Simon Barere – The complete HMV recordings 1934–1936
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No 1: Sposalizio
No 2: Il penseroso
No 3: Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa
No 4: Sonetto 47 del Petrarca
No 5: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
No 6: Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
No 7: Après une lecture du Dante 'Fantasia quasi Sonata'
Sposalizio was first written in 1838 or 1839, and the manuscript shows at least two levels of revision before the version finally published. (The only complete and performable earlier version will appear in Volume 48 of this series, along with the earlier versions of the Dante Sonata.) Liszt composed the work in homage to Raphael’s eponymous painting of the betrothal of Our Lady and St Joseph (which may be seen in the Brera Chapel in Milan). We know from Liszt’s later use of the second theme (G major, Lento) in the work for voices and organ called Zur Trauung (‘At the betrothal’) and otherwise catalogued as Ave Maria III that this melody honours Mary, but Liszt offers no further clues to the musical characterization. The uncanny presentiment in the closing phrases of Debussy’s First Arabesque has often been noted.
Michelangelo’s sculpture Il penseroso may be seen on the tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. The music is amongst the simplest and most stark of Liszt’s early mature works, and appears to have been incorporated as it was originally written in 1838/9. The work was later revised and extended to form the second of the Trois Odes funèbres: ‘La notte’ (in Volume 3), and both works bear Michelangelo’s quatrain:
Grato m’è il sonno, e più l’esser di sasso.
Mentre che il danno e la vergogna dura.
Non veder, non sentir m’è gran ventura
Però non mi destar, deh’—parla basso!
Sleep, nay, being made of rock,
makes me happy whilst harm and shame endure.
It is a great adventure neither to see nor to hear.
However, disturb me not, pray—lower your voice!
Of course, Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) was primarily a painter, but he was also an actor, a poet, a satirist and a musician. Nonetheless, the saucy little Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa is not his music, although the text may be by or about him. The work (originally for voice and basso continuo) is listed in The New Grove amongst the cantatas for solo voice of the once greatly celebrated Giovanni Battista Bononcini (1670–1747)—under the title of its opening line ‘Vado ben spesso’, and unaccountably described as unpublished. Liszt’s version, undated, but at any rate completed by 1849, ranks as one of his lightest and happiest numbers, and exemplifies a catholicity of taste which does not differentiate between wholly original music and music based upon existing source material. The original text is laid out above the music:
Vado ben spesso cangiando loco,
Ma non so mai cangiar desio.
Sempre l’istesso sarà il mio fuoco,
E sarò sempre l’istesso anch’io.
I very often go about to various places,
but I never know how to vary my desire.
My fire shall always remain unchanged,
and so (therefore) shall I.
In adapting the Tre Sonetti di Petrarca for their final piano versions Liszt changed the order from the first publication, reversing the first two, so that Sonetto 47 happily takes up the chord with which the Canzonetta finished. The long introduction to Sonetto 104 is replaced with a passage almost identical to that in the first published vocal setting. The three pieces are intense love-songs rich in passionate harmonies, and generous in their melodic flight, and they have long been amongst Liszt’s most beloved works. As was remarked in the notes to the earlier versions (in Volume 21), the sense of the poetry remains crucial to the understanding of the music, so Petrarch’s original sonnets are given here, with translations.
Just as there is inconsistency between the title page and music head titles of the sonnets—in one place ‘di’ and the other ‘del’ Petrarca—the work commonly called the ‘Dante Sonata’ is described both as ‘une lecture de’ on the title page and ‘une lecture du’ at the head of the music and in the amended title on the manuscript. The original title of the piece was Paralipomènes à la Divina Commedia—Fantaisie symphonique pour piano, and the first version (which is in two parts) is probably what Liszt first played in 1839. A first layer of revision in the principal manuscript may well belong to the second projected title Prolégomènes (still in two parts), and Liszt seems to have performed a version of this work under the title Fantasia quasi sonata (Prolégomènes zu Dantes Göttlicher Comödie). A further, much more extensive layer of revision carries the final title and one-movement structure, but a good many final corrections and alterations were made at the proof stage to produce the present work.
The principal manuscript with its revisions in Liszt’s hand is actually in a copyist’s hand and contains several errors which went uncorrected by Liszt through the various stages of revision. Problem bars include: 65 (first left-hand group may be incorrect—the second left-hand chord should perhaps have a B flat instead of an A); 102 (second harmony should surely have E sharp—MS has a (redundant) natural sign); 255 (first left-hand chord should probably have an F sharp instead of an E); 262–3 (almost certainly B flats and hence E flat major—otherwise the augmented triad is the only such chord in the work in all versions, and it is a chord to which Liszt normally grants particular importance in a musical structure—furthermore, this theme is always extended elsewhere by common triads); and 297 (the right hand should certainly have G sharps on the third crotchet, as in the earlier version—the lack of them in the rewriting, which otherwise preserves exactly the same progression, is clearly a slip of the pen). (All but the first of these problem passages are rendered according to these observations in the present performance.)
Many commentators have essayed a description of the particular reading of Dante which Liszt has chosen to represent, although he himself gave no specific clues. (The case of the Dante Symphony is quite another matter: each movement represents Liszt’s reaction to Inferno and Purgatorio, with a hint of Paradiso in the concluding Magnificat, and the musical text is laid out upon occasion to fit various quotations of Dante’s work.) Clearly, the diabolus in musica tritone—heard at the outset, and at all the important structural junctions—suggests Inferno, and suggestions have been made concerning the Francesca da Rimini episode. But calling the reprise of what amounts to the second subject (10 bars of ethereal tremolo at bar 290) a representation of Paradiso as some commentators have done is surely wide of the mark, and the piece as a whole is much less celestial or purgatorial than it is relentlessly infernal. Formally, the structure is a much tighter sonata-form than the epithet Fantasia might suggest, and the musical form outweighs any attempt there might have been to convey a poetic narrative rather than just a general reaction to Dante’s work.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1997