Russian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov has paired Franz Liszt’s and Sergei Lyapunov’s Transcendental Etudes for the Steinway & Sons label. Here he speaks to those works and the pairing.
On Lizst’s Transcendental Etudes
“Liszt’s Transcendental Études were designed to be the peak of piano difficulty — and of course everything that has been written by Liszt was of another dimension. This cycle is the quintessence of his artistic vision. Liszt tried and succeeded in composing pieces where his spirit, that knew no boundaries, went into spheres where only artistic being is allowed to enter. Of course, he used the language that he adopted. But the technical difficulties are actually minor in comparison to the musical and artistic ideas that are incorporated into that cycle.”
On Lyapunov’s Transcendental Etudes
“The Études by Sergei Lyapunov were designed as a continuation and completion of the cycle that Liszt himself planned to write — 24 études in all keys — but Liszt had to stop in the middle. And Lyapunov, a Russian romantic composer and adorer of Liszt, completed the cycle. (He just didn’t mention that his cycle was completing Liszt’s idea out of modesty.) His works are very much in tune with Liszt’s writing. One can say that there are many more notes, but eventually some of the pieces that look so monstrous actually aren’t so difficult for the pianist. And musically, being very descriptive, they are much more accessible than some of the etudes written by Liszt.”
‘It is a totally unusual thing to do, to compose works in your own style while being devoted to the style of your idol.’
“Of course it is a totally unusual thing to do, to compose works in your own style while being devoted to the style of your idol. In many instances, the etudes by Lyapunov represent the same ideas as of Liszt himself. But Lyapunov being very Russian, they are original and authentically original Russian. Though, of course, the resemblance to Liszt’s works as well as titles of the works — “Dance of the Elves” and “Ronde des Fantômes” — make it quite obviously similar to the artistic world of Franz Liszt. And I think this was intentionally done, because of the original idea of Lyapunov to write a continuation of the cycle — and not only his own cycle.”
On performing both sets of Études
“I think a performer should aim for unity of the cycle, as this was the idea of Lyapunov. But it is in fact quite difficult because the two worlds — the Romanticism of Liszt and Russian romanticism of Lyapunov — they’re quite different and one needs to put his mind apart from one cycle to the other. Both cycles can be performed together, I believe, though it takes 130 minutes, which is quite a strenuous time for the pianist — as well as for the audience. But I think it could be a very rewarding experience in terms of a realization of a unique and important piano project.”
On performing the Études on a Steinway
“I think the works by Liszt — and obviously it applies to the works by Lyapunov — need such an extensive range of sonorities that only one piano in the world is capable of, and this piano is a Steinway.
“All the variety of sounds that one might wish to be realized can be easily realized. Moreover, Steinways have an ability to inspire you, inspire your fantasy, inspire your wishes for different and for more extensive color — a palette of sonorities that instantly can bring you to decisions that were not apparent to you before. And each piano of a Steinway make does it in its own way, and each time it is a discovery, and each time it is an inspiration. So, the enthusiastic words that Liszt wrote to Steinway were obviously his reverie to the piano that he adored. And I’m sure Liszt made very good use of the possibilities of the piano. And I’m sure Lyapunov would have been delighted to make use of all the possibilities that a Steinway offers.”