Lise de la Salle


January 15, 2017, 4 PM

Music Room

Lise de la Salle gave her first broadcast concert at age nine, and since then this gifted French pianist, still in her twenties, has gone on to build an impressive career in solo and concerto repertoire. In this recital she opens with Schumann—notably the glorious Fantasy Op. 17—before turning to transcriptions: the “Love-Death” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde arranged by his father-in-law Franz Liszt, and Prokofiev’s own brilliant transcriptions of dances from his most famous ballet, Romeo and Juliet.


Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 (1836)
     Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen. Im Legenden-Ton
     Mäßig. Durchaus energisch
     Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten.

FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
Robert Schumann’s Liebeslied, Widmung S. 556 (1848)
     Robert Schumann’s Frühlingsnacht, from 12 Lieder, Op. 39, S. 568 (1872)
     Richard Wagner’s Isolde’s Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde, S. 447 (1867)


10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
     Folk Dance
     Young Juliet
     Montagues and Capulets
     Friar Laurence
     Dance of the Girls with Lilies
     Romeo and Juliet before Parting

In just a few years, through her international concert appearances and her award-winning Naïve recordings, 27 year-old Lise de la Salle has established a reputation as one of today's most exciting young artists, and as a musician of uncommon sensibility and maturity.  Her playing inspired a Washington Post critic to write, “For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe...the exhilaration didn’t let up for a second until her hands came off the keyboard.”

A native of France, Ms. de la Salle first came to international attention in 2005, at the age of 16, with a Bach/Liszt recording that was selected as "Recording of the Month" by Gramophone Magazine.  Ms. de la Salle, who records for the Naïve label, was then similarly recognized in 2008 for her recording of Liszt’s, Prokofiev’s and Shostakovich’s first concertos – a remarkable feat for someone only 20 years old.  Her most recent Naive recording offers works of Schumann, including Kinderszenen and the C Major Fantasy, which was released in 2014.  In the Fall of 2015, Naxos released Lise de la Salle's recordings of the Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra with Fabio Luisi and the Philharmonia Zurich.

Lise de la Salle has played with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors. She made her London Symphony Orchestra debut with Fabio Luisi and in 2016 returned to the Orchestra with Antonio Pappano. Luisi, who had invited her to become the first Artist-in-Residence of the Zurich Opera in 2014has also frequently featured Ms. De la Salle with the Vienna Symphony, including a performance in New York on the Great Performers Series at Lincoln Center.  In the U.S., Ms. de la Salle has played with the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony at the Ravinia Festival, San Francisco Symphony and three times with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others. In her second appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra, she played the Gershwin Concerto in F, a performance that inspired one critic to exclaim that “she might just be the most exciting young artist in classical music right now.”

Ms. de la Salle begins her 2016-2017 season performing recitals and chamber music at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. She will be heard with leading symphonic ensembles in Paris, Germany and the United States including performances with James Conlon and the National Symphony in Washington, DC and with Ludovic Morlot and the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as with the orchestras of Des Moines, Knoxville and Toledo, among others. Additional recitals and chamber music performances are to be heard in Washington, DC, Fresno, Detroit, and other cities around the country.

During the 2015-2016 season, Ms. de la Salle was heard with leading symphonic ensembles in London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Baltimore, Detroit and Quebec, among others, with such esteemed conductors as Herbert Blomstedt, Osmo Vanska and Douglas Boyd.  Concertos of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel and Rachmaninoff demonstrated her fresh interpretations, compelling musicality and dynamic pianism. She made her debut in the Chicago Symphony recital series and was also heard in recitals and chamber music performances in New York, St. Paul, Santa Barbara, Winter Park, Portland, OR and at colleges and universities around the country.  In recent seasons she has also appeared witwith Jiri Belohlavek and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra and on tour with Sir Neville Marriner and the Staatskapelle Weimar. In the United States, she made her fourth appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, made her debut with Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony, and was also heard as a soloist with Roberto Abbado and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as Eugene Tzigane and the New Jersey Symphony.  

A sought-after recitalist, she has been captivating enthusiastic audiences and critics in major series in New York, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, and at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Wigmore Hall in London and the Louvre in Paris. Ms. de la Salle also takes pleasure in educational outreach and conducts master classes in many of the cities in which she performs.

Her critically acclaimed Naive CDs include an all-Chopin disc with a live recording of the Piano Concerto 2, Opus 2 with Fabio Luisi conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden, and the Four Ballades. In May 2011, Naïve issued her sixth recording, released in celebration of Liszt’s Bicentennial. The recording includes both original Liszt compositions, such as the Ballade No. 2 in b minor, Funerailles, and the Dante Sonata, and Liszt’s transcriptions of others’ pieces, such as Mozart’s Lacrymosa and Schubert’s Ständchen. Diapason Magazine named the album the "Diapason D'or", and was the "Editor's Choice" in Gramophone Magazine, stating that "...the wonderfully gifted 23-year-old Lise de la Salle gives us a Liszt recital of astonishing strength, poetry, and, for one so young, musical maturity."

