Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's ''The Marriage of Figaro'' and ''Don Giovanni''

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Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni (German: Fantasie über Themen aus den Opern von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Hochzeit des Figaro und Don Giovanni), S.697, nicknamed the Figaro Fantasy, is an incomplete operatic paraphrase by Franz Liszt. Liszt composed the work by the end of 1842 or early 1843, as he performed it at the latest in Berlin on 11 January 1843. However, it remained unpublished in Liszt's lifetime. The manuscript is incomplete and contains no tempo indications, very few dynamics and articulation marks. The ending is some few bars from complete. Liszt probably tried out an improvised solution in performance, judging by the rather insignificant gaps.[1]

Poster for The Marriage of Figaro.


The Liszt autograph manuscript for the nearly completed work is housed at the Stiftung Weimarer Klassik/Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv, Weimar (shelf mark GSA 60/I 45). There is no title, date or place of composition, or signature. It consists of 50 unnumbered pages of music. The dedication to Monsieur de Gericke Conseille de Legation is on p. 38.[1]

Francisco d'Andrade
as Don Giovanni.

Liszt based his piece on two arias from the opera The Marriage of Figaro: Figaro's "Non più andrai" (Act I) and Cherubino's "Voi che sapete" (Act II); and the dance scene from the Act I finale of Don Giovanni. The dramatic opening is a free paraphrase of "Non più andrai" followed by an arrangement of "Voi che sapete" in A flat major instead of Mozart's B flat major. This is the only appearance of Cherubino's music; it does not recur. Figaro's aria returns, initially in its original C major, but is quickly varied both harmonically and pianistically. However, instead of proceeding to Mozart's coda, the aria transitions to the dances from Don Giovanni. In the opera, the dances are a minuet in 3/4, a country dance in 2/4, and a quick waltz in 3/8. Liszt keeps the minuet in F major, and combines it with the country dance in the same key. He does not add the waltz as Mozart does, but treats it separately, eventually combining it with the country dance and, interestingly, a portion of Figaro's aria. A series of modulations follow which combine bits of all four themes. At the final transition, the earlier material from Figaro is reused alongside the theme from the minuet. This leads to the coda, which finishes Figaro's aria and breaks off just before the likely end of the piece.[1]

The selection and juxtaposition of themes from Figaro and Don Giovanni may have had special significance for Liszt. The Australian-born pianist, and noted performer of Liszt's music, Leslie Howard describes it as follows:

Bearing in mind George Bernard Shaw's perceptive observations upon Liszt's musical interpretation of the morality of the Don in the Don Giovanni Fantasy, it might be similarly if cautiously suggested that the combination and disposition of the themes in the minuet scene in the present work [Figaro Fantasy] also adumbrate a moral fable: that the flirtatiousness of Cherubino which may seem harmless enough at the beginning could be leading to the unforgivable behaviour of a Don Giovanni, unless good common sense (See Figaro: "Non più andrai...") hinders him from doing so.[2]

Busoni performing version[edit]

At some point the pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni, who has been described as "probably the most open and enthusiastic Liszt exponent in the early twentieth century,"[3] became aware of the unpublished manuscript and prepared a performing version which he first played in 1911 in Berlin.[4] Busoni gave a series of six all-Liszt recitals in mid-October of that year, playing nearly all of the major piano works, and these are the concerts at which his version of the Figaro Fantasy most likely received its first performance. (Busoni had been on tour in the United States for the first three months of the year, and these were his first piano recitals after returning to Europe in April.)[5][6]

