Movement 1: Harold aux montagnes – Scènes de mélancolie, de bonheur et de joie: Adagio – Allegro
Movement 2: Marche de pèlerins – Chantant la prière du soir: Allegretto
Movement 3: Sérénade – d'un montagnard des Abruzzes à sa maîtresse: Allegro assai – Allegretto
Movement 4: Orgie de brigands – Souvenirs des scènes précédentes: Allegro frenetico
Although Liszt’s partition could scarcely be called chamber music, it is undeniable that, without Berlioz’s orchestration, the viola part is heard to much greater advantage than is usually the case, and from time to time a real chamber music texture emerges, leaving one to regret that Liszt expressed himself relatively little in the medium, and then usually in transcription. Liszt seems to have thought of the piece as a piano transcription of the same stamp as that of the Symphonie fantastique, and the demands upon the pianist are similarly acute. (Liszt did make a solo piano version of the second movement of Harold, which is recorded in this series on Volume 5.) At any rate, Paganini, who declined to play Berlioz’s original because he felt that the viola had too little to do, might have felt less oppressed by Liszt’s version, at least in the first three movements. And, as with the Symphonie fantastique, Liszt is fully in tune with Berlioz’s ideas of programme (they were both completely enamoured of the works of Byron) and colour. Berlioz’s original is too well known to require further description, but it will be observed that Liszt was not tempted to alter the degree of participation of the viola in the final movement, even though, at the entry of the menacing trombones and Liszt’s extravagant tremolo which covers over half the keyboard in its attempt to recreate the violin parts of the original, the pianist could well have used some assistance.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1993