The Romantic soul and the worldview it adhered to were deeply fascinated by infinity. This longing, this desire and this aspiration could manifest themselves in a variety of forms. Nature was seen by the Romantics no longer as a power tamed by humankind, as in the regular, geometric and architectural gardens of Baroque and Enlightenment taste; rather, it was admired in its sublimity, in its horrors and in its overwhelming force. Gazing at the sky, the Romantics felt an inexpressible awe and amazement, which translated into a deep nostalgia for something beyond the human. Sometimes, this longing became a true religious feeling: not merely the primeval sentiment of transcendence, impersonally and sometimes cruelly embodied by Nature’s powers, but an encounter with the God of Christian revelation. Finally, this longing for the otherworldly also took the form of a cult for geniuses, heroes, martyrs and artists: those humans who could cross the boundaries of mediocrity, and elevate themselves beyond what is accessible to most people, were worshipped and revered. They represented the struggle – as well as the God- or Nature-given talents – through which humans could become, as it were, superhuman.
The figure of Franz Liszt represented all of these elements in a powerful and almost unique fashion. In his youth, he toured extensively as one of the most appreciated, idolized, admired and adored virtuosos of all times. He had been able to push the boundaries of piano technique well beyond what had hitherto been imaginable. His capability to make the piano sound as an orchestra, to master the most difficult technical challenges, and to move to tears his listeners were allegedly unequalled. He was a true “hero” of the piano; an artist who had the skill for expressing the most intense feelings of his soul and also of his culture. Moreover, his figure and his provenance embodied the nationalistic and patriotic stance of many Romantics; also under this profile, thus, he was the prototype of the Romantic hero.
His music was also thought to convey those feelings of Nature’s sublimity which the Romantic soul cherished so much. He was able to realize this thanks to a variety of tools. Thanks to its many contrasts in volume, timbre and texture, his music seemed to represent the abysses, the peaks, the rustlings and the thunderings, the murmurs and the rumblings of Nature’s most powerful expressions. Moreover, his novel use of piano technique could also generate new solutions for aurally representing specific natural phenomena, such as birdsong or waterfalls or waves, to name but few. The Romantics’ attraction for Nature could thus find an outlet in Liszt’s music, and, through the contemplation of natural phenomena, reach the feelings of sublimity and awe so treasured by the Romantics.
Last but not least, the pianist and composer was also deeply interested in the religious aspect of life. Although his lifestyle did not always conform to the precepts of Catholic morals, he constantly felt – from his early youth to the grave – the appeal of transcendence. As a teenager, he had wished to enter the Seminary of Paris, but had been discouraged by both his mother and the priest who was his spiritual father. A few years later, he wrote an essay on Church music, thus testifying to the stable link between his faith and his music. It was however in his maturity that his religious inspiration and interest manifested themselves most clearly. He lived for a long time in Rome, was admitted to the “minor” holy orders (i.e. those which normally precede the ordination to priesthood) and began composing a constantly increasing number of sacred or religious works, sometimes destined for liturgical worship, sometimes for the concert hall or the salon.
The works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album are a perfect representation of Liszt’s many souls, and of this longing for infinity, expressed in so many different ways.
There is undoubtedly the virtuoso dimension: many of the pieces recorded here ask for transcendental virtuosity and absolute mastery of piano technique, at its most demanding level. There are the transparent arpeggios of Les jeux d’eau, the octaves of Funérailles, the powerful chords of Vallée d’Obermann… to mention but a handful of the most famous technical passages of piano literature.
There is also the evocation of Nature, represented in its multifaceted aspects: the impressive sublimity of Vallée d’Obermann, the game of waterdrops against light in Les jeux d’eau, the twitterings and chirpings of the birds in Saint François d’Assise, along with many more creative depictions.
There is, perhaps most important of all, the religious dimension, sometimes expressed in a very clear fashion, sometimes appearing in unexpected forms and at unexpected places. For example, Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este is a piece which seems, at first sight, to be “just” a pre-Impressionistic portrayal of water’s lightness. Doubtlessly, this work did appeal to the subsequent generation of Impressionist composers, and became a model for countless later depictions of similar natural phenomena, most famously in Maurice Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. However, Liszt inserted a Gospel quote at the piece’s core, and this inscription reveals a hidden meaning which goes far beyond the coloristic evocation. The quote, excerpted from the Gospel of St. John, refers to the water of Baptism as a symbol for the Holy Spirit, poured by Christ in the souls of the faithful. Following their Master’s example, Christian believers are turned into “sources” of “living water”, which springs from their hearts for eternal life.
