(‘Forest murmurs’) and Gnomenreigen
(‘Round dance of the gnomes’) were dedicated to Liszt’s student and ardent apologist Dionys Pruckner and are musical poems of great imagination whose technical application seems quite secondary. The first is a study in evenness of repeated patterns accompanying a flowing melody (marked ‘Vivace’ by Liszt, and often taken unaccountably slowly. Surely the test is to play with finesse at some speed to allow the melody to be both vivacious and gracious?), but its essence is one of spirit and colour, and the forest which it evokes is on more celestial a plane (Liszt’s favourite added-sixth chord which he allows to swirl about in many a religious piece: Bénédiction de Dieu dans la soltitude
, for example) than that of Wagner’s Siegfried and the Woodbird. The plethora of instructions to play very quickly and still faster in Gnomenreigen
reminds one of Schumann, and, as with Schumann, the performer dares not be too literal about it. This ever-popular study alternates between two themes—a ‘Presto scherzando’ in F sharp minor of half-lit crushed notes, as if at play in secret, and a brilliant toccata, ‘Un poco più animato’—as if hidden spirits are revealed—which first appears in A major. The first passage returns unaltered, then the second is transposed up a semitone to B flat major, leading to a development of the first section in G minor, where the character remains occluded with latent mystery. The music suddenly slips to F sharp minor over a pedal C sharp in order for the final triumphant revelation of the second theme, before the essential other-worldliness of the first theme claims the coda. The spirit of the work is very much that of a benevolent sort of Mephisto waltz
—these gnomes are good spirits, as testified by Liszt’s bringing them home in a key which he always reserves to describe the joy of the life to come.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996