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The Neglected Consolations of Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt's beloved Consolation No. 3 in D-flat Major from the Six Consolations S.172, is a character piece frequently performed by the advancing pianist in recital and festival adjudications. Reminiscent of a nostalgic nocturne, Consolation No. 3 features a stunning melodic line and unpredictable harmonic nuances that have surely contributed to its popularity. Although less commonly performed, the remaining five Consolations surrounding it are equally beautiful, accessible character pieces filled with Lisztian compositional sonorities. A closer look at Consolation Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 from Six Consolations S.172 unearths a wealth of musical and technical pedagogical elements to heighten the advancing pianist's skillset. 

Brief Historical Context

The Six Consolations were originally published in 1850,1 however they are not the only Consolations Liszt composed. In 1992, Liszt scholars Mária Eckhardt and Ernst-Günter Heinemann created a new edition which included Liszt's never-before published earlier adaptations of the Consolations.2 The earlier Consolations are more technically demanding than the 1850 publication and the well-known Consolation No. 3 in D-flat Major is an entirely different piece. Although Franz Liszt's letters typically offer detailed information on pieces he was composing or planned to compose, he wrote minimal commentary about the Six Consolations S. 172.3 The manuscript contains the annotation of the town of Lemberg (now present- day Lviv, Ukraine). Mária Eckhardt and Ernst-Günter Heinemann suggest this implies a compositional period between 1844 and 1849.4 Typical of the Information on this collection, the inception of the title Consolations is unknown. Two commonly speculated sources of inspiration are Alphonse de Lamartine's poem titled Une larme, ou Consolation or the collection of poetry titled Consolations by Charles Sainte-Beuve. 5 

Consolation No. 1

Beginning with an expansive homophonic texture in E major, the lush texture requires careful voicing of the right-hand fifth finger. Liszt provides a wonderful teaching moment in mm. 5 and 6 where he rhythmically isolates the melodic line and chordal accompaniment. It is almost as if he provides a practice-variation on voicing, giving the pianist time to carefully distribute arm weight between the various textures (see Excerpt 1). 

Excerpt 1: Consolation No. 1, mm. 1-6.

Once the student can isolate the textures in mm. 5 and 6, the recurring bell-tone melody presents another interesting challenge for the developing pianist: how to shape a melodic line with one pitch. An explanation of the acoustical physics of the piano, when hammers restrike a recently attacked string, might help supplement the student's ability to control their instrument and ultimately create their sound ideal. There are moments in Consolation No. 1 where the student will most likely have to redistribute pitches between the hands. The interval of a tenth, found in the left hand of m. 18 (see Excerpt 2), can be played more easily if redistributed to the right-hand thumb. Careful score marking will assist the student to redistribute the chord tone and reinforce good practice habits. The compactness of Consolation No. 1, only twenty-five measures in total, is an ideal length for a piece introducing such demands in mature voicing and harmonic shading. 

Excerpt 2: Consolation No. 1, mm.13-18.

Consolation No. 2

Often performed directly after Consolation No. 1, the second Consolation beautifully compliments the first with a yearningly romantic melody. Marked "un poco più mosso," this Consolation in E major has the mature musical qualities one might expect of a Liszt piece; however, it is technically accessible to the advancing pianist who has a comfortable octave-sized hand. A carefully balanced combination of finger legato, fingering substitution, and active pedaling are required in the opening four measures (see Excerpt 3). 

Excerpt 3: Consolation No. 2, mm. 1-5 

When the opening melody reappears in m. 38, Liszt chooses to transpose the theme and to use the rich cello-like register of the piano. Continuing with the voicing skill-set worked on in the first Consolation, the second Consolation challenges the pianist to seamlessly shape a single melodic line that is shared between both hands (see Excerpt 4). Although the melodic line is relatively clear in this example, a short score study, as if preparing a polyphonic piece of J.S. Bach, could help the student determine which material is melodic, and which is the accompaniment. 

Excerpt 4: Consolation No. 2, mm. 36-40. 

Consolation No. 4

Melodically accredited to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Weimar,6 Consolation No. 4 is nicknamed the "Stern-Consolation" and continues in the warm key of D-flat major established by the famed Consolation No. 3. Pianist and editor Alexandre Dossin explains the given nickname as due to the image of "the guiding star printed in some editions."7 The hymn-like theme requires a certain level of musical maturity to play convincingly. Chords with a large outer interval of a tenth (see Excerpt 5) must be carefully rolled, while listening for voice balance and tasteful timing that doesn't disrupt the already adagio pulse. Liszt later transposes the melody to the espressivo bass octaves of the piano, causing challenges in register balance and hand crossing. Lastly, the chromaticism in the harmonic structure requires attentive listening and an active pedal. 