Born in Cherbourg, France in 1988, Ms. de la Salle was surrounded by music from her earliest childhood.  She began studying the piano at the age of four and gave her first concert at nine in a live broadcast on Radio-France. When she was eleven, Ms. de la Salle received special permission to enter the Paris Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique to study with Pierre Réach.  At 13, she made her concerto debut with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Avignon, and her Paris recital debut at the Louvre before going on tour with the Orchestre National d’Ile de France playing Haydn’s Concerto in D Major. Ms. de la Salle graduated in 2001 and subsequently enrolled in the postgraduate cycle with Bruno Rigutto. Since 1997, she has worked closely with Pascal Nemirovski, and also studied with Genevieve Joy-Dutilleux.

In 2003, Ms. de la Salle won the European Young Concert Artists Auditions in Paris and in 2004 she won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York. Later that year, the organization presented both her New York and Washington, DC debuts.  At the Ettlingen International Competition in Germany, Ms. de la Salle won First Prize and the Bärenreiter Award.  She has also won First Prize in many French piano competitions, including the Steinway, Sucy, Vulaines, and Radio-France Competitions. In 2003, she won the “Groupe Banque Populaire Natexis” Prize, for which she received a three-year scholarship.

Robert Schumann, Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 (1836)
In December 1836, Schumann finished what he called his “Sonata for Beethoven”— inspired by an appeal published in 1835 (Beethoven’s 65th birthday) for a monument to the composer in Bonn. Schumann wrote to his publisher Kistner later in the month sending his “Grand Sonata for Pianoforte for Beethoven’s Monument.” He suggested that the Bonn Society be given 100 copies and that the proceeds should go toward the appeal. Each movement was given a programmatic title: Ruins, Trophies, and Palms. Kistner turned the work down and Schumann subsequently made a number of revisions —including new titles for each movement. These were abandoned prior to publication, as was the title for the whole work. It was called Dichtungen (Poems) until shortly before Schumann sent the work to Breitkopf & Härtel for publication in January 1839, at which point Schumann settled on Fantasie as the title. While the Beethoven link had been dropped, and the revisions were quite extensive, at least one allusion to Beethoven remains in the third movement: a passage in the left hand is a slowed-down version of the persistent rhythm from the famous Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. More recently, Kenneth Hamilton has noted “the ghost of Beethoven’s [Piano] Sonata Op. 101 hovering over certain elements of the work,” adding that the Sonata was a favorite of both Schumann and Mendelssohn. But in place of a dedication to Beethoven, Schumann’s Fantasie was now inscribed to Franz Liszt.

It is unusual to have a fantasy in three distinct movements—perhaps Schumann had in mind something more like Beethoven’s “quasi una fantasia” description of his two Piano Sonatas Op. 27 (the second of which is the famous “Moonlight” Sonata). The first movement of Schumann’s Fantasie has an elaborate expressive indication requiring the music to be played with “imagination and passion”—and to this Schumann has added a quotation from Schlegel: “Through all the notes / In earth’s many-colored dream / There sounds one soft long-drawn note / For the one who listens in secret” (translation by Nicholas Marston). In a letter to Clara Wieck from June 1839, Schumann wrote, “Are you not the ‘note’ in the motto? I believe you are.” The movement is a highly imaginative reinvention of sonata form, but with unconventional key relationships (suggestive of Schubert’s harmonic adventurousness) and with striking structural innovations, notably the episode placed at the moment when the recapitulation might be expected to arrive. Marked Im Legendenton this seemingly selfcontained interlude is one of the most daring experiments in the work. Perhaps it was this formal originality that led Charles Rosen in The Classical Style to describe the Fantasie as “the monument that commemorates the death of the Classical style”— something it does magnificently.

The second movement, in E-flat Major, depicts Schumann’s imaginary army of Davidsbündler (League of David) marching against the Philistines. Dominated by an obsessive dotted rhythm, this music cast in the most flamboyant style for the piano ending with a vertiginous coda where the rhythm becomes faster and the leaps yet wider before the grandest of conclusions. The third movement is a complete contrast to the heroics of the first and second. Here, the music is poetic, restrained, and noble—and surely full of quiet longing for Clara.

