About this Recording
8.550487 - LISZT: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 1

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)

Tasso, Lamento e trionfo
Les Preludes Mazeppa

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborjan) near Odenburg (Sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterhazy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Odenburg 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 in Paris 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 blue-stocking 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 role 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 noblemen 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 into musical terms works of literature.

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 couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquee (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 Bulow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His 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 by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.

The symphonic poems of Liszt caused some controversy. One of the most influential critics in Vienna, Eduard Hanslick, a champion of Brahms, wrote in 1857 of the impertinence of such an attempt: He fancies his music capable of fiddling and blowing the most magnificent phenomena of myth and history, the most profound thoughts of the human mind. Hanslick's objection was not to music with some extra-musical association, but to the vastness of the subjects tackled and what he saw as a reliance on an external programme to justify an absence of musical content.

The first attempt at what was, after all, a daring new form, came in 1848 with a musical interpretation or translation of Victor Hugo, Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne. The work was orchestrated largely by Joachim Raff, employed by Liszt for the purpose, since his own skills were at the time rudimentary. The following year he wrote Tasso, Lamento e trionfo, based on the poem by Byron. Orchestration this time was by August Conradi, who had served Liszt intermittently as a copyist. The work deals with the drama of the sixteenth century Italian poet Torquato Tasso, for some twenty years in the service of the Este rulers of Ferrara and incarcerated as a madman, it was rumoured because of his love for the Duke's sister. Liszt conceived his composition at first as an overture, designed to form part of the centennial celebrations of the birth of Goethe and to introduce a performance of his play Torquato Tasso. The explanatory addition to the title, Lamento e trionfo, refers to the misfortunes of Tasso and to his final triumph as one of the greatest of poets. The principal theme of a composition which is basically in the tripartite sonata form of classical tradition was taken from the song of a Venetian gondolier, singing words from Tasso's most famous poem, Gerusalemme Liberata. A central section in the form of a minuet refers to Tasso's life at the court of Ferrara.

Les Preludes is described as a symphonic poem after Lamartine and was originally designed as an introduction to Les quatre elements (The Four Elements) by Joseph Autran, choral settings of four poems, La terre (The Earth), Les aquilons (The North Winds), Les flots (The Waves) and Les astres (The Stars). The connection with Lamartine's Nouvelles meditations poetiques was suggested only after the revision of the original overture for performance in Weimar in February 1854. One of the best known of Liszt's symphonic poems, Les Preludes makes use of the process of thematic metamorphosis, unkindly castigated by Hanslick as "the life and adventures of a theme", in which one theme, modified and transformed, becomes the basis for the unity of the whole work.

Mazeppa, completed in its first version in 1851, and again orchestrated by Raff, but revised with the other early symphonic poems for performance in Weimar in 1854, is based on a poem by Victor Hugo. The subject of the work is the Cossack leader Mazeppa, bound naked to the back of a wild horse after detection in an amorous intrigue in his native Poland, but rescued by Ukrainian peasants, whose leader he became in battles between Charles XII of Sweden, whom he supported against Peter the Great. Writing of a performance of the work under Weingartner, Debussy defended the disordered and feverish nature of Liszt's imagination, preferable, he suggested, to rigid perfection.

Prometheus, written in 1850, orchestrated by Raff and revised in 1855, was designed to celebrate the unveiling of a statue of another former member of the Weimar literary establishment, Johann Gottfried Herder, who had been General Superintendent of the Lutheran Church in the grand-duchy from 1776 until 1788. Herder's reputation rests in good part on his collection of folk poetry in Stimmen der Volker in Liedern and the influence of his original ideas on cultural history. The mythological hero Prometheus, tormented by Zeus, who had him bound to a rock in the Caucasus where a vulture daily pecked out his liver, a punishment for his temerity in stealing fire and giving it to man, had become a proto-hero of romanticism, finding a place in a lyrical drama by Shelley, in a drama by Goethe and in Herder's Der entfesselte Prometheus, a German Prometheus Unbound. Liszt described the subject of the symphonic poem as lament and apotheosis, a counterpart of his earlier Tasso, broadly in sonata form, with a central fugal development and triumphant conclusion.

The Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PRNSO)
The Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PRNSO) was founded in 1945, soon after the end of the World War II, by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. The PRNSO replaced the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra which had existed from 1934 to 1939 in Warsaw, under the direction of another outstanding artist, Grzegorz Fitelberg. In 1947 Grzegroz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PRNSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels.

Michael Halasz
Born in Hungary in 1938, Michael Halasz began his professional career as principal bassoonist in the Philharmonia Hungarica, a position he occupied for eight years, before studying conducting in Essen. His first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich Gartnerplatz Theater, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnanyi, working with the most distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnanyi took him to the Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister.

In 1978 Michael Halasz was appointed General Musical Director at the opera-house in Hagen, and there has further developed his experience of the repertoire. For the Marco Polo label, Michael Halasz has recorded works by Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, Schreker and Miaskovsky and for Naxos works by Tchaikovsky, Rossini and Beethoven.

In 1991 Michael Halasz became Resident Conductor of the Vienna State Opera.

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