About this Recording
8.573485 - LISZT, F.: Transcriptions of Symphonic Poems (Monteiro) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 43)
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Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Transcriptions of Symphonic
Poems Les Préludes • Orpheus • Künstlerfestzug • Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe • Der nächtliche Zug • Vierter Mephisto-Walzer


The music on this recording features solo piano versions of Franz Liszt’s orchestral music either produced by Liszt or transcribed under his supervision. While Liszt was an avid transcriber and arranger of other composers’ orchestral works, his work as a transcriber of his own music was a more complicated task. Part of this is due to the fact that for Liszt the process of composing his orchestral music and “arranging” or “transcribing” it for the piano can sometimes be conflated as acts of “revision”. Such is the case, for example, with the piano versions of and orchestral revisions to the symphonic poem Prometheus, a work that the American Liszt scholar Paul Bertagnolli has shown to evolve throughout its compositional life as a negotiation between these two formats. To make matters even more complex, Liszt entrusted the task of transcribing his symphonic poems for piano solo to his pupils and a few select associates, overseeing their work and often revising it before publication. Similar to the case of Prometheus, Liszt’s revisions to these “approved” transcriptions often include revisions to the earlier versions of the symphonic poems for orchestra, leaving behind a trail of revisionary work that produces multiple identities of the same “work”.

Liszt’s turn to composing large-scale orchestral works came after his success as a touring virtuoso in the 1830s and 1840s, when he accepted a position as Kapellmeister to the Grand Duke Carl Alexander in Weimar, a post which allowed him a break from touring and more time for composing and teaching. It is during his years at Weimar (1848–1861) that Liszt composed and published his first twelve symphonic poems, dedicated to Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, one of the principal loves of his life. Following Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique (1830), Liszt published his symphonic poems with programmes that revealed the sources of their “extramusical” content, topics which ranged from paintings (Hunnenschlacht) to Shakespearean heroes (Hamlet) to artifacts in the Louvre (Orpheus). Together with other large orchestral works such as the Faust and Dante Symphonies and Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust, Liszt’s symphonic poems served as foundational to the ideology of the “New German School”, an avant-garde movement that triumphed in the programmatic vision of Berlioz’s and Liszt’s orchestral music and Wagner’s music dramas in the nineteenth century. Although Les Préludes remains the only one of Liszt’s symphonic poems to be featured regularly in contemporary orchestra programmes, these works are considered pioneering for their narrative-driven formal structure as well as their direct influence on the tone poems of Richard Strauss and Sibelius.

Liszt’s attitude toward transcribing his symphonic poems for piano can best be described as ambivalent. He made his feelings explicit on the subject in letters to friends and colleagues, most notably the pianist and critic Louis Köhler in the mid-1850s, to whom he expressed dissatisfaction in the way that arrangements for piano four-hands disrupted the “figuration” of the orchestral passages. Solo piano transcriptions of the symphonic poems were even less desirable for Liszt owing to the inability of a single performer to translate effectively the colouristic instrumental brilliance of his orchestral scores. Liszt preferred the two-piano format, as the elaborate orchestral writing could be adapted to four hands without having to accommodate the traffic of hands on the same keyboard. Liszt made only one attempt to transcribe his symphonic poems for piano solo, a version of Tasso, which he described to Köhler in July of 1856 as a failure. Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe, Liszt’s final symphonic poem, was originally written in 1881 as a suite for piano solo and later revised and arranged for orchestra in 1882.

Les Préludes

Arr. Karl Klauser, rev. Liszt. [1885] Les Préludes (Preludes) was published as the third of Liszt’s original twelve “symphonische Dichtungen” (Symphonic poems), a term that has since defined a genre (and form) generally understood throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a single-movement piece for orchestra based on a programmatic or poetic element. Even for Liszt’s symphonic poems, however, this definition needs to be interpreted broadly, since we now know that the music of Les Préludes was originally composed as an introduction to four choruses in 1844 on texts by Joseph Autran titled Les quatre éléments (The Four Elements). In the 1850s Liszt adapted this music as the symphonic poem Les Préludes, titled after the poem by Alfonse de Lamartine. In 1863 the American pianist, pedagogue, writer, and music editor Karl Klauser prepared for Liszt’s review a solo piano arrangement of Les Préludes. Liszt praised Klauser’s arrangement as “pretty” and “tuneful,” though he also noted it needed some “touching up” before sending it to the Leipzig music publisher Julius Schuberth.


