‘Incredible One’ is only one of dozens of adulatory salutations to be found in Liszt’s letters to Wagner, and Liszt’s devotion to Wagner and his music is a very special case. The intertwining of their lives and works ought yet to be the subject of a much more thorough investigation than has been seen. Suffice it to say under the present heading that Liszt devoted his purse and his art to Wagner’s cause, and the Wagner transcriptions are the largest group of Liszt’s piano works on operatic themes. If we except introductions and codas, most of the pieces in the present collection are straightforward transcriptions of famous passages from the Wagner music-dramas, but it is the very essence of Liszt’s homage that we see in the introductions and codas, where he is able to offer a most personal reflection. In the Tannhäuser
pieces the codas supply endings which the opera avoids in the interest of continuity—and the coda to the song to the evening star is a gem. The Spinning Chorus from the Dutchman
is carried away on a web of fancy, whilst Senta’s Ballad goes to a resplendent affirmation. Strangely, Liszt wrote only one piece based on The Ring
, perhaps because his student Tausig had already done such a marvellous job with many famous passages of the score, restricting himself to the transition between the first two scenes of Rheingold
and Wotan’s ensuing hymn to the newly-built Valhalla. But Liszt looks ahead to the end of the opera and the appearance of the triumphal sword motif which heralds the coming of the new age of the Volsungs.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1992