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