Beethoven Symphonies – Paul Kim, piano

The work:

Liszt and the Piano Transcription
Liszt’s Transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies
The Ninth Symphony
About Paul Kim’s score revision of Liszt’s Transcription
On Father and Son Relationships

The Artists:

Paul Kim
Matthew Kim

Other Recordings by Paul Kim on the Centaur Records label:

Complete Piano Works of Olivier Messiaen (7 CDs)
Selected Reviews

This recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is presented in a radically different manner, in a version which has never been heard before. Here we experience this monumental and much beloved work through the fascinating mix of historical, critical, and personal perspectives. The most immediate difference is the instrumentation: rather than a symphony orchestra, it is an ensemble of two pianos, four hands. It is all the more remarkable and emblematic of the work’s transcendence that this music can manifest itself to its fullest dimensions in a different medium while losing nothing of its boundless beauty and greatness. In this recording we experience the great testament of Franz Liszt and his deep reverence for Beethoven, the impact of Paul Kim’s new cross-reference critical edition of Liszt’s transcription, and the powerful piano music driven by orchestral sense and sensibility—all realized by the “conductor and orchestra” of two pianos, ten fingers. These are truly radical ideas indeed.

This recording project which covers all nine symphonies of Beethoven is the culmination of my lifelong devotion and passion for Beethoven and Liszt. The education and inspiration derived from the study of these two masters made it possible for me to also gain the depth of understanding and technical tools needed to record Olivier Messiaen’s complete piano works in my earlier undertaking. Indeed these three figures of the past three centuries command the most central place in my musical being and conscience.

Liszt and the Piano Transcription

On the nature of piano transcriptions, Schumann wrote:

It all amounts to the old question whether the reproductive artist may set himself above the creative one, whether he be allowed arbitrarily to modify the latter’s works for his own purposes. The answer is easy. A bungler is ridiculous when he does it badly; an intelligent artist may do it as long as he does not destroy the identity of the original. This type of transcription has introduced a new style in the school of piano playing.

(On Music and Musicians)

Schumann himself also wrote transcriptions, but this “new style” was a reference to his close friend and colleague Liszt, the first modern pianist, and to the latter’s innovative piano writing borne of great respect and love for the original works and their creators.

For Liszt the task of transcribing orchestral works for the piano would prove to be the most challenging for obvious reasons. First, the nature of the full score, with the vast individual parts of the orchestral instruments, precludes an exact or complete transfer to the piano (even spread across two pianos). Secondly, the timbres of the various orchestral instruments, whether in solo or combinatorial blends, cannot be fully matched even with the extensive range of sonorities on the piano. Lastly, the overwhelming tidal wave of sound which a full orchestra can deliver is something which the piano can reproduce only to a limited degree. Indeed, these are formidable challenges to overcome. Despite these important differences, one aspect does come across with amazing clarity in Liszt’s transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies: in his hands, these works emerge as bona fide new creations. They are transformed into a most magnificent body of piano works which fuses Beethoven’s revolutionary ideals in symphonic writing with the equally revolutionary modes of pianistic expression. In a most peculiar way, the physical “deficiencies” of the piano in matching the orchestral original are absent from our sensory experience; rather than perceiving what might be lacking in this comparison, one is simply dazzled by the sheer power of expression gushing from the piano.

Within music’s motley population there are no doubt some who may feel that transcriptions or arrangements of original works into a different medium inevitably produce an inferior “copy.” There is some truth to that, but perhaps not in such a categorical way. I tend to think that beyond the opinion of whether a certain work is better or worse, it would be more fruitful to view such re-creations as the embodiment of that work’s other voice, persona, or even reinvention of its preexisting identity. It is instructive to see some examples from Beethoven’s own works in this realm: his Violin Concerto (as piano concerto), Grosse Fuge for string quartet (piano four hands), Symphony No. 2 (piano trio), as well as various chamber music compositions. Under Liszt’s treatment, piano transcription as a compositional genre reached its apogee—both in terms of prolific output and degree of innovations. It is astounding to know that works of no less than eighty composers were transcribed or arranged by Liszt; among these composers are Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, and Beethoven. Within this important corpus, Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s nine symphonies stand at the pinnacle.

Liszt’s Transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies

The nearly thirty year period (1836-1865) during which Liszt produced his transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies is considered the most pivotal in his development as pianist and composer. During the 1830s and 1840s, Liszt achieved his greatest fame and technical perfection as a piano virtuoso nonpareil while also composing his most brilliant and demanding piano works up to that time. With his retirement from the concert stage in 1848—at the height of his success and fame, and his subsequent appointment as Kapellmeister at the Weimar court—Liszt’s focus and energies turned to conducting, teaching, and championing the music of the past and his contemporary composers.