Religiosity also permeates another seemingly coloristic piece, the Legend depicting St Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds. Liszt, whose first name was Franz, devoutly wrote two piano “Legends” dedicated to two great saints whom he considered as his patrons: St Francis of Assisi and St Francis of Paola; the piece dedicated to the latter saint has also been recorded for Da Vinci Classics by the same performer. The episode portrayed in the work recorded here is excerpted from the “Little Flowers of St Francis”, a collection of short stories transmitted by the Saint’s most faithful companions. St Francis, though no proto-ecologist, was however deeply fascinated by nature and by the animals he encountered; he considered all creatures as being manifestations of God’s Providence, and capable, in their own fashion, to praise Him and give Him glory. Thus, on one occasion, St Francis spoke to a number of birds gathered on a tree, inviting them to express their prayerful response to their Creator by means of their song. This episode gave the opportunity to the composer for turning the piano into a “catalogue d’oiseaux”, just as Olivier Messiaen would do a century later; here too, however, the piece’s deepest meaning is not in the superficial appearance of the birdsongs but rather in the spiritual significance of the episode.
A prayer is also depicted in Invocation, a piece taken, along with Funérailles, from a rather heterogeneous collection called Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, which includes very virtuoso and imposing pieces along with small-scale miniatures with a chamber music touch. Invocation is inspired by a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine, whose lines are quoted in the score. It depicts the soul’s invocation of God, in a prayer which elevates itself rising “with the dawn, with the night”, or “like a flame”, or floating “on the wing of the clouds”. This imagery is powerfully evoked by Liszt’s effectful piano writing.
A literary influence is also found in Vallée d’Obermann, inspired by an epistolary novel written at the dawn of the nineteenth century but which achieved the summit of its fame only a few decades later. The portrayal of nature, as experienced by the eponymous character, resonated deeply in Liszt’s soul, when he was travelling through Switzerland; his music attempts, and successfully manages, to achieve the same grandiosity, sublimity and fascination of Nature.
In Funérailles, it is Liszt the patriot who comes to the fore. Although the piece forcefully reminds the listener of certain passages written by Chopin, who had recently died and whom Liszt deeply revered, the ultimate inspiration came to Liszt from the death or exile of three martyrs of Hungary’s rebellion against the Austrian rulers. The piece is dark, veined by piety and sorrow, but also eliciting feelings of heroism, of patriotic enthusiasm, of longing for a freedom which still had to be conquered and obtained.
Here too the religious dimension is not missing: the rays of hope and tenderness contained in certain of its most touching episodes confer to the tragedy of these martyrs a spiritual dimension. The ultimate meaning of their sacrifice is not found “only” in a political struggle or in a battle for freedom, as praiseworthy as these goals may be; rather, it represents a reference to the sacrifice of Christ, who gave His life for his disciples.
Together, these beautiful pieces bear witness to Liszt’s incredible expressive power, to his mastery of the pianistic language and technique, and to his ability to touch the souls of his listeners, in the twenty-first century as at the time of their creation.
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 November 2018, she relased the CD “Les Harmonies de l’Esprit” (Da Vinci Classics) with four compositions by Franz Liszt: Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata, Liebestraum n. 3, Consolations (six pensée poétiques) and Légende No. 2 (St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots). Among them, the recording of all the six Consolations together and of the Légende No. 2 is very rare, as well as very rare are the occasion to listen them during a recital. The CD has been broadcasted by Radio Popolare, Radio Rai 3, Radio Classica, Radio Svizzera Italiana and received a critical unanimous consent. 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 and Mathematics: a portrait of an Aristotelian piano soloist. In addition, the quarterly CALABRIAnelMONDO dedicated a four-page service on the third issue of 2017 entitled “Ingrid Carbone: a Calabrian pianist, an artist of rare ability”. 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 “Italian genius under the stars”, which has been presented at Venice Film Festival: the soundtrack uses her interpretations of some Liszt compositions. Mrs Carbone has performed in Austria, China, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Spain, Slovenia as soloist, with orchestra and chamber music. In Spring 2019 she went to China invited to play, give masterclasses and lectures to piano teachers. 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 studied with Maria Laura Macario and Flavio Meniconi, and 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 in Israel, where she attended two master classes with Aquiles delle Vigne and Andrzej Pikul, and individual lessons with Emanuel Krasovsky and Ronan O’Hora; she attended Master Classes at the Internationale Sommerakademie – Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg with Aquiles delle Vigne, with Lazar Berman and Aquiles delle Vigne in Florence at the Scuola di Musica e Arte “Il Trillo”, 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 and with Cristiano Burato. Eclectic personality, she graduated summa cum laude in Mathematics 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 Europe and at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto (Canada). 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