Ihr Glocken von Marling S328 [2'35]
This second volume of Hyperion’s newest Lieder series features the great dramatic and musical gifts of mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager. Internationally renowned on the opera stage, the concert hall and the recording studio, Kirchschlager is an ideal performer of these most varied, complex and emotionally charged songs. She is accompanied by the multi-Gramophone Award-winning Julius Drake, who curates the series.
The songs recorded here encompass thirty years of Liszt’s life, with texts in German, French and Italian, and contain many examples of the hidden beauties of this undervalued and little-known strand of the composer’s works.
Detailed and informative notes by Susan Youens and a beautifully intimate recorded sound complete a volume which will be indispensable to any lovers of Lieder.
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The songs in volume 2 of Hyperion’s series of the complete songs of Franz Liszt span more than thirty years of the composer’s life, from the mid-1840s when Liszt was still in his ‘Glanzzeit’ (‘time of brilliance’, or his younger years as a virtuoso performer) to an old age saddened by losses and difficulties. From start to finish, however, Liszt’s songs display certain consistent concerns, including his trademark harmonic and tonal experimentation; his was an ongoing quest to imagine the future of music. He seems never to have regarded any setting of a poem as final and was more given to revision and re-composition than any other nineteenth-century song composer except Schubert. Dramatically different versions of a Goethe-Liszt song bracket this recording and make apparent the Pilgrim’s Progress from extroverted, lengthy and rich musical tendencies in earlier years to greater economy, austerity and inwardness in later life. Born in a German-speaking area of Hungary in 1811, he and his family departed for Paris in 1823, and he adopted French, German, Hungarian and Italian identities at different times in his life and to varying degrees. That extraordinary cosmopolitanism is reflected in his choices of song texts in six languages (three are represented here: French, German and Italian), ranging from the occasional amateur poem by those in his exalted aristocratic circles to the ‘greats’ of European poetry. These songs, in their subtlety and complexity, widen our understanding of a composer who can never again be pigeonholed or dismissed as ‘half gypsy, half priest’.
The manuscript for Goethe’s ‘Wandrers Nachtlied I’, or Der du von dem Himmel bist, records that it was conceived ‘On the Ettersberg hillside. 12 February 1776’. The poem begins with a series of subordinate clauses, an acclamation that takes time to reach the heart of the matter: the persona’s plea to be done with Faustian striving and find peace. The linguistic solecism whereby ‘pain and joy’ are bound together by a masculine article, despite the feminine gender of the second noun, affirms that pleasure and pain are opposite poles of the same thing—the human condition? Liszt, who knew what it was to pray for the soul’s peace, created four settings of this poem between 1842 and 1870 (the fourth version is incomplete); typically, the first version is the longest, beginning with a brooding introduction in the piano before the singer enters with a quiet prayer. Thereafter, we alternate between invocations of ‘sweet peace’ and tonal convulsions of anguish (‘I am weary of this restlessness!’) in which the persona repeats the words of this brief poem over and over. The urgency of this plea cannot be doubted.
Marling is a village in the South Tyrol (the northernmost part of Italy, bordered by Austria to the east and north) where the Viennese poet Emil Kuh, a friend and biographer of the greater writer Friedrich Hebbel, spent the last years of his life. For Liszt, who had taken minor orders in the Catholic Church in 1865, the poetic persona’s invocation of the church bell’s ‘sacred song’ inspired one of his most beautiful late lieder, Ihr Glocken von Marling. Here, the overtone series of church bells, the way in which their pulsating tones fill the air, become non-resolving seventh and ninth chords in a beautifully lyrical manifestation of Liszt’s tonal sophistication.
The friendship between Liszt and the prickly genius Heinrich Heine was largely over by the time the first version of Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam was created, but even so Liszt could recognize the invitations to music in Heine’s unique poetic voice. Heine finds a memorable image for the fascination of German poets (fir trees in frozen climes) with exoticism (the palm tree on burning southern sands)—what a clever variation on the mountaintop perspective and the theme of the distant beloved prevalent in Romanticism. In Liszt’s first setting of this popular poem we hear brooding darkness and chromatic profundity enveloping the fir tree, while the brief idyllic dream of exotic objects of desire begins with the repeated treble chords that often signal Lisztian dreaming—or heavenly realms. Perhaps the most striking difference between this first setting and its much later revision is in the endings; this version ends by recalling the close of Schubert’s Heine song Ihr Bild (similar loud dynamics, similar descending bass line, similar final major chord). The bar of silence before the ending is another Schubertian touch.
