selections from Franz Liszt’s transcriptions for piano of Beethoven’s symphonies




Beethoven, symphony no. 2, 2nd movement




Beethoven, symphony no. 3 (“Eroica”), 1st movement




Beethoven, symphony no. 3 (“Eroica”), 4th movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 4, 1st movement




Beethoven, symphony no. 5, 3rd movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 6 (“Pastorale”), 1st movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 7, 1st movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 7, 2nd  movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 8, 1st movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 8, 4th  movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 9, 2nd  movement



Beethoven, symphony no. 9, 4th  movement






Beethoven’s nine symphonies exist in the form of transcriptions of all nine for solo piano by Franz Liszt. Liszt’s transcriptions of the symphonies are considered to be among the most technically demanding piano music ever written.

During an interview about a year before his death in 1989, Vladimir Horowitz said that he considered Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies the ”greatest works written for the piano,” and that he deeply regretted not having made them a cornerstone of his repertory. I have come to understand what he meant.

For Liszt, a piano transcription of a Beethoven symphony was not just some virtuoso stunt. He paid homage to the symphonies by rendering them for piano in amazingly scrupulous detail, and used the instrument to comment on Beethoven’s music. The actual musical content of the symphonies … comes through with fresh impact in these transcriptions.

Liszt was also celebrating the piano as the only instrument capable of evoking an entire symphonic sound world. It takes enormous virtuosity to play these works.


— “In Keyboard Rhapsody with a Flamboyant Liszt.” by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,  March 19, 1999




These transcriptions enable one to hear the symphonies anew. An example from my own experience: Listening to Beethoven’s eight symphony in this version, I feel it’s “underrated.”

What do you mean underrated, one might say? Don’t all of Beethoven’s symphonies rank at the top of the symphonic form. Well, then I might say, it should be performed more often!


— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017


About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1), a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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