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8.572432 - LISZT, F.: Russian Transcriptions (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 35)
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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Russian Transcriptions


Diabelli inserted in the Wiener Zeitung of 1 April 1846 “Mélodies russes” consisting of three titles by Théodore Döhler that he had published, piano versions of works by Alyabyev, Vielgorsky and Glinka respectively; according to reports Liszt played these Döhler transcriptions with great success in his eighth concert. – Note on report of Liszt’s eighth and penultimate concert in Vienna in April 1846 (Franz Liszt: Unbekannte Presse und Briefe aus Wien 1822–1886, ed. Dezsö Legány)

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.

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, more concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.

Liszt’s first visit to Russia was in 1842, when he spent four weeks there, in April and May. In 1839 in Rome he had played for Prince Galitzin, Governor-General of Moscow, in a recital arranged by Count Mikhail Vielgorsky and in 1840 he had played for the Tsarina Alexandra at Ems. It was under her patronage that he travelled to St Petersburg in April 1842. His first concert there, before an audience of three thousand, was a sensation, observed by the young Vladimir Stasov, future mentor of the Mighty Handful, the five leading Russian nationalist composers. Liszt entered the hall, accompanied by Vielgorsky, and alternated his performance between two pianos, playing operatic transcriptions from Guillaume Tell, Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Giovanni, as well as versions of Schubert songs and of Beethoven’s Adelaide. He gave six public concerts in St Petersburg and various private performances, including a final recital at the house of Vielgorsky. Vielgorsky had studied with Hässler and, in Paris, with Cherubini, and was relatively prolific as a composer, while giving full support to the development of Russian music. Liszt made his own tribute to him in his version of the latter’s Romance: Autrefois [13]. Other transcriptions dating from the period are Deux mélodies russes, the first a version of Alyabyev’s Le rossignol (The Nightingale) [2], revised in 1879, and the second of Chanson bohémienne [3] by Piotr Petrovich Bulakhov, like his father and younger brother distinguished as a tenor. 1842 also brought a dramatic transcription of the Circassian March [6] from Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila. Glinka had been particularly impressed by Liszt’s sight-reading of the score at the piano and attended Liszt’s first concert in St Petersburg, meeting him on other occasions.

Liszt’s return to Russia in 1843 caused less of a sensation and was no longer a novelty in St Petersburg. In Moscow, however, where he spent the weeks from mid-April to early May, he was greeted warmly, appearing there under the patronage of Prince Galitzin. His transcription of the Galop russe [8] by Konstantin Bulhakov dates from this year. It was perhaps at this time that he would have met the pianist Theodor Döhler, who was in Russia from 1843 to 1845. In 1846 Döhler married Princess Chermetev and withdrew from public performance, finally settling in Italy, where he had been born. Count Vielgorsky introduced Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein to Döhler, when she was in St Petersburg on business in April 1847. It seems strange that in 1846 Liszt, as reported in the Vienna Press, should have played transcriptions by Döhler of works that he himself had already transcribed.

Liszt’s last visit to Russia was momentous in two ways. It brought the end of his career as a performer, with his final paid performance at Elisabetgrad in September 1847. In February he had met Princess Carolyne in Kiev and their association was to continue, at great material cost to her, for the rest of their lives, at first uneasily in Weimar and finally apart in Rome. Liszt’s other Russian transcriptions include an 1863 version of a Mazurka [5], composed by a St Petersburg amateur, possibly Count Vielgorsky, who had died in 1856, and in 1879, the year in which the opera had its première, a transcription of the Polonaise [1] from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, dedicated to Liszt’s pupil Karl Klindworth and a two-hand version of a four-hand Tarentelle slave [10] by Dargomizhsky, dead these ten years. 1880 sees a very brief Prelude to Borodin’s Polka [7], variations or paraphrases by a group of Russian composers, Borodin, Cui, Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov, on the tune generally known as Chopsticks, originally for piano four hands, with the upper part confined to the simple notes of the melody. Liszt’s Prelude is for two hands. 1881 and 1883 bring transcriptions of two songs by Anton Rubinstein, O! wenn es doch immer so bliebe [11] (Oh, if it might remain ever so), a setting of verses by Friedrich Martin Bodenstedt from his Lieder des Mirza-Schaffy, dedicated to Rubinstein’s wife, and Heine’s Der Asra [12], in which the simplicity of the poem and setting are matched by the transcription. Here a young slave watches each day the beautiful daughter of the Sultan, his love to bring death. In 1885 Liszt transcribed a Tarantella [9] by César Cui, dedicating it to Cui’s patroness Louise Mercy-Argenteau and in 1885, a year before his death, a Russian folk-song Abschied [4], (Farewell), dedicated to his Russian pupil Siloti, who had drawn his attention to the song.

Keith Anderson

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