Liszt at High Altitude
You have probably seen the cartoon: Bugs Bunny cracks the knuckles of his three fingers and proceeds to play Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. As a child I longed to perform this music the way Bugs did—with joy, élan, and, yes, like a showoff.
Many descriptions of Liszt's piano playing depict him as a wildhaired showman, a precursor of the likes of Mick Jagger. Some pianists, such as Lang Lang, repaint that picture, bringing out the mania and pyrotechnics of Liszt's music. Others, such as Earl Wild, play with a studied nonchalance that suggests it is possible to toss off Liszt's passages of leaping octaves, slippery sixths, and hairturn runs while playing a round of golf at the same time. Other musicians—Alfred Brendel and Sviatoslav Richter come to mind— probe Liszt's music in ways that reveal Bach's influence and call forth Liszt's spiritual side.
In my view, no Liszt composition combines his demonic and angelic sides better than his Sonata in B Minor. During one of seven childhood summers in which I attended Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park, Colorado, our teacher, Beth Miller Harrod, practiced and performed this treacherous work, providing the inspiration for the poem below.