About this Recording
8.553062 - LISZT: Schubert Song Transcriptions, Vol. 1 (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 5)
English 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Complete Piano Music, Volume 5

 

      Not only is Liszt's music brilliant, not only does he pour his wealth of      pearls and diamonds down the keyboard, but his pieces rise to great      climaxes, are grandiose in style, overleap all boundaries, and whirl you   away with the vehemence of passion.

- Amy Fay (1844-1928), American pianist, author,

pupil of Tausig, Kullak and Liszt.

 

Franz Liszt held a commanding position in the world of music, his career likened to the passing of some great flaming meteor across the heavens. Good fairies showered gifts upon him at his cradle and the story of his later life reads more like an extravagant romance than fact. Not only did he become one of the most important composers of the nineteenth century but, beyond that, he was one of the greatest pianists in the history of the instrument. When asked what he would have been had he not been a musician, Liszt is said to have replied that he would have been the greatest diplomat in Europe. As it was, he created a new epoch in the history of the piano. Because the man and his music were one, it was difficult to separate them. Liszt played as he looked, and looked as he played. At the piano his face changed, sometimes noble and tender, sometimes stormy and defiant, sometimes sardonic, Mephistophelean, and, always underlying everything, expressive of infinite knowledge and power.

 

The music of other composers was Liszt's to mould, transcribe, exalt, promote and popularise on the piano. For the music of Schubert, a composer he declared to be the most poetic of al" he had a particular affection and sympathy and this is reflected in some sixty transcriptions of Schubert songs. Many of these were written in the late 1830s and formed a popular part of his concert programmes during his years as a travelling virtuoso. Here he was able to express his own enthusiasm for Schubert and to bring this repertoire to the attention of a wider audience. It has been observed that these transcriptions, a number of them made towards the end of his relationship with Countess Marie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children, during a period spent on the Rhine island of Nonnenwerth, came at a time when his own leanings were moving away from France and the Paris of his adolescence towards Germany.

 

The present release includes fourteen transcriptions of songs by Schubert. The first of these is among the best known. Schubert's Auf dem Wasser zu singen (To be sung on the water) is a selling of a poem by Friedrich Leopold Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg. Liszt's transcription, under the title Barcarolle, was published in 1838 with a group of twelve similar transcriptions, eleven of them dedicated to the Countess d' Aragon, and the twelfth to Marie d' Agoult. Liszt insisted that those who played these song transcriptions should be aware of the words and that the text should be published above the transcription, as a song text, not, as his first publisher had, placed at the head of the transcription. The poem here is in three stanzas: Amid the shimmer of the reflecting waves glides, like swans, the swaying boat; ah, on gently shimmering waves of joy glides the soui, like the boat, for from heaven above on the waves dances the glow of sunset about the boat. In his transcription Liszt tackles the technical problem of incorporating the singing melody with a piano accompaniment that has a certain complexity, a problem that faced his rival Thalberg, who was well known for his incorporation of a singing melody in the centre of an accompanying texture, where left and right thumbs might play their part. Liszt introduces the melody at first in the left hand, moving into the alto register for the second verse and allowing a much more elaborate surrounding texture in the third, before the climax and a prolonged postlude.

 

Wasserflut (Flood) is taken from Schubert's 1827 song-cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), a selling of twelve poems by Wilhelm Muller. The cycle was transcribed by Liszt in 1839 and published the following year with a dedication to Princess Elenore Schwarzenberg, sister-in-law of Cardinal Prince Friedrich von Schwarzenberg. Having left his beloved behind, the traveller makes his winter journey: Many tears have fallen from my eyes into the snow; its cold flakes greedily suck in my burning sorrow. Schubert's autograph has the song in F sharp minor, but it was published in E minor, the key of Liszt's transcription. Both song and transcription are couched in simple terms, with the prelude and intervening episodes of Liszt's accompaniment an octave lower than the original.

 

Der Muller und der Bach (The Miller and the Stream) is the nineteenth song in the cycle Die schone Mullerin (The Fair Daughter of the Miller), in which a love-sick young man, his apprenticeship finished, sets out into the world: Where a true heart dies of love, there lilies wither on every bed; then must the full moon go behind the clouds so that men do not see her tears; then angels cover their eyes, and sob and sing the soul to rest. The stream answers: And when love escapes from pain, a little star, a new one, shines in the heaven: then there spring up three roses, half red and half white, that will never wither again, from the thorns, and the angels cut off their wings and every morning go down to the earth. The young miller is not comforted: A little stream, dear little stream, you mean it so well;, ah, little stream, do you know what love does? Ah, down there, down there, is cool rest; ah little stream, dear little stream, but sing on. Liszt's transcription, with an expanded accompaniment, captures admirably the mood of the song. It was made in 1846 and published the following year in Vienna, with five other songs out of the Schubert cycle of twenty.

