About this Recording
8.573011 - LISZT, F.: Berlioz - Harold en Italie / Romance oubliee / ROGER, K.: Viola Sonata (P. Dukes, P. Lane)
English 

Hector Berlioz (1803–1869): Harold en Italie, Op 36 (transcr. Liszt)
Franz Liszt (1811–1886): Romance oubliée
Kurt Roger (1895–1966): Viola Sonata

 

Hector Berlioz (1803–1869): Harold en Italie, Op 36 (transcr. Liszt)

Hector Berlioz was born in the French province of Isère, the son of a doctor, in a family of some local substance. As a child he was taught principally by his father, and was swayed by various enthusiasms, including an overwhelming urge towards music that led him to compose, not for the piano, an instrument he did not play, but for a sextet that included his music-teacher’s son, a horn-player, and the flute, which he played himself. He later took the opportunity of learning to play the guitar. At the insistence of his father, he embarked on medical studies, taking his first qualification at Grenoble, before moving to Paris. Three years later he abandoned medicine in favour of music, his enthusiasm increased still further by the opportunities offered in Paris by the Opéra and by the library of the Conservatoire, of which he was later to serve as librarian. In earlier years he had not been idle as a composer, but in Paris he prudently took lessons from Lesueur, whose Conservatoire class he entered in 1826.

In 1829 Berlioz saw Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time, with Charles Kemble as the Prince and the Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia. The experience was overwhelming and in the season he had the opportunity to see much more, sharing in the popular adulation of Harriet Smithson, with whom he fell violently in love, at first to be rejected, leading to his autobiographical Symphonie Fantastique. It was only after his return from Rome, where final victory in the Prix de Rome had allowed him to spend two years, and when her popularity began to wane, that she agreed to be his wife, a match that brought neither of them much happiness.

In the following years Berlioz remained an outsider to the French musical establishment. He earned a living as a critic, while as a composer and conductor he won more distinction abroad. Both then and in later years he was seen as the very type of an individual genius, the romantic artist, driven to excess by enthusiasms and paranoid in reaction to criticism or opposition, as his Mémoires show. After the death of his wife in 1854 he was able to marry the singer Marie Recio, with whom he had enjoyed a relationship already of some twelve years. Her sudden death in 1862 and that of his son Louis, a naval officer, in 1867, saddened his final years. He died in 1869.

Berlioz had diverse literary interests, often reflected in his compositions. Virgil’s Aeneid inspired the opera Les Troyens (The Trojans), Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing gave rise to the opera Béatrice et Bénédict, Romeo and Juliet to a symphonie dramatique and The Tempest to a Fantaisie dramatique, while Goethe’s Faust inspired La damnation de Faust. It was Byron’s Childe Harold that suggested to Berlioz a symphony with a solo viola, Harold en Italie. This last was completed in 1834 and performed at the Paris Conservatoire in November of the same year, to be published only fourteen years later, in 1848. It was in December 1833 that Berlioz met the great violinist Paganini, after a performance of the former’s Symphonie fantastique. Paganini sought from Berlioz a concerto in which he might display to advantage a Stradivarius viola that he had acquired. Berlioz at first demurred, but set to work, nevertheless, on a work for viola and orchestra, only to have it rejected by Paganini, who required a true concerto, in which the solo viola would retain prominence throughout. Berlioz gives a graphic account of the vicissitudes that befell performances of the work, but his presentation of it in 1838 at a concert at which Paganini was present and heard the complete work for the first time brought the highest praise from the violinist, now near to death from the tuberculosis of the larynx that made speech difficult. He is said to have made clear to Berlioz his admiration of the work, kneeling before him and kissing his hand, and following this, the next day, by a present of 20,000 francs, brought to Berlioz by Paganini’s young son, Achille.

Liszt had first met Berlioz in Paris, before the first performance of the Symphonie fantastique in 1830 and in the following years did much to promote Berlioz’s work in transcriptions and then, in Weimar in November 1853, with performances of original orchestral and dramatic works over three weeks, at which Berlioz was present. Liszt’s transcription of Harold en Italie for viola and piano was first tackled in 1838 and originally intended for that year. Liszt modified his transcription in 1852, and eventually, in 1877, planned a definitive version, a transcription that was finally published in 1881.