The order in which Liszt wrote these transcriptions is not in the sequential order of the nine symphonies. There is a process of development which outlines three discernible periods of his activity. Symphonies 5-7 were complete in 1837 and the Adagio of the Third Symphony in 1843; these were written during his early virtuoso years. The two-piano version of the Ninth Symphony was written in 1851, in Weimar, during his middle period. The remaining symphonies, nos. 1-4 and 8- 9 (solo piano version of the Ninth), were completed by 1865 during his final Rome period. As a complete set, the nine symphonies, for solo piano, were published by Breitkopf and Härtel that same year; the two-piano version of the Ninth Symphony had been published separately in 1851 by Schott.

In his preface to the publication of the complete set, Liszt wrote, “Within the compass of its seven octaves it is possible to reproduce, with few exceptions, all the traits, combinations, and figurations of the deepest musical creations; the only remaining advantage for the orchestra is its diversity of tone colors and mass of sound.” But before he was able to release such sanguine statements, Liszt had struggled mightily in this mission—often feeling Atlas-like under the overwhelming weight of his task. No one surpassed Liszt in understanding the art of piano transcription. Even for such a master, Beethoven’s symphonies represented an insurmountable challenge. The problem lay in rescoring the orchestral parts for the pianist’s ten fingers. Before he could arrive at the finished versions Liszt was often mired in self-doubt and dissatisfaction, endlessly experimenting with pianistic figurations to match Beethoven’s orchestral model, and constantly consumed with the notion of what would be playable, viable, effective, and faithful to the original. In a letter to his publisher Liszt explained that he was especially driven in his efforts to imbue the piano—fundamentally a percussion instrument of hammers and manifold mechanical parts—with the “breath and soul, the resonance and power, the fullness and inspiration, the color and accent” to uphold fidelity to this music. Foremost in Liszt’s aim was to carry out this task without altering Beethoven’s intentions in both spirit and letter. It is a testament to Liszt’s genius that, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, he succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations.

We know that in writing his transcriptions Liszt had consulted the Breitkopf and Härtel’s “critically revised” edition of the symphonies (the publisher had urged Liszt into this project). Thus Liszt had at his disposal the most up-to-date edition of the orchestral scores as reference upon which he based his work. Over the course of the many years and decades devoted to this project Liszt made numerous corrections and emendations according to his evolving ideas about the execution of certain passages. We also read in his letters to his publisher that Liszt requested the newest editions of the symphonies. He found the need to reevaluate what he had already written against the more current editions of the orchestral score.

Today we have the immeasurable advantage of having as our resource the accumulated knowledge arising from musicological research of almost two centuries. Armed with such wealth of information, I set out to closely examine Liszt’s piano score against Beethoven’s various autograph versions and the more recent critical editions we have today. The result is a new version of the transcription captured in this recording, which is, to be sure, mostly based on Liszt’s version though also divergent in many significant ways.

The Ninth Symphony

Liszt held to the conviction that Beethoven’s last works demand from the soloists and orchestra alike a reconstitution in the style of their execution, in accentuation, in rhythm, in the manner of phrasing and declaiming certain passages, and in articulating the complex features of Beethoven’s expansive contrapuntal writing. When Liszt tackled the transcription of the Ninth Symphony— which features a Finale comprising vocal soloists and vocal quartet, and full chorus with a grand orchestra—he felt that the problem of conveying such a gargantuan texture with all the finer points of expression would be more effectively addressed in his transcription for two pianos (four hands). A comparison of this version with the later one for solo piano (two hands), becomes a study in dimensions as well as handling of the contents. The inevitable “chamber” quality of the solo piano version reflects the physical limitations of the two hands, and is therefore bereft of certain essential parts of the score.

The Ninth Symphony performed on two pianos becomes a wholly different piece. Immediately one is struck by the different qualities of sound and timbre from what we are accustomed to hearing. The role and function of the various orchestral instruments, both in solo and ensemble capacities, take on quite different conceptions when transferred to the pianos. The resulting diversity of keyboard attacks, the unique cantabile qualities, the hyper-articulation, and other expressive devices draw out in clearer relief many facets and details which usually lie somewhat beneath the surface when heard in standard orchestral performances. Arising from that dynamic is the peculiar sense of both familiarity and strangeness. In short, the radical metamorphosis of this work is so complete that we cannot help but experience it indeed as a new creation. Liszt always had a special fondness for this two-piano arrangement of the symphony, an enthusiasm shared also by Anton Rubinstein as they performed the work together on one occasion. I feel that an analysis of the music itself or the historical background to its composition is not needed in these pages; there is hardly a lack of excellent information on these subjects today, and I feel it would be superfluous of me to try to add anything further.

