CARL TAUSIG (1841-1871) Polish Pianist and Composer
Had Carl Tausig lived beyond the age of 29, he might well have become an important composer as you will see from the examples of his work offered below. His friendships with Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms would certainly have had a great influence on him and it is tantalizing to imagine a late 19th Century composer who might have combined elements of these two, often warring, schools of composition.
His output as a composer was quite limited. All we know of his music consists of a precious few works for solo piano, though his transcriptions for piano of Beethoven string quartets, Liszt Symphonic Poems and Wagner operas, among works by other composers, are fairly extensive.
Tausig was one of Franz Liszt's favorite students. As a pianist his technique was colossal and many thought him to be the best of Liszt's many pupils, surpassing the great master himself. This is demonstrated in the technical difficulty of his compositions and transcriptions.
Two of his original compositions, The Ghost Ship and the Rhapsody on Hungarian Gypsy Tunes are indicative of his compositional talent and very impressive. Different interpretations of each are given below. Multiple recording of his transcriptions of pieces by Schubert and Schumann indicate the popularity of these transcriptions among the great pianists of the last 100 years.
The multiple performances of various works make for interesting comparisons. In the case of Der Contrabandist, they are all played at pretty much the same speed, within four seconds of each other in a work of almost 14 minutes in length, and yet so very differently. But what is most interesting - and you will discover this when you hear the one played by Rachmaninoff - is that the pianistic writing anticipates Rachmaninoff's own writing for the piano. I find this version much the best of the lot. It is as though Rachmaninoff has discovered a kindred spirit in this transcription of Tausig's and plays it the way he would his own music. The result is a much more coherent performance, one in which all the notes Carl Tausig wrote carry great importance and are not to be thrown away in the swirl of the moment.
Another interesting comparison to be made is between the playing of Rachmaninoff and Hofmann. While Hofmann's playing is as clear and transparent as ever, he does not have the sense of the writing that Rachmaninoff has. It is as though he doesn't really understand which of the myriad notes are the more important in that they determine the inner rhythm of the work: an unfair comparison because Rachmaninoff would have transcribed this piece exactly as Carl Tausig did. One doesn't encounter this manner of writing for the piano until Rachmaninoff himself wrote for the piano more than a generation later, and not since.
If you should happen to find some of the Opus numbers given below confusing, well frankly, so do I, and I confess I have not researched or checked them.
Concert Études, Op 1 1 in F♯ major and 2 in A♭ major
Michael Ponti, piano
Impromptu in F minor, Op 1 Menachem Har-Zahav, piano
Introduction and Tarantella, Op 2 Menachem Har-Zahav, piano