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Hyperion Records

CDA66481/2 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 15 – Song Transcriptions
Arthur and Aegle in The Happy Valley (1849) by John Martin (1789-1854)
Laing Art Gallery, Tyne and Wear Museums, Newcastle upon Tyne
CDA66481/2

Recording details: October 1990
St Peter's Church, Petersham, United Kingdom
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: November 1991
DISCID: C511661F E011211F
Total duration: 143 minutes 53 seconds

'Liszt and his chosen models are all heard at their most exquisite' (Fanfare, USA)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 15 – Song Transcriptions
CD1
Einst, o Wunder!  [3'02]
Lockung  [4'14]
Zwei Wege  [1'23]
Spanisches Lied  [4'14]
CD2
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
These 'songs without words', as they might be called, represent a great proportion of the many such transcriptions that Liszt made. Neglecting earlier versions and simplified versions they represent all of Liszt’s works in this genre relating to these seven composers, and are complemented by the numerous transcriptions of Schubert songs, of six Chopin songs, of many of Liszt’s own songs, and of a small number of single songs by various composers from Alyabiev to Wielhorsky, bringing the total to well over 150. Just as with Liszt’s operatic transcriptions, there is quite a range of style and approach, from the literal transcription to the fantasy, but the primary aim seems to have been to make the music available to a wider public—the lieder recital as we know it simply didn’t exist in Liszt’s day. Both for the sake of proselytizing for the songs and for giving a better idea to the pianist about the kind of interpretation required, Liszt almost invariably lays the original song text in the piano score, and is always clear about which musical line belonged originally to the voice.

Adelaïde (1) is one of the finest of Beethoven’s early works, amounting really to a concert aria with piano, with two contrasting sections, which follow Friedrich Matthison’s poem of unrequited love, ‘Your friend wandered alone’, with its poetic conclusion of a flower blooming from the ashes of the lover’s heart, ‘One day, O Miracle’ (3). Liszt remains very close to Beethoven’s text in all three versions of his transcription. In the second version, Liszt added a reflective coda in which he combined elements of the two parts of the song. In the final version, he discreetly extended Beethoven’s ending, but removed his coda and greatly elaborated it to form an optional cadenza, placed between the parts of the song. Recording technology should allow the listener to have or not to have the cadenza at will.

Liszt altered the order and some of the tonalities of Beethoven’s Gellert Songs, especially to allow the most popular of them to conclude the set. Uniquely among his Beethoven transcriptions, Liszt allows himself considerable liberties in embellishing the originals and adding extra verses, but all in a spirit which combines his love of Beethoven with his love of God, echoing Gellert’s texts. In Liszt’s order, the poems speak of: i God’s Might and Providence—‘God is my song!’ (4); ii Supplication—‘God’s goodness ranges as far as the clouds move’ (5); iii Song of Penitence—‘Although I have sinned against Thee alone, grant, patient God, that I see your face’ (6); iv Of Death—‘My life’s term expires’ (7); v The Love of thy neighbour—‘A man cannot love God and hate his own brother’ (8); vi God’s Glory in Nature—‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (9).

In his transcription of Beethoven’s song cycle ‘To the distant beloved’ (10) Liszt permits himself very few liberties, but from time to time actually omits repeated portions of melody in order to bring the varied accompaniment into the limelight. The songs flow one into another and, as in the poem by Aloys Jeitteles, the last verse of the first song is recalled in the last verse of the sixth: i The poet sits on the hill, gazes into the distance and sings to his beloved; ii He wishes to be where amongst the blue mountains in the mist to avoid the pain of separation (11); iii He asks the little sailing clouds to convey his love and describe his tears (12); iv He wants the clouds to transport him so that he might share the joy of the wind rustling in her hair (13); v May has returned uniting all nature except the poet and his love (14); vi The poet asks his love to take the songs in the calm of twilight and sing them in return so that what a loving heart has blessed shall reach a loving heart (15).

Liszt collected his Beethoven Goethe settings from two different sets of songs and from the incidental music to Egmont, opus 84. These are imaginative transcriptions which depart from Beethoven’s text only to avoid fussiness or to supply variety with repeated verses—to excellent effect in the ‘Song of the Flea’ (19). Mignon’s Song (from Wilhelm Meister) has been set too often to require much introduction: ‘Do you know the land where the lemons blossom …’ (16). ‘With a Painted Ribbon’ (17) exploits the conceit of a ribbon of flowers and leaves in the wind contrasted against the bond of love. ‘Joyful and Sorrowful’ (18)—a text which, like ‘Mignon’s Song’, Liszt also set—is the second of Clara’s songs from Egmont, telling that happiness can only come from love. ‘Once upon a time there was a King’—Mephistopheles’ ‘Song of the Flea’ from Faust Part I (19)—deserves to be as well known in Beethoven’s setting as it is in Musorgsky’s. ‘Bliss of Sadness’ (20) extols the tears of eternal love, and ‘Strike the Drum’—Clara’s first song from Egmont (21) sings of her wish to be a man so that she could join her beloved in battle.

