No 01: Psallite – Altes Weihnachtslied
No 02: O heilige Nacht! – Weihnachtslied nach einer alten Weise
No 03: Die Hirten an der Krippe – In dulci iubilo
No 04: Adeste fideles – Gleichsam als Marsch der heiligen drei Könige
No 05: Scherzoso – Man zundet die Kerzen des Baumes an
No 06: Carillon
No 07: Schlummerlied
No 08: Altes provenzalisches Weihnachtslied
No 09: Abendglocken
No 10: Ehemals!
No 11: Ungarisch
No 12: Polnisch
Michael Praetorius (1571–1621) composed the choral work which provides the theme for Psallite, or, at least, the central section—Liszt provides a formal march-like introduction and coda, setting a processional air. O Heilige Nacht! is based on an old carol, and Liszt also produced a version of the piece for choir and organ. The melody of Die Hirten … is known to practically everyone, but Liszt’s delicate left-hand pastoral dactyls are one of his happiest inspirations. His treatment of what all English-speaking people will immediately recognize as O come, all ye faithful as a march for the three kings (which has no connection with the eponymous march in Liszt’s oratorio Christus) allows him to introduce some rather dramatic extensions to the well-known tune.
The fifth piece is one of very few scherzi that Liszt wrote—full of humour, and treacherously difficult as children’s pieces go! The double notes of Carillon—the first of two bell-pieces—are similarly unnerving, as is the unresolved ending. The seventh piece is worlds away from Liszt’s independent Berceuse. Here, a very simple melodic fragment with a rippling accompaniment makes several dreamlike excursions into strange harmonic territory before it drifts off into sleep. No 8 actually includes two old French carols, and makes another rather sophisticated little scherzo which leads us to the adult world of the last pieces.
The bells of the ninth piece invoke quiet recollection and, according to Humphrey Searle, the tenth piece—at once wistful and impassioned—is a nostalgic remembrance of the first meeting between Liszt and the Princess zu Sayn-Wittgenstein; the eleventh—a stirring march—a self-portrait, and the twelfth—an exuberant mazurka—a portrait of the Polish Princess. This may be so, although the present writer can find no primary source for Searle’s idea. It should be observed, though, that the Hungarian piece bears an extra dedication to Liszt’s friend, the composer Kornél Ábrányi, and that the extrovert gaiety of the final number belies everything that one has otherwise been lead to believe of the character of the Princess, who smoked cigars, wrote interminable tomes on obscure church problems, and probably never danced a step!
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1990