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Hyperion Records

CDA66787 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 27 – Fantasies, paraphrases and transcriptions of National Songs
The Relief of the Siege of Vienna (detail) (Anonymous Austrian 17th century).
Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna
CDA66787

Recording details: April 1993
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: April 1994
DISCID: E411020F
Total duration: 72 minutes 15 seconds

'An entertaining programme … providing the perfect vehicle for Leslie Howard's enthusiastic, colourful playing. His scholarship, as revealed in the liner notes, is remarkable, the recording first class' (CDReview)

'Yet another instalment in what is looming as the most ambitious and splendidly realized recording project of the century which cannot fail to delight and move. Enthusiastically recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 27 – Fantasies, paraphrases and transcriptions of National Songs
Tempo giusto  [1'30]
Animato  [0'46]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Liszt’s cosmopolitan and gregarious social bearing ensured that, apart from one or two early scandalous moments, he was accepted and honoured in all of the countries in which he travelled and lived. So, although he was unutterably proud of being Hungarian, he was not particularly viewed as a foreigner anywhere. The Germans referred to him as Franz, to the French he was always known as François, to the Hungarians as Ferenc, to the Italians as Francesco, and to the Vatican, in strict accordance with his birth register, as Franciscus. However, in England, for some xenophobic reason no doubt, he was never called Francis. (And yet English publishers were very keen to promote the works of one John S Bach for years.) The first editions of his works bear all of these names in a bewildering variety of spellings. (Liszt himself always signed his name as ‘FL’ or ‘FLiszt’—without punctuation, even in letters to his children.)

In his years of travel Liszt was frequently obliged to improvise on themes suggested to him by members of his audience, and so, apart from popular operatic arias of the day, some of the most likely requests were national favourites, if not indeed the very anthems, of the country in which he found himself. Unfortunately, not all of these improvisations came to be notated and published, although there is always the possibility that more will turn up (there are persistent rumours about a piece based on ‘Rule, Britannia’, for example). The pieces in the present collection are by no means the whole of Liszt’s surviving production in this field. The Hungarian pieces form a literature of their own, and various French, German, Swiss, Spanish and Russian melodies appear in other volumes in this project—but they do include all the actual national anthem paraphrases. (Apart from odd ‘Album Leaves’, the other works of this kind not included in the present programme are the Five Hungarian Folk Songs and A Puszta Keserve (recorded in Vol 12), Faribolo pastour, Chanson du Béarn, Fantaisie romantique sur deux mélodies suisses and other Swiss pieces (in Vol 20), the Magyar Dalok and Magyar Rapszódiák (Vol 29), the Rapsodies hongroises, the Chanson bohémienne, the Gaudeamus igitur pieces and the Spanish works.)

Liszt’s Szózat und Ungarischer Hymnus combines and elaborates upon two distinct works by different composers—Szózat (‘Appeal’) by Béni Egressy (1814– 1851) and the Hungarian National Anthem by Ferenc Erkel (1810–1893). The piece is strongly bound up with Liszt’s desire in the 1870s to spend a good deal of time in his native country, and is dedicated to Gyula Andrássy, the statesman who helped Liszt to a small degree of security in Hungary with a stipend and the rank of royal counsellor. The work, which was also issued for orchestra and for piano duet, consists of an introduction, Egressy’s melody, a variation upon it, a bridge and then Erkel’s theme, again with a variation, and the triumphant return of the Szózat. The coda recalls the anthem over bass tremolos, and the score is superscribed ‘Ein tausendjährig Leiden fleht um Leben oder Tod!’ (‘A millenium of suffering pleads for life or death!’). The musical connection between the two melodies is finally made very clear as the rising fourth of the anthem yields to the falling fourth of the Szózat in conclusion.

The paraphrase on God Save the Queen was written for Liszt’s second British tour. He had first toured as a teenage prodigy, billed as ‘Young Master Liszt’, and would return once again in the last year of his life as a grand and respected figure who would swap yarns with Queen Victoria about their first encounter some 46 years previously. The 1840/41 tour was a gruelling exercise which encompassed far too many venues, desperately mixed bills of fare, and some fairly dreadful pianos, much of which is amusingly recounted in John Orlando Parry’s diaries. Liszt’s general critical reception was rather lukewarm, and his repertoire, whilst ideal for travelling vaudevillians, was no help to his long-term serious reputation. To modern audiences, his ramble on the national anthem is a bit of fun, but of slight merit—although there is a clever hint at ‘Rule, Britannia’ in the coda and one or two striking harmonic effects.

The origins of the Canzone napolitana remain a mystery to the present writer. It seems that the tune is not a folksong, and it clearly has the air of a composed salon piece of some kind. Liszt was not in Italy in the year of its composition, although he had certainly been to Naples earlier and at length, and there are no clues to the work’s provenance in the published correspondence. However, the music is staightforward enough, and delicately laid out for the piano in F sharp major. For some reason, Liszt almost immediately reissued the piece transposed to F major with a few small alterations—especially at the end—under the subtitle ‘Notturno pour piano’ and the description ‘Edition nouvelle. Arrangement élégant’. Both versions are recorded here.

Those familiar with the Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody will have no difficulty in recognising the materials of the three Ungarische Nationalmelodien. In fact, much of the content of these three pieces had appeared already in the collection Magyar Dalok—the first part of Liszt’s first cycle of pieces based on Hungarian and gypsy music—in No 5 (to which Liszt added a short introduction and a coda), No 4 (which was reprinted unchanged) and the second part of No 11 (with a new Prélude and a coda, neither of which recurs in the Sixth Rhapsody).

