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Several of the pieces are prefaced by stanzas from Lamartine’s poems, whence some of the titles derive. The Invocation is at once a prayer and a triumphant cry of faith, and, like many of Liszt’s works of this kind, is cast in E major.
Bénédiction de Dieu is the largest and finest piece of the set, and the added-sixth harmonies in F sharp major look forward to the religiously inspired music of Messiaen. The central Andante is perfect in its simplicity and reserve, and another delicate theme—sostenuto—precedes the return of the main material. Both secondary themes return in the gentle coda. Funérailles is subtitled ‘October 1849’. Many silly suggestions have been put about as to its inspiration—none less accurate than the notion that the piece is in memory of Chopin and that the tremendous galloping left-hand octaves in the middle section derive from Chopin’s A flat Polonaise. Many of Liszt’s acquaintances died in the mass execution at the hands of the Austrian court of Hungarian prime minister Batthyany and sixteen of his officers on 6 October 1849, in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848–9 revolution in Hungary. Although the ninth piece in the set is known only by its tempo direction, the poem which inspired it is entitled ‘Une larme ou consolation’, and that sets the tone for this inexplicably neglected piece, very tightly constructed, whose greatness is perhaps occluded by its sheer delicacy. Cantique d’amour returns to the tonality and warmth of the Invocation, but on a more intimate footing—an effort, perhaps, to ally love of God to human affection.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1990
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