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8.553073 - LISZT: Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses Nos. 1-6 (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 3)
English 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 3

 

Liszt is the most interesting and striking looking man imaginable. Tall and slight, with deep-set eyes, shaggy eyebrows, and long iron-gray hair, which he wears parted in the middle. His mouth turns up at the corners, which gives him a most crafty and Mephistophelean expression when he smiles, and his whole appearance and manner have a sort of Jesuitical elegance and ease. His hands are very narrow, with long and slender fingers that look as if they had twice as many joints as other people's. They are so flexible and supple that it makes you nervous to look at them. But the most extraordinary thing about Liszt is his wonderful variety of expression and play of feature. One moment his face will look dreamy, shadowy, tragic. The next he will be insinuating, amiable, ironical, sardonic; but always the same captivating grace of manner. He is a perfect study.
— Amy Fay (1844-1928), American pianist, student of Tausig, Kullak and Liszt.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) lived as he composed, always on a grand scale, the embodiment of the quintessential, nineteenth century, flamboyant romantic. Born a Catholic, all his life he maintained that he was a true believer. In a letter written in 1860 to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, he states:

I am writing this down on 14 September, the day on which the Church celebrates the Festival of the Holy Cross. The denomination of this festival is also that of the glowing and mysterious feeling which has pierced my entire life as with a sacred wound. Yes, "Jesus Christ on the Cross," a yearning longing after the Cross and the raising of the Cross, — this was ever my true inner calling; I have felt it in my innermost heart ever since my seventeenth year, in which I implored with humility and tears that I might be permitted to enter the Paris Seminary; at that time I hoped it would be granted to me to live the life of the saint and perhaps even to die a martyr's death. This, alas! has not happened — yet, in spite of the transgressions and errors which I have committed, and for which I feel sincere repentance and contrition, the holy light of the Cross has never been entirely withdrawn from me. At times, indeed, the refulgence of this Divine light has overflowed my entire soul. I thank God for this, and shall die with my soul fixed upon the Cross, our redemption, our highest bliss; and, in acknowledgement of my belief, I wish before my death to receive the holy sacraments of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, and thereby to attain the forgiveness and remission of all my sins. Amen.

Throughout his life, the central struggle of Liszt's being was fought on religious lines and he expressed his deepest religious sentiments through his music. He created an astonishing quantity of religious works, not only for chorus but also for the piano. His most famous piano cycle is a set of ten pieces entitled Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. The title of the collection was taken from a group of poems by Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) published in 1830. Liszt began sketching one of the piano pieces which eventually became the third in the set in 1845. The remaining pieces took form between 1847 and 1852. He published the collection in 1853.

There were good reasons why Liszt occupied himself with devotional expression. He developed a deep friendship with the young Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein during his last year of touring in 1846. She followed Liszt from Russia to Weimar. Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein was born on 8 February 1819, the daughter of the Polish aristocrat and landowner Peter von lvanovsky and his equally well-born wife Pauline. She lived in Woronince, a country house built in the early eighteenth century and situated between Kiev and Odessa. In 1836, when she was seventeen, she had been married, at her father's behest, to Prince Nicholas von Sayn-Wittgenstein, adjutant to the governor of Kiev and the youngest son of the victorious field marshal Prince Wittgenstein. The Princess's fateful meeting with Liszt persuaded her to leave Russia in April 1848, taking her eleven-year-old daughter Marie with her. For twelve years she lived with Liszt in Weimar, quickly surrounding herself with artists and scholars. Tireless in her campaign to obtain a divorce, she moved to Rome in 1860 and after two papal audiences was finally granted permission to marry Liszt. The wedding was planned to take place in Rome on Liszt's fiftieth birthday, but on the very eve of the ceremony the plan was frustrated. A cousin of the Princess who happened to be in Rome chanced to visit the Church of San Carlo al Corso, which was already decorated for the forthcoming wedding; on the very eve of the wedding he persuaded the authorities to order an investigation into the records of the Princess's divorce. She refused to release them and the wedding did not take place. After that débacle she rarely left her rooms in the Via del Babuino. Liszt's pupil, Arthur Friedheim, remembered meeting the Princess.

