In August 1861 Franz Liszt left Weimar where, for the last thirteen years, he had been court conductor. After visits to Berlin and Paris he settled in Rome which was to be his home for the rest of his life. The Weimar years had been particularly productive ones for Liszt the composer and, in addition, as a conductor he had been tireless in promoting the music of others, particularly that of Wagner and Berlioz. The move to Rome was in part prompted by his wish to marry the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, his mistress for the past fourteen years, but the Pope’s last-minute decision not to allow an annulment of her meaningless existing marriage put paid to this plan. The disappointment of this, as well as the devastation caused by the death of his daughter Blandine, meant that he produced little of substance in 1862. The music he did write, including the Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
as well as the present work, evinces a troubled and brooding aspect showing a desire to search for a deeper sense of spirituality. The Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine
is akin to the operatic paraphrases for piano in that it takes other people’s music and reinterprets it in a thoroughly Lisztian way, although the writing here is obviously considerably more subdued than in those virtuosic essays. The music falls into four sections which metamorphose alternately the Miserere
of Allegri and the motet Ave verum corpus
by Mozart, both of which were in the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel Choir. The first and third sections, taking merely the essence of the Allegri, work it up into ever more tortured and searing climaxes and represent, in the composer’s words, ‘the misery and anguish of mankind’. This is contrasted with the second and fourth sections where, through the medium of Mozart’s exquisite motet ‘the infinite mercy and grace of God’ reveals itself in song.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2000