The European press of the late 1830s indicates a glaring disparity between Liszt's questionable status as a composer and his eminence as a virtuoso performer. The staggered compositional history of one particular piano work, Après une lecture du Dante—Fantasie quasi Sonata (1839–58), straddles this schism uniquely in that it bridged two distinct periods of Liszt's life: the Glanzzeit of immensely successful European concert tours, and the predominantly compositional span as Kapellmeister in Weimar. As such, it documents the mise-en-scène of Liszt's self-fashioned metamorphosis from virtuoso to composer.
As a work borne expressly of improvisational acts, the “Dante” Sonata exhibits paradoxical traits that bind it to both performance and compositional traditions. Through a study of Carl Czerny's influence on Liszt, and the latter's own improvisational practices, I take a medium-sensitive approach to the “Dante” Sonata by interrogating the historical concept of Phantasieren as part of a rereading of the compositional technique of thematic transformation.
Based on the excised material from the extant manuscripts, I reconstruct the genesis of the “Dante” Sonata and chart its compositional history and generic evolution. A comparative presentation of selected revisions, alternatives, and variants from the work illustrates the problematic juncture between improvisation and composition, the extent to which self-borrowing and the interchangeability of texts raise questions about our modern work-concept, the notion of a musical text, and the functions of performance within a text.