On Revising Liszt’s Transcription

On the basis of my close examination of Beethoven’s various extant orchestral scores against Liszt’s piano versions (for both solo and two pianos), I have concluded that it would be a serious mistake to perform Liszt’s transcriptions exactly as they are notated. This is because there are some inexplicable errors, questionable figurations, and even instances of outright omissions in Liszt’s versions—some of which are very minute and others which are quite substantial. The total number of revisions I have compiled reaches a staggering figure (over eight hundred!). I am not suggesting that there are this many problems in the Liszt score; to be sure, some are clear errors, but others are matters which require some critical judgment and reevaluation—either toward more faithful adherence to the original or toward a more sympathetic rendering on the keyboard. It would be impractical to enumerate and give details on each of these revisions in these limited spaces. At the same time, however, I feel the responsibility to offer at least some commentary on the matter, with select examples, so that the listener can gain some glimpse into the nature of the work which I had undertaken. These explanations may be difficult for some readers who are not intimately acquainted with the compositional makeup of the Ninth Symphony. I believe that a careful examination of the score will greatly aid in the fuller comprehension of my arguments. While the specialist will grasp the points brought up and weigh their merits or the lack thereof, the appreciation of the music itself will not be too hampered for the general listener without this information. Therefore, this section may be skipped over if one’s interests do not lie in such matters.

The various editions of the Ninth Symphony score which I have consulted represent the evolutionary states of musicological scholarship on this work. These editions reflect the historical periods in which they were published and held sway. In undertaking the task of revising the score for two pianos I have had to deal with the synthesis of critical analysis of the score and the practical considerations of performance. Therefore, from the multitude of extant editions of the scores and critical sources I have narrowed my focus to the following three:

Movement I: Allegro ma non troppo e un poco maestoso

mm. 1-16 and other related contexts:

Consistent in all versions of the score are the unambiguously notated thirty-second note anacruses in the rhythmic motive of the opening (e.g., E – A, A – E, etc.). It has become something of a peculiar habit for some performers to treat these as being longer than their true value; the result is that these notes get aligned exactly together with the last of the sixteenth-note sextuplets in the accompaniment. Clearly this is contrary to what Beethoven intended, yet sanctioned by most performers both today and in the past.

mm. 17 and 539:

The very prominent timpani rolls, which are sine qua non in the first tutti statement of the main theme and in later passages, are conspicuously absent in Liszt’s version. These have now been restored with the addition of the bass octave tremolos. Without this sound mass we would have nearly a full measure of nothing else happening after the downbeat A. I feel that that is an unacceptable deflation of the tremendous energy which had amassed to a breaking point leading up to that moment.

mm. 132-137 and 401-406

In Beethoven’s score these parallel passages feature frenetic running scales which are passed along in alternation among the upper string sections. There is a counterpoint to this horizontal activity in the role of the winds and brass providing a vertically-oriented (and more stable) harmonic and rhythmic motion. Liszt’s version assigns these distinct components to each pianist in a stifling, segregated manner. This however negates the possibilities (indeed Beethoven’s idea) of exploiting the play element and the vibrancy of the fuller sonic space. I have followed upon the idea of instrumental exchanges by alternating the playing of each scale segment (one measure) between the two pianists. In the alternating measures each pianist can now fill in the wind/brass parts in perfect coordination with the other pianist’s scale work.

mm. 240-252:

With the establishment of the 2/4 meter throughout the movement, the rhythmic flow of the even sixteenth notes is the expected norm. However, there are key moments in which the rhythm is instead based on the sextuplet form of the sixteenths. This is the case in the hushed beginning where the pervading idea is this ostinato rhythm (sextuplet sixteenths) which carries the buildup of just two pitches, A and E, in both the accompaniment and the theme itself. With the approach to the climax of this opening, we feel a great tension resulting from the cross-relationship between the sextuplet sixteenths and the even (i.e., four) sixteenths. Later in the development section there is an extended passage in which this kind of cross-rhythmic relationship plays a key role in undergirding the drama and the tension (mm. 240-252). In this development section I have chosen to restore Beethoven’s original directive of the sextuplet pattern pitted against the prevailing even sixteenths.

mm. 316-317:

At the height of the movement’s climax, there is a most powerful statement of the main theme ablaze in all its glory. The sequence of the notes, as everyone knows, is as follows: D–A, F–D, etc., in descending motion. However, Liszt begins the initial D not from the top but from below the A. How are we to interpret this intervallic inversion: instead of a descending fourth, a rising fifth? I have brought the opening D one octave higher to conform to the original scoring.

mm. 531-538:

There is an ironic twist to the rhythmic dilemma encountered in the movement’s opening, which surfaces in an inverse way near the end of the movement. Here Liszt chose to employ sextuplets (in broken octaves) in the string accompaniment where Beethoven specifically wrote even thirty-seconds (the stark comparison: twelve notes per measure versus sixteen). This brings up a conflict with the immediately preceding section—which represents an unbroken line of development across this whole section—since the rhythmic texture of thirty-seconds prevail through it all. Liszt’s treatment in mm. 531-538 causes a very awkward match with the double-dotted rhythm of the main theme, which is indeed based on even thirty-seconds. I have chosen to restore Beethoven’s original idea by way of interlocking thirty-second note tremolo chords, and in the process regaining the much-needed mass of volume and sonic depth.

