The student song Gaudeamus igitur
has long been associated with graduations and other academic festivals, and Liszt also used it in the music for the dramatic dialogue Vor hundert Jahren
(mistakenly entered in most Liszt catalogues as a melodrama, but, in fact, a theatrical work) as well as in the present pieces. The Gaudeamus igitur—Paraphrase
(or Gaudeamus! Chanson des étudiants
as the Schlesinger edition gives the title) was composed for we know not what occasion, but is one of Liszt’s typically extrovert paraphrases on such material and, although quite entertaining in its dare-devilry, is scarcely a masterpiece—indeed, the extra melodic appendage which the theme acquires in midstream is numbingly banal, but fortunately funny. There is a certain amount of imagination in between a very clumping fugato and bold Hungarianisms, along with treacherous double-note glissandi and other tricks of the virtuoso’s trade. The later work on the same theme, Gaudeamus igitur—Humoreske
, is actually a lot less humorous than its precursor: commissioned for the centenary of the Jena Academy Concerts of 1870, Liszt used and recast elements of the early piece in a larger work for orchestra, with optional male or mixed chorus. He also prepared versions for piano duet and for solo piano. As ever, in the solo piano version, he made many alterations to the texture to make the final result much more than a literal transcription. The fugato is much improved, the appendage to the theme is expunged, and there is an excellent contrasting slower section derived from the end of the theme. The piece ranges much further in tonality—the Hungarian variation is more imposing in A major than it was in C major—and the whole work, whilst still festive, is much more a product of Liszt’s later years.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996