Abstract

Despite its popularity with pianists, Liszt's first Mephisto Waltz (pub. 1862) has been largely glossed over in musicological studies. In this article, I reconsider the relationship between the piano piece and the excerpt from Lenau's Faust (pub. 1836) that inspired it, and I explore potential programmatic interpretations of the rhetorical features and idiosyncratic structure of the music, informed by knowledge of Liszt's aesthetic stance around this period. This hermeneutic approach is framed in terms of certain important sociocultural concerns of the time, including the widespread fascination with the virtuoso as a daemonic agent. The poetic excerpt tells of a crowd being roused to frenzy by the playing of a diabolical instrumentalist, a process that the piece both depicts and (in the act of performance) reenacts. This also links back to Liszt's mercurial career as a performer, during which period such scenes were commonplace. Written long after he had ceased his tours as a virtuoso to concentrate on composition, the Waltz may use Liszt's own remembered experiences, but more importantly it is part of the legacy whereby he hoped to ensure his own lasting place in the cultural memory.

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