During his time at Weimar Liszt composed twelve symphonic poems which had an incalculable influence over the orchestral music of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After Weimar, Liszt no longer had an orchestra at his ready command, and that is at least one reason why his orchestral output is much slenderer in his final period. But at the time he was completing the Cantico
he was working on a thirteenth and final symphonic poem whose subject was From the Cradle to the Grave
, after a drawing by Mihály Zichy depicting three stages of existence: birth, the struggle for being, and death—the cradle of the life to come. Zichy’s actual title was Du berceau jusqu’au cercueil
(‘From the Cradle to the Coffin’), which would not have suited Liszt’s philosophical purpose at all. The outer sections have much in common with the composer’s late introspective keyboard works, whilst the strivings of the middle section hark back to the earlier symphonic poems. The first part is very similar to the separately published Wiegenlied
, and the final part combines themes from the previous two before disappearing in etherium. Unusually, Liszt drafted the work for piano, then arranged and amplified it for duet and for orchestra, and transferred later alterations back into the solo version. Equally unusually, he made very little effort to incorporate extra instrumental lines into the piano version but left them printed on an extra stave to be included at will. Such inclusion, as on the present recording, requires one or two small accommodations to be made in the main solo text, but to omit the extra voices would be to diminish a beautiful piece, especially as the fuller text is not unknown in its orchestral form.
from notes by Herbert Howells © 1993