was Wagner’s first success, but also the last opera he wrote where he did not control the synopsis and libretto completely. Liszt came to his piano work on the opera, Phantasiestück über Motive aus Rienzi
, rather later, and it is his only example of a real operatic fantasy on Wagner (his other Wagnerian homages are really closer to literal transcriptions). Much of the material will be familiar from the overture, but the opening motif of the fantasy, which gives the work its subtitle, ‘Santo spirito cavaliere’, is part of the finale to Act III (Wagner has the motif sung to these Italian words, although the published score has the grammar and spelling somewhat fractured), and the splendid theme of Rienzi’s Prayer
from Act V (also the main theme of the overture) follows. The dramatic contrast and impetus is then provided by the Call to Arms
from the beginning of Act I. The whole piece is an excellent musico-dramatic entity which might be seen as a character portrait of the opera’s hero.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1994