About this Recording
9.70165 - LISZT, F.: Via Crucis (Marangoni, Ars Cantica Choir, Berrini)

Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Via Crucis


The two piano solo pieces which open this CD, are taken from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, a cycle of piano pieces written in 1847. Ave Maria, S173/R14, No. 2, is built on an invocation, a clear and soft melody, developed first in the right hand and then in the left. Pater Noster, S173/R14, No. 5, is a very short piece based on the Gregorian theme: the choral section at the beginning is followed by a short variation and a coda, a reminiscence of the choirs and the chants the composer heard during his years in Rome.

Liszt started working on the Via Crucis in 1873 and completed it in February 1879. He hoped from the first that one day it would accompany the Via Crucis celebrated by the Pope in Rome near the Coliseum on Good Friday. In the event the piece was never performed in Liszt’s lifetime. The first performance was in 1929 in Budapest, and it was first published nine years later, with a wood-cut by Albrecht Dürer printed on the front page in accordance with the composer’s express wish. The Via Crucis was composed for soloists, mixed chorus, and organ and/or piano. Classified as a Passion setting, that is of works that celebrate Christ’s passion and death, this piece reveals something of the style and musical language of Liszt’s later years. Four of the Fourteen Stations of the Via Crucis are for piano solo; the other ten include vocal interventions from soloists and/or chorus, with the accompaniment of the instrument. The score includes many references and musical quotations, drawing on Catholic and Lutheran tradition. Examples of this are found in the introduction, preceding the first Station of the Cross, of Vexilla Regis prodeunt, a hymn on a text by Venanzio Fortunato, which forms part of First Vespers of Passion Sunday and is in the liturgy for the Feast of the Cross, on 14 September. Other examples include the quotation from the Stabat Mater by Jacopone da Todi in the Third, Seventh and Ninth Stations, representing the three falls of Christ, and the quotation of two Lutheran chorales, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden and O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid. The former, with a text by Paul Gerhardt, is quoted in the Sixth Station, which represents the scene of Veronica wiping the face of Christ, while the latter, its text by Johann Rist, underlines the sorrow over Christ’s death at the end of the Thirteenth Station. The Gregorian flavour present at some points is perfectly assimilated in a musical language that brings together the most traditional music of the Catholic Church with the demands of late nineteenth-century aesthetics.

As in the Baroque Passion settings, Liszt uses the chorus as a vehicle for comment on the story and as an invitation to think about the events recalled, as happens in the Sixth and Twelfth Stations—or as the traditional turba, the crowd, which participates actively in the dramatic unfolding of events, as in the Tenth Station. Liszt gives the keyboard instrument the task of telling the holy story. The rôle of the historicus,assigned to a wordless voice, is conveyed through instrumental writing rich in rhetorical figures that evoke the event told in each Station and enable the listener to meditate on the narrative.

Following the steps of this “poetics of evocation”, Liszt makes us relive ourselves the events of the Passion through the musical themes which mark the single moments and characters of the dramatic epilogue to Christ’s life. The combination of prayer with evocative pictures reminds us of the well-known meditational practice that St Ignatius of Loyola suggested in his Spiritual Exercises, reviving mentally the scenes described in the Bible and the Gospel in order to emphasize and assimilate the holy message and pray with intensified fervour and greater profundity. Aware that the abstract nature of the sounds constitute the most direct expressive medium of the Spirit, in 1855 Liszt asserted that the Spirit can understand more than we actually show it and that sometimes imagination goes beyond the possibilities of representation, which hence tries in vain to compete with it.

Marco Berrini
English version by Elisa Noè

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