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Hyperion Records

CDA67045 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 41 – The Recitations with piano
The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)
Freies Deutsches Hochstift / Frankfurter Goethe-Museum
CDA67045

Recording details: October 1995
St Martin's Church, Newbury, United Kingdom
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: September 1996
DISCID: 550E1505
Total duration: 59 minutes 52 seconds

'A real curiosity and a valuable one' (Gramophone)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 41 – The Recitations with piano

Solo Instrumental or Spoken Word? The genre of the melodrama finds little place amid modern cataloguing demands, yet was a particular favourite in the nineteenth century, with examples by Schubert and Richard Strauss, among many others. On this recording Liszt's five surviving such works cover a wide range of human emotion and experience: the despairing fidelity of Lenore which leads her to irreversible blasphemy; the fatal haunting of the once-fearless knight confronted by a ghostly monk; the dead King who remains faithful to his Sigrun even amid the delights of heaven; the widow wooed by a mysterious apparation; and Tolstoy's blind musician, too devoted to his song to care when he performs without the intended audience.

These ballads, recited in their original languages (three German, one each Hungarian and Russian—full texts and translations into English, French and, where applicable, German provided), are accompanied and adorned by Liszt's expressive piano parts, Der traurige Mönch being of particular interest as an early example of the true atonality which Liszt was not to develop upon for many years.

This latest volume in Leslie Howard's gargantuan survey of Liszt's piano music certainly stands out from the others.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The works recorded here are included in this series for the very good reason that the piano is the only musical instrument involved. It is, in any case, an excellent opportunity to rescue five strange and moving works from the dusty shelves to which they had been consigned for no better excuse than the form of the melodrama being out of fashion.

The drawing-room melodrama with instrumental accompaniment was quite a popular nineteenth-century form, having its antecedents in opera and Singspiel and its descendants in such works as Pierrot Lunaire and Peter and the Wolf. The recitation with piano was essayed by Schubert and Richard Strauss, among many others. Strauss’s accompanied version of Tennyson’s Enoch Arden probably takes the prize for the largest work in the genre, running for well over an hour in performance; Schubert’s one work, Abschied von der Erde, is included on Volume 26 of Graham Johnson’s series for Hyperion of the complete Schubert Lieder; and Liszt produced five of them. (A sixth, Der ewige Jude, to a text by Schubart, is mentioned in various lists of doubtful or lost works but we have been unable to trace it; the catalogues also list Vor hundert Jahren, S347, as a melodrama with orchestra but it is really a staged dramatic dialogue with a narrator, two characters and orchestra, and quotes several themes associated with other Liszt works or arrangements: the trio from the ‘March of the Three Kings’ from Christus, Gaudeamus igitur, the ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and Le mal du pays from the first of the Années de Pèlerinage).

Lenore was a very popular poem in its day, and inspired at least one monumental piece of music in Raff’s Fifth Symphony (excellently recorded some years ago by Bernard Herrmann). Liszt, whose work’s full title reads ‘Lenore – Ballade von Gottfried August Bürger mit melodramatischer Pianoforte-Begleitung zur Deklamation von F. L.’, does not approach such a scale, but he contributes quite a lot of music, sometimes in the briefest gestures, otherwise in longer through-composed sections. Some verses are spoken without music at all. Occasionally the music imitates the precise rhythm of a short poetic phrase, and from time to time one spoken phrase is exactly matched by one musical one. The musical language here is typical of the end of Liszt’s Weimar period, containing many characteristics which would not be out of place in one of the symphonic poems. The poetry of Bürger is perhaps not currently in favour, but the influence of Lenore upon succeeding German Romantics was prodigious.

Der traurige Mönch (Ballade von Nicolaus Lenau) (‘The Sad Monk’) is the first intimation that Liszt gives us of the direction of the music of his old age: much of this piece, which is famous to musicologists if not familiar to audiences, is built entirely on whole-tone scales and harmonies (this two years before the birth of Debussy), and its other harmonic vocabulary makes much unsettling use of the augmented triad. Although the final cadences give us something like a cadence into C minor, ending on a first inversion chord, this piece is truly atonal – something which Liszt would not approach again until his very late works – and provides an accompaniment which far outstrips Lenau’s poem in its intensity.

Unusually, Helges Treue (‘Helge’s Loyalty’) derives from another composer’s work: Felix Draeseke (1835-1913) composed a song to the ballad by Moritz, Graf von Strachwitz, and Liszt, who did much to encourage his pupil Draeseke’s work, adapted it as a recitation. For some reason Liszt’s piece remained unpublished until 1874 when his interest in melodrama returned. The music is fulsomely Romantic, and Liszt’s fingerprints are almost indistinguishable from the original once-famed student’s homage to his master’s style.

From the end of the 1860s until his death in 1886 Liszt maintained much closer relations with his native Hungary than he had managed to do during his years as a touring artist and his time as Kapellmeister at Weimar. He made sporadic attempts to master the Hungarian language, writing a few songs and a couple of choral works in that tongue. But his Hungarian was never to become fluent and it is not surprising that A holt költö szerelme (‘The Dead Poet’s Love’) emerges as Liszt’s best musical work to a Hungarian text. This famous poem by Mór Jókai refers to his friend the great Hungarian poet Sándor Petöfi (1823-1849) who disappeared, believed killed in battle, during the War of Independence which he had championed. Liszt used the slow march theme from his recitation for a piano piece in Petöfi’s memory (Dem Andenken Petöfis, later revised as Petöfi Sándor – see Volumes 11 and 12 of this series, respectively). Liszt issued this recitation with the text in Hungarian alongside a parallel poetic translation in German, which we include amongst the complete texts here given.

Liszt’s only song in Russian is a setting of Graf Alexey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Ne brani menya, moi drug, of 1866. Tolstoy’s much longer poem Slyepoi (‘The Blind Man’) was the text for Liszt’s last recitation and he later adapted the music as a solo piano piece in 1878 (see Volume 11 of this series). The poem itself runs to some thirty verses and Liszt leaves quite a number unaccompanied. But the music somehow seems to preserve its continuity, notwithstanding, as in each of these pieces when Liszt allows the poet centre stage. This last recitation also manages something which the others do not: a radiantly triumphant peroration. This work was first published with the original Russian text with a parallel poetic German translation (included here), although the version as printed in the old collected Liszt-Stiftung unaccountably omitted the Russian.

Leslie Howard © 1996


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