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Tuesday, March 7, 2017



Music: Listen to the First Glimpse of a Long-Lost Liszt Opera

Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt did not just write deliciously florid operatic piano transcriptions, but tried his hand at a couple of "melodrammi" as well. 

A largely forgotten Italian "melodramma" that Liszt composed will, belatedly, soon get its premiere.

You can listen to part of the work, based on Lord Byron’s Assyrian tragedy “Sardanapalus."

Listen to 'Sardanapalo'
An excerpt from Liszt's opera.

The Liszt opera, written largely in shorthand, languished in a Weimar archive for nearly 170 years. 

David Trippett, of Cambridge, who discovered it, has spent some time working on the manuscript. 

"Sardanapalo, re d'Assiria" is performed by the soprano Anush Hovhannisyan at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

"It is music born of great ambition, and it sounds like that," Trippett notes, saying that he hears in it elements from Liszt’s "Petrarch Sonnets" and glimmers of Wagner. 

"Peeling back the layers when I decipher the manuscript is slow work."

"But I am sustained by being able to hear the sounds in my head and play through the emerging score at the piano.”

Musicians have generally referred to the opera as “Sardanapalus,” which is what Liszt calls it in his correspondence. 

But Trippett says that since it was an Italian "melodramma" (indeed, on a subject-matter set by a few other composers, some of them Italian), the "melodramma" would almost certainly have been called "Sardanapalo, re d'Assiria, melodramma in tre atti".

So that is the title being used for a critical edition.

“It’s funny,” Trippett notes, “when I played the recording we made to my wife, she smiled and said, ‘O.K. Now I know you are not so crazy for spending so much time on this!’”

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