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8.572808 - LISZT, F.: 3 Sonetti di Petrarca (1st version) / Venezia e Napoli (1st set) / Recueillement (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 37)
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborjan) 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 bluestocking 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 works of literature into musical terms.
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 appearances 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, since her husband’s death, by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.
It was in June 1835 that Liszt had eloped with Marie d’Agoult, travelling from Paris to Geneva, where the couple were able to meet and where, in December, their first child, Blandine, was born. In the winter they returned to Paris and during the summer of the following year stayed for a few months with George Sand at her estate at Nohant, before moving in the autumn to Italy, settling for a time at Como, where their second daughter, Cosima, was born in December. 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 of pilgrimage made further use of pieces from his Album d’un voyageur, reflecting elements of their stay in Switzerland. The second year, set in Italy, includes three pieces inspired by sonnets of Petrarch and previously published. The three Petrarch sonnets are piano versions of settings of the poems, Benedetto sia ’l giorno, e ’l mese, e l’anno (Blessed be the day, the month and the year), Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra (I find no peace, and I cannot wage war), and I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi (I saw on earth angelic grace) composed between 1842 and 1846, and published in the latter year. The piano versions of the songs were written during the same period and published also in 1846, the versions here recorded. These pieces appeared in a revised version in Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième année, Italie, compiled between 1838 and 1858. In Italy Liszt and Marie d’Agoult had read together Dante and Petrarch. The first of the piano pieces, based on Sonnet 47, celebrates the dawning of love, the very time and place where the poet feels the power of love (Da’ duo begli occhi che legato m’ànno / By two fair eyes that hold me prisoner). Sonnet 104 recounts the pains that love brings to its captive (Pascomi di dolor, piangendo rido / I feed on sorrow, mourning I laugh), and Sonnet 123 praises the beauty of the poet’s mistress and her celesti bellezze (heavenly beauties).
The first version of Venezia e Napoli (Venice and Naples) was added as a supplement to the Italian Années de pèlerinage and completed in 1840. It later underwent considerable revision, to appear in a markedly different form in 1859. The original version includes four movements, the first of which later provided material for Liszt’s Tasso Overture and later for the symphonic poem Tasso, lamento e trionfo. The melody of the Gondolier’s Song, which is introduced in a middle voice after a dramatic introduction, is variously treated, with shifts of key and technically demanding piano writing. The second movement, after an introductory eight bars starting in C major, proceeds to a bright A major Allegro deciso, leading to a gentler Allegretto. A gently lilting Andante placido in F sharp major, with demanding stretches that suited Liszt’s own hands but were later slightly modified, is followed by the final Tarantelles napolitaines. This last movement starts in G minor with the rapid rhythm of the dance, to be interrupted by an E flat major trio section, before the tarantelle resumes. There is a further contrast in a G major Andantino cantabile before the return of the dance and a final Prestissimo.
The Klavierstück No 2 in A flat major, also known under the title Album Leaf, returns as a theme in Liszt’s Ballade No 1 and in various ephemeral forms. A charming fragment, it was one of the few pieces Liszt wrote during the winter months of 1844–45, during a concert tour of Spain and Portugal and after his bitter parting from Marie d’Agoult. Recueillement was written in 1877 as a contribution to a memorial and statue for Vincenzo Bellini in Naples, organized by Lauro Rossi, director of the Naples Conservatory. Schlaflos! Frage und Antwort (Sleepless! Question and Answer), described as a Nocturne, was written in March 1883, based on a poem by Liszt’s pupil Toni Raab. Her poem is lost, but the piece starts in E minor, ending in a question, to which a gentle E major answer, Andante quieto, is proposed. Liszt’s Toccata has been conjecturally dated to 1879 and is characteristic of his pieces written in old age.
The cheerful Galop de bal was written in 1840 and published that year in St Petersburg. The Galop in A minor of 1846 is a more ambitious and more technically demanding exploration of the dance, making use of the upper ranges of the keyboard. The Grand Galop chromatique was written in 1838 and dedicated to Count Rodolfe Apponyi. The piece proved popular with audiences, a crowd-pleaser as a final item in any concert programme, as it was in Liszt’s Vienna concert described above, one of a series of concerts that brought him back to the concert stage in Vienna and served as a subject of dissension with Marie d’Agoult, who remained alone and disconsolate in Venice during these two months of his absence. The Galop makes formidable demands on any pianist’s technique.
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