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ClassicsOnline Home » LISZT: Organ Works, Vol. 2
Franz Liszt (1811-1886):
Organ Music Volume 2
Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydns 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. Liszts relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie dAgoult, 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 husbands 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 Töpfers mathematical theories on organ construction. Liszts association with Töpfer, who was twenty years his senior, brought a relationship with some of the latters 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 Liszts 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.
In 1849 Meyerbeers opera Le prophète was staged at the Paris Opéra. A collaboration with the librettist Eugène Scribe, the work dealt with the Anabaptist revolt in Germany in the sixteenth century and the part played in it by John of Leyden. In the first act three Anabaptists intone the Latin text Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, iterum venite miseri ad nos, ad nos venite populi (To us, to the water of salvation, come to us again, you who are wretched, come to us, you people) as peasant dissatisfaction grows. Liszts monumental organ Fantasie and Fugue, dedicated to Meyerbeer, written in 1850, and often pianistic in its figuration, takes its thematic material from this, creating a Fantasy that moves on to an Adagio and an Introduction, before the Fugue itself is heard, the whole informed by elements of the theme, heard in part at the beginning and then subject to every transformation. The C minor fugal subject is introduced in the left hand, answered a fifth higher by the right, before the entry of a voice between the two, answered a fifth higher. The delayed pedal entry is in A flat major, as the material is developed, varied in key, mood and figuration, before a final C major apotheosis.
The so-called Trauerode of 1860 is a transcription made in Weimar of Les morts (The Dead), to which optional male voices were added in 1866. The original orchestral work is based on a text by the controversial priest Félicité Lamennais, whom Liszt had known in France in the 1830s and with whom he had remained in correspondence. The first three and the final verses are included in the organ score, preceded by all eight verses. The prayer is a meditation on death, the first of three Funeral Odes, and was written after the sudden death of Liszts son Daniel in Berlin in December 1859. In answer to the poignant question Où sont-ils? Qui nous le dira? (Where are they? Who will tell us?) comes the reply: Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur (Happy are the dead who die in the Lord). The last verse ends with the same message of hope:
Et nous aussi nous irons là doù partent ces plaintes
ou ces chants de triomphe.
Où serons nous? Qui nous le dira?
Heureux les morts qui meurent dans le Seigneur
And we too shall go there whence come these plaints
or songs of triumph.
Where shall we be? Who will tell us?
Happy are the dead who die in the Lord.
Liszt completed and first performed his symphonic poem Orpheus in Weimar in 1854. In 1860 it was arranged for organ by Robert Schaab, to whose version the composer made alterations, with other suggested changes by Gottschalg. The idea for the work had come to Liszt during a rehearsal of Glucks opera and drew inspiration from an Etruscan vase in the Louvre on which the poet-musician was shown, seeming to charm wild beasts and melt the hardest hearts. Orpheus is for Liszt a symbol of Art, ready to tame Humanitys instincts of ferocity, brutality and sensuality, saving Eurydice, the Ideal, but destroyed by the Maenads, the enemies of art. With inevitable reflections of the original orchestral scoring, with two harps, the organ transcription moves forward to an emphatic statement of the Orpheus theme and to the final echoing chords of its serene conclusion.
From the third of a set of six piano pieces under the title Consolations, published in 1850, comes Gottschalgs transcription of the piece for organ as Concertstück in A major, in free style, with relatively little change to the original D flat major version.
Liszts Prelude on Bachs Cantata, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, using a theme from Cantata, BWV 12, was written in 1859, two years before the more extended Variations on the bass line of the same cantata, following the death of his daughter Blandine. Both the Prelude and the Variations were dedicated to Anton Rubinstein. Originally for the piano, the Prelude was arranged for the organ by Alexander Winterberger.
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LISZT: Organ Works, Vol. 2