Franz Liszt (1811 -1886)
A Faust Symphony: Three Character Pictures, Faust,Gretchen and
Mephistopheles, after Goethe
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborjan) near Odenburg(sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a stewardin the employment of Haydn's former patrons, the Esterh1izy Princes, and anamateur cellist who had played for Haydn and for Beethoven and enjoyedfriendship with Kapellmeister Hummel at Eisenstadt. The boy showed earlymusical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Odenburg in 1820, followed bya concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearancebrought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow thefamily to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny andcomposition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio salieri, who had taughtBeethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as aforeigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but wasable to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist andas a composer.
On the death of his father in 1827 Liszt was joined againby his mother in Paris, where he began to teach the piano and to interesthimself in the newest literary trends of the day. The appearance of Paganini in Paris in 1831 suggested new possibilities of virtuosity as a pianist, laterexemplified in his Paganini Studies. A liaison with a married woman, theComtesse Marie d'Agoult, a blue-stocking on the model of their friend thenovelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of threechildren, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuosopianist, a role in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences.
In 1844 Liszt finally broke with Marie d' Agoult, wholater, under her pen-name of Daniel Stern, took her own literary revenge on herlover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to hiswithdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director ofMusic, now accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu sayn-Wittgenstein,the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theologicalpropensities. Liszt now turned his attention to new forms of composition,particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate intomusical terms works of literature.
Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein hadproved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The couple continued to liveseparately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described asune vie trifurquee (a three-pronged life), as he divided his timebetween his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, wherehe held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, andhis appearances in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero.
Liszt's illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianistand conductor Hans von Bulow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already thefather of two of her children. His final years were as busy as ever, and in1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuthduring the Wagner Festival, now controlled by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearancethere seems to have been less than welcome.
The symphonic poems of Liszt caused some controversy. Oneof the most influential critics in Vienna, Eduard Hanslick, a champion of Brahms,wrote in
1857 of the impertinence of such an attempt: Hefancies his music capable of fiddling and blowing the most magnificentphenomena of myth and history, the most profound thoughts of the human mind.
Hanslick's objection was not to music with some extra-musical association, butto the vastness of the subjects tackled and what he saw as a reliance on anexternal programme to justify an absence of musical content.
The first attempt at what was, after all, a daring newform, came in 1848 with a musical interpretation or translation of Victor Hugo,Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne. The work was orchestrated largely byJoachim Raff, employed by Liszt for the purpose, since his own skills were atthe time rudimentary. This was followed by Les Preludes, described as asymphonic poem after Lamartine. The following year he wrote Tasso, lamento etrionfo, based on the poem by Byron. Orchestration this time was by August Conradi,who had served Liszt intermittently as a copyist. A series of symphonic poemsfollowed, the descriptive title newly coined, the last return to the form in1881-2 with Von der Wiege his zum Grahe (From the Cradle to the Grave).
Liszt wrote his A Faust Symphony in 1854, adding achoral finale three years later, when it was first performed in Weimar. Furtherrevisions took place, with changes introduced even as late as 1880. The subjectof Faust, the scholar who sold his soul to the Devil in return for youth andpower, had a particular attraction to artists in the nineteenth century, whenFaust might appear as a human hero, an opponent of ancient tyrannies, politicaland religious, and the
Devil himself might seem to have similar attractions.
Where the Elizabethan version of the story by Christopher Marlowe brought Faustto a medieval Hell,
Goethe's monumental and influential poetic treatment ofthe subject ended in the final redemption of Faust through the power of loveand of the woman he had wronged, Gretchen. Liszt based his symphony on theliterary work of his great predecessor in Weimar, Goethe, and returned to thesubject of Faust in later compositions based on Lenau's Faust, includingthe Mephisto Waltzes.
Liszt's A Faust Symphony opens with a picture ofFaust himself. This first movement is in traditional symphonic structure, with aslow introduction that leads to a long exposition, with its own developments, ashort development section and an abridged final recapitulation. The openingtheme, played by muted violas and cellos and using all twelve semitones of theoctave, is said to represent the mysterious studies of the old scholar, cappedby a theme of feeling from the oboe, marked dolente, of which aderivative provides an opening to the second subject group, representing Faustas a lover. The Allegro, marked agitato ed appassionato, startswith the strings declaration of a theme associated with Faust's struggle andgoes on to a descending motif, expressive and passionate, introduced by oboesand clarinets and representing the yearning of Faust. The theme of Faust'sheroic endeavour is introduced by the trumpets as a part of the second subjectgroup, now marked Grandioso. All this thematic material forms theexposition, followed by a development introduced by the excited themeassociated with Faust's struggle, coupled with the ominous opening motif, nowheard in canon. This material appears in its original form, remarkablydeveloped, and leading to a shortened recapitulation. The movement ends withcellos and double basses recalling briefly the theme repre