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Grande fantaisie symphonique, S120
1834; scores and parts corrected from manuscript sources by Leslie Howard

'Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I' (CDA67401/2)
Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 53 – Music for piano & orchestra I
Buy by post £20.00 CDA67401/2  2CDs  
'Liszt: Complete Piano Music' (CDS44501/98)
Liszt: Complete Piano Music
Buy by post £200.00 CDS44501/98  99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)  
Movement 1: Lento
Track 15 on CDA67401/2 CD1 [15'57] 2CDs
Track 15 on CDS44501/98 CD95 [15'57] 99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Movement 2: Allegro vivace – Andantino, senza interruzione – Vivace animato
Track 16 on CDA67401/2 CD1 [13'45] 2CDs
Track 16 on CDS44501/98 CD95 [13'45] 99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Grande fantaisie symphonique, S120
Even though the work is very seldom heard, most music lovers are aware that Berlioz produced a sequel to the Symphonie fantastique for reciting actor, voices and orchestra, containing dramatic monologues, songs (with piano), choruses with orchestra, and various passages of accompanied recitation, entitled Lélio, ou le retour à la vie—Monodrame lyrique, Op 14b. Liszt, who was amongst Berlioz’s staunchest admirers, had already transcribed the Symphonie for solo piano, but there was no chance of his doing the same for its sequel. Instead, and much to Berlioz’s liking, he used just two themes from Lélio to construct a large-scale work in two joined parts: the Grande Fantaisie symphonique. The important word here is ‘symphonique’, which Liszt is using here for the first time, as far as we are aware. The point is, of course, that the orchestral writing is full, noble and of symphonic proportions, and the piano part, although a proper solo part, is also fully integrated into the orchestral texture.

It is a pleasure to report that the original manuscript of this work, long undiscovered, recently surfaced at auction in France (although sadly not in its entirety), and it revealed immediately that Liszt carried out his own orchestration—it is astonishing that there are still many commentators who believe the hoary myth that Liszt only began to study orchestration in his Weimar years, and that much of his instrumentation was done by other hands. This is bunk, and the Lélio Fantasy shows it to have been so from the beginning. Unfortunately, the published two-piano score of this work actually states that it has long been known that Liszt did not do the orchestration. What is certain is that the surviving fair copy—in the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar—is in a copyist’s hand, and that the one word ‘bon’ in Liszt’s hand must refer to Liszt’s satisfaction at his wishes being carried out and not, as some writers have suggested, to his approval of someone else’s orchestration. This manuscript is the basis for Breitkopf und Härtel’s full score (only available for hire) which differs in many places from their two-piano score, and both are full of misreadings. Both scores also contain many misunderstandings of Liszt’s original shorthand indications: when, for example, the left hand of the piano part is meant to double the right hand an octave lower, the published scores have system upon system of writing for one hand alone, which has astonishingly been so interpreted by many players who have tackled the work in recent years. The orchestral parts are also error-ridden, and extensive corrections had to be made to produce an accurate text for the present recording.

Liszt’s fantasy is constructed about the ballad for tenor and piano Le pêcheur, the first musical number in Lélio, and the third number—a song for baritone, men’s chorus and orchestra called Chanson de brigands. Berlioz’s ballad has two printed versions of the melody of The Fisherman to allow for performance in German as well as French (the original poem is by Goethe), and Liszt generally uses the ‘German’ melody, which begins many phrases on an extra upbeat, but for the piano cadenzas he uses the ‘French’ melody, which begins more starkly on the first beat of the bar. Liszt prepares the arrival of the theme proper (in A minor, Berlioz’s own tonality) with an imaginative introduction which hints darkly at the prospect of some expansive melody, which finally appears as a piano solo (after a brief cadenza), and then in dialogue with the oboe. The first development of the theme is a dramatic recitative, which dies away with a trill, and the second part of Berlioz’s melody in introduced in its original A major. Both parts of the melody are developed at length, and foreign tonalities are explored, the section ending on the dominant of F sharp minor—C sharp—with a grand explosion from the soloist onto bare, stentorian octave C sharps which introduce what is effectively the second movement, in 6/8 still, but much livelier. C sharp becomes D flat in B flat minor, and we are led to F major (Berlioz’s key again) for the Brigands’ Song, where Liszt also preserves Berlioz’s orchestration for eight-and-a-half bars, arranging the repeated phrases for solo piano. Liszt returns to Berlioz’s score, again arranging the repeated phrase for piano, and continues to follow Berlioz to the end of the tutti passage. Liszt gently takes the musical reins, first by arranging, then by developing the material, until the music bursts into 2/4 and a passage in repeated chords brings this part of the movement to a full close, and a new pair of themes is introduced. Whence these new themes come is a great mystery. They are certainly not in Lélio, nor do they seem to be among Berlioz’s published works, as far as the present writer is able to ascertain, and yet the music sounds like Berlioz and, bearing in mind Berlioz’s involvement with the piece, must surely stem from him. The first of these themes is presented in conjunction with the repeated chords aforementioned, and then part of the Brigands’ Song is subjected to chromatic development, culminating in a cadenza. The recapitulation of the song proper is now decorated with repeated notes from the piano and col legno accompaniment from the strings. After a repeat of the tutti the coda begins with a reprise of the Fisherman’s Song, before resuming the faster tempo and returning to the material of untraced origin, interspersed with fragments of the Brigands’ Song to bring together the threads of the twenty-three-year-old Liszt’s very confident composition.

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998

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Details for CDS44501/98 disc 95 track 15
Movement 1: Lento
Recording date
1 July 1998
Recording venue
Budapest Studios of Hungarian Radio, Hungary
Recording producer
Tryggvi Tryggvason
Recording engineer
Tryggvi Tryggvason
Hyperion usage
  1. Liszt: Complete Piano Music (CDS44501/98)
    Disc 95 Track 15
    Release date: February 2011
    99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
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