About this Recording
8.570736 - LISZT: Preludes (Les) / Orpheus / Mazeppa / Die Ideale (arr. for 2 pianos) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 29)
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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Two Piano Transcriptions of Les Préludes, Orpheus, Mazeppa and Die Ideale


Since my return from Vienna I have worked pretty continuously on my Symphonic Poems which first and for a couple of years have been my life’s work. At the end of this month the first six numbers appear in score and in versions for two pianos (with Härtel, Leipzig), among them Tasso, Orpheus, Prometheus, Mazeppa – and by winter my Faust Symphony will also be published, together with the Dante Symphony, where hell, purgatory and heaven will find their music again.

-Liszt to Konstantin Ritter von Wurzbach, Weimar, 25 April 1856

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 move to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven, who was said, in spite of his profound deafness, to have applauded the boy’s performance and kissed him, the so-called Weihekuss, that seemed to proclaim him as Beethoven’s heir. From Vienna Liszt moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire. 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.

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.

Liszt’s symphonic poems were the cause of some contemporary 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 to produce 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 of Liszt’s twelve symphonic poems, Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne was based on Victor Hugo, and the second, Tasso, on Goethe and Byron. The third, Les Préludes, was originally designed as an introduction to Les quatre éléments by Joseph Autran, choral settings of four poems, La terre, Les aquilons, Les flots and Les astres. These were abandoned and a connection with Lamartine’s Nouvelles méditations poétiques was suggested only after the revision of the original overture for performance in Weimar in 1854. One of the best known of Liszt’s symphonic poems, Les Préludes makes use of the process of thematic metamorphosis, unkindly castigated by Hanslick as ‘the life and adventures of a theme’, in which a single theme, modified and transformed, becomes the basis for the unity of the whole work. The orchestral score of Les Préludes, with Liszt’s own version for two pianos, was published in Leipzig in 1856.

Liszt’s Orpheus had its origin in an introduction to Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice, which he conducted in Weimar in 1854. The inspiration for the work was, seemingly, an Etruscan vase in the Louvre depicting Orpheus, the first poet-musician, playing his lyre and taming wild beasts. The whole work becomes a hymn to music as its final chords rise, like incense, to heaven. Again the score and the two-piano version were published in 1856.

Mazeppa is based on a poem by Victor Hugo. Joachim Raff had a hand in the orchestration of the original work in 1851, but it was revised in 1854 by Liszt. The narrative reflected in the work concerns 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. The score and two-piano version were published in Leipzig in 1857.

Die Ideale, the twelfth of the symphonic poems, takes its inspiration from Schiller’s poem of the same name, drawing attention to its source by including quotations from the poem in the score of a work intended as a tribute to Grand Duke Carl August, the patron of Goethe and Schiller, whose centenary fell in 1857. The opening slow introduction marks the disappearance of youthful joys and ideals, after which the ambitions of youth, with its ideals of love, truth, fortune and fame are recalled. Disillusion is followed by new hope in friendship and fulfilment in work. The whole ends with faith in the ideal, the highest aim in life, with what Liszt described as a final apotheosis added to Schiller’s poem, recalling the motifs of the first main section. The score and two-piano version were published in 1858.

Keith Anderson

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