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8.554729 - LISZT: Schubert Song Transcriptions, Vol. 2 (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 17)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Complete Piano Music, Volume 17 • Schubert Song Transcriptions 2

“In his transcriptions of Schubert songs he created a new farm. That is his successful attempt to render the melodic and harmonic beauty of the new classical song as a lyrical whole on the piano alone, perfecting this in the strength of the song and of declamation, without in any way sacrificing the rich resources of the keyboard in his hands.”

Carlo (Pietro Mechetti)

Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, 7th December, 1839

Born at Raiding, in Hungary, 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.

In his transcription of six songs from Schubert's song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin Liszt created a smaller scale cycle of his own, with a carefully planned sequence of keys. The original twenty songs are settings of poems by the Dessau poet and writer Wilhelm Müller, published in 1820 and re-issued in 1824 together with the cycle of poems that Schubert later set, Winterreise (‘Winter Journey’). The poems of the earlier cycle treat the story of a journeyman-miller who has finished his apprenticeship and sets out on his wandering: he has fallen in love with his master's daughter, the girl of the title, but is rejected by her in favour of a huntsman and finally drowns himself in the waters of the brook that has accompanied his romantic wandering. Liszt opens his set with a transcription of the first of Schubert's cycle, Das Wandern (‘Wandering’), transcribing three of the five verses. The first of these follows the original closely enough, the second elaborates the material with arpeggios and the third places the melody in the middle of the more complex texture. The second song, Der Müller und der Bach (‘The Miller and the Brook’) is the penultimate song of Schubert's cycle and is a dialogue between the young miller and the brook, the former lovelorn and despairing, the latter suggesting encouragement. The boy's words, in G minor, are represented in the middle register, while the words of the brook, in G major and in a higher register, are accompanied by the figuration that suggests rippling water, a texture that increases in complexity with the return of the young miller's voice Liszt then turns to the fourteenth song of Schubert's cycle, Der Jäger (‘The Huntsman’), his calling represented by intervals characteristic of the hunting-­horn. Liszt combines this in a ternary structure with the seventeenth song of the original cycle, Die böse Farbe (‘The Evil Colour’), in which green represents the young miller's rival, the huntsman, transposed into C major to match the C minor of its framework, into which variations on the original material are introduced. Wohin? (‘Where?’) happily restores the optimism of the second of Schubert's cycle and the final Ungeduld (‘Impatience’), a declaration of love, the seventh song of the original, is transposed from A to B flat major to complete the set and the cycle of keys. Liszt's Müllerlieder transcriptions were written in 1846 and first published in Paris in the same year.

The version of Ungeduld was the third that Liszt had made. His first transcription, in F major, was published in Paris in 1844 as one of a set of six Schubert transcriptions that also included a version of Die Forelle (‘The Trout’), a setting of a poem by Christian Friedrich Schubart. The second version of the latter was the result of various revisions over the following years. It retains the general structure and the harmonies of the original, while adding considerable elaboration in its vivid suggestion of the scene by the water, as the fisherman traps the trout into taking his bait.

Schubert's Die Rose (‘The Rose’) is a setting of a poem by Friedrich von Schlegel dealing with the brevity of life, as a rose blooms, suffers the heat of day and dies. Liszt's first transcription of it was published in Paris in 1833 but this version was withdrawn, finally replaced by a revised version that was published in Paris but made its first appearance in Vienna in 1838 in Hommage aux dames de Vienne (‘Homage to the Ladies of Vienna’). It captures in its characteristic way the delicacy and simplicity of the original song.

Meerestille (‘Calm Sea’) sets a poem by Goethe that suggests the ominous depths of the sea. Liszt's transcription echoes this, with its sonorous, deep-sounding arpeggios. It was first published in 1838 as part of a diverse set of twelve Schubert song transcriptions. It is here followed by a song in a very different mood, Der Gondelfahrer (‘The Gondolier’), a setting of a poem by Schubert's friend Mayrhofer for male voice quartet. Liszt's version was published in Vienna in 1838 and preserves the sound of the bell of St Mark's in Venice striking midnight.

Liebesbotschaft (‘Love's Message’) opens the posthumous cycle compiled by Schubert's publishers, Schwanengesang (‘Swansong’). The verse by Ludwig Rellstab bids the brook carry a message to the poet's beloved. Liszt's re-ordered version of the cycle was published in Vienna in 1840.

Among the best known of Schubert's songs is that transcribed by Liszt as Ave Maria, the third Ellens Gesang (Ellen's Song) from Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake, where Ellen prays to the Blessed Virgin. The German translation by Adam Storck appeared in 1824 and Schubert set three songs from it the following year. The piano transcription was published in 1838, one of the set of twelve songs of that year.

Liszt published his set of four Geistliche Lieder (‘Spiritual Songs’) in 1841. The first, Litaney, transcribes Schubert's setting of verses by the philosophy professor Johann Georg Jacobi for the Feast of All Souls. Tranquil in mood, it is followed by Himmelsfunken (‘Glimpses of Heaven’), a setting of words by the Vienna professor of French, Johann Petrus Silbert, a prayer of evocative simplicity. Die Gestirne (‘The Stars’), a setting of Klopstock, represents the praise to God offered by field and forest, vale and mountain. In the transcription an extended introduction precedes the song itself, in a version matching its subject. The group of transcriptions ends with Hymne, adapted from a part-song, Hymne an den Unendlichen (‘Hymn to the Infinite’) of 1815, a setting of Schiller.

Lob der Tränen (‘Praise of Tears’) is an 1818 setting of verses by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. The apt transcription was made in 1837 and first heard the following year in Vienna, where it was published as part of the series Hommage aux dames de Vienne.

The present volume of Liszt's transcription of Schubert's songs ends with a dramatic piano version of that most dramatic of songs, Erlkönig (‘The Elf-King’). Liszt captures the terror of the father's urgent ride through the forest, carrying his dying child, lured by the seductive voice of the Elf-King, who finally achieves his ends in the death of the child, described in the closing words: in seinen Armen das Kind war tot (‘In his arms the child was dead’).

Keith Anderson

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