Movement II: Molto vivace

mm. 9-12:

After the opening motto of dotted, descending octaves, the main theme (scored for the second violins) is transcribed by Liszt as a single line on the second piano. In the orchestral version the first notes of each measure are augmented by the oboe. Perhaps Liszt considered such unison playing by the two pianos to be unnecessary and of little consequence. To be sure, it would be difficult to fully discern the contrasting sound qualities on the two pianos which the violins and the oboe would easily produce. However, it is my judgment that the “pointillistic” mapping of these unison pitches along the parallel path of the unbroken melodic line produces a subtle sense of rhythmic and melodic stability. Thus I have again restored these missing elements.

mm. 55-56

Leading into the first tutti statement of the main theme is a most creative elision of two elements. One of these is the concluding segment of the rising scale (E–F–G, played twice) which ends on the dominant A. The other is the motto of the main dotted figure (descending ) which enters, by design, one measure before the decisive moment of the tutti statement of the same. In this pivotal measure (m. 56) there is an overlap of these two elements. I wanted to this bring this notion to the foreground by restoring better audibility of the second of the two E–F–G scale fragments.

mm. 314-329:

In this transitional passage there is a wonderfully lilting line, through strategic syncopations, assumed by the basses at first then by the rest of the strings. This is unfortunately absent in Liszt’s version. Because of its import in giving a very distinct and unique feel to the rhythm and character, I felt compelled to make the restoration.

mm. 489-491:

Here the most prominent part is the ascending D major scale. Although the violins and oboes continue toward the top D, the flutes however reverse the direction and descend by two steps and a skip downward. Our ears do not generally discern the flute’s motion easily. Yet in his transcription Liszt outlined the melodic profile according to this flute line. I have opted to retain the more rhetorically persuasive ascending line, especially since the significance of the subsequent measures (following the prima and seconda endings) owe in no small measure to the bold, ascending way in which this scale concludes.

mm. 507-530:

Toward the end of the trio section the pedal point on the lowest D is sustained by the basses (this according to Beethoven). Liszt chose to treat the D as repeated notes—first as pulsating repetitions of tied whole notes, then simply as a pattern of repeating whole note strokes. This gesture reinforces the détaché playing of the other instruments. Contrastingly, I have decided to keep the D as a sustained (i.e., continuously tied) note across these extended measures, adding a new stroke only once upon reaching the apex (the fortissimo at m. 515), then maintaining the hold again. By using the sostenuto pedal on the piano, the D is kept sounding as an unbroken bass tone, firmly supporting the bouncy notes above.

mm. 530

After the trio section the return to the scherzo is left ambiguous (i.e., whether to uphold the ternary structure of the scherzo-and-trio or to finish with an imbalanced binary form). In Liszt’s score there is no outright mention of the return to da capo (perhaps it was implicit). I have kept all the repeats as directed by Beethoven.

Movement III: Adagio molto e cantabile

mm. 33-40 and 73-78:

In both the first and the second Andante moderato sections there is a lovely chamber music-like interplay engaged by certain groups of instruments (second violins – viola – oboe I or flute I – oboe I – bassoons) with the first violins. The line played by the first violins is slower and perhaps a degree more expressive. In order to infuse more of the expressive and cantabile quality, I have decided to pitch this line in octaves instead of the thin single line on the piano.

mm. 42:

Among the much-abused pianistic devices favored by nineteenth-century pianist-composers is the “rolled” or arpeggiated chord. Often these gestures were employed for “grace” effects or sometimes in the spirit of rubato. In transcriptions these would pop up frequently in those cases where the pianist needs to stretch across a wide span of the keyboard to recreate the fullness of the original chord voicing. To me, however, this is anathema. The integrity of the moment becomes compromised with the freely redistributed notes in a clearly reconstituted rhythm. Despite my hard-line stance on this matter I have on some occasions been forced to bow to this method due to the physical impossibility of some of these cases on the piano and also because of certain artistic judgments which forced the choosing between the “lesser of two evils.” Here in m. 42 the answer was not problematic: there is no good reason to break up the second inversion B-flat chord. I have kept the chord solid and intact with the more fuller voicing as per Beethoven’s score.