Excerpt 5: Consolation No. 4, mm. 1-5.

Consolation No. 5

After settling in D-flat major during the previous two pieces, the cyclic feeling returns as Consolation No. 5 is in E major. Titled "Madrigal," Consolation No. 5 first dates to 1844 when Liszt wrote an earlier sketch of the piece.8 It begins with a song-like melody in the bass staff, which one can distribute between the hands for ease in shaping and legato connection. The beautifully written intervals of thirds and sixths, found in the soprano and alto lines, cause fingering obstacles that must be worked out (see Excerpt 6). Many standard editions offer a variety of valuable fingering suggestions on such passages. 

Excerpt 6: Consolation No. 5, mm. 1-5. 

Consolation No. 5's broken-chord accompaniment figures are comparable to an easier Chopin nocturne. Liszt uses brief moments of polyrhythm between the melody and accompaniment. Two against three appears in several moments (see Excerpt 7), however not frequently enough to be overwhelming for the developing pianist. The left-hand accompaniment has several moments of wide-spaced intervals of a ninth and tenth that can be quickly rolled to become more accessible for a smaller- sized hand. 

Excerpt 7: Consolation No. 5, mm. 30-31
 

 Consolation No. 6

Full of Lisztian passion, the sixth Consolation is the most technically demanding piece in the collection. The chordal texture in E major explores nearly the entire range of the keyboard. A Chopin-like cadenza figure, one of the few cadenza moments in the entire collection, offers the pianist an opportunity to shape an improvisatory idea before the return of the A section (see Excerpt 8). Giant leaps are found throughout the entire Consolation which might require careful, slow practice and healthy hand-wrist-arm alignment to prevent twisting. Similar to the fourth Consolation, this Consolation challenges the pianist to have an active pedal to compliment the briskly moving harmonic structure. After a passionate return of the A section, the coda challenges the pianist with a cyclical return of the calm quality of the previous pieces, to musically convey a sense of comfort and resolution.

Excerpt 8: Consolation No. 6, mm. 67-69. 

Each character piece found in Franz Liszt's Six Consolations S. 172 offers a wealth of technical and musical challenges that are engaging or both the student and instructor. Using Jane Magrath's leveling system, the collection ranges in difficulty from Level 7 through Level 10.9 Liszt's Six Consolations are comparable to Mendelssohn's Songs without Words and might serve as excellent preparation for Chopin nocturne study. Each Consolation could be performed independently, as a complete cycle, or as Maurice Hinson suggests in the following groupings: "nos.1, 2; 1, 2, 4, 6; or 4, 5, 6."10  

Pedagogical Concepts Studied In Each Piece Include:

Consolation No. 1 (Level 9)

• Chordal Voicing
• Shaping a Mono-pitch Melodic Line • Hand Redistribution

Consolation No. 2 (Level 9)

• Finger Legato
• Finger Substitution
• Parallel Octave Melody

Consolation No. 4 (Level 9)

• Chordal Rolling and Chordal Control • Register Balance
• Pedaling Chromaticism
• Hand Crossings 

Consolation No. 5 (Level 10)

• Cantilena Vocal Style
• Double 3rds and 6ths
• Polyrhythms: two against three

Consolation No. 6 (Level 10)

  • • Large Chordal Leaps
  • • Cadenza Passage

• Active Pedaling 

Notes

1. Franz Liszt, Six Consolations, ed. Maurice Hinson (Van Nuys: Alfred Publishing co., 2011), 3.

2. Franz Liszt, Consolations and Liebesträume, ed. Alexandre Dossin (New York: G. Schirmer Inc., 2011), 5.

3. Franz Liszt, Consolations, eds. Mária Eckhardt and Ernst-Günter Heinemann (Munich: G. Henle Verlag, 1992), iv.

4. Ibid., iv-v.

5. Ibid., v.

6. Liszt, Six Consolations, 3.

7. Liszt, Consolations and Liebesträume, 6.

8. Liszt, Six Consolations, 3.

9. Jane Magrath, The Pianist's Guide to the Standard Teaching and Performance Literature (Van Nuys: Alfred Publishing Co., 1995), 202-203. 

10. Liszt, Six Consolations, 3. 

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