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Research Forum: Shay Loya (City)
The Problem with Form in Liszt’s Late Works
In 2003, James Baker analysed three large-scale late works by Liszt as a partial corrective to the idea that Liszt only wrote miniatures late in life. Baker concentrated on three cyclic works, contending that despite Liszt’s supposed loss of ‘mental acuity and creative energy’, these were ‘major works on a par with his earlier acknowledged masterworks’ (p. 120). Underlying this defence was the unstated but widespread equation of great masterpieces with large-scale, formally intricate composition.
Meanwhile, a wave of new Formenlehre gained momentum in the wake of influential studies by Caplin (1998) and Hepokoski and Darcy (2006). This theoretical development soon reached Liszt’s Weimar-era works (most notably Vande Moortele, 2009), but passed over his late repertoire. A longstanding sonata-form bias in form studies is one possible reason. More fundamental still is an enduring reception history that damns Liszt for not producing large-scale ‘late’ Meisterwerke in the mould of Beethoven, Wagner or Verdi.
And yet Liszt’s late creative period exhibits some of the most fascinating experiments in phrase extension and in condensed complex forms. ‘Sursum corda’ from Années III (1877–82) will serve as an example of a short work whose phrase extension erases the distinction between a single ‘phrase’ and a complete form. For condensation of large-scale form we will look at the Csárdás macabre (1881–82) and Mephisto Waltz No. 3 (1883). Finally, a unique combination of disruption and coherence across the fifteen movements of Via Crucis (1879) create an enigmatic form that is yet to be conceptualised. All of these examples raise further questions about form in relation to ‘lateness’.
Dr Shay Loya is a Senior Lecturer of Music at City, University of London, where he (mainly) teaches music theory and analysis. He is also a Trustee of the Society for Music Analysis (UK) and a board member of the journal Music Analysis. His research combines music analysis with issues of nineteenth-century nationalism, cosmopolitanism, exoticism and transculturation, with a particular focus on the music of Franz Liszt. Two previous publications include Liszt’s Transcultural Modernism and the Hungarian-Gypsy Tradition (University of Rochester Press, 2011), which won the Alan Walker Prize (2014), and ‘Recomposing National Identity: Four Transcultural Readings of Liszt’s Marche hongroise d’après Schubert’ (Journal of the American Musicological Society, 69:2, 2016). He is currently working on a new monograph provisionally entitled Liszt’s Late Styles, which offers new aesthetic and analytical perspectives on the composer’s fascinating late oeuvre.