 

The next two transcriptions are of songs posthumously assembled into a cycle under the appropriate title Schwanengesang (Swan-Song) and published by Tobias Haslinger in 1829. Seven of the twelve poems are by Ludwig Rellstab, which

Schubert had probably intended to publish together, with six settings of poems by Heine and one of a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl. Ihr Bild (Her Picture), by Heine, is sadly reflective: I stood in dark dreams and looked at her picture and the beloved face strangely began to come to life; about her lips came a wonderful smile, as tears of sorrow glittered in her eyes; my tears too flowed down my cheeks, and ah, I cannot believe that I have lost you. Liszt omits the briefly repeated notes that form a prelude and takes the opening, as Schubert does, in simple octaves, before elaborating, very skilfully, what follows.

 

Standchen (Serenade), a setting of a poem by Rellstab, the seventh song of Schwanengesang, is among the most familiar, vocally and in the present transcription. A young man sings of his love: Gently plead my songs through the night to you, down here in the quiet hedgerow, beloved, come to me: whispering slender tree-tops murmur in the moon-light, do not fear the hostile listening of the betrayer, sweet one: do you hear the nightingales singing? Ah, they plead to you, with sweet complaining notes, they plead for me... trembling I wait for you, come, make me happy! The second two stanzas repeat the music of the first two, with the fifth stanza treated differently. In his transcription Liszt varies the strophic repetition by putting the melody an octave lower, with the direction quasi Violoncello. He reserves a greater degree of elaboration for the final stanza, where he himself was accustomed to add a decorative cadenza, The complete transcription of Schwanengesang was written in 1838 and 1839 and published in Vienna in 1840 by Haslinger, with a dedication of the publisher's choosing to Archduchess Sophie, sister-in-law of the unfor1unate Emperor Ferdinand V and mother of Franz Joseph I.

 

The work of Shakespeare, known to Goethe and Schiller par1icularly through the translations by Wieland, had become more widely familiar in Germany largely thanks to the translations by A.W.Schlegel and Tieck, Schuber1's Standchen (Serenade), Cloten's musicians' song from the second act of Shakespeare's play Cymbeline, "Hark, hark, the lark at Heaven's gate sings, / And Phoebus 'gins arise", transforms the Elizabethan into another world, redolent of Austria rather than of the Elizabethan theatre, a mood recaptured by Liszt, whose transcription was included in the collection of twelve songs of 1838.

 

The first transcription in the same collection, dedicated to the Countess d'Aragon, is a version of Schuber1's Sei mir gegrusst (I greet you) written in 1821 or 1822, a setting of a poem by Friedrich Rucker1 that follows fashionable oriental ism in its content and form, with recurrent rhymes linking the four stanzas and the repeated line at the end of each: I greet you, I kiss you! In the transcription the melody is first heard in the middle voice, shared between right and left hand, but then with increasing elaboration, arpeggiated chords, and a climax marked pesante molto and con passione.

 

Trockne Blumen (Withered Flowers) is the eighteenth song in the cycle Die schone

Mullerin and was transcribed by Liszt in 1846. The young miller is reaching despair, and now the flowers that his beloved gave him must go with him to the grave, and when she passes by his grave-mound she will think in her hear1 that his love was true. Originally in E minor, Liszt's version is in C minor and opens with fuller, arpeggiated chords. The second verse has the melody in octaves, with a left hand accompaniment that brings hand-crossing and a wider range and fuller chords in the arrangement of the major section that marks the onset of spring, when winter has passed. As in the original, there is a final, gentle postlude.

 

Schuber1 set only one poem by the Tubingen poet and medievalist Ludwig Uhland,

This was Fruhlingsglaube (Faith in Spring), written in 1821. It is included as the seventh of the 1838 collection of Liszt transcriptions. The poem greets the spring, a portent that everything now will change for the better, the hear1 forget its torment, as the earth blossoms. The transcription transposes the melody, which first appears in the upper voice, to be answered in the tenor register. A greater degree of elaboration is left to the last verse, which makes some technical demands on the player, before a brief cadenza leads to the final ritornello.

