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Borodine's Account of Liszt's Playing

As late as 1877, when Liszt was about sixty-six years of age, the Russian composer, Borodine, had the good luck of hearing him at a concert given in Jena, where something of Liszt’s was produced. After speaking of Liszt’s conducting, he goes on about the playing:
“When it came to the numbers for pianoforte, he descended into the choir, and soon his gray head appeared behind the instrument. The powerful sustained tones of the piano rolled like waves through the Gothic vaults of that old temple. It was divine! What sonority, power, fullness! What a pianissimo, what a morendo! We were transported. When it came to Chopin’s ‘Funeral March,’ it was evident that the piano part had not been written out. Liszt improvised at the piano while the organ and ‘cello played from written parts. With each entrance of the theme it was something different; but it is difficult to imagine what he made of it.

“The organ lingered pianissimo on the harmonies in the bars in thirds. The piano, with pedal, gave out the full harmonies, but pianissimo the violoncello sang the theme. The effect was prodigious. It was like the distant sound of a funeral knell, that rings out again before the first vibration has quite died away. I have never heard anything like it. And what a crescendo! We were in the seventh heaven!”

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