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Hexaméron (Grandes variations de bravoure sur la marche des Puritains de Bellini)
reconstructed by Robert Linn (1925-1999)
Length: 22 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle), strings, and six solo pianos
First Los Angeles Philharmonic
In a catalog of extravagance upon extravagance, Hexaméron, Liszt's compilation of several celebrated colleagues' independent thoughts on a theme by Vincenzo Bellini (a heroic march from the recently premiered opera I Puritani ("Suoni la tromba" - Sound the trumpet), occupies a place of almost notorious distinction. The complicated story of this composite composition involves an Italian princess, the luxurious world of Parisian salons, and a rivalry for distinction in the keyboard firmament that might make a present-day competition administrator envious.
The year was 1837 (Liszt was just 26), and Liszt's principal challenger was Sigismond Thalberg (himself just 25 that year). Following a pair of separate solo recitals (Thalberg's at the Conservatoire, Liszt's at the Opéra), the two were brought together in a salon hosted by Princess Christine Belgiojoso, a leading figure on the Parisian musical scene, who declared "Two conquerors and no conquest, because Thalberg is the world's leading pianist, and Liszt is the only one." At Liszt's suggestion, the Princess requested that the two rivals, along with four other virtuoso pianists (Johann Peter Pixis, 1788-1874; Carl Czerny, 1791-1857; Henri Herz, 1803-1888; and Frédric Chopin, 1810-1849), each contribute a variation on the Bellini tune mentioned above. The plan was to raise money for the poor with an all-star summit of composing and performing talent.
Unfortunately, several of the composers were tardy in submitting their variations, and the charity performance never took place. When Liszt finally did have each of the contributions, he turned the whole thing into an extravaganza he called Hexaméron, from the Greek term referring to the six days of creation (as recorded in the Book of Genesis).
This whole is literally more than the sum of its parts. Liszt composed an original introduction quoting Bellini's march and extensive transitional material to link the six variations. Although there are only fragmentary indications of Liszt's intended orchestration, the late Robert Linn made a noble attempt to fulfill Liszt's plan by preparing a reconstruction for a USC benefit concert in 1963. Liszt's music - in a solo piano version - did survive and has been performed with some frequency, but Linn's version allows us to revisit an event which never actually occurred. All six of the contributing composers are on hand, each at a separate piano, and each performs his own music.
- Dennis Bade is the Philharmonic's Associate Director of Publications