 

The Ruckert setting Du bist die Ruh is among the best known of all Schubert songs: You are my rest and gentle peace, you are my yearning and what stills it.

Liszt's transcription, the third in the 1838 collection, embarks at once on the melody, in the tenor register, then to be moved an octave higher, with accompanying figuration that calls for hand-crossing and considerable enrichment of texture as the song reaches its climax, followed by a silence. The music resumes, gently at first, moving forward to a second climax and pause, followed by the final repetition and brief postlude, with which Schuber1's song ends.

 

Der Doppelganger (The Double), a setting of a poem by Heine, was the thir1eenth song in the cycle Schwanengesang, Liszt darkens the mood by confining the four-bar prelude to the lower register, so that the vocal line, marked declamato in the transcription, can also appear in a darker-hued baritone register. Still is the night, the streets are quiet, in this house my beloved lived. The third line of the text now appears in the middle of the accompanying texture, in the same register as before: Long ago you left the town, yet the house still stands in the same place. Liszt now doubles the melody, in octaves: There stands a man and stares up, rings his hands in sorrow. This moves forward to a dramatic climax, as the moonlight reveals the watcher's own figure, before his eyes. Liszt now introduces an optional and ghostly tremolo, as the poet addresses the ghostly Doppelganger, seeking to know the reason for his aping of the lover's pain and grief. The Schubert scholar Richard Capell has drawn attention to a possible reminiscence of the Dies ir83 of the Mass for the Dead in the sinister accompaniment, its mood intensified in Liszt's haunted transcription.

 

Schubert published his setting of Goethe's Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel) in 1821, seven years after its composition in 1814. The text is taken from the first part of Goethe's Faust and is sung by Gretchen as she spins and thinks of her lover, the rejuvenated Faust, who will betray her: My peace is gone, my heart is heavy, I shall never, never again find peace: whenever I do not have him here it is the grave for me, the whole world is poisoned. The song reaches a climax as Gretchen recalls her handsome lover's features, the pressure of his hand, and, ah, his kiss. The original accompaniment reflects the turning of the spinning-wheel and the rhythm of the treadle, and this important feature of the work is preserved by Liszt, who adds the vocal line to what is already a demanding enough insistent accompanying figuration. The treadle at last has to give way, as the song nears its climax, and the transcription incorporates a more elaborate broken chord accompaniment, leading to the climactic chords that accompany Und ach, sein Kuss! (And ah, his kiss!). The spinning-wheel resumes its earlier rhythm, but Liszt gradually introduces a much fuller texture to the end of the song text, followed, as in the original work, by the continuing, fading motion of the wheel. The transcription belongs to the 1838 collection.

 

The concluding two song transcriptions are Der Wanderer (The Wanderer) and Aufenthalt (Resting-Place), the second of these from the cycle Schwanengesang.

After his setting of Goethe's Erlkonig, Schubert's setting of the poem Der Wanderer, by Schmidt of Lubeck enjoyed the greatest popularity of all his songs during his lifetime and for may years afterwards. The poem itself seems to epitomize the mood of romanticism: I come from the mountains, the valley steams, the sea roars: I wander in silence, I am not happy, and always the sighing question: where? ... Where are you, my beloved country? Sought, sensed and never found: the country so green with hope, the country where my roses bloom.... A ghostly breath answers me: There, where you are not, there is happiness. In this eleventh of the 1838 collection of transcriptions Liszt indulges in greater histrionics, allowing himself dramatic effects, sweeping arpeggios and passages in rapid octaves, before the mysterious tremolando and emphatic final words of the song, and the following gentler postlude.

 

Aufenthalt, by Rellstab, is again preoccupied with essentially romantic concerns:

Rushing river, blustering forest, sheer rock is my resting-place, as wave follows wave, so my tears flow ever anew: high in the tree-tops there rises trembling, so my heart beats without cease and as the primal ore of the rock, there remains always the same pain for me. In his transcription Liszt allows a simpler version to the arrangement that shares the melody between the two hands. He adds chromatic illustration of the mood, echoing the intense poetic emotion of the text. For the second stanza Liszt moves the melody, now in octaves, to a higher register, and allows himself even greater dramatic and dynamic licence, as the opening words of the song are repeated in conclusion.

 

Based on information supplied by Victor and Marina A. Ledin, Encore Consultants.

 

 

 

 

 


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