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Grigory Ginsburg

Réminiscences de Don Juan

Réminiscences de Don Juan (S/G418) is an operatic fantasy by Franz Liszt on themes from Don Giovanni by Mozart. Liszt wrote the work in 1841 and published a two-piano version (S/G656) in 1877. The two-piano version bears a structurally strong resemblance to the original.

The work begins with music sung by the Commendatore, 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. Remember, that the dead still remember!) 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. An extended fantasy on the champagne aria ("Fin ch'han dal vino") follows, 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, however,...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)

Réminiscences de Don Juan is extremely technically uncompromising. For this reason, and perhaps too because of its length and dramatic intensity, it does not appear in concert programmes with as much frequency 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 present work, the Réminiscences carries "an almost symbolic significance as the highest point of pianism". (In addition to many pianistic suggestions and some simplifications, Busoni incorporates many passages from the two-piano version into his edition).

While not reaching the almost unachievable heights of difficulty of Liszt's Transcendental Studies (Études d'exécution transcendante), the Don Juan fantasy makes extremely forbidding technical demands, among them hair-raising passages in chromatic thirds, and one 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 Ginsburg, probably nobody but the pianola played without smudges".

Alexander Scriabin famously injured his right hand practising this piece and wrote the funeral march of his First Sonata in memory of his damaged hand.

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