About this Recording
8.573557 - LISZT, F.: Transcriptions of Vocal Works (Hastings) (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 44)
English  German 

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Transcriptions of Vocal Works
Il mʼaimait tant! • Spanisches Ständchen • Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (4 versions) • Mes joies • Autrefois (1st version) • Szózat und Ungarischer Hymnus • Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha • Slyepoi ʻDer blinde Sängerʼ • Ich liebe dich • Romance oubliée • Ungarisches Königslied


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.

Liszt’s compositions for the piano include a quantity of transcriptions and arrangements, some based on the work of others and some derived from his own creations. These last include transcriptions of a number of his own songs, of which Liszt left over eighty, some 58 of which are settings of German texts, with further settings of Italian, French and other verses. These bear witness to Liszt’s particular gifts as a lyrical composer, a quality further reflected in the piano transcriptions of these songs.

The present recording opens with a transcription of Liszt’s song Il m’aimait tant!, a poem by Mme Delphine de Girardin, née Gay, wife of the journalist Emile de Girardin, a frequenter of the salon over which Marie d’Agoult presided in Paris. Liszt’s setting dates from 1840. Each of the four stanzas ends with the refrain Il m’aimait tant! (He loved me so much!) and the transcription follows the original song, in which the poet cannot return the love felt for her, breaking a promise to go one evening with him to the dark valley; now she will not see him again and is sad and weeps, he loved her so much.

Liszt’s first return to Hungary in 1840, after sixteen years abroad, found him greeted as a national hero, welcomed, among others, by Count Leó Festetics, who led the presentation to Liszt of an ornamental sabre on the occasion of a public recital, for which Liszt wore Hungarian national dress. Liszt remained in contact with the Count during the following years, in a correspondence conducted principally in French, where Liszt generally uses the familiar ‘tu’. Liszt’s version of the Spanisches Ständchen (Spanish Serenade) is marked by a typical Spanish rhythm.

In 1835 Liszt had eloped from Paris with Marie d’Agoult, but by 1839 their relationship had started to worsen, exacerbated by the birth of three children, the third, Daniel, in Rome in May that year. Marie d’Agoult returned to Paris, but spent summer holidays in 1841, 1842 and 1843 with Liszt at a guest-house on the site of an earlier convent on the small Rhine island of Nonnenwerth, a retreat that Liszt had discovered with his friend, the young Prince Felix Lichnovsky. The isolation was not entirely to the taste of the Comtesse d’Agoult, but it suited Liszt, who was able to prepare for his future concert tours and to visit neighbouring sites, including the great Cathedral at Cologne. Lichnovsky, heir to considerable property, had been estranged from his family and was to be murdered by a revolutionary mob in 1848. His poem Die Zelle von Nonnenwerth (The Cell of Nonnenwerth) describes the feelings aroused by the deserted convent: Ach nun taucht die Klosterzelle / einsam aus des Wassers Welle (Ah, now emerges the convent cell / lonely from the water’s wave). Liszt made five versions of his setting of the verses, the first in 1841, the second, Elégie, and third, En ces lieux tout me parle d’elle (In these places everything speaks to me of her), both in French, in 1844 and 1845, the fourth and fifth in 1858 and 1860. Liszt’s first piano version, Elégie pour piano seul, was written in 1840, with three further versions, the last in about 1880, for publication in 1883. The final version suggests the nostalgia of old age, as Liszt recalls Lichnowsky, Marie d’Agoult and the three children in a summer at Nonnenwerth. The preceding versions have varying degrees of complexity.

Mes joies, Nocturne d’après un chant polonais de Fr. Chopin is the fifth of a set of Six chants polonais, songs transcribed by Liszt between 1847 and 1860 and published in the latter year. Chopin had given his first concert in Paris in February 1832, and the city provided a base for his activities during the rest of his short life. His friendship with Liszt, a musician of a very different character, led him to introduce Liszt to George Sand (Aurore Dudevant) and occasions when Liszt and his mistress, Marie d’Agoult, spent time at George Sand’s country estate at Nohant. Both women were to take literary revenge on their lovers, Marie d’Agoult, as Daniel Stern, in Nélida, and George Sand in her novel Lucrezia Floriani. By the time of Chopin’s death in 1849, Liszt’s career had taken a very different course.

Autrefois – Romance du Comte Mihail Yurievich Vielgorsky, a transcription dating from 1842, revived an acquaintance between Liszt and Count Vielgorsky that dated from their meeting in Rome in 1839. The first of Liszt’s three visits to Russia in 1842, was followed by a second in 1843 and it was in good part through the influence of the Romanov Maria Pavlovna, who had married into the ruling family of Weimar, that Liszt was to be appointed to the Grand Duchy, where he settled in 1848, his concert career now brought to an end. Vielgorsky had some contemporary reputation as an amateur composer, with Liszt’s Romance transcription a tribute to his achievement and his assistance to Liszt in Russia.

There was some division over the acceptance of a national Hungarian anthem, settled by the adoption of Ferenc Erkel’s Hymnusz, with a second place for Szózat (Appeal), set by Béni Egressy. The settings date from the early 1840s, with Liszt’s transcription of the two patriotic works in 1873, at a time when the fiftieth anniversary of his career as a performer was celebrated with due honours in Hungary, where he remained for a good part of the winter that year.

In 1842 Liszt was a guest of the future sovereign Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, elder brother of Prince Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, and an amateur composer. His Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha (Island of Graves of the Princes of Gotha) is a setting of verses by Apollonius von Maltitz on the island acquired to house tombs for members of the Gotha ruling family.

Der blinde Sänger (The Blind Singer) began as a melodrama, completed in 1877, using a text by Aleksey Tolstoy, and followed by a transcription for piano. The ballad, starting with the horns that announce the Prince’s hunting, continues with the meeting with the blind singer of the title, summoned to entertain the company. The work is considerably shortened with the omission of the text and belongs among a small group of compositions by Liszt exploiting the form of melodrama, with its spoken narration.

Ich liebe dich (I love you) is a version of Liszt’s own setting of a poem by Rückert, dating from 1857, to be published in 1860. The transcription preserves the simplicity of the original song, with the repetition of its opening words.

Liszt’s final years were clouded by accusations of anti-semitism, provoked by ill-judged additions to a revised version of his book on gypsy music in Hungary, by Princess Carolyne, who used the occasion to promote her own prejudices. In 1884 Liszt had been asked to provide a composition for the opening of the new opera house in Budapest, and this he did in his Ungarisches Königslied, (Hungarian Royal Song) in a suitable choral version, to be performed before the Emperor Franz Joseph and the Empress Elisabeth. The work uses a traditional Hungarian melody, while the words, by Kornél Ábrányi, celebrate the Emperor as King of Hungary. Suggestions of similarities with the revolutionary Rakoczy March, coupled with opposition to Liszt from some sources, led to the cancellation of the performance, leaving the Königslied to be given a performance a few weeks later.

Liszt’s Romance oubliée recalled a song, Oh pourquoi donc that he had written in Weimar in 1848 and dedicated to Josephin Kościelska. Brought to his attention in 1880, in Rome, he used it to provide a piece for viola and piano, with arrangements for violin and for cello, dedicated to the violist Hermann Ritter, whose particular instrument was the five-string viola alta. Liszt also based a piano transcription on the piece. In its various forms the piece reflects a final nostalgia, as Liszt’s life neared its end.

Keith Anderson

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