The singers’ neglect and the critics’ disparagement of Mendelssohn’s songs seem unjust, as is the passing fashion which has sidelined some of Liszt’s most felicitous transcriptions and elaborations. There was a time when ‘On Wings of Song’ (22) was practically inevitable in any pianist’s repertoire, and ‘Spring Song’ (26), ‘Song of Travel’ (24) and ‘New Love’ (25) would not be out of place in many many a modern recital programme in need of a little gossamer. Heine’s ‘On Wings of Song’ (22) speaks of a song which will bear the lovers in a blissful dream to the lotus flowers by the Ganges. Klingemann’s ‘Sunday Song’ (23) contrasts the loneliness of the poet with the sound of choir and organ and the sight of a bridal procession. Heine’s ‘Song of Travel’ (24) tells of a rider warmed by the thought that his headlong journey on a dark windy night will lead him to his lover’s house. As he rushes up the staircase, spurs ringing, the wind in the oak tells him that he is a dreaming fool. ‘New Love’ (25), again by Heine, asks if the vision of elves, swans and the fairy queen is a sign of new love or of death. Klingemann’s ‘Spring Song’ (26) is a heady hymn to the joy, beauty and warmth of spring, while ‘Winter Song’ (27) is from a Swedish folk poem in which a son is urged to stay at home rather than go out into the dark cold night in search of his sister. Liszt makes this song connect beautifully to the setting of Marianne von Willemer’s second poem entitled ‘Suleika’ (28), which entreats the west wind to take news of the writer’s suffering in separation to her lover.

The British Liszt Society’s reprint of the three Dessauer transcriptions in the 1990 Journal must be the only printing of any of this once highly regarded composer’s output in a long while. Josef Dessauer (1798–1876), according to John Warrack’s sympathetic essay in Grove, and on the evidence of these transcriptions, was a gifted songwriter. His name has really survived only as the dedicatee of Chopin’s opus 26 Polonaises! Eichendorff’s ‘Temptation’ (29) cajoles the listener into the garden by night to recall past joys. Liszt conjures up the poem’s imagery with very delicate figuration. Siegfried Kapper’s ‘Two Paths’ (30) is a simple strophic poem describing the parting of the ways for two former lovers, and Clemens Brentano’s ‘Spanish Song’ (31) is a bolero urging the poet on to Seville to worship his love. The increasing fervour of the poem is matched by Liszt’s variations.

Compact disc 2

The songs of Robert Franz (1815–1892) are relatively unknown outside the German-speaking world, but he holds an interesting place for his ability to produce a song so devoid of extraneous matter such as introductions, codas or developments as to be positively aphoristic. Many of the songs which Liszt transcribed are of this nature, and Liszt’s transcriptions remain, in general, very close to Franz’s music. The only extended transcription is the first of them, ‘He came in wind and rain’ (1), to a poem by Rückert. Where Franz more or less contented himself with the same music for each of the verses—which describe the lover’s coming as unexpected, love as a real hope, and love, despite the greyness of the weather, being bright and eternal—Liszt allows a musical intrusion of greyness before love triumphs. The five ‘Reed Songs’ are all settings of Lenau: ‘By a secret forest path’ (2) (also set by the young Alban Berg) goes on to describe the poet wandering by the reedy shore hearing his love’s singing; ‘Meanwhile the sun departs’ (3) and with it the reflection of his love in the pond, and in sorrow he awaits the light of the evening star; ‘The gloom of the rushing clouds’ (4) occludes the stars and the sorrow remains; ‘Sunset and storm’ (5) lead him to believe his lover’s face to be visible in the lightning; and ‘On the pond’ (6) (also set by Mendelssohn) the light of the moon finally reveals the beauty of nature and leads (in a magical coda) to the sweetest inner reflection of his love.

Liszt’s choices of song in the other two Franz sets enable him to make poetic cycles of his own: ‘The Lad’ (7) finds himself curious, compelled and bewitched in turn by the mysteries of nature, in the first of three Eichendorff settings. ‘Calm Sea’ (8) conjures up images of a mysterious king of the deep who controls the destiny of those on the sea and who sings to his harp. ‘The Message’ (9) from the beloved comes by way of the wind playing on the strings of a zither, and likening that zither to the poet’s heart. Liszt sets this as a theme with an elaborate variation, but the text is laid under the varied melody, and a contrasting central section is added, itself a transcription of another Franz song to a poem by Heine, ‘Through the wood in the moonlight’ (10), whose text is exactly that of Mendelssohn’s ‘New Love’, and Liszt clearly intends that vision to prepare the way for the Eichendorff poem.

The remaining set begins with two texts by Osterwald: ‘The Summer puts forth its roses’ (11)—a recollection of former happiness amidst present sorrow; and ‘Stormy Night’ (12)—an impassioned plea that the poet’s storm-tossed soul be comforted by the maiden deciding to love him again. Heine’s ‘What a showering and howling!’ (13) tells of a girl looking out into the stormy night, her eyes full of tears; and Hoffman von Fallersleben’s ‘Spring and Love’ (14) gently restores hope of the healing powers of spring and love’s rebirth.

