Several red threads give deep unity and consistence to the musical programme of this CD, which comprises some of the most celebrated among Liszt’s works and yet sheds a somewhat unusual light onto his aesthetic world and his poetic perspective.
Indeed, to say Liszt is automatically to say piano virtuosity, as Franz Liszt (1811-1886) is universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest piano virtuosos of all time, if not simply the greatest. However, and even though brilliancy and technical complexity are abundantly represented in this programme, the works performed in this CD jointly point to other dimensions of Liszt’s music and pianism, namely to his cultural horizon and to his spirituality.
Liszt was undoubtedly a well-read musician; the depth and vastity of his culture, and particularly of his literary culture, are constantly revealed both in the quality of his own written output and in the frequency of references to poetry, essays, novels and plays in his music and in his letters. This interest surely stemmed from Liszt’s personality, which was omnivorously attracted by the beautiful and the sublime in all of their forms (including their opposites, which took the shape of the terrifying and the demoniac); at the same time, it was fueled by Liszt’s continuing frequentation of the salons where he usually performed but where other cultural forms were the normal object of talk, discussion and debate. Along with literary references, the second major red thread found in this musical programme is that of religion and religiosity. Liszt was precociously fascinated by the Christian faith in which he had been educated. At an early age he repeatedly manifested a wish to be ordained a priest, though he was dissuaded from entering the clerical status by both his father confessor and his mother. His interest in spirituality, however, and in religious/liturgical music continued throughout his life, and reached a sort of symbolic and actual embodiment when he was admitted to the “minor orders” in 1865. Religion played a crucial role also in his relationship with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, with whom he settled in Rome in 1861. In the capital city of Catholicism, Liszt met with Pope Pius IX (who even visited him at his home), who allegedly referred to him as “my own Palestrina”, and led for some time an almost-monastic life, before embarking on further, intense journeying as a composer, conductor and teacher.
Even though his own pianism was characterized, at least in its most evident features, by shiny brilliancy and showy technical prowess, therefore, it is worth mentioning that Liszt was intensely drawn also by other kinds of music, of an almost entirely opposing character: he planned to create a harmonized plainchant collection for liturgical use in the Catholic Church, he followed attentively (even if from a distance) the Cecilian movement and its debates on the proper liturgical music, and frequently employed plainchant tunes (either from the original Catholic repertoire or just inspired by it) in his own works.
The Dante Sonata  (short for Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata) shares with several other works by Liszt a long and plurennial gestation. As established by Sharon Winklhofer, David Trippett and Adrienne Kaczmarczyk, the first concept of the work can be traced to the late 1830s, where a piece called Fragment Dantesque saw the light. About a decade later (in 1848-9), Liszt revised his earlier composition both in its musical content and in its title (in fact, two different titles were adopted in this stage, both mentioning Dante’s Commedia). In the following years (1849-53) the piece took its definitive shape, though publication came only about twenty years after the first drafts, when the Dante Sonata was eventually included within the second volume of the Années de pélérinage (S.161).
This rather tormented compositional history is revealing of how Liszt doted on this work; at the same time, and notwithstanding the important musical reworkings, it is highly significant that Dante’s figure and his Commedia are constantly associated with this piece. It would be misleading, however, to imagine the Dante Sonata as a faithful (or even sketchy) musical rendition of the Commedia; rather, Dante’s works provides a spiritual framework, along with precise suggestions in the form of characters, of atmospheres, and of an overall aesthetic concept. As Kenneth Hamilton points out, “there is nothing particularly programmatic about the structure of the Dante Sonata (as opposed to the character of the themes) apart from the general outline. The struggle-triumph trajectory that Liszt follows here is common to a great number of his works. Indeed, he deliberately chose ‘subjects’ that could be interpreted in this manner – Prometheus, Obermann, Faust, Tasso and other suffering, yet ultimately victorious characters”. In fact, this itinerary from despair to bliss (Liszt even uses the Italian word “disperato”, “desperate”, in the score) is aptly epitomized in Dante’s work, whose very title, “comedy”, refers to its progression from hell to heaven, from the uttermost negativity to the perfection of beatitude. These two poles are clearly found in Liszt’s piano composition, where the two main themes, their keys and their features (including the striking use of the tritone, “diabolus in musica”, the “devil in music”) build up a powerful musical echo of the Dantesque suggestions. It is worth mentioning, indeed, that the title which Liszt eventually gave to his work refers to Dante only obliquely, as it is an almost identic quotation from the title of a literary composition by Victor Hugo (Après une lecture de Dante, 1836), thereby establishing a complex net of cultural references whose fascinating implications have been thoroughly studied by the Italian scholar Ida Zicari.
