"Christmas at the Piano" probably brings to mind piano arrangements and transcriptions of favorite carols but let's take a moment and examine Franz Liszt's contribution to Christmas music. Weihnachtsbaum, or "Christmas Tree" is a collection of twelve piaces written between 1873 and 1876. Unlike much of Liszt's music, it does not demand technical virtuosity and ability. Some say it relates to Schumann's Kinderszenen or Debussy's Children's Corner.
Liszt dedicated this suite to his first grandchild, Daniela von Bülow who was the daughter of Cosima and Hans von Bülow. Daniela traveled with her grandfather to Rome and it was first performed on Christmas Day in 1881, the day celebrated as Cosima's birthday even though she was actually born on Christmas Eve.
This recording is by Danish-born pianist and composer, Gunnar Johansen. Johansen, was musician and a scholar who founded the Leonardo Academy, dedicated to the integration of the arts and sciences.
In 1953, Johansen read in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci: "Music has two ills, the one mortal, the other wasting. The mortal is ever allied with the instant which follows that of music's utterance, the wasting lies inits repetiation making it seem contemptible and mean." With that in mind, Johansen recorded his first Improvised Sonata and continued this process until 1990 completing 550 works like it.
Johansen became the first artist-in-residence of any university in the United States when he was appointed to this position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1939, a position he held for many years.