LISZT: Ballades / Polonaises / Trois Morceaux Suisses (Jean Dube) (Naxos: 8.557364)
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886):
Ballades Polonaises Trois morceaux suissesThe power of ambition urged him on. A chaos of ideas fermented in him. He must have a world...in which he couldat the same time rule alone. Chopin had given romantic piano music a powerful impetus. He made use of it. Thiswas now his world. - The pianoforte the throne from which he exercised his creative might.
Carlo: Liszt and French Romanticism.
Wiener Zeitschrift f??r Kunst, 5th May 1838
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of AdamLiszt, a steward in the service of Haydn's formerpatrons, the Esterhazy Princes, Franz Liszt had earlyencouragement from members of the Hungariannobility, allowing him in 1822 to move to Vienna, forlessons with Czerny and a famous meeting withBeethoven. From there he moved to Paris, whereCherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire.
Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by hisperformance, now supported by the Erard family, pianomanufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise inthe concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 AdamLiszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by hismother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to readand benefit from the intellectual society with which hecame into contact. His interest in virtuoso performancewas renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini,whose technical accomplishments he now set out toemulate.
The years that followed brought a series ofcompositions, including transcriptions of songs andoperatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of avirtuoso. Liszt's relationship with a married woman, theComtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to his departure fromParis for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, thenback to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna andHungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, themother of his three children, was at an end, but hisconcert activities continued until 1847, the year in whichhis association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of aRussian prince. The following year he settled with her inWeimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now tothe development of a newer form of orchestral music,the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision andpublication of earlier compositions.
It was in 1861 at the age of fifty that Liszt moved toRome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settledthere a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed tohave opened the way to their marriage, but they nowcontinued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszteventually took minor orders and developed a pattern oflife that divided his time between Weimar, where heimparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, wherehe was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest,where he returned now as a national hero. He died in1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, formerwife of Hans von B??low and widow of Richard Wagner,lived, concerned with the continued propagation of herhusband's music.
His friend Chopin died in 1849, and two years later,in Weimar, Liszt was working with Princess Carolyneon a book on the Polish composer. It was natural that heshould turn his attention, at least superficially, to someof the forms that Chopin had made his own. To this maybe added the fact that Princess Carolyne was Polish.
Liszt wrote his two Polonaises in 1851. The first,sometimes known as Polonaise melancolique, in C minorand marked Moderato, starts with a short introduction,before the expressive entry of the principal polonaisetheme, developed with occasional hand-crossing andleading, through a cadenza, to a major-key secondarytheme, itself expanded before the return of a version ofthe first theme, marked Allegro energico. A passage inthe manner of an improvised cadenza brings a return ofthe second theme and reminiscences of the principaltheme in the coda. The second Polonaise, in E major, ismarked Allegro pomposo con brio, and has a fewintroductory bars before the characteristic rhythm of thedance is heard. There is a contrasting trio section in Aminor, leading to a declamatory passage and a cadenza,the return of the original key and a more elaborate anddelicately ornamented development of the originalmaterial, before it returns in its initial vigour.
The Ballade as a musical form was also closelyassociated with Chopin, whose four Ballades seem tohave had a literary source. Liszt's Ballade No. 1 in D flatmajor was written between 1845 and 1848, beforeChopin's death, and has the descriptive subtitle Le chantdu croise (The Crusader's Song). It was dedicated toPrincess Carolyne's cousin, the sculptor Prince EugenWittgenstein. The brief Preludio, hinting at what is tocome, modulates to D flat major for the main theme,marked Andantino, con sentimento, perhaps derivedfrom a possibly earlier piano piece in A flat major. Thereis a modulation to A major for a Tempo di marcia,animato, a march to be played, we are told, elegantlyand fast, before a return to an elaborated version of thefirst theme in the original key.
Ballade No. 2 in B minor was written in 1853 anddedicated to Count Karoly Leiningen, brother-in-law ofPrince Eugen Wittgenstein. Marked Allegro moderato, itopens ominously, with a melody slowly emerging overmenacing chromatic figuration in a lower register.
A shaft of light appears in an intervening Allegretto,which returns in contrast after the resumption of theopening mood, now in B flat minor. An Allegro decisofollows and a passage of tempestuous activity, quieteninginto a delicately worked version of the Allegretto, now inD major. The mood of the opening returns, in G sharpminor, leading to later contrasts between the two principalelements and moods of the work, leading to a final climaxand gently positive conclusion.
Liszt's Au bord d'une source, a graphic and poeticinterpretation of the scene suggested in the title, firstappeared in the Album d'un voyageur of 1835-36, firstpublished in its complete three books in 1842. It waslater revised to form part of the Annees de p?¿lerinage,premi?¿re annee, Suisse, evoking the Swiss landscapethat appealed so strongly to the romantic temperament.
The Album d'un voyageur, in its third book, providedthree paraphrases. These had been first published in1836 as Trois airs suisses, Op. 10, and includedImprovisata sur le ranz de vaches: 'Depart pour lesAlpes' de Ferdinand Huber (Improvisation on the Ranzde Vaches: 'Departure for the Alps' by FerdinandHuber), Nocturne sur le 'Chant montagnard' d'ErnestKnop (Nocturne on the 'Mountain Song' of Ernest Knop),and Rondeau sur le 'Ranz de ch?¿vre' de FerdinandHuber (Rondeau on the 'Ranz de ch?¿vre' of FerdinandHuber). These were published in various places,including Haslinger's complete edition of the Albumd'un voyageur, when they had the general titleParaphrases. They were finally published in 1877 underthe title Trois morceaux suisses.
The first and third of the Paraphrases make use ofmaterial from the Swiss composer Ferdinand Huber(1791-1863), whose interest in Alpine folk-music hadled him to collect examples of alphorn repertoire andeven tune instruments so that three might play together.
The first, based on the cowherds' traditional Ranz devaches, is a series of free variations on the theme heardat the beginning. The second paraphrase, with the newtitle Un soir dans la montagne (An Evening on theMountain) uses a yodelling song melody by the Swisscellist, composer and publisher Ernest Knop, and includesa dramatic storm, as alpine weather deteriorates. Thethird of the set is a Rondeau based on Huber's version ofthe goatherds' Ranz de ch?¿vres.Keith Anderson