App Review: The Liszt Sonata

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002.pngThere are many ways to explore classical music other than by just listening to it. If you’re a musician, you’ll read scores, either on their own or while listening to a work. You may also want to watch videos of performances, to see how great musicians play your favorite works. Or you may simply want to hear a musician talk about a work, giving you insights into its structure and form.

Touch Press’s $14 The Liszt Sonata app (iPad only; 637 MB) lets you do all of these. Looking closely at Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, this app lets you examine it in many ways, together with the great pianist Stephen Hough. There are extensive introductory sections, both in words and video, describing the work, discussing the sonata form, the structure of this sonata, and giving some background on Liszt’s life (which was fascinating).

The performance section of the app shows Hough playing the work. You get three angles, one from the side of the piano, one showing Hough face forward, and another above him, showing his hands. These views are all synchronized with the score, which has a cursor that moves as Hough plays. There’s also a sort of “guitar hero” view, showing which fingers are played.

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You can choose which of the top four views is largest; just tap the one you want to take up the most space. You can play and pause, and you can also listen to a commentary by Stephen Hough as you listen to the sonata, or read his commentary in subtitles.

As you listen and watch, you can move ahead or back through the timeline or the score by swiping. I’d find this more useful if there were some waypoints, letting you quickly get to specific sections the sonata, but if you’re familiar with the work, you’ll be able to find which section you want when you go through it.

I’m not a pianist, so the score doesn’t help me understand the work. But the introductory sections do give me a great deal of information about this sonata. Watching Hough perform is interesting, but it lacks the choices that a true director would have made with more cameras. However, a pianist trying to tackle this demanding work will certainly find all of this very useful.

If you want to immerse yourself in this sonata, this app will let you see it as you never have. If you’re a pianist, you’ll want this; if you don’t play, you may still enjoy looking closely at this work. It would be interesting if Touch Press were to release similar apps for other works. Bach’s Goldberg Variations would be a prime candidate, as understanding the different variations and canons help to appreciate the work as a whole.

5 replies
  1. Steven de Mena says:

    The Liszt Sonata in B minor – wow, if I had to pick one substantial piano work to take on a desert island, this would probably be it. Probably the Alfred Brendel Philips/Decca performance.
    I’m not a performing musician but can follow scores, and since the 1970s have had the score for the Liszt and find it helps me notice small details about the work I might not have noticed without repeated hearings. (Scores usually illuminate more for me in orchestral works, where you have multiple parts playing at once).
    I see this article tagged as iOS. Does it work on iPhones also (though I imagine there’s really not enough screen real estate to effectively use). I imagine this would be suited best for an iPad (not mini) size device, or even OS X if they released a version for that OS.
    Oh I searched and found this:
    “Compatibility: Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPad.”

    Dumb question – If one is running an iOS app on an iPhone and with AirPlay redirects the screen to an Apple TV and views it on an HD TV is the quality higher… could more screen elements (let’s say a video and score layout similar to the Liszt above) work effectively (easier to see clearly) via Airplay or is it going to display the same number of pixels as would be on the iPhone. (I hope that makes sense… it’s late here). Thanks for all the cool Mac content lately.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      I’ve added “iPad only” in the article; sorry about that.

      AirPlay would work, but only if the app supports it, which this doesn’t. With AirPlay, you can only mirror what’s on the screen.

      • Steven de Mena says:

        Thanks Kirk.
        And I learned something about AirPlay, it didn’t occur to me that an app needs to support it.
        It’s kinda fun that no matter how much I think I know about computers, classical music and whatever, I still learn new things every day.

        • Kirk McElhearn says:

          iOS apps need to support it, but on OS X, it’s a system-wide feature, so you can mirror the screen at any time.

      • Steven de Mena says:

        Kinda OT but I wish I could be on my iPhone and in the App Store buy an “iPad only” app, which would somehow automagically install the next time I was using my iPad and opened the app store (or sync’d).
        I’ll be reading a forum or hear mention of an app and not be near my iPad and have to send myself an email to remember to buy it next time on my iPad.


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