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8.557847 - LISZT: Symphonic Poems, Vol. 4
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Hungaria • Héroïde funèbre • Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse


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 members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to go to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire, as a foreigner. Nevertheless 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 Franz Liszt 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. Liszt's relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to his 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 association 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.

In 1861, at the age of fifty, 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.


It was in 1842 that Liszt had been appointed Kapellmeister in Extraordinary in Weimar, his duties involving a short period of residence each year, without displacing the existing Kapellmeister. In 1848, however, he settled there, and with an orchestra largely at his disposal turned his attention to orchestral composition. His symphonic poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne [Naxos 8.557846] marked his first attempt, its first version completed in 1849 and orchestrated by his protégé Joachim Raff, who also orchestrated the second version in 1850. The final version of 1857 was orchestrated by Liszt himself. Raff later claimed a considerable part in the composition of these earlier symphonic poems, allegations that reflected Raff's own opinion of himself as much as the actual facts. Clearly Liszt learnt to write for the orchestra through the direct experience that Weimar offered him. The generic title of symphonic poem for the orchestral compositions that derived their inspiration from other arts, visual or literary, gradually came to be an accepted description of a largely new form of composition, welcomed by some, and deplored by others.

The symphonic poem Hungaria was first heard in Pest in 1856, conducted by Liszt, who was in his native Hungary to conduct the first performance of his Esztergom Mass, written for the reconsecration of Esztergom Cathedral. Liszt had made sketches for the symphonic poem in 1848, the year of the Hungarian uprising against Habsburg rule, a revolt that was finally suppressed with considerable cruelty. For some of its thematic material he drew on his earlier Heroic March in Hungarian Style. An episodic work, Hungaria opens with a melancholy introductory section, marked Largo con duolo, with cellos and basses soon leading to an Andante marziale, derived from the earlier piano march and interrupted by a snatch of the opening material. Two solo violin cadenzas lead to an agitato passage, still dominated by the prevailing rhythm of the Andante marziale. Trumpets and trombones introduce an Allegro eroico section, again drawn from the march, motifs from which dominate the whole work. The introductory music of mourning returns, followed by a funeral march, with a lament given to the bassoons, with the second march rhythm growing in insistence. A solo cello ushers in an Allegro marziale section, using the now familiar earlier motifs. This is capped by an Allegro trionfante, an optimistic conclusion.

It was in 1849 that Liszt, in the disturbed circumstances of the times, as revolution again seized Paris and disquiet broke out elsewhere, returned to a work he had originally sketched out in 1830, during the successful Paris rising that had sent Charles X into exile. The Revolutionary Symphony was to have had five movements, but only the first of these was ever completed, under the title Héroïde funèbre. Liszt revised the movement, which had been copied out by Raff, in 1854 and it was first heard in Breslau in 1857. In his Preface to the work Liszt ends by saying: ‘In the wars and slaughter that follow one another, sinister games, whatever the colour of the flags proudly and boldly raised one against the other, over the two camps they fly steeped in heroic blood and unquenchable tears. It is for art to cast its transfiguring veil over the tomb of the brave, to encircle with its golden halo the dead and the dying that they may be envied by the living'.

Héroïde funèbre opens with muffled drums in an introduction marked Lento lugubre. Trombones announce the principal theme that unites the whole work. This is heard first in fuller form from violas and cellos when the Marcia funebre starts. Soon another thematic element of importance is heard from cor anglais and first violins, to return before a further figure, marked flebile, introduced by flutes and clarinet. The march is heard again, leading to a melodic fragment marked lagrimoso from the cor anglais and violas. The solemn sound of drums ends this section of the work, before a trio in D flat major, with a melody for horn and flute, is heard, giving way, before long, to a trumpet figure suggesting the Marseillaise. The principal trio theme returns in fuller form, bringing with it again, before long, the notes of the Marseillaise. A passage of greater excitement leads to the emphatic return of the march, with a transition marked misterioso followed by the forceful return of the trio theme. The cor anglais theme of mourning is heard again, before the whole winds to its sombre ending.

Liszt had written the first version of his symphonic poem Tasso, Lamento e trionfo in 1849, a work based on the poem by Byron. The sixteenth-century poet Torquato Tasso, for some twenty years in the service of the Este rulers of Ferrara, had been incarcerated as a madman, because, it was rumoured, of his love for the Duke's sister. His life and fate were the subject of a play by Goethe, the centenary of whose birth provided Liszt with a particular reason for tackling this subject, and the work was first performed in Weimar as a prelude to a performance in 1849 of Goethe's play. Le triomphe funèbre du Tasse (The Funeral Triumph of Tasso) was written in 1866 as an epilogue to the earlier symphonic poem, forming the third of his Trois odes funèbres. It was dedicated to Leopold Damrosch, conductor in 1877 of the New York Philharmonic Society concerts, in which the work was first heard. As in the original symphonic poem Liszt makes use of a melancholy chromatic descending scale figure and of a song he heard Venetian gondoliers sing, repeating the opening lines of Tasso's most famous poem, Gerusalemme Liberata, "Canto l'armi pietose e 'l Capitano / Che 'l gran Sepolcro liberò di Cristo". The Epilogue opens in a mood of mourning, horns and bassoons answered by sombre cellos and basses, leading to a triumphant progress and an episode of gentle lyricism, tinged with melancholy, stressed in the notes of the slowly descending chromatic scale. The entry of the gondoliers' song, the heart of the work, provides the source of much that follows, before triumph descends into sadness, the sound of the funeral bell is heard, and there is a final reference to the opening.

Keith Anderson


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