The friendship between Liszt and the prickly genius Heinrich Heine was largely over by the time the first version of Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam
was created, but even so Liszt could recognize the invitations to music in Heine’s unique poetic voice. Heine finds a memorable image for the fascination of German poets (fir trees in frozen climes) with exoticism (the palm tree on burning southern sands)—what a clever variation on the mountaintop perspective and the theme of the distant beloved prevalent in Romanticism. In Liszt’s first setting of this popular poem we hear brooding darkness and chromatic profundity enveloping the fir tree, while the brief idyllic dream of exotic objects of desire begins with the repeated treble chords that often signal Lisztian dreaming—or heavenly realms. Perhaps the most striking difference between this first setting and its much later revision is in the endings; this version ends by recalling the close of Schubert’s Heine song Ihr Bild
(similar loud dynamics, similar descending bass line, similar final major chord). The bar of silence before the ending is another Schubertian touch.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2012