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Franz Liszt

Gounod's Faust was produced in 1859 and the ubiquitous and prolific transcriber Franz Liszt was impressed by the work, not least because he had a peculiar attraction to the demonic side in any music. He made his "concert paraphrase" here from the waltz scene that closes the first act and also from the second-act love duet between Faust and Marguerite, O nuit d'amour. Liszt's method of transcription typically involves a mixture of literal quotations with his own takeoffs on the music.

The piece begins with the waltz music from the end of the first act. The theme is a rollicking, celebratory waltz that seems to have little sinister about it. But Liszt manages to inject dark mischief into it with a subtle variant in the upper register. The middle section is based on the aforementioned second-act duet, where Liszt deftly enacts the love music. But here there is not a hint of anything demonic in the passionate theme. Instead, the music sours sweetly, the ending of this section recalling some of the glittering quiet passages on the upper register in his Piano Concerto No. 2. Suddenly the tempo of the theme picks up and the waltz theme returns. Many sonic effects, such as glissandos, and other pianistic fireworks are heard as the piece races to its dramatic, virtuosic ending.

There are those who have charged that Liszt used Gounod's score as a vehicle to showcase his considerable pianistic skills. Yet, his concert career had ended years before, and though he could still exhibit bouts of virtuosity for its own sake, here his music never actually strays from the moods and expressive range in Gounod's score. The piece is flashy, to be sure, but Liszt manages to make the results pianistic while rendering artistic justice to the source music.