We’re gonna look at one of those pieces you hear and you just melt into the floor because you cannot contain yourself because it sounds so gorgeous. A piece like this could only be written by none other than the heartthrob of the 19th century- Franz Liszt.
The last time we looked at something from Liszt, we looked at a darker piece called Totentanz. But this time, we’re gonna look at a piece which is very different in mood.
This comes from a collection called Trois études de concert, or in English, Three Concert Etudes, and it is the 3rd etude. Etudes are pieces that help develop a particular technique, and the composer writes it in such a way that the technique is practiced throughout the piece. This could get repetitive if you hear the same thing over and over again, but a good composer can take any technique and put it into a gorgeous sounding work that is very pleasant to listen to (i.e. the one we will listen to shortly).
This etude is nicknamed “Un Sospiro” which means “a sigh”. This nickname might not have been Liszt’s idea as it did not appear in the music when it was first published. But nevertheless whoever came up with the nickname interpreted this piece as “a sigh”. You may interpret it differently when you hear it, but that’s one interpretation to consider.
Some techniques that are developed in this etude are hand crossing and arpeggios. This is fun to watch, since the melody notes alternate between hands (you’ll see this in a minute), and the arpeggios are played throughout. You’ll see what these look like as we check out some excerpts from the sheet music (I’ll try to make it simple if you can’t read music). So let’s listen to this:
00:05- Try to contain yourself. Those fast notes you hear at the beginning are arpeggios, then at 00:11, the melody comes in. You’ll see the pianist’s left hand cross over for every other melody note. The melody is circled in the picture below, and below the melody are the fast arpeggios going up and down. I would love to explain all the words you see in the music (which would take forever), so to make it simple, those words tell the pianist how to interpret the piece.
01:38- Now the melody (circled) is on the bottom, played with the left hand (the higher the notes are on the page, the higher they are on the piano, also the lower notes are lower on the piano). This part to me sounds like the music is soaring when the notes go up so high. I like how Liszt uses the same melody, but the character changes when the arpeggios go higher.
03:05- In this part, the melody alternates between hands (the left hand is the lower notes and the right hand is the higher notes). The “>” sign (an accent) notates the melody, so wherever the “>” is, that’s where the melody is. It’s either below the top notes or above the bottom notes.