Siddharth S Kumar
Siddharth S Kumar
Sunday Magazine

Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

Siddharth S Kumar

Long ago, the reclusive and immensely talented Beatle, John Lennon, agreed for a photo shoot for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The day of the photo shoot was December 8 ,1980. The magazine's photographer wanted to get a picture of Lennon alone, but he insisted that his wife Yoko Ono should also be on the cover photo. Agreeing to his demand, the photographer had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko on the floor. After seeing the first Polaroid of the snap, both were jubilant and John told the photographer, 'You've captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it'll be on the cover.'

Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

Few hours after this photo shoot, Lennon was shot and killed in the archway of his New York residence. The following month Rolling Stones ran the haunting image (sans headlines) as its cover. The iconic cover photo was taken by Annie Leibovitz.

Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

Leibovitz joined Rolling Stones as staff photographer when she was just about 21, and within three years she rose to the position of Chief Photographer, a job that she would hold for 10 years. Subsequently she was associated with Vanity Fair, Vogue, the Walt Disney Company, Pirelli calendar. She came to be globally known for her portraits of a long list of celebrities including the Queen of England.

Photo connoisseurs believe that without her photos, contemporary portraiture would just not be as enriching as they are today. Besides Lennon and the Queen, this living legend’s canvas captured some of the most recognized faces of our times: Obamas, Trumps, Kardashians, David Beckham, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Bruce Willis, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Elon Musk, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Rihanna, Keith Haring, Caitlyn Jenner…a vast repertoire!

Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

Leibovitz had very little time while working with the Queen unlike other shoots which had the luxury of time. She made the most out of available resources. By placing her in the corner of the frame and using the dark cape to lead the viewer to the rest of the frame which shows the grandeur of the royal family.

It is because of Leibovitz's uncanny vision to exaggerate and enhance the characteristics in her portraiture that iconic personalities, be they from the celebrity, creative, or intellectual domains, have eagerly worked with her in awe of her interpretive perspective. Over the decades, Leibovitz has displayed a unique competence to capture the essence of a moment, to perceive details otherwise ignored that transmit an alternative vision of a scene, event, or person.

The celebrated photographer became the first woman ever in 1991 to have a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Leibovitz has published a few much-acclaimed books, and her photographs are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to name a few.

Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

In this photograph, Leibovitz captures Hollywood’s finest in a single photo. She uses a technique call compositing where different subjects are captured in separate photos and then merged to a single photo.

Even at 69, she is not one to hang up her boots; in fact, Annie Leibovitz’s breathtaking pictures are there to be enjoyed in the 2018 Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue Cover with Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hanks and more. Her never-say-die spirit is encapsulated in her quote, ‘If I didn't have my camera to remind me constantly, I am here to do this, I would eventually have slipped away, I think. I would have forgotten my reason to exist’.


Piano^Graphy: Leibovitz and Liszt

At the tender of age of 6, he was recognized as a child prodigy; he was composing elementary works at 8; and by the time he reached 9, he was appearing in concerts. He was Franz Liszt, the Hungarian pianist and composer of phenomenal influence and originality.

Romantic and idealist by nature, at the age of 22, Liszt composed several impressions of the Swiss countryside in Album d'un voyageur, which would later appear as Années de Pèlerinage ("Years of Pilgrimage"). Even before he was 25, Liszt debuted his piano compositions Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and a set of three Apparitions.

Liszt’s new works and public performances won over audiences in Europe. His unique talent was his uncanny ability to improvise an original composition from a melody suggested by an audience member.

The musician in him also had a humanitarian heart ticking away. His eminent position was showcased even further by the fact that he donated many of his concert proceeds to charities and humanitarian causes. For instance, when the Great Fire of Hamburg (1842), devastated much of the city, he gave concerts to generate aid for its thousands of homeless.

In his late 30s/40s, Liszt began to focus on the creation of new musical forms. His most notable accomplishment during this period was the creation of the ‘symphonic poem’, a genre of orchestral musical piece that illustrates or evokes a poem, a story, a painting, or other nonmusical source. It can be said that the symphonic poem is in some ways linked to opera in an aesthetic sense; it is not sung, but it does unite music and drama. Liszt's new works were radical and innovative, inspiring a generation of students—and these works found their way into the concert halls of Europe, winning him staunch followers and violent adversaries.

Liebestraum No. 3 - The piece consists of three parts, each divided by a fast cadenza requiring a very high degree of technical ability. The same melody is used throughout the piece, each time varied.

This was also the period of his celebrated production: the first 12 symphonic poems, A Faust Symphony, A Symphony to Dante’s Divina Commedia, the Piano Sonata in B Minor, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major, and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major. Liszt also composed the Totentanz for piano and orchestra, revised versions of the Transcendental and Paganini Études and many others.

As a pianist Liszt pioneered complete solo recitals, and was instrumental in popularizing the performance of music by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz and Wagner by transcribing their works for piano and playing them in his concerts. Besides his 700-odd compositions, Liszt wrote books on Frédéric Chopin, Hungarian gypsy music, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, et al

Wagner reportedly once said of Liszt: "Do you know a musician who is more musical than Liszt?" And on another occasion quipped "I feel thoroughly contemptible as a musician, whereas you (Liszt), as I have now convinced myself, are the greatest musician of all times”.

La Campanella (the little bell in Italian) – The melody of this piece comes from the final movement of Niccolò Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor. The sound of the little bell is introduced by bare octaves in the opening, followed by a long pause.

Perhaps this quote of Franz Liszt epitomized his life, “For the virtuoso, musical works are in fact nothing but tragic and moving materializations of his emotions; he is called upon to make them speak, weep, sing and sigh, to recreate them in accordance with his own consciousness. In this way he, like the composer, is a creator, for he must have within himself those passions that he wishes to bring so intensely to life.”

Siddharth S.Kumar curates SIDART PHOTOGRAPHY, and his creative interests include Photography (Google Street View Trusted Pro & named Best Photographer in Mindshare World network in 2014) & Piano (pursuing Grade 8 - Trinity College London). Professionally, he is Director (The Exchange), Mindshare, Chennai. Views are personal.

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