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Hyperion Records

CDA67101/2 - Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 42 – Liszt at the Opera IV
CDA67101/2

Recording details: August 1995
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason
Release date: November 1996
DISCID: 59126F07 7A116009
Total duration: 152 minutes 2 seconds

'A major revelation of nineteenth-century ideas and techniques. There is musical nourishment here as well as entertainment' (Gramophone)

'This new two-CD set is as fascinating as any and contains many recordings which are thought to be first, and which are probably the first performances at all for more than 100 years. A pair of discs to which I shall often return, marvelling at the brio that Leslie Howard unfailingly brings to this taxing music' (Classic CD)

'Obras brillantes, repletas de fuerza y apasionamiento, pero portadoras de un profundo sentido poético que ahora son interpretadas por un magistral Leslie Howard' (La Revista Integral)

The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 42 – Liszt at the Opera IV
CD1
CD2
Andante finale  [8'14]
Marsch  [7'55]

With this issue – No 42 in Leslie Howard's marathon traversal of Liszt's solo piano music – we join Liszt on his fourth 2-CD trip to the opera house to hear music familiar and unfamiliar by Mozart, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Auber, Raff and Wagner. Over half of the music (93 minutes of the total 152) has never been recorded before.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
This fourth offering from Liszt’s great collection of piano works based upon operas contains music from six decades of Liszt’s composing life—seven, if recent studies on the so-called Tyrolean Melody prove it to date from the 1820s, and even possibly to antedate Auber’s use of the tune in his opera La fiancée (the subject of Liszt’s first operatic fantasy of 1829). As with the previous programmes in this sub-series (Volumes 6, 17 and 30), it can be seen that Liszt has cast his net very widely, taking in operatic masterpieces which have endured to the present day in the repertoire, some operas which are granted honourable mentions in dispatches, and one or two which have sunk without trace, if not always deservedly so. As ever, the multiplicity of Liszt’s aims and techniques, and the sheer musical quality of his personal contribution—ranging from thoughtful literal transcription to almost wholly original works based upon external themes—is unparalleled in the literature.

The fantasy on themes from I Puritani, Réminiscences des Puritains, invites comparison with the better known Réminiscences de Norma in terms of its structure, although Liszt makes less attempt here to encapsulate the line of the drama, which is in any event not of the same quality. Rather, he absorbs and amplifies the character of the work, enriching the harmonic vocabulary and exploiting orchestral sonorities at the keyboard. Much of the martial music (but not ‘Suoni la tromba’, which is the basis for the Hexaméron variations—see Volume 10 of the present series—which was not in the original Paris version of Bellini’s opera) is used in the dramatic introduction and in transition passages, but the bulk of the work is constructed upon two themes: Arturo’s beautiful cavatina ‘A te, o cara’, and Elvira’s brilliant aria in the form of a polonaise ‘Son vergin vezzosa’. Bellini’s opera was produced in 1835 and Liszt’s fantasy appeared the following year. Unfortunately, the sheer size and difficulty of the fantasy have led to its neglect, and perhaps account for Liszt’s slightly simplified rewriting of the concluding Introduction et Polonaise of 1840, in which the rest of the fantasy is jettisoned. Certainly, for those interested in a short and effective concert piece, the shorter work is much more practical. Even so, it too is unaccountably passed over by most pianists today.

Perhaps it is a pity that Liszt never produced a large-scale fantasy on a Verdi opera; one can imagine that a work like Don Carlos might have provoked a response on the scale of the Meyerbeer and Bellini fantasies had chronology been otherwise. But it is clear that, as with his pieces based upon the operas of Wagner, he really wants to deliberate over a small amount of material, and so his Don Carlos transcription is confined to the opening of what is now best known as the second scene of Act III of the five-act version of Verdi’s mighty opera. (The complicated history of the structure of Verdi’s work would require several pages of explanation, but that is beyond the scope of the present description.) The title of the transcription is somewhat misleading: Verdi’s number is a single piece of music which juxtaposes a festive chorus of the people of Madrid in praise of King Philip II with a chorus of monks leading those condemned by the Inquisition to death by fire. Liszt’s arrangement is, if anything, more majestic than the original, to which it adheres quite faithfully.

