Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 33 – The Schubert Transcriptions III
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No 01: Sei mir gegrüsst, D741
No 02: Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774
No 03: Du bist die Ruh', D776
No 04: Erlkönig (second version), D328d
No 05: Meeresstille (second version), D216
No 06: Die junge Nonne, D828
No 07: Frühlingsglaube (second version), D686c
No 08: Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118
No 09: Ständchen von Shakespeare 'Horch, horch! die Lerch'', D889
No 10: Rastlose Liebe, D138a
No 11: Der Wanderer, D489c
No 12: Ave Maria 'Ellens dritter Gesang' (second version), D839
As usual, Liszt planned the tonal structure of the set with great care: the pieces are in B flat major, A flat major, E flat major, G minor, C major, F minor/F major, A flat major, D minor, B flat major, E major, C sharp minor/E major, B flat major. The tonal jolts of a tritone occur at the points of greatest unrest in the poetry—Gretchen am Spinnrade and Rastlose Liebe, and, as a resolution after rejection, Ave Maria. Schubert’s original keys are retained with the single exception of the Ständchen von Shakespeare, which Schubert set in C major.
Sei mir gegrüsst (‘I greet thee’, D741) sets Rückert’s touching hymn to the departed loved one, with the melody and accompaniment separated by a major third in such a way that it is often difficult to tell which line is the principal one. Indeed, when Schubert used the material in his great Fantasie for violin and piano (D934) he clearly favoured the accompaniment over the vocal line. Liszt’s arrangement follows Schubert sedulously, with just the discreetest amplification of the texture for variation in the succeeding verses. In Auf dem Wasser zu singen (‘To be sung on the water’, D774) Liszt allows himself more licence. As the poet likens the flight of the soul to the gliding of the boat with increasing intensity of colour through the three verses, so does Liszt take the melody, at first in the tenor, then the alto, and finally the soprano voice, with much drama towards the shimmering conclusion. Du bist die Ruh’ (‘Thou art peace’, D776) is, despite the ecstasy of its climaxes, an extremely still song. Liszt treats with the utmost delicacy the poet’s plea that his lover should come and dispel his pain, setting up a deceptively calm texture with a great deal of hand-crossing. Liszt thinned out the inner parts in just a few places when he revised Erlkönig (‘The Erl King’, D328d) for the present set. This is the most commonly performed of the three versions of this transcription and was intended to be no less a tour de force than Schubert’s own formidable piano part. Although it is really impossible to convey the voices of narrator, father, son and wraith in the same way that the voice of a Peter Dawson could, the general unheeded terror of the child is relentlessly conveyed. Meeresstille (‘Sea Calm’, D216) was also revised for this set by slightly simplifying the shape of the arpeggios which need to show both the stillness of the water and the anxiety of the sailor at the want of a breeze. Liszt’s quiet rumblings in the bass add to the uneasiness of the enforced calm. In Die junge Nonne (‘The Young Nun’, D828) both Schubert and Liszt appreciate that the storm outside is already remote from the nun who prays to be taken up to heaven, and the peaceful bell rings from the very beginning. The transcription is one of Liszt’s finest, and he even makes a modest suggestion of an improvement to the last line of Schubert’s melody, lifting a line from the accompaniment to the top, thus irradiating the final ‘Alleluia’.
As we have already observed, the present version of Frühlingsglaube (‘Spring Faith’, D686c) differs from the earlier edition only insofar as it does not contain an alternative text for the second verse (see Volume 32). The acceptance of inevitability is encompassed in this most tranquil music, with Liszt allowing himself the most unassuming cadenza at the climax. In Gretchen am Spinnrade (‘Gretchen at the spinning-wheel’, D118), the agitated song of a love-struck girl who fears to lose her reason on account of her passion, Liszt develops the accompaniment pattern to a symphonic torrent of notes perhaps in imitation of the effect of a well-sung performance of this song. Ständchen von Shakespeare (‘Serenade by Shakespeare’, D889) is usually so called to distinguish it from that other famous serenade in Schwanengesang. This song is a free translation by Schlegel of Shakespeare’s song ‘Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings’ (Cymbeline, Act II, Scene III) with two extra verses by Friedrich Reil. Liszt contents himself with two verses—with the text laid over the music, as was his almost invariable custom with song transcriptions—treating the second as a variation of some virtuosity.
The pity of Rastlose Liebe (‘Restless love’, D138a), both as song and transcription, is that it is so short. But there is no doubt that Schubert perfectly captures the unsettled cry of the poet that love brings pain and joy inextricable one from the other. Liszt adds to the music’s innate recklessness with the trickiest of leaps about the keyboard. Der Wanderer, D489c, was a very important song for Liszt for several reasons: his enthusiasm for all things Schubertian was never greater than for the piano Fantasy which Schubert based upon this song; the poem chimes all too clearly with Liszt’s own inability to find happiness in any one country, in any one relationship; and the fragment of music which Schubert employs to set the words ‘immer wo?’ (‘ever where?’) became a personal musical motto for Liszt the wanderer. It crops up time and again without notice, in his original works or in his transcriptions—a phenomenon worthy of a separate study. When Liszt first transcribed Ave Maria [Ellens dritter Gesang] (‘Ave Maria [Ellen’s Third Song]’, D839)—Schubert’s setting of a poem from Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake—he appended a long and pious coda. For this present revision he expunged it, and although the rest of the text remains just as fulsome and florid as before, Liszt returns to something much closer to Schubert’s original conclusion.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1995