During the winter of 1882-83 in Rome, after I moved into the Hotel Alibert with the Master and began to spend a great deal of time in his company, Liszt was paying weekly visits to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein and on a number of occasions I accompanied him. This was a remarkable concession on her part, as she was living at this time in the greatest seclusion in her apartment on the Via del Babuino. One night she asked me to play and Liszt suggested his "Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude," which is dedicated to her. "No, no!" the Princess exclaimed. "No one will ever play that to me except Franz Liszt himself." The Master laughed gently: "But I am responsible for this performance!" She remained firm, and we had no music that night. It was no less than thirty-five years since she and Liszt had first met in Russia. Her whole life since then had been dedicated in undying devotion to this man. For him she had renounced husband, wealth, position and country and in 1848 she had come to Weimar to be with him. After she left Weimar, the Princess turned to a life of extreme religious devotion and cloistered herself in her Rome apartment, where the air was always heavy with the smoke of the strongest cigars she could find."

She died on 8 March 1887, shortly after completing her 24-volume Inner Causes of the External Weakness of the Church. Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein is buried in the Vatican cemetery.

Liszt prefaces the Harmonies poétiques et religleuses with a fragment from the foreword of Lamartine's collection of poems.

II y a des âmes méditatives que la solitude et la contemplation élèvent invinciblement vers les idées infinies, c'est-à-dire vers la religion; toutes leurs pensées se convertissent en enthousiasme et en prière, toute leur existence est un hymne muet à la Divinité et à l'espérance. Elles cherchent en elles-mêmes, et dans la création qui les environne, des degrés pour monter à Dieu, des expressions et des images pour se le révéler à elles-mêmes, pour se révéler à lui: puiss'-je leur en prêter quelques-unes!

II y a des cœurs brisés par la douleur, refoulés par le monde, qui se réfugient dans le mond de leurs pensées, dans la solitude de leur âme, pour pleurer, pour attendre ou pour adorer; puissent-ils se laisser visiter par une muse solitaire comme eux, trouver une sympathie dans ses accords, et dire quelquefois en l'écoutant: Nous prions avec tes paroles, nous pleurons avec tes larmes, nous invoquons avec tes chants!

(There are some meditative souls that solitude and contemplation raise inevitably towards ideas that are infinite, that is towards religion; all their thoughts are converted into enthusiasm and prayer, all their existence is a mute hymn to the Divine and to hope. They seek in themselves and in the creation that surrounds them steps to climb to God, expressions and images to reveal him to them, and to reveal themselves to him: I would that I could lend them some of these!

There are hearts broken by sorrow, held back by the world, who take refuge in the world of their thoughts, in solitude of soul, to weep, to wait or to worship; I would that they might be visited by a muse solitary like them, to find sympathy in her harmonies and to say sometimes, as they listen: We pray with your words, we weep with your tears, we call on God with your songs!)

Liszt also headed the Invocation, the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, and the Andante Lagrimoso (Naxos 8.553516) with poems by Lamartine. The Ave Maria, Pater Noster, and Hymne de l'Enfant à son Réveil are piano versions of three smaller works for chorus. This volume in the Liszt series [Naxos 8.553073] features the first six pieces in the cycle.

The opening work in the cycle is entitled Invocation. Before the piece Liszt quotes seven lines from each of the thirteenth and fifteenth stanzas of Lamartine's poem of the same name.

Élevez-vous, voix de mon âme,
Avec I'aurore, avec la nuit!
Élancez-vous comme la flamme,
Répandez-vous comme le bruit!
Flottez sur l'aile des nuages,
Mêlez-vous aux vents, aux orages,
Au tonnerre, au fracas des flots;

Élevez-vous dans le silence
À l'heure où dans l'ombre du soir
La lampe des nuits se balance,
Quand le prêtre éteint l'encensoir;
Elevez-vous au bord des ondes
Dans ces solitudes profondes
Où Dieu se révèle a la foi!

(Rise up, voice of my soul,
With the dawn, with the night!
Leap up like the flame,
Spread abroad like the noise!
Float on the wing of the clouds,
Mingle with the winds, with storms,
With thunder, and the tumult of the waves.

Rise up in the silence
At the hour when, in the shade of evening,
The lamp of night sways,
When the priest puts out the censer;
Rise up by the waves
In these deep solitary places
Where God reveals himself to faith!)

