As the virtuoso to whom all other virtuosi were compared, Franz Liszt had quite a reputation to live up to.
On one level, his Transcendental Etudes were training pieces in the “étude” tradition-the word etude literally means “exercise.”
Unlike Ives’s much-later “Concord Sonata,” these pieces have nothing to do with the contemporaneous Transcendentalist movement in America, with writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson.
To play them, however, you need to “transcend” the upper limits of musical technique.
They remain one of the ultimate tests of a pianist’s mettle. Liszt also incorporated the same poetic and literary insights as in his other works.
The movement we just heard depicts a powerful, but beautiful snowstorm, while another depicts a scene from Victor Hugo’s poem about the 17th century Ukrainian military adventurer Ivan Mazeppa.