Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #44 Liszt Mephisto Waltzes
Coming in at #44 on my list is the Mephisto Waltzes by Franz Liszt, a truly amazing composer. He was the rock star of the 1800s. He saw Niccolò Paganini, the virtuoso violinist, perform at a charity concert in 1832 and said, “I’m going to be just like him, but on the piano” (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting).
There are four of these waltzes, though the first one is most commonly known, heard and played. Franz Liszt composed the first Mephisto Waltz as an orchestral piece as part of a new kind of genre called Program Music, essentially music that tells some kind of tale. In the score, Liszt includes the following which is meant to be a part of the performance:
“There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust pass by, and Mephistopheles induces Faust to enter and take part in the festivities. Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a full-blooded village beauty in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the fiddle grow softer and softer, and the nightingale warbles his love-laden song.”
For me, the orchestral version misses on the raw intensity that can be had with the piano version, as you can see from the performance I link below from YouTube. Maybe the right conductor will come around, but the issues with the orchestral version is that it feels slower and more cumbersome, not as free on its feet as one would think of the devil playing a fiddle.
The second and third waltzes were composed over 20 years later. They’re amazing and I wish more people would play them, because they’re fantastic additions to the Mephisto collection. They push harmonic boundaries while maintaining gorgeous melodic work Liszt is known for.
The fourth waltz is incomplete and only published in the 1950s, but it feels like a soft closure to the set. However, Liszt composed a piece called the “Bagatelle sans tonalité” which bore the title “Fourth Mephisto Waltz,” so I’ll go by his wishes and include that here with the other waltzes.
#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes
#45 – Webber Evita
#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian
#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti
#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50
#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62