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Piano fireworks

In this program, the French Canadian pianist Louis Lortie tackles Franz Liszt's piano cycle 'Years of Pilgrimage' — while a young Japanese pianist, Tomoki Kitamura, performs music by Schumann, Holliger and Bartók.

Listen to audio 54:59

Concert Hour: Piano fireworks, part one

Your ticket to the German classical music festival scene: Concert Hour has the picks of last year's season — from the Schwetzingen Festival to the Bayreuth Festival, the Bachfest in Leipzig and the Beethovenfest in Bonn, two hours of music, updated regularly.

Along with host Rick Fulker, the musicians themselves are on hand to give their insights into the events and the music.

This time, parts of two piano recitals at last year's Beethovenfest in Bonn.

Listen to audio 54:59

Concert Hour: Piano fireworks, part two

Part one:

Flashy virtuoso, itinerant, hermit, spirituality-seeker: Franz Liszt was all of those things. His improbable life is reflected in the three-hour piano music cycle "Années de pèlerinage" (Years of Pilgrimage). We'll hear parts of it this hour and more in the following.

Performing at another recital is the 28-year-old prizewinning Japanese pianist Tomoki Kitamura. His selections maintain the theme of nighttime music, beginning with Nachtstücke (Nighttime Pieces) by Robert Schumann and continuing with Elis: Three Nighttime Pieces by the contemporary Swiss composer Heinz Holliger. Inspired by verses by the Austrian poet Georg Trakl, they relate to Elis, a divine, mythical figure that exists somewhere in the realm of dreams and death. 

Tomoki Kitamura concludes with Out of Doors, five pieces that Bela Bartok wrote in 1926 for his wife, a pianist. In the final one, Bartók conjures up nighttime spirits. Kitmura described this piece to DW as "almost like limits of the ability of human playing. It's about hunting, and the left hand always moves in a very strange manner. The right hand is also very energetic. The important thing, of course: You can’t show this difficulty to the audience. Nothing should distract from the music." 

Bela Bartok (Getty Images)

Bela Bartok

Franz Liszt
Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage):

  • Orage (Thunderstorm)
  • Les cloches de Genève, Nocturnes (The Bells of Geneva, Nocturne) 

performed by: 
Louis Lortie, piano
Recorded by Deutschlandfunk Radio, Cologne (DLF) at the Beethoven House, Bonn on September 20, 2019

Robert Schumann 
Nachtstücke (Nocturnal pieces) for piano, op. 23 (excerpt) 

Heinz Holliger 
Elis: Three nocturnal pieces for piano  

Béla Bartók 
Im Freien (Out of Doors). Five pieces for piano, Sz 81 (1926)  

performed by: 
Tomoki Kitamura, piano
Recorded by Deutsche Welle, Bonn (DW) at the Telekom headquarters in Bonn on September 23, 2019

Tomoki Kitamura, interviewed by Rick Fulker (S. Metzler)

Tomoki Kitamura, interviewed by DW's Rick Fulker after taking second place at the International Telekom Beethoven Competition 2017

Part two:

Fifty years in the making, Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) is a cycle of piano compositions that mirror the life of its composer, Franz Liszt.  

Incredibly, Louis Lortie performed his recital of Liszt's stupendously difficult piano music mostly with his eyes closed. "I wanted to present him in the most serious and important way because I have a lot of respect for him overall as a composer," said Lortie of Liszt. 

A complete performances lasts three hours, and that is how Lortie presented it at the Beethovenfest. "I think it’s music that’s hypnotical," Lortie told DW, "and once that people are in it, they forget about time. It's a question of physical endurance for the pianist, of course, but it's mainly the spiritual challenge."  

grand piano (Fotolia)

Franz Liszt's pianos survived his vigorous playing but were sometimes worse for the wear

The first part of Years of Pilgrimage was written while Liszt was living with his first mistress, Marie d’Agoult. They met in Paris while she was still married, became a couple, never married but had three children: Blandine, Cosima and Daniel. Turning the children over to nannies, they embarked on years of pilgrimage, traveling Switzerland, France and Italy, delving into nature, art and literature. 

The piano cycle also spans the time of Liszt's separation from Marie d’Agoult and liaison with his second longtime companion, Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, a married Russian princess. 

Liszt eventually gave up his life as an itinerant performer, settled in Weimar and devoted himself to composing. Later, he took his vows as an abbé, a member of the secular clergy, and withdrew into a spiritual retreat. That phase of his life is reflected in Années de pèlerinage as well.

picture of a finger pressing down a piano key (Connfetti/Fotolia)

A lot of keystrokes in this program

Franz Liszt

Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage): 

  • Spozalizio (Engagement) 
  • Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa (Salvator Rosa's Little Song)  
  • Après une lecture de Dante (After reading Dante)  
  • Angélus! Prière aus anges gardiens (Angelus! Prayer to a guardian angel)  
  • Aux cyprès de la Villa d´Este (I) / Thrénodie (The Cypresses of the Villa d´Este (I) / Threnody)  
  • Les jeux d’eaux de la Villa d’Este (Water Games at the Villa d'Este)
  • Sursum corda (Lift Up Your Hearts)

performed by: 
Louis Lortie, piano
Recorded by Deutschlandfunk Radio, Cologne (DLF) at the Beethoven House, Bonn on September 20, 2019 

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