Liszt collected his Beethoven Goethe settings from two different sets of songs and from the incidental music to Egmont
, opus 84. These are imaginative transcriptions which depart from Beethoven’s text only to avoid fussiness or to supply variety with repeated verses—to excellent effect in the ‘Song of the Flea’. Mignon’s Song (from Wilhelm Meister
) has been set too often to require much introduction: ‘Do you know the land where the lemons blossom …’. ‘With a Painted Ribbon’ exploits the conceit of a ribbon of flowers and leaves in the wind contrasted against the bond of love. ‘Joyful and Sorrowful’ (—a text which, like ‘Mignon’s Song’, Liszt also set—is the second of Clara’s songs from Egmont
, telling that happiness can only come from love. ‘Once upon a time there was a King’—Mephistopheles’ ‘Song of the Flea’ from Faust
Part I—deserves to be as well known in Beethoven’s setting as it is in Musorgsky’s. ‘Bliss of Sadness’ extols the tears of eternal love, and ‘Strike the Drum’—Clara’s first song from Egmont
sings of her wish to be a man so that she could join her beloved in battle.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1991