The prolific Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894) wrote more than two hundred songs in a variety of languages, but the two which Liszt transcribed are among the few to retain a place in the repertoire. ‘O, that it should ever be thus’ (15)—sometimes known by its first line and mysteriously given a second catalogue number as a ‘missing’ Liszt work on that account: ‘Gelb rollt mir zu füssen …’ (‘The mighty river Kura flows golden at my feet’) is a translation by Bodenstedt of the Persian poet Mirza Schaffy: a hymn of joy to love and nature, once recorded in Rubinstein’s setting by Fyodor Chaliapin, and here given the most elaborate plumage in Liszt’s concert transcription. The exoticism of Heine’s ‘The Asra’ (16) inspired perhaps Rubinstein’s best song, and certainly one of his simplest, and Liszt carries the simplicity into his transcription with a further tinge of the hopeless lack of a comforting resolution so often encountered in his later music: ‘The youthful captive’ has grown paler by the day from watching the Sultan’s beautiful daughter on her daily walks to the fountain. When she finally demands to know his name, he tells her that he is called Mahomet, that he comes from Yemen, and is of that race of Asra who, should they love, die.

Some of Liszt’s Schumann transcriptions have withstood all vagaries of fashion and have featured in the repertoire of every generation of pianists, while others remain sadly unknown, as do some of the Schumann originals. Liszt’s choice of Schumann seems largely to ignore the well known and to investigate some of the later, most intimate works. Andersen’s ‘Christmas Song’ (17) is really a very simple hymn, and ‘The Changing Bells’ (18) is a straightforward setting of a little moral fable by Goethe in which a recalcitrant boy is frightened by a dream of bells into going to church as his mother has told him. Liszt does not seek to elaborate in any way in these ten songs of Robert and Clara—often giving almost the original piano accompaniment in small type with the vocal line in full-size notation distributed between the two hands. Fallersleben’s ‘Coming of Spring’ (19), Schiller’s ‘The Cowherd’s Farewell’ (20) (which Liszt set before Schumann did), and Mörike’s ‘The Spring it is’ (21) tell their tales in their titles, and Goethe’s ‘None but the lonely heart’ (22) (set by many a composer—four times by Beethoven) requires no introduction, and ‘I shall creep from door to door’ (23) is the third of the evocatively miserable Harper’s Songs which were first well known in Schubert’s settings.

Despite the appalling rudeness eventually shown to Liszt and his music by Clara Schumann—she removed his name from the dedication on Robert Schumann’s Fantasy, opus 17, and she rejected Liszt’s dedication to her of his Paganini Études, having been initially quite besotted by him—Liszt tried to disseminate three of her songs in very delicate and literal transcriptions. All that can be observed is that neither the songs nor the transcriptions took hold, and Clara’s Rückert settings, ‘Why would you ask more questions’ (24)—a plea not to question a lover’s sincerity—and ‘In your eyes have I seen eternal love’ (25) and the setting of Rollet’s love and nature poem ‘Mysterious whispers here and there’ (26) have a charm just a bit too obviously derived from the music of her husband.

As for the remaining Schumann transcriptions, ‘Provençal Lovesong’ (27) (Schumann’s title is actually Provençalisches Lied) is a curious late work of Liszt’s which somehow disembodies the original setting of Uhland’s poem in praise of courtly love. The transcription of ‘To the Sunshine’ (28)—Reinick’s poem in folk style about the sunlight’s effect upon nature and thence love—is embellished by a central section (29) which is a transcription of Schumann’s setting of a translation of Robert Burns’s ‘Oh, my luve’s like a red, red rose’. As in the combined Robert Franz transcription, no violence is done in any way to either of the original songs. The feverish joy of the discovery that ‘she is yours’ informs the whole of Schumann’s setting of Eichendorff’s ‘Spring Night’ (30)—the concluding song of the opus 39 Liederkreis, with its constantly repeated chordal accompaniment. Liszt translates this joy in an exquisite piece of piano writing. ‘Dedication’ (31)—the first song from Schumann’s Myrthen, opus 24, to a poem by Rückert—was, as the world knows, a gift from Schumann to Clara, but we cannot blame Liszt for wanting this great song to be much more widely distributed, and, since Schumann’s song is very easily come by nowadays, there is absolutely no need for any offence to be taken at the glorious expansion of the original in Liszt’s ever-popular transcription.

Leslie Howard © 1991


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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I' (CDA67401/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra II' (CDA67403/4)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra II
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI' (CDA67406/7)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 54 – Liszt at the Opera VI
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie' (CDA67408/10)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 55 – Grande Fantaisie
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 56 – Rarities, Curiosities, Album Leaves and Fragments' (CDA67414/7)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 56 – Rarities, Curiosities, Album Leaves and Fragments
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'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies' (CDA67418/9)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 57 – Hungarian Rhapsodies
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'Liszt: Piano Music' (LISZT1)
Liszt: Piano Music
LISZT1  2CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted  
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