The Mephisto Polka
was written for Lina Schmalhausen, one of Liszt’s later students and possibly his last intimate friend. Out of deference to her, it would seem, the difficult but preferable text (recorded here) is often relegated to ossia passages above the stave, whilst the main text is the simplified version. The piece has something in common with the language of the other late Mephisto music: the crushed notes which constantly decorate the melodic line, the tonal uncertainty and the clarity of the texture all make the piece as spiky as the waltzes. Just before the music settles for F sharp minor—at bar 17—it hovers around the F natural above middle C, and it to this note that it will return in concluding bitterness.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1994