No 1: Der nächtliche Zug
No 2: Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke 'Erster Mephisto-Walzer'
The Zwei Episoden aus Lenaus Faust were completed in their orchestral guise by 1861, but Liszt’s piano version of the Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke—Erster Mephisto-Walzer, which preceded the orchestral version, had already appeared. Liszt may have begun the composition as early as 1857. (The MS lacks ‘Erster’, but editions that have appeared since the composition of the other Mephisto waltzes have rightly seen fit to number the first of them.)
Der nächtliche Zug is a work of frightening solemnity—Faust confronted with the dark mysteries of life and death—and the outer sections are bleak and almost atonal. The two central sections are in gentle contrast, the first purgatorial in its yearning and tonal flux, the second quietly and eventually grandly confident in its singing of the plainsong—usually associated with Corpus Christi or Maundy Thursday—‘Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium’ (the hymn by St Thomas Aquinas, rendered in The New English Hymnal as ‘Of the glorious body telling, / O my tongue, its mysteries sing’). As many a commentator has observed, this is unquestionably one of Liszt’s finest works, and its neglect in performance of any of its versions is inexplicable, particularly in the light of the phenomenal success of its companion piece. It is especially rare to hear the fulfilment of Liszt’s conception: to have the pieces played as a pair—Mephisto’s mad whirl of earthly pleasures mocked being a perfect foil for the awesome fatalism of Faust’s vision on his night ride. The piano solo version contains only the Presto coda: Mephisto laughs, dances away, and the vision is abandoned. The orchestral score presents two endings: the familiar Presto and an alternative Allegro molto ending which roars into life and dies away (this is the only ending provided in the version for piano duet, and is the version recorded here), depicting the pleasure-seekers sinking ‘in the ocean of their own lust’, as it is often given in translation. Humphrey Searle (in The Music of Liszt) cannot be bettered in his paraphrase of the episodes from Lenau’s poem:
1. It is a warm spring night, dark and gloomy, but the nightingales are singing. Faust enters on horseback, letting his horse quietly saunter on. Soon lights are seen through the trees, and a religious procession approaches, singing … the procession passes on, and Faust, left alone, weeps bitterly into his horse’s mane.
2. Faust and Mephistopheles enter the inn in search of pleasure; the peasants are dancing, and Mephisto seizes the violin and intoxicates the audience with his playing. They abandon themselves to love-making, and two by two slip out into the starlit night, Faust with one of the girls; then the singing of the nightingale is heard through the open doors.
Liszt dedicated the Episodes—in all their versions—to his sadly short-lived but phenomenal student Carl Tausig (1841–1871).
from notes by Leslie Howard © 2011