Late Works of Franz Liszt - Technique - Tonality

Tonality

Liszt lost interest in the question of tonality—a question which, for Liszt, was long standing. As early as 1832 he had attended a series of lectures given by Fétis. From these lectures, Liszt derived the idea of an onde omnitonique, much like a Schonbergian tone row, that would become a logical replacement for traditional tonality. For him such a row would be part of the historical process from a "unitonic" (tonality) moved to a "pluritonic" (polytonality) and ended in an "omnitonic" (atonality), where every note became a tonic. In his marginalia to Ramann's biography of him, made after he had turned 70, Liszt called the "omnitonic" an Endziel or final goal of the historical process. He also composed a "Prélude omnitonique" to illustrate his theory. This piece was long considered lost but has recently been discovered.

Remaining lost, however, are the sketches for Liszt's treatise on modern harmony. Arthur Friedheim, a piano student of Liszt who became his personal secretary, wrote of seeing it among Liszt's papers at Weimar:

In his later years the Master had formed the habit of rising at five o'clock in the morning, and I paid him many a solitary visit at that hour, even playing to him occasionally. Jokingly, he would inquire whether I were still up, or already up. On the last of these matutinal visits I found him poring over books and old manuscripts. With his permission I joined him in this very interesting occupation. Catching sight of one manuscript which particularly drew my attention, I picked it up saying: "This will make you responsible for a lot of nonsense which is bound to be written someday." I expected a rebuke for my remark, but he answered very seriously: "That may be. I have not published it because the time for it is not yet ripe." The title of this little book was Sketches for a Harmony of the Future.

While the Sketches may have disappeared, Liszt left enough music from this period for listeners to surmise what that manuscript may have contained. Nuages gris is pointed out by several critics as a piece which could be heard as a gateway to modern music. One of its more intriguing features is its ending, which drifts off into keylesssness and progresses to that point in a manner foretelling impressionism in music.

Liszt was also one of the first composers to experiment with bitonality. One example occurs in the funeral march he wrote for László Teleky in his Historische ungarische Bildnisse (Historical Hungarian Portraits). This march is based on a four note ostinato based on the gypsy scale. The question of whether this ostinato is in G minor or B minor, and the resulting tonal ambiguity, remains unresolved.

Read more about this topic:  Late Works Of Franz Liszt, Technique

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