About this Recording
8.553516 - LISZT: 6 Consolations / Ave Maria (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 4)
English 

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 4

 

Then came the thing I had longed for — Liszt's playing. I sat near him so that I could see both his hands and his face. For the first time in my life I beheld real inspiration — for the first time I heard the true tones of the piano. He played one of his own compositions — one of a series of religious fantasies. His manipulation of the instrument was quiet and easy, and his face was simply grand — the ups compressed and the head thrown backward. When the music expressed quiet rapture or devotion a smile flitted over his features; when it was triumphant the nostrils dilated.
— George Eliot, Journal, 1854

The story of the child prodigy who flashes like a meteor across the musical world, to burn itself out or vanish into oblivion after a brief interval, is an all-too-familiar tale. But the story of the child prodigy who bursts upon the musical world in a dynamic explosion of brilliance and who remains in that world for not five years or ten but for more than sixty years, captivating audiences with his vitality of spirit, hypnotizing them with his colossal virtuosity — that story is unique and it belongs to Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

Liszt gave his first public performance at the age of nine and his last at the age of seventy-four. In the intervening sixty-five years he was unrivalled as the greatest piano virtuoso in all Europe, which in the nineteenth century, as far as music was concerned, was all the world. Of course, there were critics who complained of his playing, just as there are critics today who complain of his music. As a composer, Liszt fully exploited his mastery of the instrument, filling his compositions with all the pianistic fireworks he could so effortlessly set off in his playing. Basically, Franz Liszt lived as he composed, always on a grand scale, the embodiment of the quintessential, nineteenth century, flamboyant romantic.

Born a Catholic, Liszt all his life maintained that he was a true believer. In a letter written to Joseph d'Ortigue (1802-1866), a scholar and critic specialising in the history and practice of Catholic Church music, Liszt wrote:

In the depth of my being I feel myself a Christian and I bow joyously (avec allegresse) my soul under the benevolent and light burden of Christ our Saviour, as I attempt in supplication to do what his church out of love demands of us — now, as we shall not part that which God has joined, so shall I never agree to sever the ties that join feeling with thought, the language of the time with the essence of eternity, art in its highest manifestation — I shall not cease to be a musician as I increasingly become a Christian. Quite the contrary I hope just through this to attain a better music-conscience and so to fulfil my artistic task with increasing power.

In a letter written in 1860 to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, Liszt admits that he felt a "mysterious feeling which has pierced my entire life as with a sacred wound. Yes, 'Jesus Christ on the Cross,' a yearning Ionging after the Cross and the raising of the Cross, — this was ever my true inner calling…"

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. It is his music that gives proof of the great sincerity of his religious aspirations. Liszt 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 rest of the 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 Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (1819-1887) during his last year of touring in 1846. She followed Liszt from Russia to Weimar, eventually living out her final years in Rome, in extreme religious devotion, writing her 24-volume Inner Causes of the External Weakness of the Church. Liszt's Harmonies poétiques et religieuses is dedicated to her.

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

Il y a des âmes méditatives que Ia solitude et Ia contemplation élèvent invinciblement vers les idées infinies, c'est-à-dire vers Ia religion; toutes leurs pensées se convertissent en enthousiasme et en prière, toute leur existence est un hymne muet a Ia Divinité et à l'espérance. Elles cherchent en elles-mêmes, et dans Ia 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 a Iui: puiss'-je leur en prêter quelques-unes!

Il y a des cœurs brisés par Ia douleur, refoulés par le monde, qui se réfugient dans le mond de leurs pensées, dans Ia 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 something to the listener: 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 Ia solitude, and the Andante Lagrimoso 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. The first six pieces in the cycle can be heard on Volume 3 in the Liszt series (Naxos 8.553073).

