Well, this is the Liszt Year, so I suppose everyone is thinking about Liszt, or at least an awful lot of pianists are practicing Liszt. I do hope they are also thinking about Liszt, because he is indeed a marvel. I hope some singers are programming Liszt –I see one or two here in México- supposing they can find a pianist collaborator who can deal with those scores, because Liszt’s lieder (German for "songs", pronounced like "leader" in English) are extraordinary, and extraordinarily underplayed.

For various reasons I’ll go into later, I myself recently re-entered the Lisztian Universe. And I am enchanted.

I came late to Liszt. I’ve been thinking a bit about why and suppose it’s because right when I was physically almost ready for his music, I changed teachers for the first real time in my life: I left the teacher I’d had since I was about eight years old –the one I had after my mother— to go away to university where I had another teacher.

I want to write about Liszt and my late-blooming relationship with him, so this may go on for several entries.

I was aware that Liszt was important, but I think that in my twenties I simply wasn’t ready to understand why. Part of this was fear, of course: part of the Received Wisdom about Liszt is that his music is horrendously difficult. It is. But at that time in my musical development I was completely unequipped to understand the how and the why of its difficulty – which are quite different from the Received Wisdom. 
A couple of years ago, coming out of Solo Rumores, I began to get the itch to explore Liszt. There is no way to explain this, as there is no way to explain why, at more than 40 years of age, I got a dog for the first time and now cannot imagine living without one. Or rather, the explanations would be long, complex, and interior: and thus of little interest to anyone but myself and a close friend or two over a bottle of wine. 

It was similar to what happened when I was irresistibly drawn –sometime in 2000, I believe it was-- to learn Arturo Márquez’ Días de Mar y Río, a work which I have played countless times and which, I suppose, has become something of a signature piece for me. I had the very clear sense that it was the moment for me to play a big, muscular, virtuosic piece and I very much wanted the challenge –musical, physical, mental— of doing that.

And there are other similarities. What I found with Márquez, over the long haul, is that for that piece to work well I have to think of … Mozart. Clarity, delicacy, how close Mozart is to CPE Bach and his lightning changes of Affekt. Galvanic strength when the moment is right, but the rest is Mozart; even, in certain spots, the woody, intimate sound of a fortepiano. 

There is so much stereotyping of Liszt, particularly around the idea that virtuoso playing has to do with a lot of pounding, a lot of sound and fury. Oh dear. I make my way into Liszt, these last few years, finally ready –I feel— to understand him, and I realize how close Liszt is to CPE Bach. Affekt … 

Liszt’s abiding love of song, and of words. Schumann, Schubert, Petrarch. 

Here, with Liszt, the piano becomes a new kind of extension of the voice, and of all the emotions the voice can communicate –something CPE Bach sought eternally in his music. The carefully calculated arpeggios, which are sometimes anacruses (upbeats) and sometimes portamenti (impossible to translate, like when the voice slides up or down to a note and somehow sings a bunch of the notes in between); the voicing of chords, all are ways of summoning up the resonances, the harmonic series with which a great singer infuses his or her tones. 

It’s so easy, as a pianist, to become drunk with the amount of sound you can make -- just pure sound. Much has been written about how Liszt was the first real R&R hero: how women tore off their clothes and hurled those garments at him on stage. I think a lot of this has to do with that enormous passion which his vision enabled him to communicate, and with the sound that he summoned up to bring it to his listeners. 

What we sometimes forget is that that sound must often have been as delicate and tenuous as angels’ wings brushing our temples, as warm and tender as a lover’s arm around us after making love … much more that than thundering octaves. We forget that the power of our sound has as much to do with one single line, parlando (as though spoken), heartbreakingly eloquent, as it does with those thundering octaves and chords. I always remember Ysayë (as quoted by Gingold) saying that true virtuosity is to be able to play a scale and draw tears from your listener.