Playing the rests in Liszt Sonata

Sometimes even great interpretations don’t reveal or highlight many details present in the original score. 

Liszt’s masterpiece begins with some muffled tollings (Gs), in the lower part of the instrument, indicated by the composer with the symbol "staccatissimo", meaning that a drier and a more incisive than normal staccato is required. 

Furthermore, these tollings are evidently on the upbeat, because of the pauses on the downbeat and on the third crotchet of the bar.  They must somehow emerge from silence, and so it is important to look for a touch that is able to connect these Gs to the silences that precede and follow them. 

Even before playing, it is important to have in mind the initial type of sound, the type of touch, as well as knowing how to listen to the silence that precedes it. 

To maintain the tension and connect the Gs to the silences that precede and follow them, a "downward" attack, that is directed towards the bottom of the keyboard, should not be used.

With this type of touch, however soft and however detached it may be played, there will always be a sound that is too static and too long, because the key must firstly be lowered and than raised. 

Instead, a touch "from the key" needs to be used, with wrists and forearms slightly raised, even before playing.  In this manner a particularly short sound will be achieved, a sound that falls back into silence as soon as the key is lowered, because the key rises almost immediately after being lowered. 

The following theme, on the other hand, requires a very different type of sound.  The difficulty is given by the coexistence of the long Gs, which must be audible until the end of their value, with the notes of the theme, which must be played very legato, without any accentuation. 

Here it is useful and effective to listen not so much to the melodic line, but rather to the long Gs, and to "insert" the melody inside them to better control the quality of the legato.  By listening to the long sounds you will be allowed to find the technical attitude that will let you perform the melodic line with the proper "underground" and "creeping" touch. 

A touch that certainly would sound too accentuated if you focus too much on the single notes of the melody. 

As always, listening to the silence, to the conception of sound, and analyzing all sound layers that make up the score, is really crucial...even before actually starting to play!

Playing the rests in Liszt Sonata.
Liszt Sonata in B minor - Manuscript (1853)

Photo: Danhauser - Franz Liszt at the piano, 1840

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