LISZT: Transcriptions of Vocal Works by Mozart, Lassen, Franz, Lessmann and Dessauner
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 11
Transcriptions of Vocal Works by W. A. Mozart, Eduard Lassen, RobertFranz, Otto Lessmann and Josef Dessauer
Time andagain at Weimar I heard Liszt play. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind thathe was the greatest pianist of the nineteenth century. Liszt was what theGermans call Erscheinung - an epoch-making genius.
- William Mason (1829-1908), American pianist,composer and teacher in Memories of MusicalLife.
The art of transcription essentially beganwhen the earliest composers took a theme by someone else and created an improvisation or a set of variations. Itwas not uncommon among Bach's works to find transcriptions of Vivaldi or othercomposers, re-cast in a different instrumental costume.
So it cannot be said that Franz Liszt invented the concertparaphrase or transcription. But what can be said, is that Liszt, like no other composer before him (or after him),expanded, nurtured, perfected, and practised the art of transcription. Hisinfluence on succeeding generations of transcribers (Busoni, Godowsky,Rachmaninov, Grainger, to just name afew) was enormous.
During his lifetime, Liszt produced anastonishing quantity and variety of transcriptions. From Palestrina and Allegrito his nineteenth century musical contemporaries, all music was grist forLiszt's transcription mill. Most cataloguers of Liszt music divide thetranscription output into two distinct groups - (a) the paraphrases and operatic transcriptions; and(b) the "partitions de piano". In the paraphrases and operatictranscriptions, Liszt allowed himself considerable freedom and fantasy, whilethe "partition de piano" were essentially instrumental transcriptionswere an objective realisation of the original composer's intentions is providedon the piano. All of the works on this disc fall into the category of"partitions de piano".
There is no doubt that Liszt held Mozart'smusic and achievements in highest esteem. He was invited to conduct the MozartFestival Concert in Vienna on 27th January, 1856, in honour of the centennialof Mozart's birth. In his letters to his uncle Dr Eduard Liszt and to the Mayorof Vienna, Dr Ritter von Seiler, Liszt speaks of the "glories which Mozartunfolds in the different domains of Art," and also "of hisgenius," referring to Mozart as "the glorious Master." The twoMozart transcriptions recorded here were products of the 1860s. A la Chapelle Sixtine is a one-movement workcombining variations on the Miserere meiDeus by Gregorio Allegri (1682-1652) with Mozart's Ave verum corpus (K.618). The connectionof the works by Liszt was not accidental. In April of 1770 Mozart, with hisfather, visited Rome where they heard a performance in the Sistine Chapelduring Holy Week of Allegri's Miserere, anine-part choral work, supposedly the exclusive property of the papal choir andnot permitted to be published. According to Leopold Mozart, immediately afterthe service Wolfgang (then fourteen years old) wrote out the work from memory,and the accuracy of his version was attested by a member of the choir. Notsurprisingly, much has been made of this feat in biographies of Mozart, only tounderline that few musicians of any age have demonstrated a comparable ear andfaculty for retention. The Ave verum corpus waswritten by Mozart six months before his untimely death and anticipates theexalted spirit, the profound expressiveness, and the unearthly beauty of hisgreat Requiem. Liszt'stranscription was published in the piano version, together with an organ transcription,in 1865. A piano duet version appeared in 1866, and an orchestral versionremains unpublished. In combining the Allegri with the Mozart, Liszt wascreating a work that acts as musical book-ends, a tribute encompassing thebeginning and end, of a composer he greatly admired. The resultingtranscription is more of a homage than a piano evocation of two separate anddistinct works. The Confutatis maledictis andLacrymosa from Mozart's Requiem was also published in 1865. InMozart's Requiem these sectionsare the last two parts of the Dies Irae sequencethat he was able to attempt, before his death. In his work the Confutatis maledictis provides a dramaticcontrast between the male voices declaiming the torments of the damned, and theupper ones, with only violins accompanying, praying for salvation, with thefull chorus eventually uniting all, to which the strings add an urgent,throbbing note. The Lacrimosa inMozart's manuscript breaks off after a sublime eight bars, with anextraordinary crescendo on achromatic ascent. In essence, these were the last two works Mozart wrote, the Lacrimosa being completed by Franz XaverSussmayr. Liszt's transcription is once again a homage. It should be noted thatthe spelling of Lacrymosa inLiszt's transcription uses the "y" instead of the "i"commonly found in Mozart scores. August Gollerich (1859-1923), German pianist,teacher, pupil and biographer of Liszt, on New Year's Eve, 1885, reports thatLiszt "gave to a select circle a transfigured performance of Mozart's Ave verum corpus from his A la Chapelle Sixtine. Together with the Dies Irae and Lacrymosa from the Requiem,this heaven- soaring work was among his special favourites."Gollerich recounts Liszt's comments on these works: "The sequences of the Ave verum are among the most beautifulthings that Mozart wrote... I don't think he would have had anything against mydevelopment of them."
Eduard Lassen (1830-1904) was born inCopenhagen. In 1832 his parents moved to Brussels, where he attended theConservatoire. In 1851 he won the Prix de Rome. After travels in Germany andItaly, and a long stay in Rome, he was appointed court music director at Weimar in 1858. From 1861 to 1895 heheld the position of court Kapellmeister at Weimar as Liszt's successor, beinghimself succeeded by d'Albert and Stavenhagen (both Liszt pupils). Much ofLassen's music has been totally forgotten. Yet, he was an important, if notprolific composer, whose output included two symphonies, a violin concerto,three operas, incidental music, cantatas, choruses, and numerous songs. Lisztchampioned Lassen's opera Landgraf LudwigsBrautfahrt, bringing it to production at Weimar in 1857. Liszttranscribed two of Lassen's songs for the piano. Lose, Himmel, meine Seele was published in 1866 and Ich weil in tiefer Einsamkeit waspublished in 1872. In both cases the music is imaginative and warmlyexpressive, treated by Liszt with respect and admiration, leading us to becurious about Lassen's other forgotten songs.
Robert Franz (1815-1892) was a song-composer,who published 350 songs, according to Dr Theodore Baker, "remarkable fortheir perfect fitness and exquisite finish of the musical setting, andrivalling Schubert's in beauty of melody, and Schumann's in romanticexpression." His life was full of woes and difficulties. His parents wereunsupportive and continually pressed him to abandon the study of music. Aftercompleting his music education, despite their lack of support, Franz was unableto find a suitable position, or even a publisher for his compositions.
Eventually, in 1843, his first set of twelve songs appeared and received warmpraise from Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt and others. Soon after he becameorganist at the Ulrichskirche in Halle, then conductor of the Singakademie, andeventually the musical dire