Although marked Andante con moto, Liszt asks the performer play it Rasch und feurig (Fast and fiery). Here he creates a pianistic prayer invoking God's presence, as if this opening work is the beginning not only of a musical cycle but also a religious service. According to Philip Thomson, this piece is "A rousing launch to the remarkable voyage Liszt is about to take us on. Its placement as the first of the set is no accident, not because of its title (the first version had none), but because of its obviously intended similarities to the final piece — Cantique d'amour (Naxos 8.553516). One has only to compare the endings of the two pieces (both in E major) to see that Liszt clearly had every intention not only of enriching us on our trip, but also of returning us home again."

The second work is Ave Maria. Over the piano score Liszt provides the Latin words of the well known prayer. "Ave Maria," states Philip Thomson, "is a short but expressive prayer, and one of four pieces in this set (if we include the brief "De Profundis" section of Pensée des Morts and the first twelve bars of Miserere) that Liszt has set to Latin liturgical texts. It is both interesting and enlightening to see that the rhythm and intervals of the last four notes of this piece (crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver (all underneath a triplet sign), barline, and whole-note, in descending whole-tones until the fourth note, which repeats the third) are identical in all but key with the beginning four notes of the Bénédiction."

The third work is Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude (Blessing of God in Solitude). The Bénédiction was the first of the ten pieces to be composed (in 1845) and is the most elaborate work in this cycle. Liszt prefaces the score with the first stanza of Lamartine's poem of the same name.

D'où me vient, ô mon Dieu! cette paix qui m'inonde?
D'où me vient cette foi dont mon cœur surabonde?
À moi qui tout à l'heure incertain, agité,
Et sur les flots du doute à tout vent ballotté,
Cherchais le bien, le vrai, dans les rêves des sages,
Et la paix dans des cœurs retentissants d'rages.
À peine sur mon front quelques jours ont glissé,
II me semble qu'un siècle et qu'un monde ont passé;
Et que, séparé d'eux par un abîme immense,
Un nouvel homme en moi renaît et recommence.

(Whence comes to me, O my God, this peace that overwhelms me?
Whence comes this faith in which my heart abounds?
To me who just now, uncertain, agitated,
And on the waves of doubt buffeted by every wind,
Sought goodness, truth, in the dreams of the wise,
And peace in hearts resounding with fury,
When barely on my brow a few days have slipped by,
It seems that a century and a world have passed;
And that, separated from them by a great abyss,
A new man is born again within me and starts anew.)

The dreamy and blissful beauty of Bénédiction creates an emotional dream-picture of a person amidst nature, marvelling at God's creation and feeling overwhelmed with praise and gratitude. Philip Thomson calls this work, "Luscious piano-writing in the luscious key of F sharp major. The longest and most ecstatic piece of the set, it requires of both performer and listener the abandonment of conscious thought at the climactic third statement of the main theme. Before this final statement, Liszt introduces two episodes — one of angelic purity and one of quiet introspection — in an interesting and effective key-scheme: each successive theme drops its tonality by the same number of semitones (F sharp to D to B flat to F sharp), so that it arrives back in its original key at the end. These episodes are necessary not only for the contrast with, the preparation for, and the underscoring of the glorious final thematic statement, but also for the work's aesthetic perfection of emotional balance. Elements of both episodes are incorporated into the coda, which of necessity after such a passionate outpouring, comes to be at peace."

Pensée des morts (Thought of the Dead) is the fourth work in the cycle. Liszt directed the performer to play this "with a profound feeling of ennui". To nineteenth century romantics ennui was a mixture of cosmic suffering, spleen, chagrin, and despair. One critic found in this work "silence composed to its limits," while another musicologist called this piece a "pianistic descent into the realm of the dead." Thomson writes, "If the Bénédiction de Dieu causes us temporarily to surrender our rationality to its ecstasy, the Pensée des Morts is an ascent into sheer madness. I do not know what to say about this piece. It is so profoundly moving that feel I have never actually performed it; I have simply been on stage and allowed it to lead me as it will, with no effort on my part. The ineffable beauty of the G major theme cannot help but induce the experience of transcendence. I consider this work to be both the core of the set, and one of the most powerful arguments ever made for the ability of music to communicate things that cannot otherwise be expressed."

