About this Recording
8.573415 - LISZT, F.: Opera Transcriptions (Han Chen) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 41)
English  German 

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Transcriptions from Operas
Oberon • La Sonnambula • Hunyadi László • Tony • I Puritani • Der Freischütz


Wie steht es mit Ihrer Hunyadi Übersetzung für Weimar? Wann erhalte ich die Partitur? In ungefähr drei Wochen gedenke ich dort zurück zu sein und wenn Sie nicht zu lange zögern mit der Einsendung der Partitur kann das Werk noch so wie ich es wünsche im Laufe dieser Saison einstudiert warden.

How is the translation of your Hunyadi for Weimar getting on? When shall I have the score? In about three weeks I think of being back there and if you delay too long in sending the score the work cannot, as I want, be rehearsed in the course of the season.

– Liszt. Letter to Ferenc Erkel, Zurich, 21 November 1856

Liszt’s plan to stage Erkel’s historical opera Hunyadi László came to nothing, but the tone of his letters to the Hungarian composer, pianist and conductor Ferenc Erkel is evidence of their friendship. The present recording includes Liszt’s concert paraphrase based on the opera, a work he played at a recital in Pest in 1846, two years after the first performance of the opera. Other transcriptions recorded here include works by Weber and Bellini, as well as two pieces based on works by Queen Victoria’s brother-in-law.

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding 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, and with the support of members of the Hungarian nobility was able to move with his parents 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, with the help of the piano-manufacturer Erard.

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 He died in 1886 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.

Weber’s opera Oberon, based on a story by Wieland, was written for London, where it was first staged in April 1826, the pressures of performance contributing largely to Weber’s death there in June. Liszt’s straightforward transcription of the Overture was completed in 1846 and published by Schlesinger in that year, together with transcriptions of Weber’s Jubel Overture and the Overture to Der Freischütz [Naxos 8.570562]. An elaborate romantic and exotic fantasy, Weber’s Oberon has, in its framework, a quarrel between Oberon, the king of the fairies, and his queen, Titania, on questions of fidelity and the search for a constant couple, which takes the heroic Sir Huon of Bordeaux into the territory of The Arabian Nights. The Overture opens with the sound of Oberon’s magic horn and suggestions of his fairy kingdom, and includes the melody of the aria ‘Ocean, thou mighty monster’, sung by Reiza, the Caliph’s daughter, finally to be rescued by Sir Huon.

Vincenzo Bellini’s opera La Sonnambula (The Sleep-Walker) was first performed in Milan in 1831. Devised by the librettist Felice Romani after a French ballet-pantomime by Eugène Scribe and Jean-Pierre Aumer, the plot is based on mistakes that arise from the sleep-walking of the heroine, Amina, suspected by fellow-villagers of betraying her betrothed, when she is seen entering Count Rodolpho’s room at the village inn. Matters are resolved when her noctambulatory activities are revealed for what they are. Liszt’s Fantasy on favourite themes from the opera starts with the theme of a first-act chorus, Osservate, as the villagers tiptoe in and see Amina, sleeping in the Count’s room. Further material is taken from the second act, where Elvino, Amina’s betrothed, laments her apparent infidelity, while she justifies herself. The Fantasy ends with the dramatic quintet that closes the first of the two acts.

Ferenc Erkel’s historical opera Hunyadi László is set in fifteenth-century Hungary, where László, the son of a victorious general, survives threatened execution at the hands of his political enemies. The Hapsburg King of Hungary promises a general amnesty, but is jealous of the love of László and Mária, daughter of Gara, the ambitious governor, who plots László’s execution. The hero is imprisoned and, while expecting release, is put to death, in spite of the initial failure of the executioner to effect his death. Erkel himself also made a piano transcription of László Hunyadi’s so-called swan-song, as he nears death. The March, also transcribed by Erkel himself, is drawn from various parts of the opera and had Hungarian patriotic importance.

The elder brother of Albert, Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort, Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was prolific enough as a composer, with five operas to his credit, the première of one of which, Santa Chiara, was conducted by Liszt in 1854 at the Gotha Court Theatre. Tony, oder Die Vergeltung (Tony, or The Retribution) was completed in 1848. It was conducted by Liszt at the Weimar Court Theatre in April 1849, the year in which Liszt made his transcription of the Hunting Chorus and Styrian pastoral elements from the opera. It is the characteristic music for the hunt that frames the other material in the transcription. Liszt also made a piano version of a Festmarsch (Festive March) and other themes by Duke Ernst, taken from his five-act opera of 1859, Diane von Solange, a work to be dedicated to Wagner, who made it clear, in a letter to Liszt, that he would prefer money. Liszt’s piano arrangement is described as after motifs by E.H.z. S.-C.-G., Ernst, Herzog zu Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha.

Bellini’s last opera, I Puritani, was first staged in Paris in 1835. The following year Liszt wrote his Réminiscences des Puritains de Bellini [Naxos 8.572241], following this, in 1841, with the Introduction et Polonaise from the opera, using again material that had appeared in the latter part of the earlier work. The opera is a Melodramma serio, dealing with the attempted rescue of the widowed Queen Henrietta Maria from the hands of the Puritans, and conflicts between Roundheads and Cavaliers, with lovers parted, to be finally reunited. Elvira, the heroine of the piece, sings the Polonaise, Son vergin vezzosa (I am a pretty maiden), as she prepares in happiness for her promised wedding.

Liszt’s 1840 Freischütz-Fantasie draws on various elements in Weber’s Der Freischütz (The Marksman), the first great German romantic opera, which includes the varied ingredients typical of German romanticism, the forest, the huntsman, the Devil and magic. Max, a forester, is persuaded by his friend Caspar to seek the help of the ghostly Black Huntsman for victory in the shooting match that will bring him the hand of Agathe. Liszt’s Fantasy begins with Agathe’s third-act cavatina, Und ob die Wolke (Whether the clouds), expressing her misgivings and faith for her coming wedding. The work proceeds to the ghostly Wolf’s Glen, where magic bullets are to be cast at midnight with the help of Samiel, the Black Huntsman. The cheerful Huntsmen’s Chorus leads to the well-known latter part of Agathe’s second act aria, Süss entzückt entgegen ihm (Sweetly enchanted by him), concluding with music from the chorus of the last act. Liszt did not revise the Freischütz-Fantasie for publication and it remained unpublished until relatively recently.

Keith Anderson

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