Jérusalem, the French revision of Verdi’s fourth opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata, was produced in 1847, and Liszt made his elaboration of Giselda’s aria Salve Maria! the following year. This prayer appears in both versions of the opera, and was rightly recognized by Liszt as a high point in the score. His first transcription of the piece begins reverently enough, but allows the second verse to expand over florid arpeggios, giving a grand and fervent sweep to the whole. When Liszt revised the work towards the end of his life, his approach differed radically: the second verse takes on an ethereal quality, and many other subtle changes are made to ensure that the work emerges as a much more intimate and devout piece. Like the reissue of the transcription of the Agnus Dei from Verdi’s Requiem, the second version of Salve Maria (significantly without the exclamation mark) contains alternative passages for use with Ricordi’s piano avec la pédale à vibrations prolongées (piano with a tremolo pedal), a device which automatically arranged for all held notes to be repeated by means of a revolving drum which reactivated all the raised hammers—an instrument which Liszt cautiously recommended. Unfortunately there does not seem to be an example of this curious machine in sufficiently good order to allow for a recording.

No one could accuse the seventy-four-year-old Liszt of piling insurmountable difficulties into his second transcription of the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser (the early editions could not decide between ‘old’ or ‘young’ pilgrims, but Liszt specifies ‘old’), which strips the music to its barest essentials, but retains an adaptation of the coda which Liszt composed for his first transcription of Wagner’s piece—see Volume 17. (On both occasions, Liszt provides long and short versions of the coda, and the longer is recorded here.)

With some humility, Liszt chose Walther’s gentle song of the spring (in which he tells of his wish to become a Mastersinger) rather than any of the more obviously celebrated passages of this mighty score, but, having done so, he creates a piece of startling originality. The decorative figuration and melodic ornamentation in Am stillen Herd are entirely in keeping with Wagner, and yet his boldness of modulation (he manages to begin the second verse in B major rather than D major, but contrives to restore the original key before the end of the stanza) makes a more substantial and striking piece than Wagner made of it. Liszt extends and contracts in turn various passages of dialogue, and eventually bursts forth with an extra, freer, statement of most of the material, now beginning in D flat major, and moving through passages in E major, D major, and F major, before triumphantly reasserting D major as the only possible home key; he makes a splendid and dignified conclusion from the introductory motif.

Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia of 1833 was the basis for a concert fantasy which Liszt composed in 1840/1 (which will appear in the next instalment of ‘Liszt at the Opera’ in this series). Its musical material corresponds closely with the second part of the Réminiscences. In 1848 Liszt added his transcription of the second act trio—one of his busiest movements, so fulsome is his use of arpeggio and tremolo. He revised the second part, removing much of the development of the drinking song but improving its presentation, reinstating a short passage from Donizetti’s finale that had been previously overlooked, and inserting a brief reference to the theme of the trio just before the finale. The whole two-movement work emerges as one of Liszt’s largest fantasies. In the first part Liszt makes a great deal of the figure heard at the outset, and he works it into the texture at every opportunity, sometimes at considerable hazard to the performer. The memorable duet of the second part is surrounded by the unbridled liberties of the orgiastic drinking-song. There is much imitation of the possession of three hands, both in the duet and in the martial finale where Liszt’s main text of triplet scales in thirds and sixths is preferable to the ossia welter of glissandos.

Liszt’s Meyerbeer fantasies occupy an important place amongst his operatic piano works, and happily force us to reconsider the general case for Meyerbeer’s music. Les Huguenots has been successfully revived on the stage several times in the late twentieth century but, like the revivals of Le Prophète and L’Africaine, this has usually been as a vehicle for the art of particular singers rather than an act of homage to Meyerbeer himself, and much cavalier criticism of the music has been made. Meyerbeer, who held the Paris stage unopposed for decades and who was gladly or grudgingly admired by all his contemporaries, Chopin, Rossini, Berlioz, and Wagner included, deserves rather more than that. At his best, Meyerbeer is thoroughly original in his turn of melodic phrase and in his harmonic language, and his dramaturgy is excellent. This originality is clear even when viewed through the prism of a Liszt fantasy, where Liszt’s imagination also catches fire from such fine material. Liszt’s Huguenots fantasy was first completed in 1836, and published the following year. The original conception was enormous and ran something over twenty minutes in performance (this version will appear in ‘Liszt at the Opera’ V). Shortly afterwards, Liszt published an intermediate version which was shortened by one large cut, but for the reissue in 1842 he prepared a new version using a copy of the first edition to make changes. The tightening consists of the elimination of the Andante from the Raoul/Valentine duet and the Chorus of the Assassins from the finale, and the references to Luther’s hymn Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (‘A mighty fortress is our God’) are reinforced by its use in the final bars. The fantasy is otherwise almost entirely based on material from the aforementioned duet but the novel structure of continuous variation is entirely Liszt’s own.

