Réminiscences de Don Juan

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Réminiscences de Don Juan (S. 418) is an opera fantasy for piano by Franz Liszt on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni. It is extremely technically demanding. For this reason, and perhaps also because of its length and dramatic intensity, it does not appear in concert programmes as often as Liszt's lighter and more popular pieces, such as the Rigoletto Paraphrase. As Ferruccio Busoni says in the preface to his 1918 edition of the work, the Réminiscences carries "an almost symbolic significance as the highest point of pianism." Liszt wrote the work in 1841 and published a two-piano version (S. 656) in 1877. The two-piano version bears a structurally strong resemblance to the original.

The piece begins with music sung by the Commendatore, both from the graveyard scene where he threatens Don Giovanni ("Di rider finirai pria dell aurora! Ribaldo audace! Lascia a' morti la pace!" — "Your laughter will not last, even till morning. Leave the dead in peace!") and from the finale where he condemns Don Giovanni to Hell. The love duet of Don Giovanni and Zerlina follows ("La ci darem la mano"), along with two variations on this theme, then an extended fantasy on the Champagne aria ("Fin ch'han dal vino"), and finally the work concludes with the Commandatore's threat.

In contrast to perhaps the majority of opera fantasies composed during the nineteenth century, Liszt's Don Giovanni paraphrase is a much more tightly controlled and significant work. Where the standard opera transcription is merely a collection of famous tunes,

"The finest of [Liszt's] opera fantasies...are much more than that: they juxtapose different parts of the opera in ways that bring out a new significance, while the original dramatic sense of the individual number and its place within the opera is never out of sight." (Charles Rosen, The Romantic Generation, p. 528)

While not reaching the heights of difficulty of the 1838 version of Liszt's Transcendental Études (Études d'exécution transcendante), the Réminiscences makes a great number of extreme technical demands on the pianist, among them hair-raising passages in chromatic thirds, numerous tenths, and an instance of rapid leaps in both hands across almost the whole width of the keyboard that, in the words of Heinrich Neuhaus, "with the exception of Ginzburg, probably nobody but the pianola played without smudges."

Alexander Scriabin injured his right hand overpracticing this piece and Balakirev's Islamey, and wrote the funeral march of his First Piano Sonata in memory of his damaged hand.

Celebrated recordings of the Réminiscences include those by Jorge Bolet, Earl Wild, Simon Barere, Grigory Ginzburg, Louis Kentner, Charles Rosen, Leslie Howard and Leo Sirota. More recent versions have been recorded by Marc-André Hamelin, Valentina Lisitsa, Matthew Cameron, Min Kwon, and Lang Lang.

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