“I have latterly traveled through many new countries, have seen many different places, and visited many a spot hallowed by history and poetry.”

Liszt’s pervasive influence in history cannot be overstated. He was a pioneer not only in music, but also as one of the first great world travelers. His cross-crossing of Europe during his 1838-1848 Glanzzeit – when his force and influence as a virtuoso were at their burning height – is still the model today for how the public imagines the life of the concert performer. Just before embarking on these years of incessant traveling and performing, Liszt spent some of his most inspired years away from Paris, in the natural wilderness of Switzerland and the brimming sensuality of Italian culture. The days were spent in intense study of Byron, Shakespeare and Dante. This was when the Années de Pèlerinage took seed.

“I have felt that the varied aspects of nature, and the different incidents associated with them, did not pass before my eyes like meaningless pictures, but that they evoked profound emotions within my soul.”

The significance of Liszt’s travels lies not only in the breadth, but also the depth, to which he explored. Wherever he went, he dug deep into the meaning and the origins of what he was experiencing. The pieces of the Années de Pèlerinage are one of the greatest legacies of this constant search for profundity and significance.

It is significant that Liszt’s ‘years of pilgrimage’ were spent not in search of musical encounters. He didn’t journey to Vienna, or to Bonn or to Leipzig, places of pivotal musical significance. Rather, he sought the raw nature of the Swiss lakes and forests, the Mont Blanc. He sought the human story of the revolutionary Wil- liam Tell, all of which brought forth the works of the first volume of the Années. He placed himself at the feet of the Italian masers of art and literature – Michelangelo and Raphael, Dante and Petrarch – and brought forth the works of the second volume as an offering.

The evolution of the Petrarch sonnets is typical of Liszt’s introspection. Inspired by poems, Liszt’s first logical reaction was to set them to music as songs. Only later did he free himself from the actual words by transcribing them for solo piano, which brought out more intensely and universally the feelings behind the words.

Raphael’s painting The Marriage of the Virgin, depicting the wedding of Joseph and Mary, inspired Liszt’s Sposalizio Betrothal. The famous Michelangelo statue found musical utterance in Il Penseroso – The Thinker. The Canzonetta di Salvator Rosa is more typical of what the fashionable 19th century travelogue would have contributed: a musical photograph of the tastes and ambience of Southern Italy.

The Dante Sonata, as it is traditionally called, is one of Liszt’s major works for piano, revolutionary in its severity, its de- mands on the instrument, its emotional scope. The musical analysis of this work constitutes a book in itself. Suffice to say that Liszt’s ability to transform his life experiences into music was totally unimpeded by the time of the second version of these works, and that the different arts had never achieved such perfect union as here.

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Program Notes by Frederic Chiu

Chopin’s Etudes Opus 10 mark the beginning of the modern school of piano playing. His contemporaries, exponents of the style brillant vogue of the early 1800s, wrote complex and varied sequences of scales and arpeggios which were based on the Classical piano technique of Mozart and Beethoven (itself already based on the harpsichord techniques of the Baroque period) — although they pushed it to the limits of playability. The hands stayed in the classic five-note position, the thumb rarely ventured onto the black keys, and leaps over a tenth were hard to find.

At the same time, the piano had evolved enormously, from Mozart’s delicate wooden structure into one capable of holding its own in a major concert hall, with increased carrying power and an extended tonal palette. The piano was ready and waiting for one who would crown it the “king of instruments.”

From the beginning, Chopin’s playing displayed an acute sensibility to the new tonal potentials of the piano; he was the first composer who listened to the instrument and designed a technique specifically for its strengths

Each Chopin Etude focuses on a specific technical detail, transparently evident in the listening. But in contrast to the emotionally meaningless physical exercises of a Czerny, the development of a Chopin étude is guided by the musical demands of the figurations, inspired at every moment by the physical and aural qualities of the instrument. In this way, Chopin elevated the étude, as he did with the mazurka and polonaise, into the realm of abstract music.

The true importance of the Etudes lines not in their technical originality or difficulty, but in the relationship between the technique and the musical expression. Chopin did not believe, as certain pillars of the Romantic movement were to proclaim, in the separation of intellect and emotion. The impact of the Etudes was immediate and far-reaching. Almost all of the the major pianist/composers since Chopin have followed his example in writing études: Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, etc. More indirectly, the études showed the way to a fantastic world of technical and expressive possibilities at the piano. Liszt was the first to grasp their importance, and their influence on his own writing is evident.

A detailed inventory of the Chopin Etudes is hardly necessary anymore, their importance in the repertoire having been established for over 150 years: today’s teenagers toss off the entire set at piano competitions!

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Frederic Chiu Biography

Frederic Chiu, who specializes in the early romantic piano repertory, has been called “more than a mere concert pianist” by the Evening Standard of London and “a pianistic genius” by Montreal’s La Presse.

His style has been likened to the aristocratic elegance of Rachmaninoff, and his virtuosity to that of Godowsky. As for his inventive interpretations and love of the “seldom-played repertoire,” they have evoked comparison with Glenn Gould and helped to define Chiu’s career. He received international attention in the 1993 Van Cliburn Competition when, favored to garner a prize, he sidestepped the standard competition fare (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven) to play a more provocative program – and lost in the semi-final round. But the recognition he received (The New York Times wrote that he was “a maverick American musician”) aroused the interest of critics and the resulting exposure helped him secure a recording contract.

Frederic Chiu has now played around the world – including in Los Angeles, Montreal, Rome, Brussels, Warsaw, Frankfurt and Casablanca – and he is one of few Western artists invited to perform in the People's Republic of China. In addition to his soloist activities, he co-founded the chamber music festival “Consonance” in Saint Nazaire, France. He also is interested in transcription and his arrangements of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije Suite have met with rousing success in concert and on record.

Born in Ithaca, New York, Frederic Chiu graduated from Indiana University and The Juilliard School; he received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1996. He resides in Paris and is often heard on radio and television broadcasts throughout North America, Europe and Africa. His recordings include the works of Liszt and Chopin.

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