Three of Petrarch
’s cycle of sonnets hymning the poet’s love for the divine Laura occupied Liszt’s imagination over many decades. The best known of the works to result from this preoccupation is the second of the three piano pieces which bear Petrarch’s name in the Deuxième Année de pèlerinage
. The three sonnets were first set as songs for high voice and piano in 1838/9. (In fact they really call for a lyrical tenor who can fearlessly cope with the ossia passages and negotiate a high D flat—the present writer will never forget the impression these songs made when stupendously sung by Adrian Thompson at the Hugo Wolf Academy in Stuttgart.) The piano transcriptions, which reverse the order of the first and second songs, may have been made soon after, but at any rate were complete by 1846 and published in that year. The transcriptions were revised for the Deuxième Année
by 1855, and the songs were totally recomposed for low voice—and very miserable they became in tone—in 1861 (retaining the order of the piano versions). Since the later piano versions are familiar, the divergencies between these and the early piano versions will be readily audible, especially the long introduction to the second piece in the first version. But since, as with the Liebesträume
, the sense of the poetry remains crucial to the understanding of the music, Petrarch’s original sonnets are given here, with translations.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1992