No 1: Les morts: Oraison Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur
No 2: La notte
No 3: Le triomphe funèbre du Tasse
Les morts was prompted by the death of Liszt’s only son Daniel at the age of twenty, and is constructed about an orison by the Abbé Felicité de Lamennais (1782–1854): the end of each stanza of both poem and music has the refrain ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the grace of Lord’, and towards the end the psalm ‘De Profundis’, the ‘Te Deum’ and the ‘Sanctus’ are quoted. By following the structure of the poem, Liszt evolves a highly original musical form. The sung text presents the Latin version of these famous lines; Lammenais’ poem is written out throughout the score above the first violin line, possibly with view to recitation, but more likely with a view to assisting the conductor to achieve the appropriate expression. The rhythm of the words is clearly reflected by that of the music.
They have also passed over this earth; they have gone down the river of Time; their voices were heard on its banks, and then nothing more was heard. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
Whilst they were passing, a thousand vain shadows presented themselves to their sight; the world that Christ has cursed showed to them its grandeur, riches, voluptuousness; they saw it, and suddenly they only saw Eternity. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
Like a light from ahigh a cross in the distance appeared to guide their course; but all did not behold it. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
There were those that said: What is that stream that carries us away? Is there anything after this rapid voyage? We do not know, nobody knows. And as they said that, the laughing vanished. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
There were also those who seemed to hearken, in a profound meditation, to an inward word; and then, with eye fixed on the setting sun, they sang all at once of an invisible dawn and of a day that never ends. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
Swept away pell-mell, young and old, all disappeared like to the vessel chased by the storm.
One could sooner count the sands of the sea than the number of those that hastened to pass. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
Those that saw them have said that there was a great sadness in their hearts: anguish upheaved their chest, as if tired of the work of living, lifting their eyes to Heaven, they wept. Where are they? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
From the unknown places where the river loses itself two voices arise unceasingly: The one says: From the bottom of the abyss I have cried to Thee, Lord; Lord, listen to my wailing, lend ear to my prayer. If Thou searchest our iniquity, who will look well in Thy sight? But near Thee is mercy and unbounded redemption.
And the other: We praise Thee, O God! we bless Thee: holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Armies! The earth and the heavens are filled with Thy glory.
And we also, we shall go whence those wailings or those songs of triumph come. Where shall we be? Who will tell us? Happy the dead that die in the Lord!
Felicité de Lamennais (1782–1854) (English translation by J Köttgen)
La notte was composed upon the death after childbirth of Liszt’s elder daughter Blandine, but its roots lie much earlier: in the second book of the Années de pèlerinage there is a piece, Il penseroso, inspired by a statue of Michelangelo’s of the same name, sculpted for the tomb of Lorenzo de Medici in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. La notte develops this earlier work by composing a variation on it and inserting a very beautiful central episode whose opening phrase is overlaid with the words from Virgil’s Aeneid: ‘And dying he remembers fair Argos’—clearly motivated by Liszt’s own feeling that he would die far from his native Hungary, and the musical point is made by the wistful reminiscence of the Hungarian cadence so familiar to us from his Rhapsodies. The title was inspired by the poetic quatrain by Michelangelo which appears on his statue, and at the head of both Liszt works:
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!
I am happy for sleep, and more for being of stone.
For so long as injury and shame endure,
Not to see, not to hear are for me a great adventure.
Nevertheless, do not disturb me, eh!—speak low.
Le triomphe funèbre du Tasse is prefaced by a long quotation from Pierantonio Serassi’s account of Tasso’s funeral, at which all of those who had sought to vilify and persecute the poet during his lifetime turned up in their finery to lament his passing. Liszt certainly believed that his time too would not come until after his own death, and this piece can be seen as a self-portrait as much as it can a work honouring Tasso—the subject of an earlier symphonic poem first written as an overture to Goethe’s play Torquato Tasso. Although the Ode uses two themes from the symphonic poem it stands as a completely independent work, and like the other Odes is characterized by dignity and restraint, as well as extremely forward-looking chromaticism.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 2011