Pater Noster is the fifth piece in the cycle. It is an arrangement of a Gregorian melody and also a piano transcription of Liszt's own work for chorus and organ which he composed around 1848 and published in 1852. The whole piece is an uninterrupted recitative. Philip Thomson comments: "The melody of the setting is Gregorian, but the modally-influenced harmonization, adapted from his own arrangement of this prayer for choir and organ, is Liszt's own. It begins and ends in C major, but both the tonality and metre undergo sudden changes en route."

The Hymne de l'enfant à son réveil (Hymn of the Child at his Awakening) follows. This is another piano arrangement of one of Liszt's own works. The original is a work for female choir with harmonium (or piano) and harp accompaniment to a text by Lamartine, which Liszt composed around 1845, revising it in 1862 and again in 1874. It was eventually published in 1875 in its original form with a dedication to the choral society in Budapest named in honour of Liszt. In this work, one analyst found Liszt's music "praising God's creatures, in a simple musical prayer where he thanks God for the wonders of creation with the simplicity of a child's heart."

Franz Liszt composed Les morts (The Dead) in 1860 to the poem of the same name by Lamennais. The work was written in memory of his son, Daniel Heinrich Liszt (1839-1859), who died as a result of a chest infection in his father's arms at the home of Hans and Cosima von Bulow. Les morts appeared in a variety of versions over the years. It was first written for orchestra. A chorus for men's voices was added to the orchestral version in 1866 and published posthumously in 1916. The two-hand piano version was published in 1908 and a four-hand version remains unpublished. Liszt also arranged the work for organ, a version that was published in 1890. The poem is quoted in its entirety at the beginning of the work.

Ils ont aussi passé sur cette terre;
Ils ont descendu le fleuve du temps;
on entendit leur voix sur ses bords,
et puis l'on n'entendit plus rien.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Pendant qu'ils passoient, mille ombres valnes se présentèrent à leurs regards;
le monde que le Christ a maudit leur montra ses grandeurs,
ses richesses, ses voluptés;
ils le virent, et soudain ils ne virent plus que l'éternité.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Semblable à un rayon d'en haut,
une croix, dans le lointain, apparoissoit pour guider leur course:
mais tous ne la regardolent pas.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Il y en avoit qui disoient: Qu'est-ce que ces flots qui nous emportent?
Y a-t-il quelque chose après ce voyage rapide?
Nous ne le savons pas, nul ne le sait.
Et comme ils disoient cela, les rives s'évanouissoient.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Il y en avoit aussi qul sembloient, dans un recueillement profond, écouter une parole secrète;
et puis, l'œil fixé sur le couchant,
tout à coup ils chantoient une aurore invisible
et un jour qui ne finit jamais.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Entraînés pêle-mêle, jeunes et vieux,
tous disparoissoient tels que le vaisseau que chasse la tempête.
On compteroit plutôt les sables de la mer
que le nombre de ceux qui se hâtoient de passer.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Ceux qui les virent ont raconté qu'une grande tristesse étoit dans leur cœur:
l'angoisse soulevoit leur poitrne,
et comme fatigués du travail de vivre,
levant les yeux au ciel, ils pleurolent.
         Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

Des lieux inconnus où fleuve se perd, deux voix s'élèvent incessamment:
         L'une dit: Du fond de l'abîme j'ai crié vers vous, Seigneur:
Seigneur, écoutez mes gémissements, prêtez l'oreille a ma prière.
Si vous scrutez nos iniquités, qui soutiendra votre regard?
Mais près de vous est la miséricorde et une rédemption immense.
         Et l'autre: Nous vous louons, ô Dieu! nous vous bénissons:
Saint, saint, saint est le Seigneur Dieu des armées!
La terre et les cieux sont remplis de votre glore.
         Et nous aussi nous irons là d'où patient ces plaintes ou ces chants de triomphe.
         Où serons-nous? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur!