Funérailles is the seventh composition in the cycle, and, perhaps the best know work in the collection. The title of the first sketch of the work now in the Goethe and Schiller Archives in Weimar is Magyar. The final version is dated October 1849. This is a clear reference by Liszt to the tragic events following the failure of the 1848-1849 Hungarian War of Independence. The Austrian imperial and military courts put Count Lajos Batthyeány (the president of the first free Hungarian government) to death and sixteen officers from the leaders of the War of Independence. Liszt lost some of his best and dearest friends at this time. The sad events in his homeland affected him deeply. He wrote: "I too belong to that strong and ancient race, I too am a son of that original and undaunted nation, which is certainly destined still for better days to come. O my wild, distant fatherland! My friends unknown! My great, vast family! The cry of your heart beckons me close to you… Why does a harsh destiny keep me far away?" The Swiss-German composer, Joseph Joachim Raff was a member of Liszt's Weimar circle of friends and remembered that "Liszt has been deeply moved by the loss of his best Hungarian friends…" For many years many musicians and critics insisted that Funérailles had been occasioned by the death of Chopin, who died eleven days after Count Lajos Batthyány was put to death. The musicologist Lina Ramann, however, unequivocally refuted the suggestion that this work had anything to do with Chopin's death. Funérailles, in its blend of virtuosity and profundity, has few equals among Liszt's works. In a sense, it is a pianistic homage to heroes, or perhaps, in a larger sense, a people who go beyond history, through their patriotic death, to become immortal. Philip Thomson calls this work, "Dark, poignant, defiant, and tragic, just as the events were that inspired it. More powerful or heartfelt funeral music than this has not been penned."

The eighth piece in the cycle has the title Miserere d'après Palestrina (Miserere after Palestrina). The earlier choral version Miserere von Palästrina (Wie es in der Sixtinischen Capelle gesungen) attaches the fascinating words "as it is sung in the Sistine Chapel." Neither of the works, unfortunately, has anything to do with Palestrina. The following text is to be found above the opening largo quasi recitativo, in which each note corresponds to one syllable of the Latin text:

Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum miserationem tuam dele iniquitatem meam.

In the second section of the work, Liszt works the theme out under a pp trill. The third section veils the theme in an incessant wave of arpeggios. The effect Liszt creates is a vibration of colour and sound, almost as if the piano is glowing in a shimmering light. Thomson comments: "A mere 43 bars long, Miserere consists only of three statements of the same theme and a short coda. But the increasing complexity of the writing of each statement (chordal, tremolo, and arpeggiated) gives the work direction and coherence, and the last three bars — suddenly chordal again, and reminiscent of the first three — are a fitting and artistically satisfying close."

The Andante lagrimoso which follows, is prefaced by yet another quotation from Lamartine. It is the first two stanzas from the poem Une larme ou consolation:

Tombez, larmes silencieuses,
Sur une terre sans pitié;
Non plus entre des mains pieuses,
Ni sur le sein de l'amitié!
Tombez comme une aride pluie
Qui rejaillit sur le rocher,
Que nul rayon du ciel n'essuie,
Que nul souffle ne vient sécher.

(Fall, silent tears,
Upon an earth without pity;
No more between pious hands,
Nor on the bosom of friendship!
Fall like an arid rain,
Which splashes on the rock,
That no ray from the sky can wipe away,
That no breath can come to dry.)

This pianistic tear or consolation has the romantic quality we often find in certain Schubert songs. The indication lagrimoso is frequently found in Liszt's works, signifying a release of internal suffering through tears. To the romantics of the nineteenth century tears were considered one of the most noble forms of human expression. Philip Thomson has this to say about the work: "The only untitled piece of this set is known by its tempo marking, and is lagrimoso indeed: its initial sad sighs try their best to transform themselves into at least a semblance of resigned acceptance, but ultimately they cannot. The work ends with the understanding that some tragedies cannot be mitigated by any amount of hope."

The concluding piece in the cycle has the title Cantique d'amour. In 1856 consolation: Liszt made a transcription of this work for harp. It is a work of great lyric tension. According to one musicologist, this piece provides the ideal conclusion to the tightly-packed, existential narrative, or perhaps, "musical journey" halfway between poetry and religion. In this last piece (Canticle of Love), Liszt marks the accompaniment quasi arpa giving us the impression of celestial harps. However mystical the ecstasy of the beginning of the work, Liszt moves the piece in a different direction closing the set in an apotheosis which is more triumphant than mystical. According to Philip Thomson, "The last piece of the set is immediately graspable and irresistible in all respects. Simple in form, and overtly and unashamedly romantic, it is the antithesis of the mood set by the Andante lagrimoso. These last two pieces taken together represent the need for, and the ability of, music to show us what life is: utter hopelessness at war with the hope we must have if we are to live. Our human life may be painful and tragic, and our aspirations ludicrous and doomed, but it is not only possible but necessary that we live and hope earnestly and nobly. The Cantique d'amour is the expression of the indomitable human spirit that has always defied the odds."

