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ClassicsOnline Home » LISZT: Mephisto Waltzes / 2 Elegies / Grosses Konzertsolo (Liszt Complete Piano Music, Vol. 24)
By Michael Cookson
By Christopher Howell
By Jed Distler
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Complete Piano Music, Vol. 24
Mephisto Waltzes • Two Elegies • Grosses Konzertsolo
The little musical memorial celebration for Frau von Moukhanoff will be held - between the two performances of Tristan which are announced for 15 and 19 May. Cosima was an intimate friend of Mme Muchanoff, and comes to Weimar on 15 May.
Liszt's letter to his brother Eduard Liszt,
Schloss Loo (near Arnheim) 6 May 1875
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 move to Vienna. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire. 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, former wife of Hans von Bülow and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, more concerned with the continued propagation of her husband's music than with her father.
If Liszt's Faust-Symphony was inspired by Goethe, his Mephisto Waltzes had their literary source in the work of Nikolaus Lenau. Nicolaus Franz Niembsch, Edler von Strehlenau, known always under his pseudonym, was the son of an Austrian cavalry officer and a Hungarian mother, widowed when her son was five. Lenau, a depressive, who spent his last six years until his death in 1850 in an asylum, was talented both as a poet and as a violinist. His Faust, Ein Gedicht, written soon after Goethe had completed the second part of his own treatment of the legend, was first published in 1836 and revised in 1840. Lenau's Faust is again seduced by the devil Mephistopheles, embarking on a course of sin and crime that ends with his suicide. Liszt's first Mephisto Waltz, the second of the Two Episodes from Lenau's Faust, known originally under the title Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (The Dance in the Village Inn), was written in Weimar between 1856 and 1861 and was first heard in its orchestral version in the latter year. The piano version of the work was dedicated to the young pianist Carl Tausig, Liszt's former pupil. Mephistopheles, in the guise of a huntsman, accompanied by Faust, approaches a village inn where people are dancing. Faust is immediately attracted by one of the girls, the landlord's daughter. Mephistopheles, dissatisfied with the music, seizes a violin and plays, bewitching the dancers, who give themselves over to love. The song of a nightingale is heard and Mephistopheles leads the villagers, Faust and the girl among them, away through gardens towards the woods. The piece opens with a suggestion of the open strings of the violin, before the sinister dance begins, its course interrupted by a passage marked espressivo amoroso, after which the earlier mood is gradually resumed. There is an echo of the nightingale, before the final Presto.
The second Mephisto Waltz dates from the years 1878/9 to 1881. In its orchestral version it was heard in Budapest in the latter year. The piano version was dedicated to Camille Saint-Saëns. The dance starts tentatively with the notes that suggest the diabolus in musica, the devil in music, the awkward interval of a tritone, and it is with the same allusive interval that the piece ends, after moods that swing from diabolic energy to more relaxed passages, still suggesting, after so many years, the literary inspiration that was its original source.
The third and fourth Mephisto Waltzes are also the product of Liszt's later years. The third piece was written in 1883. It was dedicated to Marie Jaëll, now living in Paris, a former pupil of Liszt, who described her as 'artiste éminente qui est hors ligne au-dessus de la réputation qu'elle a acquise'. From the outset the third Mephisto Waltz makes use of ambiguous intervals of a fourth that, in outline, make up the tentative opening, and remain a continuing feature, suggesting at times an inversion of the tuning of a violin. There are lyrical passages in a dance that largely lacks the diabolical fury that had impelled its predecessor. The fourth Mephisto Waltz, dated March 1885, remained unpublished and apparently unfinished, since its seems that Liszt intended to incorporate a contrasting Andantino section, for which he left sketches. As with other compositions of this last period of his life, the harmony is ambiguous, dominated by the scale motif of the opening.
The first of the two Elegies was written in 1874 in memory of Madame Moukhanoff-Kalergis, née Countess Marie Nesselrode, a gifted pianist and pupil of Chopin, a leading member of Liszt's circle, commemorated in a concert in Weimar. The deep-felt mourning is expressed in a descending interval, heard at the outset and remaining a feature of the whole piece. The second Elegy, composed in 1878, was dedicated to Lina Ramann, Liszt's biographer, initially in a collusion with the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein that later proved troublesome, and editor of his writings. She had a piano school in Nuremberg and had made a name for herself as a teacher, notably with her Grundriss der Technik des Klavierspiels (Ground Plan of the Technique of Piano Playing), adopted, on Liszt's recommendation, by the Royal Hungarian Music Academy in Budapest. A work of tender melancholy, the Elegy includes a gently lyrical passage marked dolcissimo amoroso, which leads to a passionate climax, resolving into final evocative simplicity.
Liszt's Grosses Konzertsolo was written in 1849-50 for a competition at the Paris Conservatoire and was dedicated to the pianist Adolph von Henselt. Whether it was played then is unknown, but it presented daunting technical difficulties. Clara Schumann, to whom Liszt had sent a copy, refused to play it, privately criticising what she regarded as empty virtuosity, while suggesting to Liszt that it was beyond the grasp of a mere woman, a work to which only Liszt himself could do justice. The first performance was apparently given by Carl Tausig. Liszt also arranged the work for piano and orchestra as Grand Solo de Concert, a version that remained unpublished, and for two pianos as Concerto Pathétique. The work represents a development of the now traditional sonata, including in a single movement contrasting elements of other movements, united by a single theme, from which others are derived. The principal theme of the Grosses Konzertsolo is heard at the start, the first part of the work moving to a chordal G major passage marked Grandioso, followed by a lyrical Andante sostenuto, opening in D flat major. A cadenza is followed by a continuation of this quasi-slow movement, now in more majestic and ornate form. The principal theme returns in something approaching its original form, followed by the secondary theme, now in E minor and marked Andante, quasi marcia funebre, its progress accompanied by a simulated muffled drumbeat, melting into the E major of the earlier Andante sostenuto and capped by a triumphant conclusion.
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LISZT: Mephisto Waltzes / 2 Elegies / Grosses Konz...