With some humility, Liszt chose Walther’s gentle song of the spring (in which he tells of his wish to become a Mastersinger) rather than any of the more obviously celebrated passages of this mighty score, but, having done so, he creates a piece of startling originality. The decorative figuration and melodic ornamentation in Am stillen Herd
are entirely in keeping with Wagner, and yet his boldness of modulation (he manages to begin the second verse in B major rather than D major, but contrives to restore the original key before the end of the stanza) makes a more substantial and striking piece than Wagner made of it. Liszt extends and contracts in turn various passages of dialogue, and eventually bursts forth with an extra, freer, statement of most of the material, now beginning in D flat major, and moving through passages in E major, D major, and F major, before triumphantly reasserting D major as the only possible home key; he makes a splendid and dignified conclusion from the introductory motif.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996