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In Liszt's Consolation No. 3, the Db in the bass (e.g. bars 3-7) is notated as a single tied whole note which lasts five bars.

But in all performances of the piece I've heard, the performer repeats the Db at the beginning of bar 6.

To my ear it sounds right to repeat the Db around there since it's impossible to sustain it over this number of bars without a sostenuto pedal. But why is it notated this way in every manuscript I've seen? What did the composer intend?

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Here is a quote from Wikipedia (the second version of the Consolations were completed in 1850):

In 1883, years after composing the Consolation, Liszt received a Grand piano from the Steinway Company with a design that included a sostenuto pedal. Liszt began transcribing this Consolation [no. 3] for the new sostenuto pedal and in a letter to Steinway he wrote:

"In relation to the use of your welcome tone-sustaining pedal I inclose two examples: Danse des Sylphes, by Berlioz, and No. 3 of my Consolations. I have today noted down only the introductory bars of both pieces, with this proviso, that, if you desire it, I shall gladly complete the whole transcription, with exact adaptation of your tone-sustaining pedal."

Liszt recommended sparing usage of the sostenuto pedal in the interpretation of this Consolation and opined on the positive effect it would have on the more tranquil passages.

Note that the five-bar note does not mean that Liszt wanted the sustain pedal to be used, because apparently he only got a piano with such a pedal well after composing the piece (the five-bar Db is already in the first edition from 1850 which you can get here).

What does it mean then, that I don't know. After testing it a little bit I would say at least without a sostenuto pedal I would repeat the Db at bar 6 because at that point it starts to sound bad(*). I would still do it so that it does not sound like a repeat but more like just "reinforcing" the sound so it won't die out. You can achieve this effect by playing it much softer than the first Db. So, my interpretation of the ties would actually be more like slurs; there can be many Db-notes but they all belong to one unit.

Anyway, I don't think you should be too worried about it. At the time of Liszt it was common to change the pieces you play so that they fit your taste, technique, mood and whatever. In fact, from the quote you see that Liszt was immediately writing a new version when he got a new piano. Even today a good pianist changes things a bit (especially pedalling, dynamics and tempos) at least to suit the piano and acoustics. If you think re-taking the Db sounds better, you do that. I think it's more important that you experiment with different ways so that you can be fairly sure that it's the best you can come up with.

(*) This is a more general phenomenon: Put the sustaining pedal down and play a strong chord, say C major, with a good supporting bass. Then keep the pedal down and play all kinds of chords on the right hand except C. So far it does not sound so bad. Now repeat the first chord and suddenly it sounds wrong!

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At a lesson held towards the end of his life, Liszt told a student that "the fundamental D flat has to be renewed 'softly and bar by bar', in order to keep the duration of its sonority, which would be interrupted by pedal changes" (Ramann, L. (1901). Liszt-Pädagogium, 2nd book, page 9). Do not hesitate playing this note as much as Liszt asks for! It was a common practice coming from the times of the harpsichord.

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Here's my speculation: Liszt was a great fan of the sostenuto pedal. He probably intended to capture the bass Db with it right at the beginning and then have it kept going via resonance from all the Db major notes that the left hand plays above it in the next bars. That way you get a subdued, but long-lasting bass sound that doesn't seem out of place with the mood of that piece.

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The difference can come from different editions of music score used, where most changes are due to editor thinking that their changes are more appropriate, or better to reflect composer's original intention, or even simply oversight.

In rarer situations, even performers themselves may choose to differentiate from published editions at their discretion.

For example, I've had a recording of piano roll performance that is different from any variation stated in original post: Db occurs in bar 1, 2, 3, and 4-7 (sostenuto only lasts for 4 bar).

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  • How would you personally choose to interpret it? – jogloran Jul 30 '14 at 11:18
  • Can't be sure how I'd interpret it 10 years later, but currently I would also choose to reinforce new Db note at 6th bar, because of practical need -- normally on weaker pianos (say upright piano) the note will be almost unhearable after 3-4 bars. And even doubly so as I'd choose to use half pedaling on 5th bar, which weakens the bass note a lot. – Abel Cheung Jul 30 '14 at 11:49
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Interesting!...I'm working on this Consolation (printed in my radio guide once as "Consultation") for a May concert & have repeated the D flat, instinctively, myself. The main point with Liszt was---like Chopin---he hardly played a piece twice, the same way. And, we are talking about one of the most experimental/daring harmonists of the 19th Century :) I also have experimented playing (but not sounding) a D flat (In the left hand) on the last "chord",which is only two notes whilst the right plays the written F and A Flat. That way the tonic is allowed to be added, w/o changing the text.

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