(They too have passed on this earth;
they have descended the river of time;
their voices are heard on its banks,
and then are heard no more.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

While they passed, a thousand vain shadows appeared to them;
the world that Christ has cursed will show them its grandeur,
its riches, its pleasures:
they saw them and suddenly they saw no more than eternity.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

Like a ray from on high,
a cross in the distance appeared to guide their course;
but all of them paid no regard to it.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

There were some who said: What are these waves that carry us?
Is there something after this rapid journey?
We do not know, no-one knows.
And as they said that, the banks of the river vanished.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

There were some too who seemed, in deep meditation, to listen to a secret word;
and then, eye fixed on the West,
all at once they sang of an invisible dawn
and of a day that never ended.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

Carried in confusion, young and old,
all disappeared like the vessel that the storm chases.
Rather might one count the grains of sand of the sea
than the number of those that hurry past.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead that die in the Lord!

Those that saw them have told of a great sorrow that was in their heart;
anguish stirred in their breast
and as though tired of living,
raising their eyes to heaven, they wept.
         Where are they? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!

From the unknown places where the river dies, two voices are raised ceaselessly:
         One says: From the depths have I cried to thee, O Lord:
Lord, hear my voice, give ear to my prayer.
If thou be extreme to mark what is done amiss, who shall abide it?
But with thee is mercy and salvation.
         And the other: We praise thee, O God, we bless thee:
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory.
         And we too shall go there, whence come these complaints or songs of triumph.
         Where shall we be? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord!)

"By turns dark, declamatory, painful, angelic, and triumphant before arriving at tranquillity, Les Morts is an outpouring of Liszt's emotions upon the death of his son, Daniel," writes Philip Thomson. "The unexpected and exquisite harmonies of the last twelve bars do not have an expressive equal in any other art."

Liszt wrote Resignazione on the empty last page of the autograph manuscript of Salve regina, an organ work dated 19. Octobre, 77 Villa d'Este, presumably the date of this composition. The autograph manuscript does not indicate any instrument. Although many musicologists have in the past listed the work as part of Liszt's organ compositions, the editors of the New Edition of the Complete Works of Franz Liszt (Editio Musica Budapest) maintain that the work is characteristically pianistic since the repeated chords and the arpeggio in bar 7 of the work would be meaningless on the organ. Resignazione was never published in Liszt's lifetime and the manuscript is in the Library of Congress in Washington. Thomson comments on this work: "The salient aspect of this piece is its pensive mood — until the last four bars, where harmony becomes implied, melody becomes an unimportant by-product of a succession of notes, and purpose — especially after the clear four-bar phrases and unambiguous harmonic support in the rest of the piece — seemingly becomes lost. But the point of these bars is apparent only after the work is over. It is one of Liszt's remarkable experiments in the various effects of silence. In this case, the piece simply drifts away from the realm of music, which is aural, to the realm of contemplation, where it still continues, but unheard."

Ungarns Gott was composed in 1881. Liszt wrote it originally for baritone solo with ad lib. male choir and piano. Shortly afterwards he transcribed it for piano solo and for piano, left hand (Naxos 8.553516). At the beginning of this piece Liszt quotes the first six lines of Sandor Petöfi's poem A magyarok istene (God of the Magyars) in Hungarian and German (translated by Ladislaus Neugebauer). Petöfi (1823-1849) was an outstanding Hungarian poet and leader of the March Youth in the Pest revolution in 1848. He died a heroic death in the battle at Segesvár in Transylvania on 31 July 1849. A year after the piano versions appeared in print, Liszt published a version for organ, or harmonium.

Félre, kislelküek, akik mostan is még
Kételkedni tudtok a jövö felett,
Kik nem hiszitek, hogy egy erös istenség
Örzi gondosan a magyar nemzetet!
El az a magyarok-istene, hazánkat
Ätölelve tartja atyai keze!

Hinweg Kleinmütige, die lhr da selbst noch heut'
In bangem Zweifel ob der Zukunft brütet,
Die lhr nicht glaubt, daß uns ein starker Gott zur Seit',
Der liebevoll das Ungarvolk behütet!
Der Ungarn Gott: er lebt! Er schirmt das Vaterland
In seinen treuen Armen, mit seiner Vaterhand!

(Away you faint-hearted that still today
in anxious doubt brood over the future,
Who do not believe that a mighty God is with us,
Who lovingly protects the people of Hungary!
The God of Hungary: He lives! He guards our country
In his true arms, with the hand of a father!)

© 1997 Victor and Marina A. Ledin, Encore Consultants.


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