By around 1840 Liszt had already sent the first collection of piano pieces entitled Venezia e Napoli
to the printers, and a proof copy had been despatched, when he must have decided not to proceed with the publication—we know not why. In 1859 he revised the last two numbers of the set and inserted a short new piece to make up the second collection under this title, which was issued as a supplement to the Deuxième Année
and which has always been enormously popular. The original versions make very interesting listening, even though it might be argued that trills inside tenths make gondoliering difficult or that there are almost too many steps to the bar in this particular tarantella. The second piece is curious. Its two unrelated themes are probably folkish in origin, but are neither of them so sufficiently distinguished as to be identifiable, as far as the present writer is aware. The first piece is of a greater order altogether. Liszt may already have seen its orchestral possibilities when he withdrew it as a piano piece, and certainly all those who know the symphonic poem Tasso—Lamento e Trionfo
, which came to its final fruition in 1854, will have no trouble in recognizing this gondolier’s song. But the piano piece is imposing in itself and might well be performed independently of the other slighter pieces, charming though they be.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1992