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8.550548 - LISZT: Annees de Pelerinage, Vol. 1
English 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), Vol. 1
Première année: Suisse (First Year: Switzerland)

 

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 there 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 marriage did not take place and the couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquée (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 appearance 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 own 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.

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. The first year, in Switzerland, includes nine vignettes, seven of which had formed part of his Album d'un voyageur, written in 1835 and 1836 and published in Paris in 1840. The revised version, with an added "Storm" and "Eclogue", was composed between 1848 and 1854, after Liszt had settled with his new mistress in Weimar.

The pieces included in the Pilgrimage express romantic joy and wonder at the grandeur and beauty of the country, the landscape of which had a particular appeal to the contemporary imagination. The Chapel of William Tell, with its grandiose central theme arid echo effects, evokes the spirit of republicanism, while the Lake of Wallenstadt carries a quotation from Byron, contrasting the peace of the scene with the troubles of life. The brief Pastorale is followed by another depiction of water, marked by a quotation from Schiller, while La Vallée d'Obermann has further literary connotations in its reference to the melancholy hero of a novel of Etienne Pivert de Sénancour. The piece translates into musical terms both the beauty of the Swiss mountain landscape and the emotions of Obermann. The Eclogue, with its shepherd song, is followed by a nostalgic picture of the pure countryside. The last piece, The Bells of Geneva, again carries a quotation from Byron, as evening falls over the city.

Keith Anderson

 


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