1861: Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major

TUESDAY, September 22, 2020 – 1:47 AM

Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major, age 40

(This concerto is one single, long movement, divided into several sections that are connected by transformations of several themes, and no one seems to agree about how or where to divide it up. Liszt sort of merged the idea of a concerto, usually with three or four movements, with a tone poem. This concerto could easily tell a story, but Liszt decided to keep it as pure music, without a title. Rather than going by the official “movement” designations, which are even really there, I just used time stamps. These are unofficial. I tried to like to time changes, tempo changes and mood changes.)

The first part, only about four minutes long, is like a long , slow introduction.

  • 0_01- Adagio sostenuto assai, A major: It’s very slow, and Liszt lays out at least one of his central ideas. Themes here are more like Leitmotivs, except that he wrote no characters to link them to. This would be a love theme, probably for a young woman.
  • 0:48 – A – Dolce armonoiso, A major: This repeats the opening theme with piano.
  • 1:50 – Marcato, C# major: Change in mood and key. It’s regal, serious, noble. It’s still the same theme, but the feeling changes. Things intensify.
  • 2:43 – Un poco più mosso, E major: Another change in mood, and key, probably a different theme. Lot’s of fancy piano work, then ending in really powerful chords. He’s setting up a dominant.

L’istesso tempo just means same speed, but what really happens is a new movement, and it sounds a lot faster.

This is like a slow movement…

  • 6: 50 Tempo del andante, E major: The music moves to a new key, and this sounds like a new motive, but I have not studied the music carefully. It’s just a few arpeggiated chords, piano solo
  • 7:16- Allegro moderato, E major: Strings enter, then the piano plays harp like chords.
  • 8:17 In tempo, Db major: More romantic music, and again the opening theme, this time developed and very expressive. The cello is very important here. This section sort of ends on a question
  • 9:53 – Con abandono, Db major: Still ultra romantic, lots of key changes. so this is even more expressive, very fluid and very lush.
  • 11:02 In tempo, E major: This part is almost prayerful, very quiet, light, and it’s a bit slower than the previous section. It fades away to something very high, and very light. It’s very much like Wagner, who became his son-in-law. Then a big finish.

Another movement, much faster and with a great deal of energy, very rhythmic…

Back to a slow movement…

  • 15:59 – Un poco piùi mosso, tempo rubato, A major: But wait, not yet. Here comes the first theme again, back to the 1st style, slow and dreamy and free, but a bit more developed. He takes a good bit of time laying it all out. I could possibly break this section down more, and I may in the future. It winds down.

The big finish…

  • 18:55 – Allegro animato: Back to action for a big finish. Again, this is very Wagnerian. Wagner was only born two years later than Liszt. so the influenced one another.
  • 19:17 – Marcatissimo, A/E: This starts the big finish. Very fast, very playful, then huge glissandos on the piano as you just swipe the whole piano up and down, all the white keys. It’s very impressive sounding but really takes no skill at all, if you have long enough fingernails.
  • 19:27 Stretto, A major: Even faster. Stetto is where things all come together and create a climax.
  • 19:41 – Big brass, Db major to Ab: The brass enters, and the whole thing drives to a big finish.


  • solo piano, 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in E, 2 trumpets in E, 3 trombones (two tenor, bass), tuba
  • timpani in D and A, cymbals
  • strings

The key of A…

This is one of three famous concertos by Schumann, Liszt and Grieg, all in either A major or A minor, and in a way they belong together. Liszt was born in the same year as Schumann, 1810, although Grieg was born 32 years later. Richter’s recording of this composition is legendary.

A 21 year evolution…

Franz Liszt wrote drafts for his 2nd Piano Concerto in A major between 1839 and 1840 when he was just exiting his teenage years. But the name he had in mind was Concerto symphonique rather than the name we know today, and in fact he only called it a piano concerto officially sometime in the early 1860s.

As so many artists choose to do, he simply put those drafts away for awhile, most likely knowing that it was not yet a mature work. When he came back to it, he did a huge amount of revising over many years. Liszt dedicated the concerto to his student, Hans von Bronsart, who gave the first performance, with Liszt conducting, in Weimar on January 7, 1857. But he was still not done. The final revision ended in 1861. Liszt was then 51 years old, so there was a period of more than 30 years between his initial ideas and what he was finally pleased with.

A master of balance between the orchestra and piano…

Liszt attained an absolutely perfect balance between all the orchestral instruments and the piano so that everyone compliments everyone else, and because of his mastery of the piano himself everything is crystal clear. There are no problems performing the piece, and that is a rare thing. Usually there are obvious weaknesses in sound here and there in either the piano writing or in the orchestral “accompaniment”. There are none in this.

Furthermore, the orchestra does not sound as if it is accompanying the piano. It sounds as if two forces are balanced and at all times complimentary, working together.

6 thoughts on “1861: Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major

  1. The way you explain this concerto makes it easier to enjoy; especially the part “balance between the orchestra and piano” I just can imagine how many hours they had to spend to put this concert together.

  2. Another piece that took decades to complete. Absolutely worth waiting for. He did a wonderful job of having the orchestra and piano work so well together. Richter’s performance was superb.

  3. I love Liszt because he makes some of the most challenging pieces while simultaneously making them some of the most beautiful. His piece The Campanella is one of my favorites and consolation #3 is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.

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