In his teaching, Franz Liszt set great store by the acquisition of a thorough technical grounding as well as a grasp of the expression and content of the music. Here scales and arpeggios were just as much a part of daily practice as the repetition of chords and single tones or the practice of trills.
In order to master technical difficulties using all forms of expression, he insisted on dynamic differentiation in all exercises.
“He does not want his pupils to practise mechanically, rather he believes that the soul should always seek for expression and that these nuances comprising the musician’s true palette should be at the complete and natural command of his hands, so that he does not have to expend any effort in the moment that he needs them ...” (Auguste Boissier)
Once this foundation had been laid, Liszt turned to the development of musical character. Here he frequently used literary comparisons, for example from Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ or Victor Hugo’s odes.
Many of these aspects can already be found in Liszt’s Etudes Op.1. Here – and this is what makes them so valuable – Liszt takes care not to repeat the figures formally throughout the whole piece, but rather to change them within an Etude in order to prevent the hands from becoming cramped. Perfected by musically expressive playing, these youthful Etudes are an excellent introduction to Liszt’s piano music and era.
Furthermore Liszt's Etudes Op. 1 are the early version of the later Etudes d'exécution transcendante. The comparison of both versions permits illuminating insights in Liszt's development both as a pianist and as a composer.