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La notte, S516a

composer
1860/6; No 2 of Trois Odes funèbres; formerly catalogued as S699

 
Liszt’s Funeral Odes were composed between 1860 and 1866, and exist in a variety of versions: the first is also an organ piece, with the title Trauerode, as well as an orchestral piece, like the other two Odes. There is also a chorus in the first Ode and the possibility of a narrator in the first and second. La Notte also exists for violin and piano, and the version for piano solo was published for the first time as recently as 1980 by the excellent Neue Liszt-Ausgabe. The third of the Odes is also entitled ‘Epilogue to the Symphonic Poem: Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo’ and in its orchestral version enjoyed a certain vogue towards the end of the nineteenth century. Although it is quite clear from the original manuscript of the piano version of the third Ode that Liszt intended these works to be performed as a cycle, they have never been published together and have rarely been performed as he wished.

Les Morts was prompted by the death of Liszt’s only son Daniel at the age of twenty, and is constructed about an Oraison by Lamennais: the end of each stanza of both poem and music has the refrain ‘Blessed are those who die in the Lord’, and towards the end quotes the psalm ‘De Profundis’ and the ‘Sanctus’. By following the structure of the poem, Liszt evolves a highly original musical form.

La Notte was composed after the death in childbirth of Blandine, but its roots lie much earlier: in the second book of the Années de pèlerinage there is a piece, Il Penseroso, inspired by a statue of Michelangelo’s of the same name. La Notte develops this earlier work by composing a variation on it and inserting a very beautiful central episode whose opening phrase is overlaid with the words from Virgil’s Aeneid: ‘And dying he remembers fair Argos’—clearly motivated by Liszt’s own feeling that he would die far from his native Hungary, and the musical point is made by the wistful reminiscence of the Hungarian cadence so familiar to us from his Rhapsodies. The title derives from a poem by the same Michelangelo which begins ‘I am happy for sleep, and more for being like a stone …’

Le triomphe funèbre du Tasse is prefaced by a quotation from Pierantonio Serassi’s account of Tasso’s funeral, at which all of those who had sought to vilify and persecute the poet during his lifetime turned up in all their finery to lament his passing. Liszt certainly believed that his time too would not come until after his own death, and this piece can be seen as a self-portrait as much as it can a work honouring Tasso who, as we have seen, was the subject of an earlier symphonic poem written as an overture to Goethe’s play. Although the Ode uses two themes from the symphonic poem it stands as a completely independent work, and like the other Odes is characterized by dignity and restraint, as well as extremely forward-looking chromaticism. These are no mere transcriptions!

from notes by Leslie Howard © 1989

Recordings

Liszt: The complete music for solo piano, Vol. 3 – Konzertsolo & Odes funèbres
CDA66302
Liszt: Complete Piano Music
CDS44501/9899CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Details

Track 5 on CDA66302 [10'32]
Track 5 on CDS44501/98 CD16 [10'32] 99CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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