Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Franz Liszt

In 1842 Liszt had accepted an appointment as kapellmeister for three months of each year, to the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar, a position that became year round in 1848. Meanwhile, he had discovered his soul mate in Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, whom he met on tour in Kiev in 1847, and who soon persuaded him to give up his concert career to compose. Unfortunately, the princess was married -- attempts to win a divorce or have the marriage annulled were consistently rejected, first by Tsar Nicholas I and then by Roman Catholic authorities. In the upshot, Liszt and Carolyne lived together openly in the Altenburg, a palatial residence on a hillock overlooking Weimar and the Ilm river -- a situation that proved a stinging nettle to close-minded Weimar society. Meanwhile, Liszt's kinetic personality provoked a new life of striking contrasts -- helping Wagner, under warrant for revolutionary activities, escape to Switzerland beneath the noses of his noble patrons in 1849; hosting the artistic elite of Europe at the Altenburg (where he might be heard playing Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata with Joseph Joachim before an intimate gathering, for instance) while attempting to raise the performing standards of the grossly under-funded Weimar orchestra; bringing the latest and greatest works of the German stage to Weimar (e.g., Wagner's Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, Schumann's Scenes from Faust) amid a host of petty vexations and vindictive intrigues. The failed revolutionary uprisings of 1848 had rung Romanticism's death knell, seemingly sealed by the death of Chopin in October 1849. Incredibly, amid the turmoil of 1849, Liszt completed both piano concertos, Totentanz for piano and orchestra, preliminary versions of the symphonic poems Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne and Tasso, the Grosses Konzertsolo (a sprawling precursor of the Piano Sonata), a number of piano transcriptions (of works by Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Meyerbeer), that gripping threnody for the passing era, Funèrailles, and the six diminutive Consolations (titled after poems by Sainte-Beuve) in which Liszt's most serenely ecstatic manner is distilled with straightforward simplicity. The gibe is often leveled at them that they are "consolations" indeed for the pianist unequipped for Liszt's mightier utterances. The third Consolation, marked Lento placido, often heard separately, recalls Chopin, in particular, the Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27/2 -- both pieces in which the piano appropriates a long-breathed bel canto eloquence beholden to Bellini at his most suavely moving. Ballades, polonaises, a Berceuse, forms favored by Chopin, would follow, but Liszt draws closest to the Polish master in this ravishing miniature.

-- Adrian Corleonis