Alfred de Musset’s La confession d’un enfant du siècle
(1836) and his 1840 sonnet ‘Tristesse’ or ‘Sadness’—Liszt’s text for J’ai perdu ma force et ma vie
—define the so-called ‘mal du siècle’, a compound of ennui, melancholy, apathy, and distaste for life. In a letter of condolence to the wife of Alexei Tolstoy (second cousin to Leo Tolstoy) in 1875, Liszt quoted the closing lines of Musset’s poem, in which life is summed up as weeping. Chromatically clouded, dramatic-emphatic ‘sighing figures’ fill the piano introduction before the singer enters with an unaccompanied, recitative-like passage, typical of Liszt’s late songs. This work is also emblematic of Liszt in its interior ‘ethereal’ treble passage evoking the eternal and its exploration of tonal ambivalence: we end in mid-air.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2012