Discounting the first publication of Liszt’s Sonnambula
fantasy, which differs from the second by having virtually no dynamics or performance indications, there are three versions of the work, which first appeared in 1839, and then shortly afterwards with a few alterations, and finally in 1874, with a German rather than the original French title. This last ignores the middle version and was clearly made by altering a copy of the 1839 version (all the errors missed in proof-reading are to be found in the passages which remain identical to both texts). Unusually in a late Liszt revision, the changes make the piece more rather than less difficult to perform. The work is constructed about five themes from Bellini’s opera, and really presents the drama in miniature by concentrating upon the principal story-line of the sleep-walking Amina who is presumed to be unfaithful to her betrothed Elvino, her rejection by him, her narrow escape from death by drowning whilst sleep-walking, her vindication, and the lovers’ reconciliation. Liszt captures the whole spirit of the piece in what amounts to a three-movements-in-one form whose last section, based on the triumphant ‘Ah! non giunge’, deftly draws all the elements together. It is altogether one of his best fantasies and long overdue for revival in the concert hall.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996