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Hyperion Records

CDA66683 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 23 – Harold in Italy
CDA66683

Recording details: October 1992
St Peter's Church, Petersham, United Kingdom
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: June 1993
DISCID: 6711E908
Total duration: 76 minutes 6 seconds

'Howard joue tout cela avec beaucoup de raffinement et un vrai sens du châtoiement sonore. De belles découvertes' (Répertoire, France)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 23 – Harold in Italy
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Liszt’s staunch friendship and support for Berlioz was reflected in many practical ways—from his piano transcription of the Symphonie fantastique in 1834 to the Berlioz week in Weimar in 1855, in several smaller transcriptions and the arrangements of Harold en Italie, and in reviews and articles, especially the lengthy document Berlioz und seine ‘Harold-Symphonie’, Liszt tried to popularize Berlioz’s works, which were widely held to be bizarre and intractable. From their first encounter in 1830, the two men had seen eye to eye on most matters musical, aesthetic and religious, and Berlioz expressed himself very content with the fate of his music in Liszt’s hands, whether playing, transcribing or conducting.

The only mystery which surrounds Liszt’s transcription of Harold in Italy is why, having produced it so promptly, he took so long to publish it. As with the Symphonie fantastique, it is also clear that Liszt’s version was made before Berlioz effected some slight alterations in the score prior to publication—as so often with Berlioz, there was a considerable delay between composition and performance and the appearance of the printed work, and Liszt’s version preserves the original text. Thus the viola is heard in several notes just before the final chorale in the Pilgrims’ March which no longer feature in the score, and Liszt has allowed the viola to participate in the Allegro assai sections of the Serenade with double-stopped chords in imitation of a piper’s drone. However, Berlioz’s brilliant second thought of foreshortening the repeated chords by half a bar at a time in the peroration of the first movement (four occasions) has been adopted in this performance in accordance with his published score.

Although Liszt’s partition could scarcely be called chamber music, it is undeniable that, without Berlioz’s orchestration, the viola part is heard to much greater advantage than is usually the case, and from time to time a real chamber music texture emerges, leaving one to regret that Liszt expressed himself relatively little in the medium, and then usually in transcription. Liszt seems to have thought of the piece as a piano transcription of the same stamp as that of the Symphonie fantastique, and the demands upon the pianist are similarly acute. (Liszt did make a solo piano version of the second movement of Harold, which is recorded in this series on Volume 5.) At any rate, Paganini, who declined to play Berlioz’s original because he felt that the viola had too little to do, might have felt less oppressed by Liszt’s version, at least in the first three movements. And, as with the Symphonie fantastique, Liszt is fully in tune with Berlioz’s ideas of programme (they were both completely enamoured of the works of Byron) and colour. Berlioz’s original is too well known to require further description, but it will be observed that Liszt was not tempted to alter the degree of participation of the viola in the final movement, even though, at the entry of the menacing trombones and Liszt’s extravagant tremolo which covers over half the keyboard in its attempt to recreate the violin parts of the original, the pianist could well have used some assistance.

The inclusion of the original version of the Romance oubliée was prompted by two considerations. It is the only Liszt work for this combination, apart from the Harold transcription, and the broken chords which inform the coda to the Romance oubliée are quite clearly an act of homage to the marvellous viola writing at the end of the Pilgrims’ March in Harold. Indeed, the whole final section is a later addition to the Romance oubliée, which was a reworking of an earlier piano Romance of 1848 (which will appear in another volume of the present series), itself derived from the song O pourquoi donc of 1843. The Romance oubliée was Liszt’s response in 1880 to a request to reprint the earlier piano piece. He prepared it for the viola virtuoso Hermann Ritter, but also made versions (with different piano parts) for violin and for cello, as well as a new piano transcription (recorded on Volume 11 of this series).

The remaining works in this volume are Liszt’s few non-operatic transcriptions of music by Berlioz’s most famous compatriate contemporaries: Charles Gounod (1818–1893) and Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864, and French by virtue of residence and influence in the tradition of French grand opera).

Gounod’s Hymne was not actually a vocal work; it was scored for solo violin, harps, drums and winds, or for violin, organ and piano, and the present writer is unaware of any performance this century of either of these extraordinary instrumentations (nor, for that matter, of the later version with the text of the ‘Ave verum’ added). Liszt’s transcription, promptly made, was also promptly forgotten, by Liszt himself, it would seem. Although marked up for the engraver, the manuscript (held in the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar) remains unpublished, and a photocopy of it was the basis for the present recording. It is a beautiful work, distinguished by one of Gounod’s finest melodies, and its obscurity is quite unwarranted.

Meyerbeer the song-writer has only recently begun to emerge from eclipse, thanks largely to the efforts of imaginative accompanists like Geoffrey Parsons, but in their day Meyerbeer’s songs were sung in the salons throughout Europe, and dramatic numbers like Le moine, which tells of a monk’s crisis of faith, were extremely popular. Liszt follows all three verses of Meyerbeer’s song—the monk alternately, and ever more ecstatically, extolling the pleasures of the world and the gratification of the self, and then begging for help from Our Lady. Liszt mirrors the height of the monk’s self-indulgence with demonic pyrotechnics, and renders the prayer even more austere than in the song. It is not too difficult to imagine that the subject matter had some bearing on Liszt’s lifestyle at the time. (Incidentally, many catalogues suggest that Liszt’s piece contains two further melodies by Meyerbeer. This is not so. The original edition is marked ‘suivi de deux mélodies’, referring no doubt to the possible future issue of other transcriptions from the set of 12 Mélodies that Meyerbeer had recently published, but these transcriptions were never made.)

Schiller was an enthusiasm which Meyerbeer and Liszt shared. Liszt set Schiller’s poetry, wrote a symphonic poem, Die Ideale, inspired by him, lived in his town (Weimar) and exalted his memory. So the expedition with with he applied himself to transcribe Meyerbeer’s excellent orchestral March for the Schiller centenary is not surprising. Like most occasional pieces, and practically all ‘classical’ marches of any sort, the work remains virtually unknown in either version. A pity, because the piece has real distinction beyond the purely festive.

Leslie Howard © 1993


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