Liszt’s "Forgotten Romance" with the Viola

Violist Kim Kashkashian (photo by Steve Riskind)

violist Kim Kashkashian (photo by Steve Riskind)

It’s an example of one piece of music “giving birth” to another.

In 1880 Franz Liszt’s publisher requested a reprint of a piece Liszt had written in 1848: the Romance in E for piano. The two minute Romance begins and ends in a slightly turbulent E minor. In between, it restlessly moves, first into the relative major key of G and then flirts with a distant and ultimately unattainable A-flat major. At this moment you can hear how badly the music wants to resolve in A-flat. It ends up getting cut off by E major, which pulls us back where we belong. The final bars of the piece seem to want to hold onto the fleeting sunlight of major before sinking back into the inevitable E minor.

Franz Liszt ended up transforming the first five pitches of the Romance in E into a completely new piece, the Romance oubliée (“Forgotten Romance) for viola and piano. It seems to be the only solo viola music Liszt wrote, apart from a transcription of Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy. The viola arpeggios we hear in the second movement of Harold in Italy creep in towards the end of Romance oubliée at a moment of solemn transcendence (beginning at 2:55).

Here is a 1984 recording by violist Kim Kashkashian (not to be confused with a certain television personality and model with a similar name) and pianist Robert Levin:

  • Find Kim Kashkashian’s recording of Romance oubliée at iTunes, Amazon
  • Find Jenő Jandó’s recording of Liszt’s Romance in E at iTunes, Naxos

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