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8.553656 - LISZT: Song Transcriptions (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 6)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 6:
Complete Song Transcriptions of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann


Liszt must be heard - and also seen; for if he played behind the scenes a great deal of the poetry of his playing would be lost.
- Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

When I think of Liszt as a creative artist, he appears before my eyes rouged, on stilts, and blowing into Jericho trumpets fortissimo and pianissimo.
- Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)

I have not seen any musician in whom musical feeling ran, as in Liszt, into the very tips of the fingers and there streamed out immediately.
- Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Liszt cannot be compared to any other player - he is absolutely unique. He arouses fear and astonishment and yet is a very kind artist. His appearance at the piano is indescribable - he is an original - totally involved with the piano...
- Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was an inveterate transcriber. Whether the melody was a simple folk song, a complex symphonic work, a lengthy chamber piece, an operatic aria, or a beautiful art-song, Liszt could not resist the urge to lovingly transform it into a piano work. More than half of his compositions are transcriptions, paraphrases, reminiscences, or fantasies on other composers' music. Liszt possessed an amazing response to poetic imagery. He believed that purely musical images of poetic ideas are capable of being projected to the listener and that he could illustrate such imagery without words. This was his lifelong aesthetic. Liszt transcribed about 150 songs. More than a third of these were songs by Schubert. The rest were Liszt's tributes to the genius of other songwriters, including Beethoven, Chopin, Robert Franz, Mendelssohn, Anton Rubinstein, Eduard Lassen, Otto Lessmann, Josef Dessauer, Hans von Bülow, and Clara and Robert Schumann. This volume in the Naxos Liszt series contains all of Liszt's song and choral-song transcriptions of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann.

Fryderyk Chopin's Polish Melodies, Opus 74, are without doubt the least known of the composer's works. Composed between 1828 and 1845 and collected posthumously, they are compositions of a lifetime - the product of continuing inspiration, and the reflection of Chopin's very soul. Liszt first met Chopin in 1831, immediately after Chopin's arrival in Paris. Their association was unlucky at best, and often flawed by misunderstandings and little warmth. It was Liszt who introduced George Sand to Chopin, resulting in a questionable and difficult relationship. When Chopin lent Liszt his apartment, Liszt used it for an assignation. This is something that Chopin discovered later and of which he did not approve. After Chopin's death, Liszt showed abominable taste in publishing a terrible book on Chopin. The small volume was turgid at best, full of useless digressions and misinformation. Today most musicologists agree that the book was the handiwork of Liszt's mistress, Carolyne Wittgenstein. Be that as it may, among Liszt's song transcriptions are six by Chopin. They are some of Liszt's most popular and endearing transcriptions. The transcriptions were created by Liszt during a period of thirteen years, from 1847 to 1860 and dedicated to the Princess Marie von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst [also known as Princess Marie von Sayn-Wittgenstein, daughter of Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein]. The first song in the cycle is Zyczenie ("Mädchens Wünsch"; "The Maiden's Wish"). Composed by Chopin in 1829 to a poem by S. Witwicki, it is the most often performed of the set. With its mazurka rhythm, simple, singable melody, and facetious gaiety, it pays homage to beauty, love and feminine coquetry. The second song, Wiosna ("Frühling", "In Spring") was composed by Chopin in 1838 and is a lament of one who wanders through a pleasant valley only to be reminded by its beauty of a beloved person who is dead. Pierscien ("Das Ringlein", "The Ring") was written by Chopin in 1836 and has to do with a young man who discovers his ring still on a young woman's finger, although she has turned him down and married someone else. Hulanka ("Bacchanal") is an ode to love and wine, and the fifth song transcription, Moja pieszczotka ("Meine Freuden", "My Joys") is a sheer lyrical outpouring of virile expressions of love: not only is she the most beautiful, but a look from her is enough to set one aflame. The lover cannot resist the pleasure of taking her in his arms and wildly kissing her... to a mazurka rhythm. Narzeczony ("Die Heimkehr", "Homeward") is a picture of a man on horseback riding through a snow-swept forest, not knowing that his beloved is dead and will meet him in her winding-sheet.

Liszt transcribed three songs by Clara Schumann (1819-1896), and published them as a set with seven additional songs by Robert Schumann in 1872. The first of these, Warum willst du andere fragen? ("Why would you ask more questions?") was written by Clara Schumann on June 8, 1841 to a text by Rückert and published as the third song in Opus 12. This beautiful song is a musical plea not to question a lover's sincerity. The second song Ich hab' in deinem Auge ("In your eyes have I seen eternal love") is also to a text by Friedrich Rückert. Clara Schumann composed this love song in June 1843 and published it as the fifth song in her Opus 13. Geheimes Flüstern hier und dolt ("Mysterious whispers here and there") is a love and nature poem to a text by Austrian poet Hermann Rollet composed on June 10, 1853 and published as Opus 23, no.3. Liszt's transcriptions are models of simplicity and transparency, maintaining the original structure with little embellishment.