Arr. Friedrich Spiro, rev. Liszt. [1879] The music of Orpheus originated as an introduction and conclusion to a production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, performed before the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna on her birthday at the court theatre in Weimar in February of 1854. After finalizing the orchestral score later that same year, Liszt prepared for Breitkopf & Härtel the published score of Orpheus along with Les Préludes, Festklänge, Mazeppa, Prometheus, and Tasso in versions for orchestra and two pianos in 1856. A transcription of Orpheus for solo piano was prepared by Liszt’s student Friedrich Spiro, which Liszt revised and delivered to Breitkopf & Härtel in 1878. It was published the following year.

Künstlerfestzug (second version) [1883]

The orchestral piece Künstlerfestzug zur Schillerfeier (Artists’ Processional to the Schiller Celebration) was composed for the Schiller birth centennial festival in Weimar in 1859, and is one of several works that Liszt provided for the national commemorations of Goethe and Schiller in Germany during the 1840s and 1850s. Based on material from the cantata An die Künstler (To the Artists, 1853) and the symphonic poem Die Ideale (The Ideals, 1858), Liszt’s transcriptions of the Künstlerfestzug for piano were first published in Leipzig in 1860. In 1883 Liszt authorized a new revised version for solo piano published by C. F. Kahnt in Leipzig.

Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe [1882]

In April of 1881 while in Vienna Liszt received a drawing from the Hungarian artist Mihály Zichy entitled “Du berceau jusqu’au cercueil” (From the cradle to the coffin). Moved by Zichy’s illustration, Liszt composed Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From the cradle to the grave) for piano solo later that year, which he later revised to reflect the changes he made in a version for piano four-hands also in 1881. This newly revised solo piano version was published in Berlin in 1882, which served as the model for Liszt’s thirteenth and final symphonic poem Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (1882). This late work, Liszt’s only symphonic poem composed after 1857, brings to musical life Zichy’s portrayal of the journey of human experience from birth (I. The Cradle) to the trials of life (II. The Struggle for Existence), to death and rebirth (III. To the Grave: The Cradle of Future Life).

Der nächtliche Zug (from Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust)

Arr. Robert Freund, rev. Liszt [1872] In 1870 the composer and pianist Robert Freund travelled to Budapest to study with Liszt, developing a close relationship with the aging composer of a kind that only a handful of students shared. Liszt’s admiration for Freund led to among other things duet performances of the Faust Symphonie in a two-piano transcription. In 1872 Liszt revised and added corrections to Freund’s piano solo transcription of Der nächtliche Zug (The Night Procession), the opening movement of Liszt’s Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust. Liszt took as the subject of this programmatic work Nikolaus Lenau’s telling of the Faust legend, where, in contrast to Goethe’s “happy” ending, Faust’s soul is delivered to the Devil after his death. In Der nächtliche Zug Liszt takes us to Faust’s horseback journey into the depths of a darkened forest, where he encounters a passing procession of monks singing the Eucharist hymn Pange lingua gloriosi, which leaves him in tears as he contemplates his fate.

Vierter Mephisto-Walzer [1885]

The four Mephisto Waltzes of Liszt were inspired by a scene from the Faust legend as told by Nikolaus Lenau in which Faust and Mephistopheles crash a wedding party in disguise. After mocking Faust for his reluctance to act on his carnal desires, Mephistopheles seizes a fiddler’s instrument and plays a spirited number that sends the dancers into a state of passionate frenzy. The first of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes was originally composed in 1860 as the second movement of the orchestral work Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust (Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust), titled “Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke” (Dance in the Village Inn). The other three Mephisto Waltzes were composed toward the end of Liszt’s life in the 1880s. The first draft of the fourth Mephisto Waltz exists as an autograph manuscript in the Goethe and Schiller archives of the German National Museum in Weimar, marked as completed in Budapest in March of 1885. Liszt later revised this version in pencil, drafting an incomplete section marked “Andantino” to be inserted before the final bars of the piece. As a result, the fourth Mephisto Waltz is reported in many catalogues as an unfinished piece, although the Neue Liszt Ausgabe has produced a completed version of the work without the incomplete slow section.

Cory Gavito

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