mm. 43-58

In the second Adagio section Liszt has reduced the lovely counterpoint to a much thinner texture; certain individual lines were dropped. That is unfortunate since these represent the indispensible parts which make up the whole. I have found that it is possible to retain all of the independent lines, that not only is such an execution achievable but this fuller texture indeed gives more poignant quality and expression to the passage.

mm. 84:

In the third Adagio section there is an instance of faulty notation with respect to the rhythmic alignment. This results in the misplaying of certain notes in their proper rhythmic places and harmonic motion. My hunch is that this error (and other such mistakes) may have arisen out of the less-than-meticulous job by the copyist, as can be adduced by a careful reading of Liszt’s letter on the subject to his publisher. I have moved to rectify this misalignment.

mm. 151-153:

Lastly, near the end of the movement there is a passage which calls for a very specific chordal figuration of rapidly repeating sixteenth-note triplets as background texture. For the string players the execution may not be very difficult; for the pianist, however, it is much more challenging to articulate the rapid keyboard repetitions with the requisite lightness of touch. In this case, Liszt chose to write oscillating broken chords, which are much easier to accommodate. I have opted to keep these chords as straight (i.e., solid, unbroken) repeated chords, as per Beethoven’s scoring, despite their greater difficulty in execution.

Movement IV: Finale: Presto

mm. 1-7, 16-24, and 208-215:

An essential element of these so-called ‘horror fanfares’ (according to Wagner) is the emotional upheaval in which the heart-thumping timpani rolls contribute a dramatic effect. Liszt maintained this texture through the bass tremolo (in sixteenth notes) but only through the first four measures. In the remaining two measures he kept to unified eighth note motion in all the parts. I have chosen to keep this driving motion and energy (with interlocking octaves in sixteenth note motion) all the way to the end points, especially since in every case these last two measures progress in steadily expanding trajectory toward its emphatic conclusion.

mm. 38:

The tutti F-sharp diminished seventh chord on the downbeat calls for a coordinated and unified playing by the two pianists at this point. Therefore I have revised this chord to involve the full playing of both pianists on this chord rather than by a single player.

mm. 71:

In this measure Beethoven had written a G-flat minor triad (or enharmonically as F-sharp minor). This is extremely clear since the winds play this chord first in the root position then followed by its first inversion in block chords while the cellos and basses produce this same harmony in a linear broken chord. Liszt’s version contains a crucial omission: with the prevailing key signature of two flats, the notes for the winds are notated as Gb –Bb–Db; what is missing is, of course, the B double flat. What’s further unfortunate is that some players unwittingly compound this error by not playing the correct harmony in their performances.

mm. 194-197:

We discover several instances of inexact notation in the rushing sixteenth-note figures (mm. 194-195) when examined against Beethoven’s score. These have been corrected, though the results are more difficult now to execute. One of the most serious mishandling of the transcription is the very conspicuous missing measure (m. 197). Although one could once again place the blame on the sloppy job by the copyist, this glaring mistake is perplexingly found in both the two-piano and solo versions. This passage has been corrected according to the orchestral original.

mm. 206-207:

In the place of the energetic two-stroke playing of the tones of the V-I chords, as Beethoven had written, Liszt has substituted a fanciful arabesque of arpeggios. It is my opinion that this wanton gesture is inappropriate here.

mm. 321-330:

The chorus sings “und der Cherub steht vor Gott,” with the sopranos carrying an ascending scale line in this dramatic passage. Here the melody must be preserved at all costs. Thus I have made this correction. When the chorus sings the unison A on “Gott,” the strings play a thunderous cascade of descending sixteenth-note sequences, also in unison. Liszt’s method in expressing this string motions was to employ a series of interlocking, alternating octaves between the two hands. The result is an uneven and less-than-perfect parallel motion. I have decided to re-score the notes according to the orchestral version, though not in the impossible four-line parallel motion but instead in two-lines, assigned to the two hands on the second piano.

mm. 375-377:

Well into the 6/8 “Turkish march” Liszt inexplicably placed the entrance of the tenor soloist’s “Froh” late by one full measure (m. 376, whereas Beethoven had written it in m. 375). This misplacement results in a disturbingly odd shape and phrasing of the melody. Beethoven separates the two declamations of “Froh” with a measure of rest in between (mm. 375-377), while Liszt places them in consecutive measures.

mm. 655-729:

What most listeners focus on in this section, the so-called “double fugue” (the second such section in the movement), is the choral part singing simultaneously the two different tunes: the “Freude” (Joy) and the “Seid umschlungen, Millionen” (Be embraced, you millions) themes. While this is sung (and amplified by the winds and brass), the strings weave scintillating lines in much quicker eighth note motions. These string parts are often overshadowed by the slower and more prominently melodic vocal lines. My aim was to elevate the string parts to a higher level of articulation and prominence, to enhance their role in concert with the vocal lines. Along this path I have also made numerous revisions to the notes of these lines in order to conform to the original notes in the orchestral version. Again, this task also brought along a higher demand in digital technique: plethora of repeated notes in greater blocs, unruly hand positions, near-impossible coordination of the two hands in accommodating such independent directions of the lines, etc.

mm. 832-842:

Much has been left out in Liszt’s version in this magical moment for the vocal quartet. All the various parts of the counterpoint, in their respective contributions to the whole mosaic, hold the key in equal measure. Nothing must be left out; any missing component would deform the whole. Therefore I was compelled to fill in the missing elements.

mm. 903-915:

Near the end of the final “Turkish march” section Liszt made a difficult decision: the prevailing eighth-notes, which push the motion with great kinetic force, are suddenly changed to quarter-note triplets in double octaves, in mostly parallel motion for both pianos. There is a critical trade-off: in making that controversial move Liszt has secured sonic heft, but at the same time lost the very important wind and the choral parts at the height of their very dramatic interaction. The other obvious aspect of artistic license in this instance is Liszt’s overt re-writing of the original rhythm—from even eighths to triplet quarter notes. My choice of action was to uphold Beethoven’s score, both rhythmically and contrapuntally.

mm. 920-924:

While the strings play a frenetic version of the ‘Joy’ theme in diminution (i.e., in the blistering rush of eighth notes), the winds and brass play the same theme in a slightly slower, fanfare-like way complete with the twice rhythmic “snapping” of the two-note eighth figures amidst the steady quarter notes of the theme. This is a strongly characteristic gesture by Beethoven, and it has been restored.

Concluding Apology

As can be seen in the foregoing descriptions, my task as an editor has not been an easy one; and consequently I may have created a more difficult score to perform. Whenever confronted with any sort of critical judgment, I have invariably consulted and followed Beethoven’s orchestral original. In explaining Liszt’s occasional departures from Beethoven, I hold to the notion that the era of nineteenth-century romanticism had significantly different (and markedly liberal) musical ethos than what we accept today. Liszt was also, after all, writing a fundamentally piano work, more so than realizing an orchestral work on the piano medium. Therefore, some questionable figurations, which are not found in Beethoven, may be understood and explained in that context. My thoughts on the matter, however, are based on the premise that no matter how much one tries to make the piano sound like an orchestra, the physical, acoustical properties cannot be changed; it will still have that unmistakable “piano” sound. Must we then emphasize the piano characteristics and idiom still further? Would it not be more profitable to realize, as far as it is practical and possible, all the effects and expressions mandated in the original orchestration by the composer? With all my limitations and shortcomings, this has nevertheless been my guiding principle.

On Father and Son Relationships

The peculiar notion of the father-son relationship has always been a fascinating subject in every area of human existence. Indeed there are many angles to this powerful relationship in Beethoven’s life, vis-à-vis his Ninth Symphony, and even touching upon this present recording itself. It is a well-known fact that Beethoven had no real childhood, suffering under his father who was a hapless soul tormented by personal insecurity, frustrated in his own musical career, eventually succumbing to fatal alcoholism. The senior Beethoven’s dubious legacy is permanently tied to the misguided and damaging way in which he raised his young son Ludwig, who throughout his life longed for the taste of the ideal father-son relationship which he never had. For a time the benevolent Haydn was for him both his teacher and a father-figure, though ultimately in a very limited sense. Contemplations on the spiritual Father, the Creator, in Schiller’s poem An die Freude becomes in the finale to the Ninth Symphony a profoundly personal utterance for Beethoven.

Never having married and being childless, Beethoven looked upon his nephew Karl as his surrogate son. The legal guardianship came as a result of the bitterly protracted custody battle with his sister-in-law upon the death of his brother Caspar Carl. As can be expected in such a strained circumstance, the uncle-nephew relationship was rather turbulent. It is also during this period of emotional volatility that we see the first meeting between Beethoven and the eleven year old Liszt when the latter came to Vienna for his début as a pianist. According to the Liszt biographer Alan Walker, Liszt recounted the moment of destiny in this way: “When I had concluded [playing a Bach fugue and Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto] Beethoven caught hold of me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead, and said gently: ‘Go! You are one of the fortunate ones! For you will give joy and happiness to many other people! There is nothing better or finer!’” The kiss was symbolic of Liszt’s special bond with Beethoven, for it was a Weihekuss (kiss of consecration). Among Liszt’s artistic missions in promoting Beethoven’s cause were the piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s complete symphonies (the publication of which was dedicated to Liszt’s foremost pupil and son-in-law, Hans von Bülow). Being the first to champion Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, concertos, and symphonies, Liszt became one of the greatest Beethoven interpreters of the nineteenth century. Therefore it is no exaggeration to view Liszt as the rightful heir—indeed as a musical and spiritual progeny—to Beethoven. Abbé Liszt, in his later years, was himself a musical and spiritual father-figure to a legion of devotees and disciples. Many generations later, I count myself among the blessed beneficiaries of both Beethoven and Liszt, my musical forebears. It is an awesome privilege and honor that I stand on the shoulders of these giants, and that I am given an opportunity to offer my very humble contribution to the hallowed joint legacy with this recording made together with my son Matthew.