When Clara first received a copy of the Fantasie in May 1839, she wrote to Schumann, “Yesterday I received your wonderful Fantasie, and today I am still half ill with rapture.” Just over a year later, on September 12, 1840, they were finally able to marry. The demands of the work were (and are) formidable; even Clara never played the work during Schumann’s lifetime, and only once after his death. Liszt was immensely proud of the dedication, considering the Fantasie to be among the greatest of Schumann’s piano works. But while he played it in private to Schumann and taught it to students, he never performed it in public, believing that it was “too difficult for an audience to understand.” Only with the next generation of pianists—many of them pupils of Liszt and Clara Schumann—did the Fantasie finally establish itself as one of the pinnacles of the Romantic piano repertoire.

Franz Liszt, Transcriptions
R. Schumann: Liebeslied: Widmung from Myrthen, Op. 25 No. 1, S. 556 
R. Schumann: Frühlingsnacht from Liederkreis, Op. 39 No. 12, S. 568 
R. Wagner: Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, S. 447 

Franz Liszt’s piano arrangements of music by other composers form a significant part of his output, and the works he chose ranged from Renaissance masters such as Orlando de Lassus through to Bach and Handel, to Mozart and Schubert, and to Liszt’s own friends and contemporaries including Berlioz (notably the Symphonie fantastique) and Verdi. Between 1848 and 1881 he made piano transcriptions of 12 songs by Schumann. His Wagner arrangements include pieces from most of the great operas from Rienzi to Parsifal (though there only one transcription of music from the Ring Cycle). Liszt’s first Schumann transcription is Widmung (Dedication), the opening song from Myrthen (1840) setting a poem by Friedrich Rückert. Liszt’s version captures the rapture of Schumann’s music (and Rückert’s text). In places Liszt adds figurations and creates musical textures that are all his own, but he always stays true to the spirit of the original song. Frühlingsnacht (Spring Night) is the last of Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 39, composed in 1840. It was transcribed by Liszt more than 30 years later, in 1872, and is a particularly imaginative and resourceful arrangement, creating a virtuoso piano solo that preserves the brilliance and urgency of Schumann’s original accompaniment at the same time as weaving in the ardent vocal line. Incidentally, this song attracted a much more recent composer to arrange it as well: in 1942 Benjamin Britten produced a version arranged for voice and small orchestra.

Liszt was a central figure in Wagner’s musical and personal life. He conducted the world premiere of Lohengrin in 1850, assisted him during various financial crises, ensured that his work became better known through piano transcriptions, and saw his daughter eventually become Wagner’s wife. His Tristan und Isolde transcription was madein 1867 when Wagner’s extra-marital affair with Cosima was causing tension between the two composers. It’s a sign of Liszt’s devotion to the work that he chose this difficult period in their personal relationship to produce his arrangement. Liszt had followed the genesis of Tristan und Isolde during the late 1850s and it was a work he knew well, years before the stage premiere in 1865. When he arranged the final scene, he was the first to describe it as Isoldens Liebestod (Isolde’s Love-Death)—Wagner had previously called it Transfiguration. Liszt’s title (used with Wagner’s approval) is the one that stuck.

Sergei Prokofiev, 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
The history of Prokofiev’s most famous ballet is complicated, not least because there were so many delays, disputes, and changes before it was finally brought to the stage. The score was composed in 1935, but the first production opened on December 30, 1938, not in Russia but in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), at the Mahen Theatre in Brno—the stage on which most of Janáček’s operas were given their world premieres. The first Russian production was of a revised version, and this was given at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) with Galina Ulanova as Juliet on January 11, 1940. Referring to the ballet’s trials and tribulations, it was Ulanova who quipped (after Shakespeare): “Never was a tale of greater woe than Prokofiev’s music for Romeo.” The music itself is another matter, and the story of the orchestral suites and the 10 Pieces for Piano, Op. 75 is a lot simpler, and in fact they became a way for Prokofiev to advertise the ballet. It’s a curious quirk of fate that these were the ways in which the music was first heard before it ever reached the stage. Prokofiev himself played the 10 Pieces in Moscow in 1937, and they were published the following year. Rather than being elaborate transcriptions (in the manner of a work like Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka), these piano arrangements are very similar to the same movements in Prokofiev’s original 1935 piano score of the ballet (before he orchestrated it). In other words, they can bring us closer than any other version to Romeo and Juliet as Prokofiev first conceived it, though the order of movements is different from the ballet. What comes through particularly clearly in the piano version is the energy and character of individual pieces, whether in the opening Folk Dance, in the rushing upward scales of Young Juliet, in the spiky, angular music of Masks, in the implacable leaping melody of Montagues and Capulets, or in the brittle pathos of Romeo and Juliet before Parting.

—Nigel Simeone, 2017