Introduction: Andante – Presto – Allegro – Allegro moderato
Variation 1: Allegro moderato
Variation 2: [L'istesso tempo] – Un poco animato
Variation 3: Molto vivace
Variation 4 'canonique': Lento – Presto
Variation 5: Vivace. Fugato – Cadenza
Variation 6: Sempre allegro, ma non troppo – Un poco meno allegro – Cadenza – Presto – Allegro animato
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Liszt introduces the material dramatically: the piano and timpani accompany the lower winds, brass and strings in the first two phrases, then a series of spiky cadenzas culminates in a restatement, followed by the third phrase, played three times. Finally, the piano reiterates the first two phrases alone. Variation I is a double variation where bassoon and violas play a new rhythmic counterpoint to the first two phrases in the lower strings, which the piano then repeats, and then clarinet and bassoon are in counterpoint with the strings for the third phrase, again repeated by the piano, which takes control of Variation II, with a new counter-theme from the horn, and multiple glissandos from the soloist. Oboes and clarinets add another new counter-theme in Variation III, whilst Variation IV is a much freer affair for solo piano where each phrase is introduced in four-voice canon.
So far, the work has remained firmly in D minor, but the piano now takes very gentle wing in a delicate cadenza leading to B major and thence to G minor, where a lone clarinet joins in for ten bars before D minor is abruptly restored in the brilliant transition to Variation V. This fugato uses just the first two phrases of the theme for its subject and leads to a development in which the full orchestra plays a part. The section is brought to an end by a grand cadenza which makes a brief excursion into F sharp major before bringing matters to a close in D minor. That which Liszt marks Variation VI amounts to a new theme and six variations—also in D minor, also on a theme which fits the verses of the Dies irae text, but which is quite different, and whose origins are uncertain. The last of these miniature variations is extended to introduce a final cadenza, which brings back the original theme. The coda begins with piano glissandos over the third phrase of the theme, after which the soloist is left to improvise until the end, since Liszt’s score is blank in the solo part for the last statement of the first two phrases. The tradition of adding the scale in contrary octaves to the orchestra seven bars from the end certainly stems from Liszt’s lifetime, and is also found in the (otherwise very unreliable) edition/version produced by Liszt’s pupil Alexander Ziloti.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998