Dezső Ránki and Edit Klukon: " We are lucky because we can do what we like doing the best"
- We have heard relatively little here in Budapest about your European concerts launching the Liszt Year. Please tell us about these events.
Edit Klukon: - Fortunately, apart from the official Liszt Year launch concerts, we could also play at such events as the Nantes Festival, where the two of us performed 160 minutes of Liszt altogether, and the programme composed of pieces played rarely or never before, not counting the Sonata in h minor. Although during the 60-minute solo we could hear the ‘easy' version of Rhapsody No.2 coming in from the hall, and the audience also needed some time to put their expectations - at least, partly - aside, it was a real pleasure being able to perform these pieces. We had the same experience in Rome, when during the Via Crucis life went all quiet, no mobile phones rang, nobody was shouting in the street or banging on the stage door. It was also a learning experience for me: it proved that I have to be one-hundred percent present even if all circumstances seem to be working against us. It was no different in the Quirinale Palace during the Faust Symphony. But if Liszt was brave enough to come out with totally unique music in the 19th century, then why should I be afraid of anything now?
Dezső Ránki: - In January we had one concert in Hungary and four more abroad. In the Old Music Academy we played the Beethoven 9th Symphony's Liszt-version for two pianos, which was the venue's matinée series opening event, then I had a solo concert in Madrid, playing some smaller Liszt pieces as well, then with my wife we played three pieces for four hands in the premises of the Hungarian Embassy in Berlin (Les Préludes, Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe, Via Crucis). Then we performed a Liszt piano concerto with the National Festival Orchestra under the direction of Zoltán Kocsis in Brussels, and in London we played the Faust Symphony at the King's Place, on two first-class pianos. The concerts in Brussels, Berlin and London were also part of the Liszt Year's programme.
- This was the first time the Faust Symphony has ever been played on two pianos in Great-Britain. What does the audience need to know about these transcriptions for four hands and for two pianos, and about this Faust-version in particular? Is it true that Géza Gémesi prepared the scores based on the original manuscript especially for you? Does it mean that it did not come out in print within the complete Liszt anthology either?
DR: - Four complete versions of the Faust Symphony have remained: the first orchestra version from 1854, the version from 1856 for two pianos, the final orchestra version from 1861, which is the one that the public is familiar with, and based on this latter version, an arrangement for two pianos from 1863. The most significant difference between the two orchestra versions is the added closing chorus in the later version, although the instrumental end has also remained as an alternative. The 1861 version was followed by another writing for two pianos, which was probably arranged with a pedagogical purpose, as it seems to be more like a simplified version and not an autonomous piece. That is why we opted for the earlier version from 1856: Liszt exploits the opportunities of the two pianos brilliantly, accomplishing to keep the richness and density of the orchestra sound. Also interesting are some elements from the first orchestra version, for example the first movement's main theme in 7/8, which was a unique thing in the 1860's. This version of the Faust has never been published, not even the anthology includes the versions for two pianos. Our friend, Géza Gémesi wrote down the scores for us, using the original manuscript in Weimar. Of course it could also serve as the ‘raw material' for a print later on.
EK: - My husband has described all the important musicological aspects. In my view, Faust proves that we are on the wrong track if we just squeeze the different stages of the life of Liszt into various artificial categories. Also, in a spiritual meaning, he was one of those very few mortal human beings who incorporated both the female and the male mind in a perfect, heavenly harmony. It reaches far beyond music or musicology. I am grateful for Géza Gémesi for making it possible for us to read and perform the original manuscript. Next time we play it in Tokyo and Weimar.
- You have had Faust on your repertoire since 1990. Does the world see the significance of this piece of the Liszt-oeuvre differently in the light of the bicentennial year?
EK: - Not only the Faust is part of our life. We also play the four-hands version of Via Crucis, sometimes Mazeppa, Les Préludes and Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe. I have not noticed a change in the audience's reaction - unfortunately. They still like to hear the tunes they are used to hearing: preferably something fast and loud or maybe something emotional. If something requires more attention and energy, they are not so receptive. I think the reason is that they are generally tired and frustrated and afraid of any kind of change that would damage their assumed sense of security. Perhaps we could make changes slowly, working on a smaller scale, not with large audiences. It would be crucial. And it applies to other composers' music, too. All of them who wrote music that was not meant to entertain but to express feelings. But I do not want to judge anyone by saying all this. I have played the piano for 44 years and only in about the last 8 years have I been able to notice and verbalize how the different kinds of music have affected me, both physically and spiritually. There are huge differences. But whenever I hear Liszt or Bach or Dukay, I know that I'm in the right place.
DR: - We played Faust for the first time in 1990 in Torino, and we have played it in several other places ever since, like Milan, France and Budapest, of course, also in the birthplace of Liszt, Doborján (which is now called Raiding, and it has a splendid concert hall), and lately in the Quirinale Palace in Rome, as part of the Liszt Year and the Hungarian presidency programme series. This palace is a wonderful place to play in. I do not know what the audience thinks of these special works of Liszt, which actually only the two of us play, as far as I know, but we received a lot of positive and surprised feedback after the concerts.
- You regularly perform many other Liszt transcriptions for four hands and for two pianos as well. Taking a look behind the curtains: how do you decide which pieces you put on in a concert?
EK: - We used to adapt ourselves more to the expectations, we did not dare to say what we wanted to play. Now it is different. For example, we can play Via Crucis, one of Liszt's most important works whenever and wherever.
DR: - We are lucky because we can do what we like the best doing, and our only problem is how to select from the many possible choices. Apart from whether we have one or two pianos to play on, there are many other factors to consider. The connection between the pieces, the order of them and of the tonalities and the different moods - they are all equally important aspects. It is always a question whether we should play the Faust Symphony or the transcription of the Beethoven 9th Symphony by themselves (they are sixty minutes each), or if we should add a short first half with one or two smaller pieces.
- Because of the bicentenary and the EU presidency, there is a lot of attention focused on Hungary this year. As Hungarian musicians, being able to play Liszt at home and abroad - what does it mean to you?
EK: - It is a great honour and responsibility at the same time. There are many misunderstandings concerning Liszt which must be clarified. Most of his works do not usually make it into concert programmes, probably because they do not allow for the usual performing practices. This kind of music talks to us in a different language. I hope that I am slowly becoming able to speak this language as my mother tongue. This is definitely the year of opening opportunities. 200 is a good number, but 201 is just as important for me.
DR: - It is nice that, standing in the limelight, we now have more opportunities to play the not so popular pieces as well, which would otherwise face skepticism. Now we have a chance to popularize those parts of Liszt's works that the audience does not get to hear so often, partly because of the ticket sales-oriented concert organisers, and partly because of the audience themselves, who are afraid of hearing something new. But I agree with Edit: every year is Liszt year for me too.