Liszt apparently believed the Hussite hymn upon which the Hussitenlied is based to be of rather more ancient origin than it transpires to be. Noting that the melody is by Josef Theodor Krov (1797–1859) we may dispense with Liszt’s continuation of the title as ‘aus dem 15. Jahrhundert’. English audiences and film buffs will possibly recognize the tune readily enough, since it served Balfe so well in The Bohemian Girl and transferred to the silver screen in the unlikely hands of Laurel and Hardy. Krov wrote the tune as a drinking song, but in no time it became a patriotic Bohemian anthem. Liszt was not alone in believing it to be a Hussite chorale, and wrote his excellent elaboration of it for his first concert tour to Prague in 1840, where it won all hearts. Liszt begins with what he terms a ‘Version littérale’, which in the first edition is printed in small text and may apparently be omitted. But it makes a fine introduction to the fantasy proper, and is included here.

The jury is still out on the question of whether the influence of the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein upon Liszt was, as Sellars and Yeatman would put it, a ‘Good or a Bad Thing’. She was, at any rate, the dominant woman in the last forty years of Liszt’s life, and, whilst being responsible for almost all his social and domestic difficulties over that time, was also the one who won him to permanent and serious composition from the life of the travelling virtuoso who composed as best and as often as he was able. Liszt met Carolyne in Kiev in February 1847, and in the October of that year stayed with her at her estate in the Ukraine, Woronince. His Glanes de Woronince (‘Gleanings from Woronince’) is frequently described as some kind of preservation of local folk melodies which Liszt heard on this estate for the first time. Since we know that the second piece is supposedly Polish and that there is a good chance that the melodies in it were not new to Liszt, and since we know that Liszt heard the melody of the third piece sung by a blind girl busking with her grandfather in Kiev, much of this argument falls away. It seems much more likely that it was the very piano pieces which were gleaned from the stay at Woronince, in the case of the third the recollection of a public improvisation already given in Kiev, and the second piece is surely a specific homage to the Polish nationality of the princess.

The original Ukrainian song behind the first piece is a complicated tale of jealousy and revenge. Paraphrasing Roman Sawycky’s 1984 article on the song in the second volume of his Liszt biography, Alan Walker gives its title as ‘Hyrts, do not go to the party tonight’ and describes the warning of a woman who refuses to share her lover with another, and the four days entailed in her preparations to murder him with poisoned herbs, gathered on Sunday, prepared on Monday, administered on Tuesday, with the desired effect on the Wednesday. Liszt’s beautiful setting of the tune distances itself from any sense of violence or outrage—probably because he was not conversant with the text. The second piece contains two melodies, one familiar from Chopin’s song Z.yczenie—usually known as Mädchens Wünsch (‘The Maiden's Wish’)—well known in Liszt’s piano transcription (recorded in Vol 5 of the present series), and the other present in a separate unpublished Liszt piano piece and in the Liszt Duo-Sonata for violin and piano. It simply cannot be established that Liszt first heard either of these tunes at Woronince—and it seems unlikely that the local Ukrainian peasants would be singing foreign folksongs. (Alan Walker’s claim that the early violin and piano sonata must post-date the Glanes because Liszt could not have known one of its melodies before 1847 is a bit thin.) With the variations which comprise the third piece (which is no more a dumka than the first is) it seems again that Liszt did not know the actual text of the song, which transpires to have been a composed and published work (by one Ivan Kotliarevsky (1769–1838), according to Walker) rather than a folksong. Whatever their ethnic origins, the melodies are woven into one of Liszt’s most charming and unaccountably neglected collections.

At the age of eighteen Liszt intended to use the theme of La Marseillaise in his projected Revolutionary Symphony; during his Weimar years a phrase from it is used to startling effect in perhaps the finest of his symphonic poems, Heroďde-Funčbre, but it was only in his post-Weimar period that Liszt finally produced a work which gives the theme its full due. This piano version, with its daring harmonies and heartfelt enthusiasm, stands comfortable comparison with the version for chorus and orchestra made by Berlioz.

Vive Henri IV is an arrangement of a French folksong, perhaps as familiar from the closing scene of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty as anywhere, but the reason for its existence is unknown. All that survives is a fair copy in a copyist’s hand with some annotations by Liszt (his original MS is missing, and the dating is conjectural) from which the Liszt Society first published the piece in 1977.

The present writer remains unconvinced about the conjectural date placed on La cloche sonne by Jack Werner in the first edition of 1958. This very simple setting of a French folksong just 29 bars long seems more redolent of the later Liszt world than it does of his early years in Weimar.

The great Liszt scholar Maria Eckhardt has expounded at length and with great lucidity the complicated relationship between Liszt and the theme of the Rákóczi March in her exemplary study Liszt’s Music Manuscripts in the National Széchenyi Library, to which the reader is earnestly commended. For our present purposes suffice it to say that of all Liszt’s complete surviving versions of this work there are no fewer than seven for piano, all of which will appear in this series in due season. The present version, the first to survive, was not printed at the time of its composition because of Austrian censorship, and was first printed with an article by Dr Eckhardt in 1975 and appeared in Vol I/18 of the splendid Neue Liszt-Ausgabe ten years later. The version, harmonically and texturally quite different from all the others (compare, for example, the well-known Fifteenth Hungarian Rhapsody), created a sensation when Liszt first toured with it in Hungary in 1839/40.

Leslie Howard © 1994


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