In Harold en Italie Berlioz had not only drawn on the adventures of Byron’s hero, but also on his own time in Italy as a winner of the Prix de Rome. The first of the four movements, Harold aux montagnes; Scènes de mélancolie, de bonheur, et de joie (Harold in the mountains; Scenes of sadness, of happiness and of joy), opens with an Adagio, its sinister chromatic figuration treated fugally and reaching a dynamic climax, before the entry of the viola with the theme associated with Harold, a melody, derived from the discarded overture Rob Roy, that recurs throughout the work. The following symphonic Allegro brings rejoicing, with a development and recapitulation, including a return of the theme associated with Harold. The second movement, Marche de pèlerins chantant la prière du soir (March of pilgrims singing the evening prayer) brings a shift of key from G to E. The Harold theme is heard again, over the procession, to which the viola adds further comment, as its arpeggiated figuration accompanies the steady march.

The third movement, Sérénade d’un montagnard des Abruzzes à sa maîtresse (Serenade of a mountain-dweller of the Abruzzi to his mistress), in C major, a key already touched on in the preceding movement, brings a change of mood, with the return of Harold’s theme in octaves and a final echo. The work ends with Orgie de brigands; Souvenirs des scènes précédentes (Orgy of brigands; Memories of the preceding scenes), a summary of what has gone before, starting in G minor. After the initial Allegro frenetico, there is a reminiscence of the opening, followed by the pilgrims’ march, the serenade, and reminiscences of the first Allegro and the Adagio. As the movement continues, extending the brigands’ orgy still further, the viola has less to add, eventually returning for a brief comment, before the work comes to a close.

Franz Liszt (1811–1886): Romance oubliée

Liszt’s Romance oubliée (Forgotten Romance) was written in 1880 and dedicated to Hermann Ritter who, in 1876, had introduced the viola alta to the public. The instrument, made by Karl Adam Hörlein of Würzburg, was larger than the usual viola, with a length of nineteen inches. In 1898 Ritter had a fifth string added to it and in 1905 added to his instrumentarium a viola bassa, an octave lower than the viola alta. Liszt’s piece had its origin in a song first published in Moscow in 1844, Oh pourquoi donc, with words by Karolina Pavlovna, to whom it is dedicated. The song later became a piano piece. It opens with the viola alone, in a plaintive melody, modulating to the tonic major, before the viola alone leads to a passage of tranquil meditation, accompanied by viola arpeggios, and the final notes.

Keith Anderson

Kurt Roger (1895–1966): Viola Sonata

Kurt Roger was born in Austria on 3 May 1895 to Viennese parents and studied in Vienna with Guido Adler, Karl Weigl, and in class with Arnold Schoenberg, although not following Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system. He taught at the Vienna Conservatory from 1923 to 1938 and his works were receiving high-profile performances until the Nazi Anschluss forced his emigration to the United States via London. He became an American citizen in 1945 and held teaching positions in New York and Washington DC, lecturing at several universities and giving radio talks, notably on Bruckner and Mahler.

From 1948 onwards Roger was invited back to Austria on lecture tours whose venues included the Academy of Music in Vienna and the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 1965 the Austrian government conferred on him the Order of Merit first class. He died on 4 August 1966 on a visit to Vienna and was given a grave of honour there. His scores are preserved at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.

Roger’s musical style is a testament to the fascinating and changing musical atmosphere of which he was a part. His teacher Karl Weigl, a notable Lieder composer in the tradition of Wolf and Mahler, confirmed Roger’s natural leanings towards lyricism, and from Schoenberg, he acquired a sense of formal construction and the ability to create complex motivic connections and dense polyphony. His works are often based on traditional or archaic forms, enlivened by new combinations and adventurous harmony.

In 1939, en route to America, Roger met the Irish viola player who became his wife, and in later years, in 1964, he served as Guest Professor at Queen’s University in Belfast. His Viola Sonata, published in 1948, is sometimes known as the ‘Irish Sonata’. The work in many ways typifies the tradition in which he had been trained. A contrapuntal tendency is much in evidence in the first movement, with its dramatic opening, contrasting lyrical second subject and the counterpoint of its development. The second movement, Andante molto espressivo, at first offers a meditative contrast to what has gone before, mounting to a climax before resuming its gentle course. The viola provides an energetic opening to the third movement, soon joined by the piano in music that finds room for lyrical melodic writing and for counterpoint, while continuing to make full use of the range of the viola.

Sonia Stevenson


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