Later, in the summer of 1912, after the unsuccessful premiere of his Wagnerian-length opera Die Brautwahl in mid-April and a concert tour through Italy in May, Busoni decided to stay home alone in Berlin to work, while his wife Gerda was in Switzerland on holiday. It was during this period of time that he prepared his version of Liszt's Fantasy for publication. The manuscript (No. 245 in the Busoni Archive) is dated 11 July 1912. It was published soon after by Breitkopf & Härtel under the title Franz Liszt. Fantasie über zwei Motive aus W. A. Mozarts Die Hochzeit des Figaro. Nach dem fast vollendeten Originalmanuskript ergänzt und Moriz Rosenthal zugeeignet von Ferruccio Busoni [Franz Liszt. Fantasy on two themes from W. A. Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Completed after the almost finished original manuscript and dedicated to Moriz Rosenthal by Ferruccio Busoni] (BV B 66).[7] As the title suggests, Busoni had omitted all of the music from Don Giovanni, shortening a piece of more than 597 bars by 245 bars. The changes also included Busoni's 16-bar completion, as well as 10 additional bars on p. 28, and other elaborations of 5, 1 and 4 bars duration, including expression marks, cadenzas, and ossias.[8] Unfortunately, no editorial notes were included, so there was little or no indication of the extensive changes to the original.[1] (That summer he had also arranged and composed music for the edizione minore of the Fantasia contrappuntistica, the Sonatina Seconda for piano, and incidental music for Frank Wedekind's play Franziska, consisting of sketches for twelve numbers which he never finished. He also shortened and modified the music of Die Brautwahl for a new production and extensively rearranged the music into a suite for concert performance. There is no mention of, nor was there much time available for a trip to Weimar to re-examine Liszt's manuscript, and it is now clear that his version was never intended to be a scholarly edition of Liszt's piece.)[9][10]

Complete edition by Leslie Howard[edit]

It was not until much later in the twentieth century that anyone compared Busoni's version to the original manuscript. In 1991 the Scottish pianist and writer Kenneth Hamilton was the first to publish the results of such a comparison.[11] Later, after learning of Hamilton's findings, Leslie Howard attempted to reconstruct the work as Liszt intended, recording, and in 1997 publishing, the newly-recast work. His intention was to "publish... the whole of Liszt's Fantasy with an authenticity of text, supplying and clearly indicating the few bars... which are necessary to render the work performable."[12]


The Figaro Fantasy, as prepared by Busoni, was performed extensively by himself, his student Egon Petri, and later championed by the youthful Vladimir Horowitz and Grigory Ginsburg. The Russian pianist Emil Gilels made a famous recording of Busoni's version in 1935. However, it has fallen out of the standard pianist repertoire. Stephen Hough and Jean-Yves Thibaudet still perform this work occasionally. Leslie Howard recorded his own version in 1996, as a part of his complete piano music recordings of Liszt.


  1. ^ a b c d Howard (1997), pp. III-IV.
  2. ^ Howard (1997), p. III.
  3. ^ James Deaville, "Liszt in the twentieth century" in Hamilton (2005), p. 36.
  4. ^ Dent (1933), p. 328.
  5. ^ Beaumont (1987), p. 134.
  6. ^ Couling (2005), p. 242.
  7. ^ Kindermann (1980), p. 440.
  8. ^ Sitsky (1986), pp. 237-238.
  9. ^ Beaumont (1985), p. 369.
  10. ^ Couling (2005), p. 254.
  11. ^ Hamilton (1991).
  12. ^ Howard (1997), p. IV.


Beaumont, Antony (1985). Busoni the Composer. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-13149-2
Beaumont, Antony, ed. (1987). Busoni: Selected Letters. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06460-8
Couling, Della (2005). Ferruccio Busoni. "A Musical Ishmael". Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5142-3
Dent, Edward J. (1933). Ferruccio Busoni: A Biography, London: Oxford University Press. (Reprint: London: Ernst Eulenberg, 1974) ISBN 0-903873-02-8
Hamilton, Kenneth (1991). "Liszt Fantasises — Busoni Excises: The Liszt-Busoni 'Figaro Fantasy'". Published in the Journal of the American Liszt Society Volume 30 (1991), pp. 21–27.
Hamilton, Kenneth, ed. (2005). "The Cambridge Companion to Liszt". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64462-3.
Howard, Leslie, ed. (1997). Liszt Ferenc: Fantasie über Themen aus den Opern von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Hochzeit des Figaro und Don Giovanni, for piano solo, Searle 697, Opus postumum, first edition, completed and edited by Leslie Howard. Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest, Plate no. Z. 14 135.
Kindermann, Jürgen (1980). Thematisch-chronologisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Ferruccio B. Busoni. Studien zur Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, vol. 19. Regensburg: Gustav Bosse Verlag. ISBN 3-7649-2033-5
Sitsky, Larry (1986). Busoni and the piano: the works, the writings, and the recordings, pages 235-236. Westport, Conn. and New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23671-2.

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