The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Saturday night, UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor continues his virtuosic Liszt-Beethoven symphony cycle along with music by Kapustin and Schubert

February 5, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release, researched and written by Katherine Esposito, concert manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, about a noteworthy upcoming concert:

Franz Liszt (below, 1811-1886) was a superstar pianist. He was a virtuoso who invented the orchestral tone poem, taught 400 students for free, conducted and composed.

Musicologist Alan Walker wrote a definitive three-volume biography of Liszt, shedding light on all of Liszt’s work but especially his genius for transcription.

Writes Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times : “The best of these works are much more than virtuosic stunts. Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the nine Beethoven symphonies are works of genius. Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview, told me that he deeply regretted never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public.”

Few pianists have tackled all nine Beethoven transcriptions.

UW-Madison professor and Van Cliburn Competition medal winner Christopher Taylor (below in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) is one of them. On this coming Saturday night, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform his sixth transcription — Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93.

Saturday’s concert will also include: six preludes (Nos. 19-24) from 1988 by Nikolai Kapustin (below), whose works span both classical and jazz; and the Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (based on the song “The Wanderer”) of Franz Schubert, a piece so virtuosic that the composer himself had to give up playing it  before finishing. (You can hear Kapustin’s Prelude No. 23, which Taylor will play, in the YouTube video at the bottom and can follow the intimidating-looking score to it.)

In 2020, Christopher Taylor will celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary with performances of the Franz Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, in Madison and elsewhere.

In Boston, Taylor will perform the entire set of nine in five concerts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Tickets for Taylor’s Feb. 9 concert at the UW are $17 for adults, and $7 for children and students. They can be purchased online or in person.

Purchasing options are here:

Or, purchase online directly at this link.


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Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – Live in a Moscow concert, the late Russian pianist Emil Gilels performs as an encore the haunting, poignant and beautiful Prelude in B minor, a transcription by Alexander Siloti of an original by Johann Sebastian Bach.

August 23, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) on the piano. You know how these things go in spurts.


As I have said before, transcription is a time-honored practice, especially for Baroque composers.

Most often, the transcriptions are based on preludes and fugues, passacaglia, toccatas, chorale preludes and movements from the cantatas.

But I have found that far too many transcriptions get too grand for my taste – too orchestral and powerful with too much emphasis on deep bass octaves and too many thick chords. The piano is not a pipe organ, which is part of its virtue.

I prefer that the transcribers preserve at least some of the transparency of the original Bach.

Which is one reason why I like the transcription in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of a prelude in E minor from the first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Siloti basically took a motif and developed in into a separate piece.

Alexander Siloti

It is so hauntingly beautiful.

Plus it is useful as well as beautiful.

Having played it myself – or at least played at it — I can tell you that it is harder to pull off than it sounds. Siloti’s transcription is really the same short piece of music repeated twice. So it serves as an etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.

It is also a question of coordinating and strengthening the   fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and the wide, rolled arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.

And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those sixteenth notes.

I’ll bet a lot of his students and subsequent piano students at the Moscow Conservatory benefitted from practicing and playing this gorgeous miniature that some artists use as effective encore, bringing a concert to a quiet and soulful close.

All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be heard, learned and performed more frequently.

Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late and great Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninov (seen below on the right, with Siloti on the left).

Alexander Siloti and Sergei  Rachmaninov

First, here is the Bach original, with the fugue, played in a YouTube video by Friedrich Gulda, a teacher of Martha Argerich:

And here is the live performance by Gilels:

What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?

Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?

What do you look for in a piano transcription of Bach?

The Ear wants to hear.

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