Skip to page content

Before there was sound-reproducing technology there was Liszt. His performances and publications of transcriptions from the orchestral and operatic repertoire were more often than not the only way for the musically inquisitive to sample the latest trends in the art. Liszt went about this dissemination in three general categories: the transcription, a direct literal transfer of a work, like a Beethoven symphony, to the piano; the paraphrase, recreating a particular episode from a larger work; and the reminiscence, of which the final piece on this program is an example.

The word "reminiscence," so much less clinical than either "paraphrase" or "transcription," suggests something personal - something subjective. The Reminiscences of Don Juan (Don Giovanni) of Mozart is far from a précis of the most popular of Mozart's operas during the 19th century. It is instead an interpretation, even a portrayal, of the title character as seen by Liszt. And the result is anything but a condemnation of Don Juan's licentious life. It is a celebration.

Liszt opens with a depiction of Don Juan's eventual confrontation with the flames of hell, sinister and eternal, but moves next to a recreation of Don Juan's song of seduction in his duet with the peasant girl Zerlina, "Là ci darem la mano." The duet is expanded and decorated in two variations before moving on to a rousing and climactic version of the famous "Champagne" aria - the lover's happy anticipation of an evening of romantic conquests. Even a brief flicker of hellfire at the end cannot dampen the high spirits of this ultimate virtuoso romp, and we know for certain where Liszt's sympathies lie.

- Grant Hiroshima is executive director of a private foundation in Chicago and the former Director of Technology Development for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.