By Lawrence Budmen

In 1816 Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed "Der Wanderer," one of over 600 songs (not counting song cycles) that this tragic genius wrote in his short lifetime. Some 6 years later (1822) he turned this lied into an elaborate fantasia. The "Wanderer Fantasie" is one of Schubert's most extroverted, virtuosic works - a score that transcends its original thematic material. It is in several distinct sections - each with its own clearly defined musical character. Franz Liszt transcribed this work for piano and orchestra - an overwrought opus that loses much of Schubert's lyricism and exhuberance. The "Wanderer Fantasie" is a masterful variation-fantasia -a daunting test of the pianist's technique and virtuosity. 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was the ultimate virtuoso pianist-composer-celebrity of the Romantic era. In 1832 Liszt heard the great Italian violinist-composer Niccolo Paganini perform at the Paris Opera. Dazzled by the violin virtuoso's pyrotechnics, he set out to transfer the Italian's brilliant effects and violinistic tricks to the piano. In 1838 Liszt arranged five of Paganini's challenging caprices as well as the finale of Paganini's "Violin Concerto No.2" - "La Campanella." This cycle of "6 Grandes Etudes de Paganini." is a feast of pianistic virtuosity. "La Campanella" is third etude in the set. Liszt revised his transcription in 1851 - creating an even more difficult virtuoso juggernaut. Here Liszt brilliantly recreates Paganini's violinistic acrobatics. His trills create bell like sounds. 

The contemporary Russian violist-composer Boris Yoffe is a prolific creative artist. He has composed over 70 string quartets alone, while maintaining an active performing career. His "Sonata Ricercata" is one of several solo piano works. In recent years Yoffe has been particularly active as a composer and performer in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany where he has been artist in residence at that city's music festival. 

Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. After initial studies at the Prague Conservatory (from1906-10), Martinu went to Paris in 1923 where he studied with Albert Roussel and was introduced to neo-classicism. Immediately prior to this period (in 1920) Martinu composed the three piano pieces that form "The Butterflies and the Birds of Paradise" - atmospheric works of Czech impressionism. Martinu's musical palette ranged widely - running the gamut from delicate French influenced pastels to energetic rhythms and strong, even dissonant harmonics. Regardless of musical style or genre, all of this composer's works reveal a uniquely personal musical voice. 

The 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) constitute the greatest series of keyboard works ever written in this genre. These visionary works represent the complete spectrum of Beethoven's creative journey. Beethoven's orchestral music is pianistic and his piano music is orchestral - larger than life. This is all the more remarkable when we remember that the weak keyboard instruments of his time were not always adequate for his daunting piano writing and mighty creative inspiration. Except for the late string quartets, there is nothing in Beethoven's output quite like the "Sonata No.29 in B-flat Major," Opus 106 ("Hammerklavier"). This heaven storming work is musically uncompromising in its complexity and originality - both for the performing artist and the audience. The great French pianist Alfred Cortot once observed that Chopin's "Etudes" are as inaccessible to a musician without virtuosity as they are to a virtuoso without musicianship. The same can be said for the "Hammerklavier." The sonata opens with a fierce Allegro followed by a Scherzo: Assai vivace that is anything but light heartened. The third movement Adagio sostenuto Appassionato e con molto sentimento is Beethoven at his most austere and eloquent. This is music of great beauty and spirituality that requires the ultimate artistic commitment from the pianist. The concluding movement opens with a Largo of wide musical breadth, followed by the powerful, double fugal Allegro risoluto which tests the very limits of pianistic technique. This challenging score marks the summit of Beethoven's creative achievement! A tribute to the transformative power of music! 

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