Vergiftet sind meine Lieder is one of Liszt’s greatest songs. Liszt was perhaps the first composer to discover the fifty-first poem in Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo for song; other nineteenth-century musicians steered clear of the Vesuvian compound of accusation, vulnerability, helplessness, lamentation, even fear, in these words. In one reading, Heine’s poem tells of his lifelong dilemma as a post-Romantic poet caught between the Ideal and the Real: the ‘Geliebte’ could be both the Romantic muse, or the Ideal, who has poisoned his art of real life, and the Real who poisons the Ideal. Liszt may have seen in this poem a reflection of his disintegrating relationship with Marie d’Agoult, which ended the same year of 1844 in which he first composed this song. His music is organized by repetitions of the initial theme both with and without words, a mini-rondo of obsessive grief. When he designates ‘du’, ‘you’, as the beloved, housed in his heart along with Medusa-like serpents, we hear one of the most shattering dissonances in all nineteenth-century music.
‘Clärchens Lied’, or Freudvoll und leidvoll, comes from Act 3 of Goethe’s drama Egmont; this famous poem-for-music had already been turned into song by Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Friedrich Zelter, Beethoven and Schubert before Liszt first set it to music in 1844—a lengthy version with a lavish introduction, which he revised in 1849. (This revised version, heard here, was published in 1860; Liszt also composed an entirely different setting, which was published in 1848, the same year as the first version of the first setting.) The title’s contrast between joy and sorrow becomes, by musical metamorphosis, gently swinging motion between major and minor harmonies; the final two chords of the song are the last summation of these two poles. The younger Liszt made ‘Himmelhoch jauchzend’ a matter of heaven-storming richness, but the older composer pares down the exuberance considerably. Angelika Kirchschlager sings this version of Freudvoll und leidvoll in the mezzo-friendly key of E major, following an edition that circulated widely in the years following Liszt’s death. There are some minor differences in the vocal line and the piano-writing between this and the version in A flat major, and the latter will follow later in the series.
The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Hungarian style known as verbunkos, born of military recruiting music and closely associated with the virtuosity of Hungarian gypsy bands, is on display in Die drei Zigeuner, complete with bokázó figures (clicking of heels), hallgató (free melodies without words), garlands of triplet rhythms, the so-called ‘gypsy scale’, and alternating slow and lively tempi. No wonder Liszt was drawn to this poem: its poet, Nikolaus Lenau (born Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau in what was then Hungary and is now part of Romania) created three musician-personæ whose instruments—fiddle, pipes and cimbalom—Liszt mimics brilliantly in the piano. In a letter to Carolyne on 27 May 1860, Liszt wrote: ‘In addition, the whim suddenly took me, without rhyme or reason, to set Lenau’s Zigeuner—and at the piano I quickly found the whole outline’; he finished it on 17 June.
It may be a cliché to say that Goethe’s ‘Wandrers Nachtlied II’, or Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh’, is one of the greatest masterpieces of German verse—but it is. Written on 6 September 1780 on the wall of a wooden hut at the peak of the Kickelhahn mountain near Ilmenau, it begins by evoking the onset of night and then transforms ‘evening’ into the imminent end of life. In the quiet chords whose roots descend by thirds in the piano at the beginning of Liszt’s second version, we hear musical peace descend on the landscape. In the repetitions of the poet’s final lines, we hear a crescendo of longing, urgency, and perhaps a touch of fearfulness that cedes to the invocation of ultimate peace, bringing back the harmonies of the beginning on a higher plane.
