Quirós: Today is a red letter day for me, as you’ll have doubtless gathered from the three-piece suit I’m wearing, since it’s not every day one gets the chance to welcome three guests as illustrious as yourselves. Herr Beethoven, Herr Schubert, Herr Liszt, I’m deeply grateful to all three of you for so graciously finding the time to come to this interview.
Beethoven: Don’t mention it, Mr. Quirós! Time’s not exactly a problem ...after all, we’ve got the whole of eternity...
Quirós: I understand it wasn’t altogether easy for you to attend this little meeting.
Liszt: Well, we experienced a small contretemps, because Herr Bach, our Supreme Creator, required a scholastic fugue to be composed a quattro in return for the issue of a heavenly exit permit, and Herr Schubert held us back a little in completing the task.
Schubert: I stand by my opinion that parallel octaves, used with elegance, do not impair the sound texture…
Quirós: I’m happy to note that you are all as active as ever and, indeed, are looking very much the same as we’re used to seeing you classically portrayed. Except perhaps for you, Herr Beethoven...
Beethoven: Please call me Ludwig. Look, to all intents and purposes, this promises to be an informal and relaxed conversation, so let’s dispense with the formalities.
Quirós: That’s most kind of you, Ludwig. As I was saying, there’s something about you that strikes me as different, calling to mind some of your portraits, such as the one by Stieler, for instance.
Beethoven: Oh, that’s very simple! In the Realm of Johann Sebastian, all of us have to wear a powdered wig or, alternatively, use a comb with loathsome regularity. As you can imagine, I chose the second, though I must confess that at one point I seriously toyed with the possibility of moving to the domain of that devil Paganini… Over there the rules are laxer…but then the weather’s so unbearably hot.
Quirós: It would appear that Herr Bach hasn’t lost an iota of his character and iron discipline. As I mentioned in my invitation, I was most eager to have the opportunity of talking to you about those of your works that I’ve included in my last album, which you had the chance to sample on its pre-release. Your presence here today makes me hope that the result didn’t prove altogether disagreeable to you...
Liszt: I have to admit, Enrique –let’s follow Ludwig’s example– that my immediate impression was that something was missing, that the recording could have done with being more on the monographic side, that it could have brought together a more consistent, smoother flowing repertoire, such as, for example, my Sonata and my Dante Fantasy, or my Transcendental Études...
Beethoven: Or for that matter, all my cycles of bagatelles... I agree with Franz on this point.
Schubert: Gentlemen, please! Let’s be civil. I ask you, could there be anything more beautiful than sharing music among good friends? All of us have a very similar role in this CD. Ludwig, you yourself have, on more than one occasion, lauded the feelings of friendship and fraternity. Don’t you remember?
Liszt: At all events, it was only a remark...
Quirós: Thanks, Franz Peter! Moreover, this is not the first time that you’ve shared a creative space. I’m thinking of the famous theme that you received from Diabelli in 1820, in order to compose a set of variations.
Liszt: How embarrassing! I was only nine years old at the time... But you, Ludwig, you made such a tremendous effort that, instead of the six or seven variations requested, you composed no fewer than thirty-three! Poor Diabelli, it almost gave him a panic attack...
Beethoven: When all said and done, the theme left a lot of leeway for play.
Quirós: Coming back to the album, Ludwig you’ll see that it is symbolically opened by your Bagatelles Op. 126. I say “symbolically” because I understand that it’s a work which has a very special meaning for you. In addition, it opened up new avenues and served as an inspiration to many creators who came afterwards and who took your figure as a point of reference and model to be emulated.
Beethoven: The bagatelles to which you refer are simply exquisite pieces, brimming with refinement and, at the same time, character, easily the best of anything I ever did. Incidentally, these were my last works for piano, because after that I focused all my efforts on the genre of the string quartet which, at that point in time, was better paid. In fact, it was precisely when I was working on one of the bagatelles that I received the visit of that young scamp, Franz, at Czerny’s insistence.
Liszt: That day, I could never have imagined just how far removed your thoughts were from that fragment of your Concerto No. 3 which I got to play for you...
Beethoven: I’m sorry for not having paid more attention, dear friend.
