Perhaps it is a pity that Liszt never produced a large-scale fantasy on a Verdi opera; one can imagine that a work like Don Carlos
might have provoked a response on the scale of the Meyerbeer and Bellini fantasies had chronology been otherwise. But it is clear that, as with his pieces based upon the operas of Wagner, he really wants to deliberate over a small amount of material, and so his Don Carlos
transcription is confined to the opening of what is now best known as the second scene of Act III of the five-act version of Verdi’s mighty opera. (The complicated history of the structure of Verdi’s work would require several pages of explanation, but that is beyond the scope of the present description.) The title of the transcription is somewhat misleading: Verdi’s number is a single piece of music which juxtaposes a festive chorus of the people of Madrid in praise of King Philip II with a chorus of monks leading those condemned by the Inquisition to death by fire. Liszt’s arrangement is, if anything, more majestic than the original, to which it adheres quite faithfully.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996