Thanks to the splendid detective work of Professoressa Rossana Dalmonte (Istituto Liszt, Bologna), Liszt scholars have had to take another look at the provenance and history of the most famous of Liszt’s late compositions: La lugubre gondola. We can now establish a clear chronology of the piece, and the present version transpires to be the original conception, composed while Liszt was staying with Wagner at the Palazzo Vendramin on the Grand Canal in Venice in December 1882, a piece which Liszt later described as having been written as if under a premonition of Wagner’s death and funeral (Wagner died at the Vendramin in March 1883). The only version of the work published during Liszt’s lifetime is a revision of this manuscript issued by Fritzsch in 1885, known since 1927 as La lugubre gondola II, because in that year Breitkopf & Härtel published it alongside another work with the same title, known as La lugubre gondola I – an erroneous order of chronology. In August 1998, at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatorium in Venice, Rossana Dalmonte found two autograph manuscripts of La lugubre gondola (cf A and B below) which permit the establishment with reasonable precision of the following chronology: A 1882, December: Die Trauer-Gondel – La Lugubre Gondola, for pianoforte, in 44 [first version], the piece in the present recording (S199a); B 1883, January: La Lugubre Gondola, for pianoforte, in 44 [second version], the text which, with minimal alteration, constituted the basis of the 1885 edition (S200/2); C circa 1883: La lugubre gondola, transcription for violin or cello and piano from the version B above (S134), with twenty bars added in place of the last three at a later moment (but probably before the publication of B, since it lacks the final changes to the original text); D circa 1884–5: La lugubre gondola, for pianoforte in 68, the so-called La lugubre gondola I. This is really a new composition, but clearly derived from the material of B (S200/1). The Venice manuscripts were published for the first time in 2002 by Rugginenti in Milan, under the editorship of Mario Angiolelli. The well-known versions of the piece are available on volume 11 of the Hyperion Liszt Series.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 2002