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Liszt: Unstern

Here’s a hint: a mysterious heavenly body… or a virtuoso envisions a mysterious end…

This strange work dates from the early 1880s, when an elderly Liszt traveled frequently. Liszt divided his time between Budapest-where he taught at the fledgling Hungarian Royal Academy, Germany-where he was still connected to artistic circles, and Rome-where he had taken lower orders of the church and had devoted himself to theological study. By this point, Liszt was no longer composing his music for publication, or even, in some cases, for any audience at all. Such is the case for this work, with its grating, unpredictable dissonances that look forward to 20th century experiments in harmony. Untranslated, Liszt’s title “Unstern: Sinistre, Disastro,” puzzlingly combines German, French, and Italian in a work with dark, even apocalyptic overtones.

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