Alfred de Musset’s La confession d’un enfant du siècle (1836) and his 1840 sonnet ‘Tristesse’ or ‘Sadness’—Liszt’s text for J’ai perdu ma force et ma vie—define the so-called ‘mal du siècle’, a compound of ennui, melancholy, apathy, and distaste for life. In a letter of condolence to the wife of Alexei Tolstoy (second cousin to Leo Tolstoy) in 1875, Liszt quoted the closing lines of Musset’s poem, in which life is summed up as weeping. Chromatically clouded, dramatic-emphatic ‘sighing figures’ fill the piano introduction before the singer enters with an unaccompanied, recitative-like passage, typical of Liszt’s late songs. This work is also emblematic of Liszt in its interior ‘ethereal’ treble passage evoking the eternal and its exploration of tonal ambivalence: we end in mid-air.
One of Liszt’s most dramatic late songs is his setting of Alexandre Dumas père’s scene Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, one of many works inspired by Joan of Arc’s hideous death at the age of nineteen. The peasant girl from eastern France whose victories in battle made possible the coronation of Charles VII did not become an official Catholic saint until 1920, but she was a significant figure in European culture long before then (Friedrich Schiller’s play The Maid of Orléans is one example). Liszt had hoped to persuade first Dumas, then Gérard de Nerval, to create a Faust libretto for him, but had to settle for this shorter nugget of dramatic verse on a different subject. His music exists in several different versions, three for voice and piano, beginning in 1846 and concluding three decades later. In this final revision the song begins in slow, agonized uncertainty and then progresses to a beautifully transparent prayer whose invocation of God’s spirit (‘Votre Esprit’) impels one of Liszt’s signature arresting harmonic shifts. We hear flickering flames in the piano and rising passages as she ascends to the funeral pyre, this in turn followed by another tender prayer whose intermittent triplet figures in the left hand foreshadow the clarion trumpet calls to hold the banner of France as she goes to her death. Liszt ends this dramatic scene not with bombast but with music that tells of the saint’s ascension into heaven.
‘The time has come for me (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita [Midway through the journey of life]—thirty-five years old!) to break out of my virtuoso’s chrysalis and allow my thoughts unfettered flight’, Liszt wrote, paraphrasing Dante’s Virgil, as he prepared to walk away from one of the most glittering concert careers in the history of music and move to Weimar—Goethe’s city—where he settled in 1848. For any Goethe-loving song composer, Faust was an inevitable source of inspiration, especially when its characters sing. In the eighth scene (entitled ‘Evening’) of Part I, the village girl Gretchen sings Es war ein König in Thule just before she discovers the casket of jewels that Faust and the diabolical Mephistopheles have left for her. ‘Ultima Thule’ was the legendary name for the ends of the earth, and this tiny ballad tells of a king faithful to his beloved beyond her death. Schubert had earlier told this tale in a pseudo-antique, starkly skeletal song (D367). Liszt’s second version, by contrast, tracks every twist and turn of the story in episodic ballad manner, complete with wistful reminiscences of folksong-like melody for the singer (although accompanied by progressive harmonies), pomp and circumstance for the king’s last banquet with his knights, and a dramatic descent into a watery grave.
Liszt shunned song cycles but would on occasion group two or three songs on texts by the same poet. One example is the Muttergottes-Sträusslein zum Mai-Monate by the Aachen poet Joseph Müller, based on the medieval tradition of the ‘Mary Garden’ planted with flowers symbolic of the Virgin’s qualities. In a letter to Carolyne on 22 May 1857, Liszt recounted Müller’s gift of ‘a small miscellany of Catholic poetry’, and on 2 August he announced his intention of setting two poems ‘which will have the simplicity of the rosary’: ‘Das Veilchen’ (‘The violet’, ‘Our Lady’s Modesty’) and ‘Die Schlüsselblumen’ (‘The cowslips’, ‘Our Lady’s Keys’, symbolic of ‘winning grace’). In ‘Das Veilchen’ Liszt directs the singer to sing half-voice and indicates that a harmonium can be used in place of a piano. The ultra-Romantic progression of harmonies that rise by the interval of a third appears in the interior of each stanza. ‘Winning grace’ is evident in the piano introduction of ‘Die Schlüsselblumen’, linked in various harmonic ways to the song of the violet.