© 2008 Paul S. Kim

PAUL KIM, pianist

American pianist Paul Kim has led a distinguished career as an artist of rare musical vision and integrity. Critics have hailed his “brightest flashes of virtuosity and clear transparent quality” (The New York Times) as well as his “poetry and marvellous range of colour” (BBC Music Magazine). As an engaging scholar and performer Kim is recognized for his deeply informed and enlightening explorations into the singular styles and essences of such pivotal figures as Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Wagner, and the twentieth-century French and American composers. A charismatic recitalist, chamber musician, and soloist, Paul Kim has worked with many of the world’s leading instrumentalists, singers, orchestras, and conductors.

Paul Kim is widely acknowledged as one of the leading authorities on Olivier Messiaen. His performances (including many premieres), lectures and writings on Messiaen's music have garnered much interest, appreciation and recognition, including praises from the late composer himself and his wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen. Kim’s 7 CD recorded anthology of Messiaen’s complete piano works was received with tremendous acclaim worldwide, including being selected “Best of 2005” (All Music Guide) and “a reference recording” (American Record Guide). The present recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony —a collaboration with his son Matthew, on two pianos— represents the first volume in Kim’s ongoing recording series encompassing the complete Beethoven symphonies in Liszt’s piano transcriptions. A parallel project is the publication of Kim’s revised performing edition of the nine symphonies based on Liszt’s transcriptions.

In addition to his solo appearances, Paul Kim has also performed with his wife, soprano Judith Jeon, as well as with their sons Matthew and James. The father-and-sons trio pianists have concertized extensively, performing a vast repertoire of original classics, rarely-heard masterpieces, popular music, and unique duo and trio arrangements created by Kim. As a co-founder and director of the non-profit organization Music Angels International Foundation, Paul Kim has also contributed his gift of music performance, arts education, and humanitarian outreach across the globe with fellow artists in this mission. A profile of his journey of faith and service through music is featured in the seminal book, Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist, written by Robert Wuthnow.

Following his early musical training in Southern California, Paul Kim continued his education at The Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music, receiving his B.M. and M.M. degrees. He went on to earn a Ph.D. from New York University. Besides concert appearances Paul Kim also maintains an active schedule of lecturing at symphony concerts and university campuses, conducting, master classes, and competition adjudication. Dr. Kim is currently a faculty member in the Department of Music at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University where he teaches music history and piano studies.

MATTHEW KIM, pianist

This CD of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is Matthew’s second album. With his début album, released in 2003, he holds the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to record the music of Olivier Messiaen. Born in New York City, to pianist Paul Kim and soprano Judith Jeon, Matthew has always led a musical life since his birth. At age two he began his piano studies with his mother, then progressing in his musical education under his father’s guidance. Matthew’s creative talents are also seen in the compositions he wrote since he was five, including an award-winning work for solo piano, An Effing Toccata, written at age 17.

Matthew’s formative years saw remarkable musical achievements as he began to win prizes in competitions and receive media recognition for his performances. At age nine, Matthew appeared in a historic concert at Carnegie Hall, performing in a unique father-and-son piano duo concert to benefit orphans around the world. Since then he has performed in headline tours across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Beyond his pianistic virtuosity, Matthew’s deeper musical understanding is borne out in his performances of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen which he first gave at age nine. His recording of this work, at age fifteen, was released on the Centaur Records label to worldwide critical acclaim. The American Record Guide has recognized Matthew as “a prodigious young talent.” Matthew’s performance repertoire is notable in its breadth and variety, with personal affinities for the music of Palestrina, J.S. Bach, Beethoven, and twentieth-century composers.