Quirós: It’s surprising how you approach piano composition in this cycle, how you take the dynamic contrasts of articulation and character to extremes in, say, Bagatelle No. 4 in B minor or No. 6 in E flat major.
Beethoven: This, more than any other opus that I composed for piano, is full of physical, almost sensual, sensations. My work on the monumental Ninth Symphony had left me drained in all senses and I needed to find some distraction with something small, something delicate which afforded me pleasure and diversion. The bagatelles sprung to life from the keyboard, as though they were some kind of improvisation. On sitting down at the piano, I let my fingers express what I felt at the time -serenity, excitement, longing, rage, triumph...
Quirós: If I’ve properly understand what you’re saying, it would amount to something like an X-ray of your Ninth taken from the piano.
Beethoven: It’s fortunate, Enrique, that during my prolonged absence, I’ve had the chance to come across many interesting individuals, including Dr. Röntgen, who’s brought me up to date with some of his discoveries. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been able to understand your metaphor...
Quirós: My apologies, Ludwig, I’d taken it for granted.
Beethoven: Indeed, in many aspects, the Bagatelles are a reflection of what working on my Choral Symphony meant to me.
Quirós: What stands out is the tonal plan, conceived from an interrelationship of descending major thirds between each of the pieces ...well, except for the first two, where there’s only a change of mode.
Beethoven: Right from the outset, I’d thought of developing a true cycle, not a collection of disconnected pieces. There’s no doubt that the tonal relationship lends cohesion, but what is most important is the unity that permeates the spirit of the work. They are six scenes of a single action.
Schubert: To my mind, there’s something sublime, magical, about these pieces. Up until then, nobody had ever managed to make the piano sing like that.
Quirós: You’ve always been particularly sensitive to this aspect of the Hammerklavier, Franz Peter.
Schubert: Song is my vocation. It was in the voice that I discovered the innermost, ineffable feelings expressed with an infinity of nuances. In the piano, all my efforts were devoted to finding the vocal identity of the instrument: it was a long, hard path that I climbed through all my sonatas and one that, I think, I succeeded in completing with the last four. The one which appears in your recording -No. 4 in A minor- reflects the beginning of that path. I find it intriguing that you should choose precisely this work of youth.
Quirós: The choice wasn’t fortuitous. I have to confess that my personal progress towards your music was equally arduous, and began with your fabulous lieder, to which I could listen for hours. Personally, however, I found the sonatas somewhat distant in spirit, until the day I heard the Sonata in B flat major being played by Sviatoslav Richter, one of your staunchest champions...
Schubert: Slava’s marvellous!
Quirós: Something changed radically in me, and I set about exploring your piano opus in depth. I realised that I couldn’t run before I could walk and that the colossus of the Sonata in B flat major wouldn’t make a good start; so I began from the very beginning, from this little big Sonata in A minor that we’re talking about now. It was this work which introduced me to your particular piano world, and that’s why it brings me such fond memories.
Schubert: Me too! That year, 1817, I devoted almost exclusively to piano composition, with this being the first of a series of three sonatas that I produced between March and November.
Quirós: Despite being composed by someone who was not yet twenty, I find it a work that transmits a surprising maturity, in terms of content, construction and piano treatment, though at times the score might be said to contain passages written contro natura from a technical point of view.
Schubert: These were my beginnings on the keyboard as a solo instrument; even so, I find the sonata retains an almost perfect balance between its three movements, and I’m particularly satisfied with the end result.
Quirós: Ten years later, you again used the charming theme of the Allegretto quasi Andantino for the rondo of your monumental Sonata in A major. What made you do that?
Schubert: Well, like you, I found it a charming theme which I would’ve clearly liked to develop a little more in my Sonata in A minor. But it was a central movement, a fragile and elegant bridge between the two solid pillars embodied in the first and third movements. In the Sonata in A major, however, I wanted to infuse this lovely motif with another dimension, by converting it into a key piece of a grand movement.
Quirós: I can’t stop myself from choking up whenever I hear this motif suffused with such gentle melancholy.
Schubert: You flatter me.
