The Concerto opens with a grandiose theme. It is this theme which undergoes several thematic transformations throughout the entire work. An important fact to take into consideration during the years 1830 -1860 is that Liszt expanded his use of "thematic transformation," and this use is very much evident in this Concerto. Many critics have remarked that the opening theme of the Concerto is not a theme at all, that it is just an empty phrase; in truth, much of this piece is built on this first theme and everything depends on it. It is said that, when once asked for the meaning of this theme, Liszt sat down at the piano and sang the following words to the opening measures: “Das versteht ihr alle nicht, haha!!!” (None of you understands this, haha!!!).1

Show score
of Opening Theme
Play Opening Theme

After this opening theme the pianist plays an imposing cadenza beginning with leaping octaves.

Play Opening Cadenza



The first transformation of this Opening Theme occurs in measures 81 - 90 with a chromatic scale attached.

Play first transformation of Opening Theme

Measures 81 - 83
First transformation of Opening Theme


The same theme appears also in measure 101 - 108 in the Third Movement (the theme with harmony in the bass).

Third Movement measures 101 - 108 (Play Original Theme with harmony in the bass)


The contrasting thematic material in this First Movement is in the passage on the left. This section is almost like chamber music with the piano, clarinet, violin and cello exchanging beautiful solo passages.
First Movement measures 54 - 65 (Play chamber music between piano and solo instruments)

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1 Michael Steinberg, The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 238.