I feel like such a Piano Poseur. He just doesn’t do it for me. His music — or at least the stuff that’s most often heard from pros and praised by amateurs — is just too shreddy for me. A bit like Paganini — circus tricks on the instrument. I’d praise them both as innovators in terms of technique, but not as musicians or composers per se. I’m just not up on shredders on any instrument. Find something worth saying, and say it. Yes, your technique has to be above reproach, and the more you can do on an instrument the more you can say on it. But the saying is more important than the doing. Like FedEx Fast Talker Dude, Liszt strikes me as too close to the line of “look how fast I can play” as opposed to “listen to what I have to say and think about how it relates to you.”
Again, fun tricky stuff has its place; RBP’s Viper version of EVH’s “Eruption” solo still makes me cry to hear it and see it … but that approach is just not at the top of my personal apex of composers.
It may be that I’m not being fair to him, and that I should give a listen to his stuff, perhaps the stuff that isn’t heard as often. It may well be that his circus tricks are just the sort of junk that today’s “I can play faster than you” piano soloists are more prone to play, so that’s all we hear. Nevertheless, you can keep Liszt. I’ll take Rachmaninoff. I can’t play his stuff either, but he says things worth hearing in it. It’s the difference between breaking a record climbing 120 flights on a stairstepper, and breaking the same record climbing up a skyscraper, and then enjoying the view once you’re up there. A lot of Lisztians can’t tell those two experiences apart.