|About this Recording
8.550510 - LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor / Vallee d'Obermann / La campanella
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Sonata in B Minor
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborján) near Ödenburg (Sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Ödenburg in 1820, followed by a concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearance brought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow the family to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and composition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had taught Beethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as a foreigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but was able to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist and as a composer.
On the death of his father in 1827 Liszt was joined again by his mother in Paris, where he began to teach the piano and to interest himself in the newest literary trends of the day. The appearance of Paganini in Paris in 1831 suggested new possibilities of virtuosity as a pianist, later exemplified in his Paganini Studies. A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d' Agoult, a blue-stocking on the model of their friend the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of three children, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuoso pianist, a rôle in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences.
In 1844 Liszt finally broke with Marie d' Agoult, who later took her own literary revenge on her lover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to his withdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director of Music, accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theological propensities. Liszt now turned his attention to new forms of composition, particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate into musical terms works of literature.
Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had proved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in 1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquéee (a three-pronged life), as he divided his time between his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, where he held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, and his appearances in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero.
Liszt's illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His final years were as busy as ever, and in 1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, now controlled by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.
The Sonata in B minor was published in 1854, at a time when Liszt was busy revising his earlier symphonic poems. Unlike these last, the sonata has no literary or extra-musical programme, but is itself a remarkable summary of Liszt's own characteristics as a composer and performer. In a much enlarged structure of sonata form, it includes within its single, continuous movement, a remarkable formal innovation in itself, a slow movement and a rapid finale.
The sonata opens with a brief introduction, containing the first theme, a descending scale. There follows a more energetic and dramatic figure, with an accompanying secondary melody, forming the first subject proper of the sonata. A modulating passage leads to the second subject, in the form of a third theme, marked Grandioso. A third subject is added, derived from the second element of the second theme, now in a form that Chopin would have recognised. The development of the sonata is in two parts. At first the three themes are treated in various ways, before giving way to the fourth theme, which serves as a first subject for the slow movement, marked Andante sostenuto. The subsidiary element of the original second theme now appears as a second subject, the other themes re-appearing in a middle section, before this part of the sonata comes to an end. As the music fades to the softest dynamic marking, the development of the whole work resumes with a fugal treatment of part of the second theme, followed by a recapitulation and a coda in which earlier thematic material returns, the second and first themes, in that order, bringing the whole sonata to an end, a formal tour de force.
Liszt's earlier years of wandering, during the course of his relationship with Marie d'Agoult, had given rise to two collections of piano pieces, described, in terms hardly complimentary to his mistress, as years of pilgrimage. These were followed in the final period of his life by a third collection, Années de pélerinage, troisieme année, music of a more reflective cast with distinct Roman connotations. The fourth of these seven pieces bears the title Les jeux d'eau a la Villa d'Este. Liszt was a frequent visitor to the Villa, occupied by Cardinal Prince Gustav Adolph von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, who had made rooms permanently available to him at Tivoli. The peace and beauty of the Villa d'Este is directly recalled in two of the pieces of the cllection, completed in 1877 and published in 1883.
La Vallée d'Obermann was first included in Liszt's Album d'un voyageur, written in 1835 and 1836, and celebrating a happy period spent with Marie d'Agoult after their elopement to Switzerland for the birth of their first child, Blandine. In Geneva, where the couple at first settled, every attempt was made to take part in the social and musical life of the place, their sense of isolation lightened by a visit from Chopin and George Sand, with her own two children. The Vallée d'Obermann, the most extended piece in the Album d'un voyageur, was included in the subsequently revised version of the collection, published in 1855 under the title Années de pélerinage; première année, Suisse.
It translates into musical terms the beauty of the Swiss mountain landscape, a newly discovered cause of wonder to the romantic imagination. La Campanella had its origin in a paraphrase of the last movement of Paganini's B minor Violin Concerto written by Liszt in 1831/2, with the title Grande Fantaisie de bravoure sur La Clochette. The same theme, La Campanella, was the basis of the third of Liszt's Etudes d'execution transcendante d'apres Paganini, a work that makes demands of virtuosity on the performer comparable with those made originally by Paganini, whose performance in Paris in 1831 had excited such interest. Liszt's La Campanella was written in 1838 and revised in 1851. The Paganini Studies were dedicated to the future wife of Robert Schumann, the pianist Clara Wieck, whom he had first met in Vienna in the same year.
Close the window