Hungarian Music News, 1984 Vol. 1., No. 1-2, Summer 20-21 p. 









The new three-volume score published by Editio Musica well deserved its great success at the Frankfurt Book Fair this January. Its success was partly due to the fact that previous editions of the Technical Studies have been out of print for decades; moreover, this is the very first publication of the entire work. The 1886 and 1901 editions included the material of only the first two volumes, while the third volume was thought to have been lost even before the composer’s death. Experts on Liszt's oeuvre, however, were delighted to learn that the Goethe and Schiller Archives in Weimar had purchased eleven folios of Liszt autographs in 1975: the lost parts of the manuscript of the Technical Studies. “The new part undoubtedly belongs to the first two sections, which had been in the possession of the Archives for some time: the identical quality of the paper, the watermark, the colour of the ink used for writing the score, the uniform nature of Liszt’s notation as well as the continuous numbering of the pages place the question of coherence beyond doubt”, according to the Preface.


Liszt had started working on this series in 1868 and finished it by about 1871. But a number of unexpected circumstances delayed the completion of the final version with Liszt’s corrections and fingering until 1885, and it was published only shortly after the composer’s death in 1886, by Schubert, a Leipzig publisher. The collection had a second edition in 1901; a shortened version of the exercises was published by M. Krause who replaced the repetitions and the transposed parts, which had been written out in full, with symbols.


It is well-known that Paganini’s virtuoso playing inspired Liszt to develop his exceptional pianistic talents. His determination is perfectly illustrated by an extract from a letter to one of his pupils (1832); “My mind and fingers, these obsessed wizards, have been at constant work for two weeks: Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart and Weber, etc. keep me company. I am studying them fervently, and in addition I practice thirds, sixths, octaves, tremoloes, repetitions, cadences, etc., for four or five hours daily. Oh, unless I go mad, you will find me an artist when you come here.” There is also a contemporary description of Liszt’s pedagogical method. Mme Boissier informs us that Liszt had already formulated his ideas about developing technical skills at that time. “Liszt is arduously trying to make his pupils accept the basic laws of a method,” reads her Diary, “which has been tested and found right by himself. This method prescribes ruthless physical training for the fingers to make them obey and execute even the most formidable exercises.” Liszt’s instructions are summed up by Mme Boissier: “… let us play octaves, arpeggio octaves, basic triads, chords of four notes in every key… with carefully controlled crescendo and diminuendo, increasing the volume of the sound from the most delicate piano to the loudest forte. Let us continue with scales from one end of the keyboard to the other through all twenty-four keys, five, six, seven, eight times without stopping, unison, parallel thirds and sixths with alternately increasing and decreasing dynamics, with a fine tone and if possible every morning. The exercises must be repeated with chords; too, so that despite our weak and inept fingers every note may be sounded with even dynamics… Once we have acquired sufficient skills with scale passages, no piece of music will pose any technical difficulty.”


If we compare Liszt’s instructions quoted above with the structure of the Technical Studies, it becomes clear that this work is in fact the written essence of the method he used in his youth to develop his technical skills. It is especially valuable just because of this aspect. In other words he presents today's pianist with the method which enabled him to attain his extraordinary virtuosity, so that any talented, and most of all hard-working young pianist with sufficient manual aptitude can theoretically get very close to Liszt’s technical level through studying these pieces.


Liszt did not add any instructive explanations to these studies. It was not his intention to write an instruction manual for the piano, as he also stated in one of his letters, but technical exercises for piano. The score speaks for itself more eloquently than the words he spared. He follows his own method, i.e. he writes out in full everything he requires from the player. Liszt does not leave anything to the pianist’s memory; he does not anticipate that the pupil will be able to transpose the music with ease, that he will remember every rhythmic variant or that he will automatically use the right fingering. Let the student concentrate on what he is asked to play to develop his instrumental skills.


The new edition has been published by Imre Mező, one of the best experts on Liszt’s piano works and autographs. He is the coeditor and publisher of several volumes of the New Liszt Edition, currently being published jointly by Editio Musica and Bärenreiter Verlag. This score reprints the authentic original text based on the autograph and Schubert’s first edition. The missing or forgotten parts of the score were added only in the most obvious instances and always by analogy with other examples, and they are distinctly printed in the music. The bar and serial numbers of the studies as well as the titles in the third volume were also added by the publisher. All the three volumes include critical notes, prefaces in German, English and Hungarian and an index of first lines. The setting of the present edition is very lucidly spaced, a great help in fast reading and worthy of the spirit of the composition.


Mariann Ábrahám