The St Francis Legends
are two of Liszt’s finest examples of conjuring up natural imagery at the keyboard, the first with its very delicate imitation of birdsong—of which we are given quite a feast before the sermon begins—and the second with its opportunity to describe a storm at sea. The first is inspired by the well-known story, as related in The Little Flowers of St Francis of Assisi
, when St Francis, marvelling at a multitude of birds in the trees by his path, breaks off his travels in order to preach to them. Liszt’s ‘other’ patron saint, St Francis of Paola, is not so famous, but his story provokes a stupendous musical response from Liszt, who kept a painting of the legend in his study for many years: a ferryman refused to carry the saint across the Straits of Messina, saying that saints ought to be able to walk on water. Improvising both raft and sail from his cloak and staff, St Francis crossed safely. Each of these legends quotes one of Liszt’s own choral pieces inspired by each saint: the first uses a theme from Cantico del Sol
, S4; the second a passage from An den heiligen Franziskus von Paula
, S28. The narrative background to the pieces in no way hampers Liszt from devising a very satisfying musical structure.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1988