Robert Schumann made a special trip to Leipzig to meet Liszt in 1840. Although they had corresponded for several years prior to this trip, exchanged scores, and each had written complimentary articles on the other, this was to be their first meeting. Schumann, who was already suffering from delusions, found Liszt in the flesh an unsettling experience. He wrote: "How extraordinarily he plays, boldly and wildly, and then again tenderly and ethereally! I have heard all this. But this world - his world I mean - is no longer mine. Art, as you practice it, and as I do when I compose at the piano, this tender intimacy I would not give for all his splendor - and indeed there is too much tinsel about it." Liszt, nevertheless, remained an arch supporter of Schumann's music. He performed many of the most important piano works and introduced Schumann's opera Genoveva in Weimar, in addition to Schumann's less accepted musical hybrids for voice and orchestra, Faust, Manfred and Paradise and the Peri. In all, Liszt made transcriptions of twelve Schumann songs (Widmung appeared in two different versions). Frühlings Ankunft ("Coming of Spring"), Des Sennen Abschied ("The Cowherd's Farewell"), Er ist's ("The Spring It Is"), Weihnachtslied ("Christmas Song"), and Die wandelnde Glocke ("The Changing Bells") were all part of Schumann's Opus 79 and published in Liszt's transcription (along with Clara's three songs) in 1872. These are simple, straightforward settings by Liszt of some of Schumann's less well-known, but most-intimate, songs. Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt ("None but the lonely heart") and An die Türen will ich schleichen ("I shall creep from door to door") come from Schumann's set Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister .  An den Sonnenschein ("To the Sunshine"), Opus 36, No.4 and Rotes Röslein ("Red Rose"), Opus 27, No.2 are combined by Liszt into one cohesive song transcription, published in 1861. Once again we hear Liszt's clever blending of text and music - a song about sunlight's effect upon nature in combination with Robert Burn's love song (in Gerhard's translation) "Oh, my luve's like a red, red rose."

Provençalisches Minnelied ("Provencal Lovesong") is a curious late transcription by Liszt of a late song by Schumann (Opus 139, No.4 (1852, published posthumously in 1858)). Liszt's transcription was published in 1881. What follows are two settings of Liszt's most popular transcription of a Schumann song - Widmung ("Dedication"), Opus 25, No.1. The first of these is also subtitled "Liebeslied," and is the shorter, earlier version of the better known 1848 concert version. The holograph of this transcription is at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and was first published in 1980 in an edition entitled Liszt: Forgotten Masterpieces, edited by the artist on this disc, Joseph Banowetz. The "concert version" of 1848 of Widmung (from Schumann's Myrthen cycle, Opus 25) was originally a gift from Robert to Clara. The touching words by Friedrich Rückert are worth quoting:

You are my soul, my heart, my ecstasy and pain;
you are my world in which I live,
my heaven into which I am suspended,
my grave into which I have laid forever my sorrow.
You are my repose and my peace,
you are bestowed to me from heaven;
that you love me makes me of worth,
your gaze transfigures me,
lovingly you raise me above myself, my good spirit, my better self.
You are my soul, my heart, my ecstasy and pain;
you are my world in which I live,
my heaven into which I am suspended, my good spirit, my better self.

Frühlingsnacht ("Spring Night"), Opus 39, No.12 is an exquisite piece of pianistic writing. Published by Liszt in 1872, it is a joyful and dreamlike love song. The "breezes wandering through the woods" are pianistically translated into a repeated chordal accompaniment bringing us to the glad refrain when the nightingale declares "She is yours, all yours again!"

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed 102 songs for voice and piano. The earliest were written in 1820, the work of a nine-year old; the last volume of Lieder, Opus 71 was compiled by the thirty-eight year old composer only a few days prior to his untimely death. The remaining works with an opus number higher than 72 were published posthumously. Franz Liszt transcribed seven of the songs and two works by Mendelssohn for male chorus. The seven song transcriptions were published by Liszt in 1841 (and dedicated to Mendelssohn's wife, Cecile Mendelssohn (née Jeanrenaud)). Sonntagslied ("Sunday Song"), Opus 34, No.5 (1836), is an eloquent and somewhat sentimental musing of a lonely poet who witnesses a bridal procession. Winterlied ("Winter Song"), Opus 19a, No.3, is a setting of a Swedish folk poem. Auf FIügeln des Gesanges ("On Wings of Song"), Opus 34, No.2 (1836) written to a text by Heine, is the best known of Liszt's transcriptions of Mendelssohn's songs. One critic remarked that this Liszt transcription is "music that transports one on airy pinions to the land of romance where all is beauty... the delectable land of one's own conjuring, where all is wrapped in an inexpressive calm, blurred by no infelicity." Suleika, Opus 34, No.4, written to words of Goethe and Marianne von Willemer is an ode to the Westwind:

Oh Westwind! Your cool breath awakens longing for my beloved.
Hurry to him and tell him how I suffer in his absence.
Your gentle breath comforts my lonely heart.
Go to my beloved! Speak to him - but not of my anguish.
Tell him that his love is my life and that I yearn for his return.

Neue Liebe ("New Love"), Opus 19a, No.4, written to a text by Heine, is a vision of elves, swans and the fairy queen. Reiselied ("Song of Travel"), Opus 34, No.6, also written to a Heine text, tells the story of a rider who is comforted by the thought that his difficult trip on a dark and windy night will eventually bring him to his love. Frühlingslied ("Spring Song"), Opus 47, No.3, is a typically Mendelssohnian joyous romp: "Spring is here! The skies are blue and the fields are drying. The birds in the woods are calling for their mates. And I take a bouquet of violets to my love." In all of these transcriptions Liszt stylistically maintains Mendelssohn's integrity, expertly weaving the vocal lines into the piano fabric. Wasserfahrt ("Boating Trip") (to a poem by Heine) and Der Jäger Abschied ("Hunter's Farewell") (to a text by Eichendorff) were composed by Mendelssohn in 1842 as part of the six choruses for male voices Opus 50. Franz Liszt transcribed these two choral songs in 1848, connecting them as one, continuous song. The delicate Gondola-like song, Wasserfahrt, is followed by a pianistically rousing last chase and hunt.

1997 Victor and Marina A. Ledin,
Encore Consultants

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