was probably composed in homage to the noblewoman who wrote the poem: Thérèse von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg (1817–1895), who was a cousin of Princess Marie von Sayn-Wittgenstein (the daughter of Liszt’s mistress Carolyne by her estranged Russian husband) and the mother of Rilke’s later patroness Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis. Thérèse and Liszt had encountered one another in Rome, and Liszt visited the Hohenlohe villa in Duino in 1867–8. In this poem she endows a pearl with a persona and a history, from its birth in a mussel shell to its brutal removal from its oceanic home and its subsequent slavery in adornment for the rich: the rape of Nature to satisfy human vanity. In the postlude of this extended dramatic song we hear a grief-stricken, chromatic transformation of the placid sea-music at the start.
from notes by Susan Youens © 2012