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8.554839 - LISZT: Beethoven Song Transcriptions (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 16)
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Complete Piano Music, Volume 16

Capriccio alIa Turca

Piano Transcriptions of Beethoven's Songs

“From the thoughtful performance of Adelaide, incidentally, many singers could learn how this song should be sung. How little, how negligible the poor piano is compared to the sound of a human voice, and yet what music these artistic hands knew how to elicit from the instrument!”

-Heinrich Adami, Allgemeine Theaterzeitung (7th April 1846)

Franz Liszt as a performer combined a degree of showmanship with remarkable gifts of interpretation, as contemporary comments on his playing make clear. It is all the more surprising to find that he retired from paid public performance relatively early in his long career.

Born in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from his father's employers and other members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to move from his birth-place of Raiding to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven, and from Vienna to Paris. There Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire, but he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and he was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.

The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. His relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to Liszt's departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his relationship began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.

It was in 1861, at the age of fifty, that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.

Beethoven's incidental music for Kotzebue's The Ruins of Athens was occasioned by the celebration of the opening of a new imperial theatre in Pest in 1812. The music was written towards the end of the summer, while the composer was at Teplitz. Kotzebue's play shows the goddess Minerva waking from a sleep of two thousand years to find Athens in Turkish hands and the Parthenon in ruins. Art, however, has survived in Pest, thanks to enlightened imperial rule. The music includes the famous Turkish March. Liszt's Capriccio alIa Turca was written in 1846 and was followed by a Fantasia for piano and orchestra and a solo piano derivative during the following years. The Capriccio is based primarily on the march itself, with an excursion into another supposedly Turkish element of the music, the Chorus of Dervishes.

Beethoven had long held Goethe in reverence and had ser poems by him even during his early years in Bonn. In the summer of 1812 the two had actually met during holidays spent at Teplitz and Karlsbad. Goethe found Beethoven a 'completely untamed personality' and commented on his attitude to a world that he found hateful, not making life for himself any more pleasant thereby. The six songs transcribed by Liszt date from 1809 and 1810 and the transcriptions were made in 1849. The first of the set, Mignon, takes the well known words of the gypsy waif of the title, Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn? (‘Do you know the country where the lemon-trees flower?’) from Goethe's Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (‘Wilhelm Meister's Years of Apprenticeship’), transcribed with little change from the original. The second song, Mit einem gemalten Band (‘With a Painted Ribbon’), accompanies the gift of the title, its melody appropriately transcribed principally in the tenor register.

Freudvoll und Leidvoll (‘Joyful and Sorrowful’) and Die Trommel gerühret (‘The Drum Sounds’), from the play Egmont, lend themselves to more dramatic piano arrangement, while Es war einmal ein König (Once upon a time there was a king), Mephisto's Song of the Flea from Faust, has a greater degree of transformation. Wonne der Wehmut (‘Delight in Sadness’) again transcribes the vocal part into the appropriate register.

Beethoven published his setting of Matthisson's Adelaide in 1797, with a dedication to the poet. Liszt's transcription dates from 1839 and offers a considerable elaboration of the original love-song, in which the poet wanders in the garden of spring, seeing everywhere the image of his beloved.

The writer and poet Christian Fürchtegott Gellert belongs to an earlier generation. His Geistliche Oden und Lieder (‘Spiritual Odes and Songs’), the source of a number of Protestant hymns, was published in 1757 and Beethoven's setting of six of these poems dates from before 1802. The first of these in Liszt's transcription, Gottes Macht und Vorsehung (‘God's Might and Providence’), elaborates a second verse of the simple hymn. The second, Bitten (‘Entreaties’), remains in its original form and the third, Bußlied (‘Song of Penitence’) adds embellishment to the end of the first section, augmenting this very considerably as the song reaches a climax, when God hears the penitent's cry. Vom Tode (‘Of Death’) adds a second verse varied by syncopations of the sombre accompaniment and DieLiehe des Nächsten (‘Love of One's Neighbour’) retains much of its original simplicity. This allows Liszt to make a contrast with his final more dramatic transcription of Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur (‘The Honouring of God through Nature’).

Beethoven's song-cycle An die ferne Geliebfe (‘To the Distant Beloved’) was completed in 1816 and dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz. The words of the six songs that form the work were by a young medical student, Alois Jeitteles, and were perhaps commissioned by the composer. They express a mood of longing and resignation, perhaps in part, at least, a reflection of Liszt's feelings as he made the transcription in 1849. The piano version makes still clearer the essential unity of the cycle, an effective guide and model for later composers.

Keith Anderson


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