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Franz Liszt
Piano Sonata in B Minor

Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, [1854])

Gilmore Music Library

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liszt b minor sonata


As the foremost pianist of his era, Liszt naturally composed an immense amount of piano music, but from this diverse catalogue we have but a single sonata. (He did write several others in his youth, but these have not survived.) The Piano Sonata in B minor is one of his greatest masterpieces. He completed it in 1853, and published it in 1854 with a dedication to Robert Schumann. (Schumann, who was institutiona­lized in 1854 because of a psychiatric illness, had dedicated his C major Fantasy to Liszt fifteen years earlier. Liszt’s letter of thanks is also on view in our exhibit.) The Sonata offers the virtuosity and grandeur that every­one would expect from Liszt, but it also demonstrates an ingenious mastery of form. Like many major instrumental works from this era, it is made up of distinct move­ments that are elided into one another, but the work as a whole can also be reasona­bly construed as a single vast sonata form. It is based on a handful of themes that undergo a remarkable array of transformations. Liszt used many of these same tech­niques in his Faust Symphony (which he began in 1854), and though Liszt did not supply the Sonata with a written program, numerous commentators have interpreted it as yet another musical version of the Faust tale, which held a powerful attraction for many romantic composers.