Scattered amidst the settings of great poets in the roster of Liszt’s songs are those to texts by contemporaries now largely unknown. Und sprich sets a small poem by Rüdiger von Biegeleben, son of the diplomat Baron Ludwig von Biegeleben, a statesman who opposed Otto Bismarck and advocated for Austrian leadership in the German Confederation. Here, the poetic persona exhorts someone—his or her own inner self?—to look at the play of light and shadow on the sea and draw lessons about sorrow, fortune and God from the sight. This meditative setting from the mid-1870s is a perfect example of the late Liszt’s exercises in economy without ever sacrificing his lifelong genius at creating arresting harmonic progressions. The accompaniment is shot through with silences that allow the singer’s sacral admonitions to come through clearly.
Ihr Auge (‘Nimm einen Strahl der Sonne’) is a brief, passionate outcry of a song. The combined illumination of Nature’s brightest lights—the sun, the evening star, the glowing lava from Mount Etna—cannot equal the light of the beloved’s eyes, which can warm and illuminate but also destroy the lover’s soul. The gasping urgency in the piano figuration at the beginning, the brief enharmonic shift to distinguish ‘inner life’ from external Nature, and an ‘ending’ that sounds remarkably un-final: these are recurring Lisztian hallmarks. This much passion, Liszt tells us, has an afterlife beyond the final bar.
Where Robert Schumann drew on the idea of reflections in the water for his setting of Heinrich Heine’s Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, in the song cycle Dichterliebe, Op 48, Liszt paints rippling waters and the fluttering of angels’ wings. In the revised version recorded here—the first version is on Volume 1—the waters flow in gentler, less virtuosic manner; one notes again the chiming chords in the treble register indicative of Liszt’s ‘ethereal’ or ‘angelic’ strain of music. Poem and song were born of one of the great building projects of the nineteenth century: the completion of Cologne Cathedral (officially the Hohe Domkirche St Peter und Maria), begun in 1248 but left unfinished in the early sixteenth century. In 1814 the future Prussian monarch Friedrich Wilhelm IV first resolved to see to its completion, and the actual building began in 1842, two years after he assumed the throne. For a time both Liszt and Heine were involved in fundraising efforts for the cathedral, the deeply Catholic Liszt more so than the poet. The image of the Virgin in this song refers to a famous panel on a retable altarpiece painted by the late Gothic painter Stephan Lochner in the 1440s.
Es muss ein Wunderbares sein is one of Liszt’s most popular songs, given its merger of sophisticated harmonies and its spare texture, devoid of pyrotechnics. The Bavarian poet Oscar von Redwitz-Schmölz became famous in his twenties for his sentimental epic Amaranth from which the Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (later Queen of Prussia and German Empress) extracted two stanzas in July 1852 for Liszt to set to music. Fifteen years later, in 1867, Liszt met Redwitz-Schmölz and wrote to Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein (1819–1887, the most important woman in Liszt’s life from the time of their meeting in 1847 to his death) to say: ‘His person pleases me more than I would have expected. One generally imagines him wholly steeped in piety—with lowered eyes and a timid manner of speaking, intermingled with sighs! Not he!’ The penultimate harmony on ‘sagen’ is a final touch of chromatic expressivity in this small gem.
La perla was probably composed in homage to the noblewoman who wrote the poem: Thérèse von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg (1817–1895), who was a cousin of Princess Marie von Sayn-Wittgenstein (the daughter of Liszt’s mistress Carolyne by her estranged Russian husband) and the mother of Rilke’s later patroness Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis. Thérèse and Liszt had encountered one another in Rome, and Liszt visited the Hohenlohe villa in Duino in 1867–8. In this poem she endows a pearl with a persona and a history, from its birth in a mussel shell to its brutal removal from its oceanic home and its subsequent slavery in adornment for the rich: the rape of Nature to satisfy human vanity. In the postlude of this extended dramatic song we hear a grief-stricken, chromatic transformation of the placid sea-music at the start.
At the end of this recording, we hear what happened when Liszt revisited an earlier, more extravagant setting of Goethe’s Der du von dem Himmel bist. In this re-conceptualization later in life, what was extroverted earlier becomes a more inward experience. In the change of a single chord when the initial three harmonies of the introduction are repeated, we hear the proximity of ‘Schmerz’ and ‘Lust’, their kinship and their difference. We also hear Liszt’s occasional recourse to basso cantante, a ‘singing bass line’; both the piano and the singer pray for peace.
Susan Youens © 2012
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