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LISZT: Organ Works, Vol. 1

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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Works for Organ, Volume 1

Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to go to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire, as a foreigner. Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.

The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt’s relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.

It was in 1861, at the age of fifty, that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.


While Liszt was one of the greatest pianists of his time, his skill on the organ was relatively limited by his lack of fluency in the use of the pedals. Nevertheless in Weimar he took a particular interest in the instrument. The city organist there since 1830 had been Johann Gottlob Töpfer, who had acquired a considerable level of expertise in the technical construction of the instrument, through the poor condition in which he had originally found the organ in the Herder Church. With his published work on the craft of organ-building, the first of which appeared in the early 1830s, he won a reputation as a leading authority on the subject. In the previous decade in Weimar he had collaborated with Johann Friedrich Schulze, an important organ-builder from Paulinzella, who was later responsible for the installation of an instrument in Bremen Cathedral, in changes to the defective Weimar organ under the influence of Töpfer’s mathematical theories on organ construction. Liszt’s association with Töpfer, who was twenty years his senior, brought a relationship with some of the latter’s pupils, also students of Liszt, notably Alexander Wilhelm Gottschalg, who later became court organist in Weimar, his colleague Christian Bernhard Sulze, and Alexander Winterberger, who gave the inaugural recital on the Ladegast organ of Merseburg Cathedral in 1855, including Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ in his programme. The organ that the Weissenfels builder Friedrich Ladegast had installed at Merseburg was then the largest in Germany, with 81 stops and four manuals. It was this instrument that inspired Liszt to write his Prelude and Fugue on the Name of BACH, a work given its first public performance at Merseburg by Winterberger. The organ itself, which followed the romantic tendency in organ-building influenced by Töpfer and put into practice in Germany by Schulze, appealed to Liszt through the varied and innovative possibilities of tone colour that it offered.

Liszt also explored, with Gottschalg, other organs in the neighbourhood of Weimar, while in Hungary he had access to two smaller instruments belonging to Count Széchényi at Nagycenk. For his own use in Pest he had a pianoforte-harmonium, an instrument with two manuals, one with the mechanism of a piano and the other a divided harmonium keyboard, allowing different registration and volume in the left-hand and right-hand half.

The Prelude and Fugue on the Name of BACH was written in 1855 and revised in 1870. Liszt also made versions of this massive work for the piano. It is based on a motif drawn from the letters of the name of Bach in German notation, B (B flat) – A – C – H (B natural), with intervals of a particularly chromatic kind. Dedicated to Winterberger, it was apparently intended for the inauguration of the new organ in Merseburg Cathedral, but in the event first played there a year later. It has been suggested that the work is more in the nature of a fantasia, including a fugue during its course. It opens with the BACH motif repeated on the pedals and these notes or a transposed version of them return again and again in different figuration and harmonies. The Fugue itself is preceded by a short Andante section, restrained in dynamics, after the full chords that have proclaimed the name of Bach immediately before it. The fugal subject starts very softly in the bass register and is marked misterioso, the motif initially transposed. It is answered a fifth higher, with the third entry following in a higher register and a fourth in the lowest register, but not, as might have been expected, on the pedals. From then onwards the work unwinds, shifting from key to key, varied in figuration, but always dominated by the pervasive motif on which it is constructed. As it nears its close there is a long pedal trill and the motif is stated in great chords, Maestoso, grave, followed by a curious accelerando, marked, at least, in the first version. The music slows to announce again, in the softest dynamic, the motif, followed by an impressive and grandiose ending.

Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine. Miserere d’Allegri et Ave verum Corpus de Mozart (Evocation at the Sistine Chapel) was written in 1862, after Liszt had moved to Rome. It was conceived, presumably, for piano, but the organ version is contemporaneous, as is a version for orchestra. Liszt also arranged the work for piano duet. The form is that of a fantasia with alternating sections. The first is based, very freely, on the setting of the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri that had long been the exclusive property of the Sistine Chapel choir but had been written out from memory by Mozart, when he heard the work on a visit to Rome as a boy. Mozart’s Ave verum, written in the year of his death, provides a contrast in the second section, marked Andante con pietà. The Miserere is further elaborated in a third section and the work ends with the simplicity of the Ave verum. Here, Liszt explained, human anguish is answered by the infinite mercy of the Almighty.

Liszt wrote a set of six
Item number 8554544
Barcode 636943454428
Release date 01/05/2001
Label Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Andreas Rothkopf
Composers Franz Liszt
Producers Wolfgang Rubsam
Disc: 1
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, S180/R24
1 Prelude
2 Fugue
3 Evocation a la Chapelle Sixtine, S658/R400
4 Cantabile con divozione, S172/R12
5 Allegretto, S172/R12
6 Andantino, S172/R12
7 Legende: Saint Francois d'Assise: la predication a
8 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, S180/R24
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