Other poems, namely those by Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862) and Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-1876) lie behind the inspiration of the three Liebesträume (S.541/R.211), which were originally conceived as songs for solo voice and piano. Together, they constitute a triptych illuminating the various shapes of love: mystical love in Uhland’s Hohe Liebe, love till death in Seliger Tod, and unconditional, eternal love in Freiligrath’s O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!. Along with the version with voice, Liszt published also the piano version which ultimately became the best known of the two, particularly by virtue of the third piece, Liebestraum n. 3 , whose lyrical and elegiac atmosphere, whose elegant tune and harmonization and whose transparent embellishments quickly gained universal fame.
Likewise, among the Consolations (S.172)  one of the works achieved a recognition which none of the other pieces succeeded in gaining; in this case, the best-known of the series is the third, Lento placido. Here too, the title of the series refers to extra-musical suggestions; the most likely allusion is to the Consolations, a series of poems by Joseph Delorme (also known as Charles Sainte-Beuve), though a reference to Une larme, ou Consolation by Alphonse de Lamartine is also possible. Yet again, these works have undergone in turn a slow process of rethinking and rewriting. The first series (now identified as S.171a) was originally written between 1844 and 1849; the third of these pieces would later lend musical material to the first Hungarian Rhapsody (S.244/1), and be replaced by the better-known piece which stands in its place in the Consolations S.172 (composed 1849-50). The other works from the first series made their way into the new one, though all were reconsidered and modified: in most cases, the composer’s changes tended to simplify the texture and writing. Along with the literary references in the series’ title, it should be noted that the fifth Consolation bore the title Madrigal in an early manuscript, thus linking these works with yet another literary form of the preceding centuries.
The Consolations frequently make explicit the link connecting Liszt’s aesthetics with Chopin: notwithstanding the radical differences in their respective characters and languages, the two musicians shared several aspects of their pianistic writing; moreover, Liszt’s interest in the technical innovations in piano-making is shown in the third Consolation, which he mentioned himself as an example of the use of the tone-sustaining pedal in a letter to Steinway. The fourth Consolation, instead, used to be known as Stern-Consolation by virtue of a star-shaped emblem printed above the score in the first edition: here, too, a cultural reference can be found, namely to a song written by the Grand Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Maria Pavlovna; the work’s performance indication (“cantabile con divozione”, “with devotion”) points again to the spiritual inspiration of a considerable portion of Liszt’s output.
This dimension is still more palpable in the closing piece of this CD, one of the two Légendes (S.175, c. 1863) which Liszt dedicated to his namesakes, Francis of Assisi and Francis of Paola. In both cases, episodes from the saints’ lives offered to the composer the opportunity to display his talent for the musical depiction of natural sounds and of mystical atmospheres; in Francis of Assisi’s case, the birdsong vivaciously portrayed by Liszt constitutes a striking anticipation of Olivier Messiaen’s piano works on the same subject. In the other Legend , performed here, St Francis of Paola’s miraculous crossing of the sea on his outspread cloak inspired first a painting by Eduard von Steinle, owned by Liszt himself, and later the musical work. Writing in 1860 to Richard Wagner, Liszt described the saint as striding “firmly, steadfastly”, while blessing with his right hand, and being led by the word “Charitas”, i.e. mystical love.
Liszt’s interest in the liturgical heritage of the Catholic Church is clearly shown in this piece, where reminiscences from plainchant tunes are heard in the opening motto; the work then acquires momentum, passing through the vivid portrayal of water, up to the solemn concluding climax.
