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Reflections on Listz.

Reflections on Listz, by Alan Walker. Cornell University Press (512 E. State St., Ithaca, NY 14850), 2005. 277 pp. $39.95.

Just when it seemed that Alan Walker had written the last word on Franz Liszt, Reflections on Liszt appears, amplifying our understanding of Liszt the composer, pianist, teacher, conductor, editor, writer and human being. Walker has drawn upon a wealth of documentary research that he was not able to include in his definitive three-volume biography. Throughout the book, Walker debunks myths about Liszt and focuses on little known aspects of his life and work. For example, Walker goes into great detail to unravel the mystery surrounding Beethoven's kiss of consecration of the 11-year-old Liszt at a concert. He then makes an enlightening presentation on how Liszt's transcriptions of Beethoven's symphonies and Schubert's songs influenced his own compositions for piano. We also learn how Liszt transmitted his unique pianism to three influential students: Carl Tausig, Hans von Bulow and the little-known Walter Bache. Reading the story of Bache's lifelong sacrifice in the service of his beloved teacher's music is quite moving.

True to its title, the book is a not a linear biography, nor does it focus on a single event or topic. Instead, Walker has given us a series of biographical and analytic vignettes that help reinforce our knowledge of the stunning reach of this still misunderstood artist. It is clearly and enjoyably written and contains practical tips for pianists (especially in the chapter on the B Minor Sonata) and invaluable information for teachers about Liszt's pedagogical style (including an entire chapter on technical exercises). Particularly interesting is Walker's advocacy for rarely played pieces, such as Liszt's transcription of Schubert's Schwanengesang. The chapter on Liszt's lieder makes a strong case for viewing the composer as a "missing link" between Schumann and Mahler in the history of the German lied. And throughout, regardless of genre, Walker allows his readers a glimpse of Liszt, the restless composer, tirelessly revising his scores over many years.

Walker ends the book with a chapter entitled, "An Open Letter to Franz Liszt." It is a fitting conclusion to this remarkably lucid and affectionate set of essays on a composer whose biography has been Walker's life's work. Perfect for pianists, teachers and music lovers, Reflections on Liszt is a poetic coda to Walker's sustained, insightful research into a man who shaped so much of the musical world we inhabit today. Reviewed by John Ellis, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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Author:Ellis, John
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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