MAY COMPOSER: FRANZ LISZT
Un Sospiro “A sigh” – S144/3 in D Flat Major, 1845 – 1849
Liszt never called this piece Un Sospiro apparently, it was given this subtitle by others and it stuck. Personally I think it suits it well. Un Sospiro is a light and fluttering piece of music. It has a calming, transcendental feeling. The melody tinkling lightly above a flowing background of what are called arpeggios — where chord notes are played out of sequence and often up or down an octave. Liszt dedicated this concert étude to his Uncle Eduard who was like a modern-day manager.
Un Sospiro reminds of raindrops falling on the ocean. A cascade of raindrops hitting the roof of a tin boathouse, an upturned canoe, the grey-blue body of the sea. A soft melody, on the edge of the shore with the sea’s constant wash of waves. The rain waivers between soft and hard. The waves wash in and go out, all the while getting bigger, louder until a giant wave crashes against the sand, while raindrops pound down from above.
Watch Marc-André Hamelin playing this piece
This piece is an étude — a study of the technique of crossing hands. One hand plays the simple melody, the other the flowing background. The hands, according to Liszt’s instructions on the score, alternate constantly melody and arpeggios. The pattern becoming quite complex towards the end of the piece. There seems to be some argument among pianists about whether playing this piece properly means you need to follow Liszt’s instructions to the letter or not. Liszt was said to have giant hands (I’ve heard a rumour about that he broke his hand once after making a special hand stretching machine), and if your hands are smaller the technique for this piece becomes more of a challenge.
While this is an étude in the traditional sense, a study of a skill or technique, it was also written as part of a trio of concert études (Trois études de concert), meant for public performance.
I get the feeling music was all about the performance for Liszt. Somehow all the restlessness he exhibited in his life, from the dubious beginnings of his love-affairs, to his flirtations with becoming a clergyman later in life, comes out in his compositions. Even when he’d ceased his rock-star style touring of Europe and settled in Weimar, Germany as their music director many of the pieces he wrote, like the ones I have looked at this month, have become some of the most popularly performed.
*images in order of appearance courtesy of, public domain, Dave Green via CC, Alan Levine via Flickr, public domain.