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ClassicsOnline Home » LISZT: Annees de Pelerinage, Vol. 2
Penguin Guide Rosette Award
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Années de Pélerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) Vol. 2
Deuxième année: Italie (Second Year: Italy)
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborjan) near Ödenburg (Sopron) in a German-speaking region of Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, was a steward in the employment of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, and an amateur cellist. The boy showed early musical talent, exhibited in a public concert at Ödenburg in 1820, followed by a concert in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital Bratislava). This second appearance brought sufficient support from members of the Hungarian nobility to allow the family to move to Vienna, where Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and composition lessons from the old Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who had taught Beethoven and Schubert. In 1822 the Liszts moved to Paris, where, as a foreigner, he was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini, but was able to embark on a career as a virtuoso, displaying his gifts as a pianist and as a composer.
On the death of his father in 1827 Liszt was joined again by his mother in Paris, where he began to teach the piano and to interest himself in the newest literary trends of the day. The appearance of Paganini there in 1831 suggested new possibilities of virtuosity as a pianist, later exemplified in his Paganini Studies. A liaison with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, a blue-stocking on the model of their friend the novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), and the subsequent birth of three children, involved Liszt in years of travel, from 1839 once more as a virtuoso pianist, a role in which he came to enjoy the wildest adulation of audiences.
In 1844 Liszt finally broke with Marie d’Agoult, who later took her own literary revenge on her lover. Connection with the small Grand Duchy of Weimar led in 1848 to his withdrawal from public concerts and his establishment there as Director of Music, accompanied by a young Polish heiress, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, the estranged wife of a Russian nobleman and a woman of literary and theological propensities. Liszt now turned his attention to new forms of composition, particularly to symphonic poems, in which he attempted to translate into musical terms works of literature.
Catholic marriage to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein had proved impossible, but application to the Vatican offered some hope, when, in 1861, Liszt travelled to join her in Rome. The marriage did not take place and the couple continued to live separately in Rome, starting a period of his life that Liszt later described as une vie trifurquée (a three-pronged life), as he divided his time between his comfortable monastic residence in Rome, his visits to Weimar, where he held court as a master of the keyboard and a prophet of the new music, and his appearance in Hungary, where he was now hailed as a national hero.
Liszt’s illegitimate daughter Cosima had married the pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, whom she later deserted for Wagner, already the father of two of her children. His own final years were as busy as ever, and in 1886 he gave concerts in Budapest, Paris, Antwerp and London. He died in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, now controlled by his daughter Cosima, to whom his appearance there seems to have been less than welcome.
Liszt’s earlier years of wandering, during the course of his relationship with Marie d’Agoult, had given rise to two collections of piano pieces, described, in terms hardly complimentary to his mistress, as years of pilgrimage. The second year, set in Italy, includes three pieces inspired by sonnets of Petrarch and previously published. The whole collection, composed between 1837 and 1849, was finally published in 1858. Sposalizio, written in 1839, with its two combined themes, is based on Raphael’s painting Lo sposalizio della Vergine in the Vatican. It is succeeded by Il pensieroso, The Thinker, suggested by Michelangelo’s sculptured tomb of Giuliano de Medici in the Medici chapel in Florence and carrying a quotation from the artist’s words expressing thankfulness that, made of stone, he may sleep, while the world remains full of injustice. The tune that dominates the Canzonetta of Salvator Rosa, is by Bononcini, but the inspiration of the piece is a reminder of the popularity of the seventeenth century Italian painter, whose work had a particular wild appeal to the romantic imagination, depicting the world of Auber’s Fra Diavolo. The words of the Canzonetta are written in the score, Vado ben spesso cangiando loco / ma non so mai cangiar desio.
The three Petrarch sonnets are piano versions of settings of the poems, Benedetto sia ’I giorno, e ’l mese, e l’anno, Blessed be the day, the month and the year, Pace non trovo, e non da far guerra, War I cannot wage, yet I find no peace, and l’ vidi in terra angelici costumi, I saw on earth angelic grace. After Reading Dante turns to another of the great Italian literary figures, whose Divine Comedy was to be subject to Lisztian metamorphosis in a later symphonic poem. The title of the piece is taken from a poem by Victor Hugo, and the sonata movement itself dwells on the Inferno, touching the sad fate of Paolo and Francesca, damned for their forbidden love.
The last three pieces, Venice and Naples, are more overtly popular in inspiration, a barcarolle with a melody borrowed from Rossini’s Otello, a Canzone based on Peruchini and a final vigorous Neapolitan Tarantella, with a melody published in a collection by the Neapolitan Guglielmo Cottrau.
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LISZT: Annees de Pelerinage, Vol. 2