Liszt first composed his Sonnambula
fantasy in 1839, and the final version of it appeared in 1874. The final version was clearly made using a copy of the first version as a starting-point, and Liszt seems to have forgotten that he had made a second version, for the Ricordi edition, soon after the first one. (To make matters more confusing, but to be completely accurate, there was an edition before the ‘first version’, which is note-for-note identical but lacking almost all dynamics and performance directions, hence the description on the definitive first version ‘nouvelle édition, revue et corrigée par l’auteur’.) The structures of the three versions are very similar, apart from the new coda to the third version: all begin with Liszt’s elaborate musings upon the chorus from the finale to Act 1 ‘Osservate’, and continue with the lyrical duet ‘Vedi, o madre’ which Liszt develops into a marvellous imitation of three hands, with the melody and the accompanimental chords taken by the left hand, and rapid decorative figuration by the right; after a brief reprise of the opening and a cadenza comes Amina’s ‘Ah! non giunge’ (the most striking difference in the second version—there are many minor alterations—is the first appearance of this melody, which is presented here as if it were scored for a quartet of horns), the similarity of which theme to Elvino’s ‘Ah! perche non posso odiarti’ is underlined by the arrival of the second tune over the top of the first one; the only further theme is the concerted number from the Act 1 finale ‘Voglia il Cielo’. As with all of Liszt’s Bellini fantasies, there is a real attempt to convey the whole spirit of the drama in the comparatively microcosmic world of a single piano piece.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1998