Monday, March 10, 2014

Totentanz (Dance of Death) - Franz Liszt

Totentanz (also known as the Dance of Death) is a piece of music written by the 19th century composer Franz Liszt.  

Intended for a solo piano accompanied by a symphonic orchestra, this piece is said to be inspired by a Medieval chant and a fresco painting by Francesco Traini called The Triumph of Death. Apparently during this point in history it was considered very stylish to reference Medieval artwork... The more grotesque, the better.  

Francesco Traini's Triumph of Death
The macabre nature of the music is meant to be ironic, but there are some truly suspenseful moments.  The piano is meant to be played in a very percussive manner, which gives the piece an ominous, yet immediate feeling of dread.  Liszt was a virtuoso pianist and Totentanz's composition makes that clearly evident from the start.  The piano is meant to be played at blazing tempo, rampaging through scales up and down the keyboard throughout the piece.  Meanwhile, the orchestration cannot be overlooked.  It is easy to see the influence Liszt's work had on modern day composer, particularly film composer seeking to capture the sounds of horror.  

Totentanz takes many twists and turns, shifting between frenzied musicianship and calm, almost regal- sounding dirges before reaching what, to the listener, must seem to be the climax.  But the piece starts up anew accumulating crescendo upon crescendo.

Simply put:  This is an amazing piece of music.  I'm no an expert on musical composition by any stretch of the imagination, but this piece makes it abundantly evident that Liszt was very much ahead of his time.

No comments:

Post a Comment