Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth
was something of an obsession with Liszt. At the last count, beginning around 1841 and continuing until the last years of his life, he seems to have made three versions of the song to Lichnowsky’s poem about the cloisters on the island in the Rhine, an Élegie
with a different text over the same music, four versions of it for solo piano, the second of these with an alternative reading effectively making version number five, just one version for piano duet, and versions for violin or cello and piano, most of which can be readily run to ground today by the diligent collector. The present piano version is the last, and the simple song has become a nostalgic reflection upon happier times and gives rise to the speculation that, in old age, Liszt mused upon one of the happiest periods of his life when he and the Countess d’Agoult holidayed on the island of Nonnenwerth with their children Blandine, Cosima and Daniel in the summers of 1841–43—some of the terribly few occasions when that extraordinary family was united.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993