Liszt: Don’t be so modest, my friend. Your talent for melody is almost unrivalled. It’s no coincidence that your magnificent songs take pride of place in my catalogue of transcriptions, though it’s almost impossible for the piano to match the beauty that radiates from these lieder.
Quirós: Franz, your transcriptions of Herr Schubert’s songs have done a truly admirable job of disseminating them. Indeed, there are many people who’ve even got to know the piano versions first, believing them to be the original. The case of the transcriptions of Ludwig’s symphonies, which you also adapted for the keyboard, is quite another story.
Liszt: Fortunately, time puts everything into perspective and our dear Franz Peter has received the recognition he deserves. Much as Ludwig came to be regarded as an eminence, in spite of being at odds with the antiquated, decadent fin de siècle atmosphere then prevailing in Vienna, Schubert, on the other hand, did not enjoy the same fate...
Beethoven: I’ll always regret not having done more to prevent that!
Liszt: Franz Peter’s lieder conquered me from the moment I heard them, and making his music known became a duty for me. Ludwig’s symphonies, in contrast, were already widely acclaimed and fully established works -they required no further dissemination. I approached their transcription for piano motivated by the enormous admiration I had for them. This is what also led me to complete the critical edition of the thirty-two sonatas.
Beethoven: While we’re on the subject, Franz, I think it’s high time we discussed some of your pedal indications...
Liszt: We never did find the right time to broach this subject.
Quirós: Seeing as we’ve begun to talk about transcriptions, I’d be interested to hear your opinion about my interpretation of what appears on the CD, inspired by Herr Wagner’s Pilgrims’ Chorus.
Liszt: Oh, I really like the tempo and dynamic curve that you’ve managed to construct. This fragment of Richard’s has... By the way, it’s a pity that he’s not here with us today. Wasn’t he invited to our gathering?
Quirós: You surely wouldn’t think me that discourteous, Franz? I sent Herr Wagner an invitation similar to yours, and then, after sending out a second invitation on getting no reply to the first, I received a two-liner from his agent requesting the type of fee which, sadly, I can’t possibly afford.
Liszt: Poor old Richard! He made such an effort with his Parsifal... but I fear that our Lord Johann Sebastian is still going to wait a while longer before welcoming him into his Realm. At all events, as I was saying, the Pilgrims’ Chorus has a mysterious halo which, for some unknown reason, is utterly beguiling...a halo that I discern in your revised and refined version.
Quirós: Thanks for the compliment. I feel a whole lot less comfortable asking you about what sort of impression the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 made on you. Studying it took me through many years of searching before feeling reasonably satisfied with the result; not so much because of the pianistic demands of the work, but because of the difficulty posed by the rhapsodical discourse and folkloric nature of the piece.
Liszt: As you’ll no doubt appreciate, what you’re describing entails no difficulty for me but I do understand your feelings. To make music sound as if it were being played for the first time, to find that freshness is not always easy, particularly if what is being reproduced is another artist’s creation. Indeed, this is the principal task of the interpreter, aside from any technical vicissitudes. However, I’m afraid that, over many decades my rhapsodies have been looked upon as some type of piano sport, which has led to the proliferation of a multitude of deplorable versions in which the pianist in question seeks, vainly, to finish off the piece before it comes to an end...
Quirós: I fear that I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to.
Liszt: Don’t be so apologetic. Despite the fact that I’m convinced this isn’t your final version, your interpretation reflects a refined construction and contains some ideas, from the standpoint of sonority, which come as a pleasant surprise. Dimly, yet nonetheless discernible in this vision of the Rhapsody, I sense the omnipotent presence of our great maestro van Beethoven -after all, we are all his heirs ...
Beethoven: I’m on the verge of forgiving you for those pedal indications, my kleine Franz.
Quirós: With rare exceptions, generosity is clearly a quality inherent in great artists. I couldn’t have enjoyed our little talk more, meine Herren but I don’t want to steal any more of your valuable time. A long return trip awaits you.
Schubert: Walking will do us good after such a long time...
Quirós: Until we meet again, liebe Freunde.
Enrique Bernaldo de Quirós
To Galina Eguiazarova, my teacher.