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8.572589 - LISZT, F.: Transcriptions and Arrangements of Handel, Gounod, Spohr and Raff (Soyeon Kate Lee) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 38)
English  German 

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Transcriptions and Arrangements of Works by Handel, Gounod, Spohr and Raff


Außerdem waren wir zu einem Frühstücke bei Gounod versammelt, welches ungemein langweilig verfloß und nur durch des armen Baudelaire wie im Geleise der Verzweiflung sich bewegenden Esprit belebt wurde.
Richard Wagner: Mein Leben 3. Band S 661

On another occasion we met together at Gounod’s for breakfast, which was uncommonly boring, only enlivened through poor Baudelaire’s desperate attempts at humour.
– Richard Wagner: My Life, Volume 3, Basel, 1870–1880

In his autobiography Richard Wagner is grudging in his account of his friend Liszt. Wagner was in Paris in 1861, after the failure there of his opera Tannhäuser, and complains that Liszt, lionised still by society, barely had time even for his own daughter, Blandine, as he travelled from engagement to engagement. Wagner, nevertheless, seems to have remained on good terms with Gounod, while Liszt, now on the verge of a new life, was about to leave Weimar, his home since 1848, and to settle in Rome, but paid his respects to Gounod in a series of transcriptions and arrangements in these years.

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborján) near Ödenburg (Sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Ödenburg in 1820, followed by a concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearance brought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow the family to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and composition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had taught Beethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as a foreigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but was able to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist and as a composer.

On the death of his father in 1827 Liszt was joined again by his mother in Paris, where he began to teach the piano and to interest himself in the newest literary trends of the day. The appearance of Paganini there in 1831 suggested new possibilities of virtuosity as a pianist, later exemplified in his Paganini Studies. A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, a bluestocking on the model of their friend the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of three children, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuoso pianist, a rôle in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences.

In 1844 Liszt finally broke with Marie d’Agoult, who later took her own literary revenge on her lover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to his withdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director of Music, accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theological propensities. Liszt now turned his attention to new forms of composition, particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate into musical terms works of literature and other subjects.

Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had proved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in 1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The marriage did not take place and the couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquée (a three-pronged life), as he divided his time between his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, where he held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, and his appearances in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero.

Liszt’s illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His own final years were as busy as ever, and in 1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, now controlled, since her husband’s death, by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.

Suiting his choice of repertoire to his audience, at the age of thirteen Liszt had played pieces by Handel and Mozart to George IV in London. Works by Handel remained in his repertoire both as a pianist and, in Weimar, as a conductor. His only published work based on Handel in his Sarabande and Chaconne from Almira, which he described as a Concert Arrangement. Almira, described as a Singspiel, was Handel’s first attempt at opera, written in Hamburg to replace a work that, seemingly, Reinhard Keiser, the lessee and director of the Hamburg Goosemarket Opera, had been forced to abandon, while he took refuge from his creditors. It was staged in Hamburg in 1704. Liszt’s concert arrangement moves a long way from Handel, with something of the course it is to take suggested even in the opening bars. He provides a series of variations of increasing virtuosity, the first on the Sarabande, followed, after a short break, by a particularly sprightly Chaconne, leading to a final Grandioso trionfante (tempo della sarabande) and a closing Allegro. The work dates from 1879 and was written for Liszt’s indefatigable English pupil, Walter Bache.

Liszt’s five transcriptions and arrangements of works by Gounod date from the 1860s. The Hymne à Sainte Cécile was written in 1865 and dedicated to the violinist Delphin Alard. Gounod made various arrangements of the piece, which was originally scored for solo violin, with an orchestra of wind instruments, timpani, harp and double bass. He later devised a version of the work replacing the violin solo with a soprano, with the words of the Ave verum. Liszt’s elaboration of the piece was written in 1866.

Les Adieux, described as a Rêverie on a motif from Gounod’s opéra Roméo et Juliette, was written in 1867, the year of the first staging of Gounod’s opera in April at the Paris Théâtre Lyrique. Although the frontispiece of Liszt’s work shows Romeo about to descend from Juliet’s balcony, Liszt took as his subject the three significant partings of the lovers, first in the balcony scene at the end of Act II of the opera, then as Romeo leaves Juliet after their wedding night in Juliet’s chamber and finally as they part in Juliet’s tomb, a scene with reminiscences of a happier time.

Gounod’s opera La reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba), first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1862, was initially unsuccessful, although it fared rather better in revival away from Paris. King Solomon wants to marry the Queen of Sheba, Balkis, who herself is associated with the sculptor and architect Adoniram, descended like her from Tubalkain. Plans of elopement together by Balkis and Adoniram are foiled, when dissatisfied workers, who had earlier destroyed a great bronze vessel by Adoniram, murder the artist. The Berceuse forms part of the Act III ballet in the opera, as the girls of Sheba and of Solomon’s court await the wedding of Solomon and Balkis, delayed by her absence. The Berceuse, in Liszt’s transcription, makes use of gently arpeggiated chords, at first based on the tuning of the violin.

Faust remains the best known of Gounod’s operas and the best known operatic treatment of Goethe’s play. Gounod’s Faust was first staged at the Paris Théâtre Lyrique in 1859. In the first act the old scholar, Faust, is transformed by the diabolical Mephistopheles into a young gallant, and in this guise he seduces Marguerite. Liszt made his Concert Paraphrase in 1861, starting with the waltz that ends the Act II, bringing Faust’s first approach to Marguerite. Liszt includes in his score the words with which Faust approaches her:

Faust: Ne permettez-vous pas, ma belle demoiselle, qu’on vous offre le bras, pour aller le chemin?
Marguerite: Non, Monsieur, je ne suis demoiselle, ni belle Et je n’ai pas besoin, qu’on me donne le bras.

(Faust: Will you not allow me, fair lady, to offer you my arm, to take a walk?
Marguerite: No, sir, I am not a lady, and not fair, And I have no need to be given anyone’s arm.)

Their love consummated, Liszt continues with an elaborated version of O nuit d’amour (O night of love) from the end of Act III, before returning to the original waltz.

Liszt’s arrangement of the Andante finale and March from his assistant Joachim Raff’s opera König Alfred appeared in 1853. The opera, completed in 1850, had been staged by Liszt at Weimar the following year, at a time when Raff was serving as general factotum to Liszt, lodging at the Villa Altenburg, although increasingly irked by Princess Caroline. Raff had assisted Liszt in his early attempts at orchestration. His own opera König Alfred enjoyed no great success, although it was given three performances in Weimar, and was subsequently staged in Wiesbaden, where Raff settled in 1856, before moving finally to Frankfurt. Liszt dedicated his arrangement to his pupil Carl Klindworth. Whether it was of help in promoting the opera is doubtful, but the transcription provides an opportunity for virtuoso display of glissandi as the writing becomes increasingly more elaborate.

Born in Brunswick in 1784, Louis Spohr came to hold a leading position in the musical world of his time, distinguished as a violinist, conductor and composer. He combined other engagements with a position as Kapellmeister at Kassel from 1822 until his retirement in 1857. Liszt had met Spohr in Kassel during his virtuoso years and later shared with him conducting duties at the inauguration of the Beethoven memorial in Bonn. Spohr enjoyed contemporary success with a number of operas, including Zemire und Azor, a version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, first staged in Frankfurt in 1819. The Romanze, known in English as Rose, softly blooming, became a popular drawing-room ballad, simply presented by Liszt in his piano arrangement.

Keith Anderson

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