Liszt’s Meyerbeer fantasies occupy an important place amongst his operatic piano works, and happily force us to reconsider the general case for Meyerbeer’s music. Les Huguenots
has been successfully revived on the stage several times in the late twentieth century but, like the revivals of Le Prophète
, this has usually been as a vehicle for the art of particular singers rather than an act of homage to Meyerbeer himself, and much cavalier criticism of the music has been made. Meyerbeer, who held the Paris stage unopposed for decades and who was gladly or grudgingly admired by all his contemporaries, Chopin, Rossini, Berlioz, and Wagner included, deserves rather more than that. At his best, Meyerbeer is thoroughly original in his turn of melodic phrase and in his harmonic language, and his dramaturgy is excellent. This originality is clear even when viewed through the prism of a Liszt fantasy, where Liszt’s imagination also catches fire from such fine material. Liszt’s Huguenots
fantasy was first completed in 1836, and published the following year. The original conception was enormous and ran something over twenty minutes in performance. Shortly afterwards, Liszt published an intermediate version which was shortened by one large cut, but for the reissue in 1842 he prepared a new version using a copy of the first edition to make changes. The tightening consists of the elimination of the Andante from the Raoul/Valentine duet and the Chorus of the Assassins from the finale, and the references to Luther’s hymn Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott
(‘A mighty fortress is our God’) are reinforced by its use in the final bars. The fantasy is otherwise almost entirely based on material from the aforementioned duet but the novel structure of continuous variation is entirely Liszt’s own.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996