Parallel to his achievements in music, Matthew has also distinguished himself with an equally impressive record of academic and professional excellence. Matthew is a product of the gifted magnet program in the New York City public education system, and is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School. During his years of undergraduate studies at New York University, Matthew has served as a research assistant in the Department of Applied Psychology, where he has contributed to a number of key government-sponsored research studies in child development and education. Through the auspices of the Presidential Honors Scholars program, Matthew was awarded a travel grant to Germany for his research, “When Tradition and Innovation Collide: A Religious Interpretation of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (presented at the 2007 Undergraduate Research Conference). His senior honors research, exploring the effects of poverty and school funding on academic achievement, was also featured at the Undergraduate Research Conference the following year. Matthew was elected into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 2008 with degrees in economics, psychology, and political science. He was subsequently appointed to the research staff at the social policy research organization MDRC in New York City. He is also preparing for doctoral study in public policy. Matthew is very passionate about sports, especially American football and ice hockey.

photos by Judith Jeon

Other Recordings of Paul Kim released by Centaur Records, INC

Olivier Messiane: Complete Works for Piano

Paul Kim, piano

CRC 2567/2568/2569 (3 CD set)

Olivier Messiaen: Complete Works for Piano
Vol. 1: Birdsong Compositions

Catalogue d’oiseaux (1956-58)
La fauvette des jardins (1970)
Petites Esquisses d’oiseaux (1985)


CRC 2627/2628 (2 CD set)

Olivier Messiaen: Complete Works for Piano
Vol. 2: Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944)


CRC 2668

Olivier Messiaen: Complete Works for Piano
Vol. 3: The Middle Period Works

Visions de l’Amen for two pianos (1943)
Cantéyodjayâ (1949)
Quatre études de rythme (1949-50)

* with Matthew Kim


CRC 2727

Olivier Messiaen: Complete Works for Piano
Vol. 4: The Early Works

Préludes (1928-29)
Les offrandes oubliée (1930, transcription by the composer)
Fantaisie burlesque (1934)
Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935)
Rondeau (1943)
Prélude (1964) pour piano

Selected Reviews

"Kim has performed all the pieces with the same passion and commitment to quality…Kim's labor of love has come to a satisfying conclusion with this CD, and the project — at least five years in the making — is a resounding success."

– All Music Guide (Best of 2005)

"As a Messiaen scholar and interpreter, Paul Kim’s affinity for, understanding of, and pianistic command of the composer’s singular idiom admirably manifest themselves."

– ClassicsToday

" ...clear transparent quality, freezing even the brightest flashes of virtuosity into solidity, like stained glass rising bright and distant into the vaults."

– The New York Times

"Paul Kim certainly has plenty to say about Messiaen’s masterpiece, with a genuine sense of a personal vision lying behind his playing, and that elusive feeling of space that is so essential to playing Messiaen. There is plenty of poetry, and a marvellous range of colour."

– BBC Music Magazine

"Kim's playing recreates Messiaen's vision with a fervour and generosity unknown to even his finest competitors…he achieves a musical honesty and integrity that resists all compromise. Kim's integrity to the score is unfailing but so, too, is his very recognisable strength of character and personality."

– Gramophone

" ...remarkable single-mindedness, idiosyncratic (and wonderful) voicings, terrific control over a dynamic range from butterfly-wing pianissimo to thundering sforzando, and just enough expression to light up Messiaen’s slab of sound without diminishing their abstract mystical power."

– American Record Guide

"Kim's intellectual approach is coupled to an intelligence and musical instinct which, in my experience, blows away most of the competition…His is an intelligence at work which projects through the notes, giving us more than mere ‘interpretation’, and projecting an understanding and feeling for the message of the composer which is communicated through the playing. All of these performances are amazing."

"When you hear Kim it is Man who is ultimately drawn into unity with the Divine being. Another straightforward but surprisingly intangible quality is that Kim’s birdsong sounds more like birdsong than pianism. The ‘joy’ which the birds represent in Regard du Fils sur le Fils comes over as a hair-raising truth, rather than a technical challenge."

"Rarely have I heard such powerful and athletic as well as poetic pianism in this music as in this recording [Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus] by Paul Kim. His reading is rich both in images and emotional associations. It is also a traversal, a journey, a narrative – a cycle which is more than the sum of its parts, which parts in turn simultaneously hold strength in both unity and individuality."

– MusicWeb International

"pianist who has thoroughly mastered this provocative cycle [Catalogue d’oiseaux] with utmost transparent performance and perfection ... splendid brilliance"

– Fono Forum Das Klassik-Magazin

"Paul Kim traverses across the delicate shades to the extreme volatility in his eloquent performance. Its detailed, transparent structures express great depth of culture and control of the finest tonal shades. Messiaen’s music rarely sounded so weightless and hypnotic. The music seems to stand still at times, however never losing the internal unity and coherence."

– Musik an Sich

"Kim's performance is very impressive…he has the technique, courage, and flair necessary to tackle the music's imposing demands."

– Fanfare