Joachim Raff (1822–1882) worked as Liszt’s secretary and amanuensis at Weimar for several years. (The presence of his handwriting in some of Liszt’s orchestral scores has led to much false speculation, some of which stemmed from Raff himself, as to how much, if any, input he had into the final texture of Liszt’s orchestration. A short period of study of Raff’s own orchestral music, some of which is very fine, and Liszt’s symphonic works makes it quite clear that Raff was working under instructions, and that their final sound-worlds are entirely different.) Raff completed his first opera König Alfred in 1850 and Liszt produced it in Weimar the following year. Liszt’s two transcriptions from the opera appeared two years later, but did not really produce the desired effect of promoting further productions of the opera (but Raff went on to have great success with his next opera Dame Kobold). The two excerpts which Liszt chose show at the very least the young Raff’s confidence, and the Andante is an intense and moving piece. The March is more conventional (and not dissimilar to the famous march from Raff’s Symphony No 5, ‘Lenore’), and allows Liszt—who suggests various alternative passages to avoid some of the four-square harmony of the original—to indulge in a little keyboard wizardry.

Liszt’s only work based upon Mozart’s Magic Flute, the Song of the Two Armed Men, comes from his later years, although his manuscript, at present in the Library of Congress, bears no title or date. We do not know the occasion for the transcription—it may have been intended more for private study than public performance, seizing as it does upon the most serious and learned passage in Mozart’s opera, where the two armed men sing what amounts to an operatic choral prelude in homage to Bach (on the choral Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh’ darein—‘O God, look down from Heaven’) as they lead Tamino to his initiation into Sarastro’s order. In order not to miss any of Mozart’s marvellous counterpoint, Liszt made his arrangement for piano duet. It is his only operatic duet which does not stem from a solo piece, and therefore it would be a pity not to include it in the present series. We are grateful to Philip Moore for his kind collaboration in this performance.

The little Tyrolean Melody is far too slight to merit being the subject of controversy, but nonetheless it is: many catalogues listed it as an arrangement of an Austrian folk-song, because of the title in the original publication, then by consensus moved it when it was revealed to be the same melody as the ‘Tyrolienne’ from Auber’s La Fiancée, a theme which features prominently in Liszt’s 1829 fantasy on that work. More recently it has been suggested that the theme was indeed a folk-song, and that Liszt and Auber came by it independently, and that Liszt may have written his piece on his first tour of England as a boy in 1826, rather than on his second tour in 1840/1.

The Tarentelle di bravura is certainly based on music by Auber (and also includes a further theme from the same work, which Liszt uses as a finale, and then combines with the tarantella), and was written for Marie Pleyel in 1846 (this version will appear in ‘Liszt at the Opera’ V). Apart from a later edition which cuts an optional variation the piece remained in its original form until 1869 when Liszt prepared a new version. The manuscript outlining the changes is in the Library of Congress under the title Veränderungen in der Tarantella aus der Stumme von Portici [für] Fräulein Sophie Menter and bears in Liszt’s hand the date ‘Rome, September 1869’. These alterations, mainly of texture but incorporating some extra passages and a few harmonic improvements, were published for the first time in a parallel-text edition by the present writer in the Liszt Society Journal in 1995. The piece itself is really an introduction, theme and variations, and finale, much more Liszt than Auber, and is full of the especial pleasure that such works produce when virtuoso pianistic invention is turned to subtle musical account, even in the context of a showpiece.

Discounting the first publication of Liszt’s Sonnambula fantasy, which differs from the second by having virtually no dynamics or performance indications, there are three versions of the work, which first appeared in 1839, and then shortly afterwards with a few alterations (these two versions will appear later in the series), and finally in 1874, with a German rather than the original French title. This last ignores the middle version and was clearly made by altering a copy of the 1839 version (all the errors missed in proof-reading are to be found in the passages which remain identical to both texts). Unusually in a late Liszt revision, the changes make the piece more rather than less difficult to perform. The work is constructed about five themes from Bellini’s opera, and really presents the drama in miniature by concentrating upon the principal story-line of the sleep-walking Amina who is presumed to be unfaithful to her betrothed Elvino, her rejection by him, her narrow escape from death by drowning whilst sleep-walking, her vindication, and the lovers’ reconciliation. Liszt captures the whole spirit of the piece in what amounts to a three-movements-in-one form whose last section, based on the triumphant ‘Ah! non giunge’, deftly draws all the elements together. It is altogether one of his best fantasies and long overdue for revival in the concert hall.

Leslie Howard © 1996


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Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 52 – Ungarischer Romanzero
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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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