Throughout these works, therefore, the listener will enjoy a fascinating itinerary illuminating Liszt’s cultural horizon and his continuing spiritual inspiration; one would almost be tempted to say, in fact, that the two are inseparably linked and constitute primary focuses of the composer’s aesthetics.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Ingrid Carbone: Awarded at the Worldwide Competition IBLA Grand Prize in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the New York IBLA Foundation considered her among outstanding professionals who deserve the attention of the international public at large, judging her in reference to a standard of excellence at all times. In addition, in 2016 the New York IBLA Foundation awarded her the Scarlatti Special Mention, in 2017 the Piano Special Mention. In 2015 she also won the First Prize at the International Music Competition “Erik Satie” in Lecce (Italy), and the Second Prize at the International Piano Competition “Città di Rocchetta” (Italy). In 2017 the International Federation of Professional and Business Women – FIDAPA – Italy (Rende) also awarded her the biennial prize “Donna del Sud” for her artistic value. Because of this prize, Donata Marrazzo (journalist for the Italian newspaper Sole24Ore) published the “portrait” on CalabriaCult: Schubert, Liszt e la Matematica: ritratto di una concertista aristotelica (i.e., Schubert, Liszt and Mathematics: a portrait of an Aristotelian piano soloist). In 2018 she was awarded the XXI edition of the Prize “La città del sole” (section Art) by the Rotary International Association “La città del sole”. In the same year, she appeared in the movie-documentary “Genialità italiana sotto le stelle” (i.e., “Italian genius under the stars”), which has been presented at Venice Biennale del Cinema: the soundtrack uses her interpretations of some Liszt compositions. Mrs Carbone has performed for several associations, foundations, theatres and conservatories of music in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Spain, Slovenia as soloist, with orchestra and with the Italian violinist Eugenio Prete, with whom she regularly played from 2007 to 2015. She has been invited to be a jury member of international piano competitions. Mrs Carbone began her musical education in Italy, at the Conservatory of Music of Cosenza, her home town, where she achieved her piano Diploma at the age of nineteen with Francesco Monopoli. There she studied Composition, too. She attended several Master Classes in Italy and abroad in prestigious academies: she has been admitted (being the only pianist from Italy) to the 25th edition of Tel-Hai International Piano Master Classes, where she attended two master classes with Aquiles delle Vigne and Andrzej Pikul; she attended Master Classes in Salzburg at Mozarteum with Aquiles delle Vigne, with Lazar Berman in Florence, with Eduardo Ogando in Rome, with Hector Pell at the Accademia Musicale Curci (where she received the Diploma of Honour after an International Biennial Piano Master Course), with Sergio Cafaro at the Accademia Musicale Pescarese. She recently studied with Cristiano Burato. Mrs Carbone has a wide repertoire which runs from the baroque period (including Bach concertos with string orchestra) to the XX century. Eclectic personality, mathematics is her hobby. She graduated summa cum laude at the University of Calabria (Italy) at age 21. She moved to the University of Bari (Italy) when she became Assistant Professor in Mathematics at age 27. She is the author of articles, published by international journals, and was invited to give talks and conferences in Italy and abroad. Currently, she is Assistant Professor at the University of Calabria, where she teaches mathematics and where she also was the President of the Scientific Library for some years.
Franz Liszt: (b Raiding, (Doborján), 22 Oct 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. He was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music. His unremitting championship of Wagner and Berlioz helped these composers achieve a wider European fame. Equally important was his unrivalled commitment to preserving and promoting the best of the past, including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Weber and above all Beethoven; his performances of such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata created new audiences for music hitherto regarded as incomprehensible. The seeming contradictions in his personal life – a strong religious impulse mingled with a love of worldly sensation – were resolved by him with difficulty. Yet the vast amount of new biographical information makes the unthinking view of him as ‘half gypsy, half priest’ impossible to sustain. He contained in his character more of the ideals and aspirations of the 19th century than any other major musician. Profile from The New Grove dictionary of Music and Musicians