About this Recording
8.571286 - LISZT, F.: Etudes / Rigoletto Paraphrase / Wagner - Tannhauser: Overture (Biret Solo Edition, Vol. 2)

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Etude en douze Exercises • Trois Etudes de concert • Deux Etudes de concert • Rigoletto – Paraphrase de concert • Ouvertüre zu Tannhäuser


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. From there he 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, former wife of Hans von Bülow and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.

Liszt was a musician of remarkable precocity. His first concerts in Oedenburg and Pressburg had been followed by his first appearances in Vienna, piano lessons with Czerny and composition lessons with  Salieri. Setting out for Paris, he gave performances first in Pest, establishing his Hungarian identity, followed by a series of appearances in leading German cities, as, like Mozart before him, he made his way to Paris, where his performances created a similar sensation. A successful visit to England in 1824 was followed by a return to Paris and to composition lessons from Ferdinando Paer, who encouraged and collaborated in the composition of Liszt’s only opera, Don Sanche, ou le château d’amour, staged at the Paris Opéra in October 1825.

By the age of thirteen Liszt had started work on the most significant of his first published compositions, the so-called Etude en douze exercises, issued in Marseille and in Paris in 1826 as Opus 6, under the more ambitious title of Etude en quarante-huit exercices dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs. In fact only twelve studies were published, with a dedication to Lydia Garella, of whom little else is known. These, however, formed the basis of later revisions, resulting in the Vingt-quatre grandes études of 1837, dedicated to Czerny and again including only twelve studies. These led, in turn, to the Etudes d’exécution transcendante of 1851, to which titles were added. The original intention is clear in the choice of keys, starting with C major, followed by A minor, and continuing with the circle of fifths, moving downwards into the keys with flats, F major and D minor, B flat major and G minor, E flat major and C minor, A flat major and F minor, D flat major and a final B flat minor. The studies start with a brilliant Allegro con fuoco, followed by divided octaves in the second exercise. The third of the set is gently evocative, while the fourth provided the basis for the later Mazeppa. The fifth exercise was the basis of Feux-follets (Will-o’-the-wisp) and the sixth makes particular demands in the nature of its phrasing. In 1851 the seventh became Harmonies du soir (Evening Harmonies) and the eighth provides ample exercise in its rapid left-hand scales. The cantabile ninth offers a graceful contrast to the preceding sound and fury, the tenth is a rapid and brilliant study in triplets, the eleventh had no counterpart in the 1851 revision, and the set ends with an expressive legato study.

The Trois Etudes de concert are dated to 1848 and were published in 1849 with a dedication to Liszt’s uncle, Eduard Liszt, in a later version acquiring the titles Il lamento, La leggierezza and Un sospiro. The first study opens with a cadenza that brings with it the descending figure on which the whole work is based. The second, suggesting the language of Chopin, has a brief introduction, its thematic Quasi allegretto moving forward to the more elaborate figuration that follows. The last of the three studies accompanies its now familiar melody, shared between the hands, with arpeggios of mounting intensity, leading to an ending of great serenity.

The two concert studies Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes) and Waldesrauschen (Forest Murmurs) were written in Rome in 1862 and 1863, dedicated to Dionys Pruckner, and intended for Lebert and Stark’s Klavierschule. Waldesrauschen is an evocative piece, its melody accompanied by gently rippling figuration. Gnomenreigen, published as the second of the pair, calls for the alternation of hands in a rapid scherzo.

Liszt’s concert paraphrases, are more than mere transcriptions, re-interpreting the original work, using thematic material drawn from their source. Among the best known of his Verdi arrangements is his Rigoletto Paraphrase de concert, written in 1859 or earlier and published in 1860. Verdi’s opera had had its first performance in Venice in 1851. The plot centres on the court jester of the title, a servant and accomplice of the Duke of Mantua in his amorous adventures. Cursed by a courtier whose daughter the Duke has dishonoured, Rigoletto suffers the loss of his own daughter, Gilda, seduced by the Duke and then abducted, for the Duke’s pleasure, by the courtiers. In the last act of the opera Rigoletto has hired an assassin, Sparafucile to murder the Duke as he dallies with Sparafucile’s sister, Maddalena. They are observed from the darkness outside by Rigoletto and his daughter, who is to die at the assassin’s hands. It is this final scene that Liszt takes as the basis of his paraphrase. The theme that dominates is the Duke’s Bella figlia d’amore (Fair daughter of love), interspersed with the light-hearted replies of Maddalena, and the exclamations of Gilda, as she sees her lover’s infidelity exposed.

Once Liszt, with his international fame as a performer, had settled in Weimar as Court Kapellmeister he was able to continue his altruistic mission to support the genius he perceived in others. In support of Wagner he staged Tannhäuser in Weimar in February 1849, and at the same time played an essential part in facilitating Wagner’s escape from Dresden, where Wagner had rashly supported the republican rising against the King. Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser had first been staged in Dresden in October 1845, with a more elaborate version unsuccessfully mounted in Paris in 1861. In November 1848 Liszt conducted a performance of the Overture in Weimar and the following February mounted the opera there. His transcription of the Overture dates from this period and was published in 1848 in Dresden. The opera deals with the conflict of the Minnesinger Tannhäuser, seen first enjoying the sensual delights of the Venusberg and then in penitence. At the singing contest on the Wartburg he meets and falls in love with Elisabeth, niece of the Landgrave, his sensuous view of love arousing the hostility of the knights gathered together for the contest. Joining pilgrims, in Rome he seeks forgiveness, denied him until the papal crozier should burst into flower. Elisabeth and the Minnesinger Wolfram await Tannhäuser’s return, but it is only through Elisabeth’s intercession, after her death, that Tannhäuser finds final redemption. The opera opens with a prelude that makes use of motifs associated with the pilgrims and with repentance, leading to the Venusberg music and, in the Dresden version transcribed by Liszt, the return of the motif associated with the returning pilgrims.

Keith Anderson

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