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Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's Figaro and Don Giovanni

Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's Figaro and Don Giovanni

The Fantasy on Themes from Mozart's and[1] (German: Fantasie über Themen aus Mozarts und),[2] S.697, is an operatic paraphrase for solo piano by Franz Liszt, left as an unfinished manuscript upon his death, but completed by the pianist Leslie Howard and published in 1997. It has also been referred to as the "Figaro/Don Giovanni Fantasy"[3] and is based on music from Mozart's operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. 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.

Ferruccio Busoni published a much shorter performing version, the Fantasy on Two Motives from W. A. Mozart's, in 1912.[4] Busoni's version, which does not include the music based on Don Giovanni, is often nicknamed the "Figaro Fantasy".

Liszt's incomplete manuscript contains no title, no tempo indications, and 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.[5]


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. Much of the music is based 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). Fifteen pages are devoted to the dance scene from the Act I finale of Don Giovanni.[5][6]

Short version by Busoni

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as "probably the most open and enthusiastic Liszt exponent in the early twentieth century,"[7] became aware of the unpublished manuscript and prepared a performing version which he first played in 1911 in Berlin.[8] Busoni gave a series of six all-Liszt recitals in mid-October of that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, 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.)[9][10]

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 that same year by Breitkopf & Härtel as Fantasie über zwei Motive aus W. A. MozartsDie Hochzeit des Figaro [Fantasy on two motives from W. A. Mozart'sThe Marriage of Figaro] (BV B 66).[11]

As the title suggests, Busoni did not include the music from Don Giovanni, shortening the currently known manuscript 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.[6] Unfortunately, no editorial notes were included, so there was little or no indication of his alterations[12] or pages omitted.[5] That summer Busoni 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.[13][14]

Kenneth Hamilton, in his review of Howard's later edition, notes that "for reasons of personal psychology that we can only guess at, [Busoni] chose to give the impression in his preface that he had expanded, rather than drastically cut, Liszt's manuscript."[15] By contrast, the Busoni scholar Larry Sitsky maintains that it is not certain that Liszt intended to perform the music from the two operas together. Instead, since the manuscript pages are unnumbered, it is possible that pages from two separate works were at some point in time placed together in the Weimar holdings. "Since the transition to and from the Don Giovanni music is in C major, the 15 pages of manuscript can be played or omitted without any damage to the harmonic scheme. The Don Giovanni paraphrase begins on a fresh page and at no time are motives from both operas seen on the same page of Liszt's manuscript."[16]

Long version by Howard

It was not until much later in the twentieth century that anyone compared Busoni's version to the manuscript. In 1991 the Scottish pianist and writer Kenneth Hamilton was the first to publish the results of such a comparison.[17] Later, after learning of Hamilton's findings, the Australian-born pianist, and noted performer of Liszt's music, Leslie Howard, attempted to reconstruct the work as he believed 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."[18]

As reconstructed by Howard, the piece includes the music based on the dance scene from the Act I finale of Don Giovanni. The dramatic opening is based on the music from Figaro: 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. 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, "excellently,"[5] 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 where the manuscript breaks off just before the likely end of the piece.[5]

Howard has added a transitional passage of three bars from the Don Giovanni dance music to the final section[19] and the final 15 bars to complete the piece.[20] He has also added expression marks, including "dynamics, marks of articulation, numbers indicating numerical groupings, m.d. and m.s. marks, pedallings, tempo and other textual directions. The evident deficiencies of the manuscript (time signatures, accidentals, stems, beams, rest signs, fermatas) have been tacitly supplied throughout."[21] He uses square brackets to differentiate his additions or suggestions from the original text.[18] The dedication to Monsieur de Gericke Conseille de Legation appears in the left margin on p. 38 in Howard's reconstruction of the work.[5]

The selection and juxtaposition of themes from Figaro and Don Giovanni may have had special significance for Liszt. 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 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.[22]


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 and have both recorded it.[23] Leslie Howard recorded his own version in 1996, as a part of his complete piano music recordings of Liszt.


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgEnglish title used for performances by Leslie Howard in New York (Kozinn 2005) and Singapore (D'Souza 1998), as well as a broadcast of his Hyperion recording on the BBC (Walker 2010).
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgThe German title from the score cover. A more complete title is found on the title page: "Fantasie über Themen aus den Opern von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Hochzeit des Figaro und Don Giovanni" (Howard 1997). Eckhardt & Mueller 2001 give the title "Fantasie über Motive aus Figaro und Don Juan" and the catalog numbers: LW A90 (Eckhardt & Mueller); Searle 697; Raabe 660; and Chiappari 328/1 (Luciano Chiappari. Liszt: ‘Excelsior’, op.1400: Catalogo delle composizioni cronologico, tematico, alfabetico. Pisa, 1996).
Sep 26, 2019, 4:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHoward 2003.
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Citation Linkwww.hyperion-records.co.ukOriginal German title: "Fantasie über zwei Motive aus W. A. Mozarts Die Hochzeit des Figaro". "Fantasie" is sometimes translated as "Fantasia", and "Motive" is sometimes translated as "Themes". For example, see the title used for Hyperion's recording played by Stephen Hough. Kindermann 1980, p. 440, gives the German title: Fantasie für Pianoforte über zwei Motive aus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts Oper »Die Hochzeit des Figaro«. Roberge 1991, p. 56, gives the English title "Fantasy on Two Motives from 'Le Nozze di Figaro' by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for Piano".
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHoward 1997, pp. III-IV.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSitsky 2009, pp. 237-238.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgJames Deaville, "Liszt in the twentieth century" in Hamilton 2005, p. 36.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgDent 1933, p. 328.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBeaumont 1987, p. 134.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgCouling 2005, p. 242.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBusoni 1912; Kindermann 1980, p. 440.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgOne ossia on p. 20 is marked with the initials "F.L." and a second, with "F.B." (Busoni 1912, p. 20).
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgBeaumont 1985, p. 369.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgCouling 2005, p. 254.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHamilton 1998, p. 316.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgSitsky 2009, p. 238.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHamilton 1991.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHoward 1997, p. IV.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHoward 1997, pp. 36–37.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgHoward 1997, p. 39.
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