No 1: Der Fischerknabe Es lächelt der See, er ladet zum Bade
No 2: Der Hirt Ihr Matten, lebt wohl
No 3: Der Alpenjäger Es donnern die Höh'n, es zittert der Steg
The first song, ‘Der Fischerknabe’, is Schiller’s variation on the German-speaking world’s Wasser-Mythos, or water-mythology, with nixies, sirens, and mermaids symbolizing the simultaneous allure and danger of female sexuality for men. Liszt begins with a lengthy water-music introduction for the piano and follows with a song whose enharmonic shifts, intricate pianistic textures, and huge range for both performers are echt early Liszt. The unnamed narrator who tells the tale ends by reporting the water-spirit’s words of triumph as she lures the lad into the water; her sinuous vocal melismas on the word ‘Ah’ at the climax seem like a new incarnation of Homer’s death-dealing sirens and their wordless songs.
With ‘Der Hirt’, Liszt sets a text that Robert Schumann would claim four years later as ‘Des Sennen Abschied’, Op 79 No 22 (from the Liederalbum für die Jugend, 1849). The two songs could not be more different. Liszt brings his genius for stylized word-painting—this is rather like a symphonic tone-poem but for voice and piano—to bear on Schiller’s poem in a manner unlike Schumann’s poignant, artfully simple song for children. Over and over, we hear a sophisticated version of the ‘ranz des vaches’, along with the cuckoo calling and distant thunder in the piano postlude as a corridor to ‘Der Alpenjäger’, one of Liszt’s most challenging songs. ‘Ma fin est mon commencement’: this is a true cycle that ends where it began, with a reminiscence of ‘Der Fischerknabe’ in the piano postlude.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2010