The next four pieces on this recording are Liszt's piano settings of the Ave Maria. The first of these is entitled Ave Maria aus den neun Kirchenchorgesangen (G/S504, R193). It dates from 1869, and like many other Liszt works appeared in different forms: for four-part mixed choir and organ; for vocal solo and organ, or harmonium; and for piano, or harmonium. The piano version was revised by Liszt and published in 1873, and it is this version that is heard here. The second Ave Maria (G/S545, R194) was written in 1881 in two versions: for voice and piano, or harmonium, and for piano, or harmonium. Neither version was published in Liszt lifetime. The third Ave Maria (G/5182, R67) is subtitled Die Glocken von Rom (The Bells of Rome). He composed this work in Rome in 1862 for the fourth part of a series of piano tutors in the series Grosse theoretisch-praktische Klavierschule written by Dr. Siegmund Lebert (1822-1884) and Dr. Ludwig Stark (1831-1884), who established the Stuttgart Conservatory. Liszt also wrote for their publication his concert-studies Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen. The fourth in this group is entitled Ave Maria d'Arcadelt (G/S183ii, R68ii). The Ave Maria was written in 1862 (and published in 1865) for organ and piano. Jacob Arcadelt (c.1514- c.1570) was a respected composer of the Netherlands school who served at the college of papal singers in Rome.

The six short pieces which Liszt published in 1850 under the title Consolations had a literary inspiration. Liszt was familiar with the poems by the historian and poet Joseph Delorme (Charles Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869)), which he read shortly after their publication in 1830. Although he began the set in the first half of the 1840s, it was not until the first half of 1849 that the ideas had been worked out. In these pieces, Liszt achieved a precious cultivated elegance, choosing to write music simply to serve the melodic material. The pieces were conceived as a unit (in fact, some to be played attacca) as suggested by the sequence of keys. The Consolation No.3 in D flat has long enjoyed great popularity as a single work in its own right. According to the musicologist Lina Ramann, the fourth piece was written on a theme supplied by the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia. The fifth piece was once circulated independently by an English publisher under the title Eugénie, Andantino, with no credit or reference to Liszt's own title. Philip Thomson writes as follows about the six Consolations: "They are unpretentious miniatures, each a distillation of a different mood, and are appropriately described by the set's subtitle: pensées poétiques. Their key-scheme is unusual: the first two and the last two are in E major, and third and fourth are in D flat major. The first and shortest of the set, a pensive andante, is intended not only to convey its own message, but also to introduce the second piece. Liszt has made this clear in three ways: (1) the partial first bar of the second Consolation is the fourth and last beat of the last unfinished bar of the first one; (2) the tempo marking of the second one is Un poco più mosso, which makes sense only in comparison with the first and (3) he said so. The second of the set is a lilting work, reminiscent of a song-transcription, in which the melody is presented in four different guises and accompanied in four different ways. Number three can, and often does, stand by itself. The fourth reminds us of the first of the set — chordal and hymn-like, and like the first is purposely ambiguous at first as to where the beat lies. The fifth, Consolation returns us to E major, where we will stay until the end of this set of pieces. How can a mere two statements of a theme and a short coda be so irresistibly charming? The sixth of the set is marked Allegretto, and departs from the moods of its predecessors. But its last sixteen bars are suddenly sombre again, and the last two bars return us to the 4/4 metre that began the Consolations."

As with the previous Naxos volume (8.553073), Philip Thomson ends this collection with Liszt's Ungarns Gott. The version here is for piano, left hand. As with the other version of this work which Liszt wrote in 1881, the piece is prefaced by the first six lines of Sandor Petöfi's poem A magyarok istene (God of the Magyars) in Hungarian and German. 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!
Él 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 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!)

The piano, left-hand edition was dedicated by Liszt to his friend, fellow Hungarian, and student, Count Géza Zichy (1849-1924). Although Zichy lost his right arm in a hunting accident when he was fourteen, he eventually became a celebrated piano virtuoso, poet and composer.

© 1997 Victor and Marina A. Ledin, Encore Consultants


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