Joris Verdin Liszt’s harmonium-piano
Het ORGEL 98 (2002), nr. 2, 15-26 [summary]

harmonium-liszt.jpg (20570 bytes)Franz Liszt’s harmonium-piano was brought to Patrick Collon’s workshop in Brussels for restoration in 1994. The instrument combines a piano built by Erard with a harmonium. The piano seems not to have been built for the purpose: it is merely adapted to fit the conception. The harmonium, on the other hand, differs considerably from normal harmoniums: its case follows the form of piano, the windchests are (as a result) positioned vertically, and the specification is of a completely new design. The harmonium does not have any couplers, but had a pedal division, the reeds of which were located in the bench (which is unfortunately lost). Furthermore, the instrument has a separate set of reeds that can be played by the piano keys; the most remarkable one is the Prolongement lointain, a soft set of reeds that (naturally) keeps sounding as long as the keys are pressed, while the piano’s sound disappears.

The concept of the instrument is probably based on an idea of Liszt, brought to Alexandre via Berlioz. Alexandre built the instrument; it was delivered in Weimar in 1854. After Liszt’s death, it became part of the collection of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde at Vienna (catalogue number 18).

Experiments with appropriate repertoire by Berlioz and Moonen raise questions. Why was the prolongement not placed on Manual II? Was the sound of the piano in Liszt’s time as much softer than that of the harmonium as it is now?

Liszt himself appears to have played only a moderate-sized repertoire on his harmonium-piano, as did his contemporaries in Paris on a comparable instrument in the 1850s. Consequently, the significance of the instrument has to be found on another level: Liszt initiated the idea that not just dynamics, but also tone color should be flexible. Instruments became the vehicles of personal ‘impressions’. The concept of the harmonium-piano thus fits with the way of making music of the autonomous musician-composer-arranger-improviser of Liszt’s time. Indeed, the harmonium-piano shows that a significant part of Liszt’s organ repertoire is not organ music in the traditional sense.