I am travelling from Edinburgh to London on the train today. Not an unusual thing for me to do. But it is a particularly beautiful experience. Certain parts of the UK have had a light dusting of early winter snow and so the countryside is looking all pleased with itself. It has teamed up with the watery sun and the farm animals – mainly sheep and horses – to make itself into a living christmas card for most of my journey. The sort that could be a photo of a scene from a Thomas Hardy novel if they had had cameras with them in those days.
And the musical accompaniment? The wonderful piano music of one Franz Listz. Various pieces (he produced a huge repertoire), including the glorious Piano Concerto No 1 in E Flat and the diaphenous En Reve (nocturne) s.207. He wrote other types of music too – symphonic works, organ music. But it was as a virtuoso pianist that he became most well known in the end.
The light that shines through his piano music; the apparent simplicity; the rippling notes; all belie the complexity and invention that underpin his outstanding compostions. One only has to look at the sheet music for any of his pieces, regardless of whether one can read music, to know that these are challenging peices to play for any performer – the pages are covered in dense runs of notes and chords – gulp!
One of the albums I have is his Annees de Pelerinage (years of pilgrimage). Comprised of a collection of short works described by Wiki as 'arguably his most stirring and provocative pieces', one experiences the full extent of Listz's capabilities with the piano. Take the Petarch Sonnet no 47 for example. Its name hints at poetry and the music does not disappoint. It is 4.47 minuets of pure emotion and story telling.
Come to think of, letting my mind wander as I am while looking out of the window on this train, it could have been the perfect theme for Bathsheba Everdene in Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd. Hang on a minute, I've just spotted her out with Gabriel in one of those snowy fields over there….
*Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy