“Freudvoll und leidvoll”: the first Lied listed in this Da Vinci Classics album lends its title to the entire CD, and with good reason. The fullness of joy, the fullness of sorrow and of passion: this is the enormous range of Liszt’s emotional and affective palette, displayed in its astonishing breadth and richness throughout his compositional output.
Indeed, few composers can boast such a varied oeuvre. Liszt wrote some of the most dazzling works of the virtuoso piano repertoire, along with large-scale symphonic poems and majestic choral works; but also miniatures of an exquisitely chamber-music style, including small gems hinting at, and actually prefiguring, the idioms of the twentieth century in their distilled essentiality. The demonic and the mystical, the erotic and the religious, the gigantic and the microscopic, the loud and the soft, the crowded and the empty: all kind of musical contrasts, all kind of irreconcilable polarities are found in the extraordinary output of this genius composer.
True, few are those who can genuinely claim to know the complete works of this exceedingly prolific musician, and unavoidably the large public focuses on works such as Mephisto Waltz or the Hungarian Rhapsodies, embodying Liszt-the-virtuoso, Liszt the piano hero – i.e. the one incarnation of this Protean genius which has always been the most successful and admired. However, this is no excuse for the comparative silence surrounding his Lieder. They certainly are less immediate and catchy than the virtuoso piano works, but so ultimately are almost all Lieder by any composer. And while the average concert goer is certainly familiar with Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms or Wolf, it is inexcusable that Liszt’s Lieder are so seldom performed and recorded. This Da Vinci Classics album is therefore a very welcome addition to the discography of this beautiful and relatively neglected repertoire.
But why are Liszt’s Lieder less known than his piano works and less known than the Lieder of many of his contemporaries? This is certainly not due to an inferior quality: Liszt’s Lieder bear comparison with the other masterpieces of their composer, and with the masterpieces written by other musicians in this genre. Among the possible reasons, I will cite but two. Firstly, they do not conform to the typical stereotype of “Liszt”, being – as previously said – very different from the works to which he mainly owes his fame. But this is a rather circular argument, and will not lead us very far. Secondly, and most importantly, they were written by a “not-really-German” composer, and, especially, by one who came to embody a school of thought in opposition with that of the mainline German school. In the famous querelle opposing the Wagnerians to the Brahmsians, it was the latter who were considered as the standard-bearers of the august musical tradition of Romanticism. The lineage connecting Schubert to Schumann, Schumann to Brahms, was the one in which the masterpieces of the Lieder repertoire were found. Certainly, the vocality embodied by the Wagnerian tradition was as far from the chamber music style as could be imagined. Thus, Liszt was the outsider; and even though his Lieder can actually be said to belong in the tradition of Schubert and Schumann, their composer’s belonging to the opposing “field” problematized their reception by both his contemporaries and the later audiences.
Indeed, Liszt’s acquaintance with the repertoire of the Lieder began rather obliquely. As a young virtuoso, he not only played his own compositions, but also created successful transcriptions, paraphrases and arrangements after famous (or not so famous) works by other musicians. These included beautiful versions for solo piano of several Lieder by Schubert. It may seem paradoxical to cut the voice (and therefore the word) out of pieces in which the connection between words and music is so fundamental and generative. However, Schubert had been so efficacious in his portrayal of the lyrics’ content and mood, and Liszt so respectful of the original work (whose lyrics were always printed in the piano transcriptions) that the result is entirely and surprisingly satisfactory.
Indeed, the ambiguity between solo piano and the voice and piano duo is constantly found in Liszt’s output. Several of his Lieder, including some of those recorded here, were either transcribed for solo piano by Liszt himself, or written in parallel in both versions. For example, whilst his piano Liebesträume are among his best-known works, few are familiar with their vocal versions, two of which are recorded here.
Liszt wrote at least seventy-six songs for voice and piano (but probably many more still await discovery in the albums of his cultivated or aristocratic friends). Most of them are to German lyrics, but there are songs in Italian, French, English, Russian and Hungarian.
The lyrics for the first song recorded here come from Goethe’s Egmont (1788) and they embody the twofold nature of love, in a fashion reminiscent of Petrarch’s famous oxymora. Liszt set these words to music at least on three occasions, and the beauty of Goethe’s words, the efficacious expression of love’s contradictory feelings, as well as the musicality of the lines all concur in stimulating Liszt’s creative imagination, and in generating an unforgettable result.
If Goethe was the undisputed genius of German poetry, Johannes Nordmann is certainly less known today. He was a journalist and author whose poems had been considered as politically inflammatory by the censorship. Here too the protagonist is love; this serenade is almost whispered in order not to awake the beloved. It requires exceptional mastery of the voice, in order to be efficacious in its expressivity while maintaining an intimate tone: these traits were certainly typical for the vocality of Franz Götze, one of Liszt’s and Wagner’s favourite tenors for whose skills this piece was tailored.
A different kind of approach to love is that voiced in the Lieder by Heinrich Heine. Liszt and Heine were personally acquainted with each other, although their friendship cooled progressively and eventually died. However, Heine was another of the major figures of German Romantic literature, and his poems provided some of the greatest musicians of the time with some of the most beautiful lyrics they eventually set to music. In Du bist wie eine Blume, however, there is a degree of irony beyond the surface, which was seldom portrayed in the numerous musical versions it received (including those by Schumann and Liszt, who set it to music at approximately the same time). The idea of likening the beloved to a flower is certainly not unusual in literature (in Italian, fiore and amore form the most trivialized rhyme in absolute terms); yet, the dimension of caducity embodied by the flower’s precocious withering is more rarely found, and rather paradoxical. Liszt plays on the contrasting aspects of this seemingly banal metaphor, and renders it very efficaciously by subtly varying the underlying harmonies and the details of his setting.
Heine is once more the author of Im Rhein, im schönen Strome, whose lyrics portray the natural, artistic and religious beauty of the city of Cologne, caressed by the majestic river. The stunning Cathedral, whose profile marks unforgettably the city’s skyline, was still unfinished at Liszt’s and Heine’s time, and both artists (though in different degrees) actively contributed to the fundraising projects for its completion. In this poem, Liszt’s deeply religious nature was certainly inspired by the portrayal of the church’s treasures, and his artistic vein was stimulated by the evocation of the river. Liszt’s musical portrayal of the Rhine’s rippling waves is an unforgettable anticipation of musical Impressionism.
Liszt’s musical setting of Es muss ein Wunderbares sein is still another gem in this collection. Here the closeness between Liszt and Schumann is rather undeniable, and the composer’s mastery in creating a sustained, expressive and touching melodic line is unforgettable. If there the musical impression suggested proximity with Schumann, in Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh, by Goethe (also known as “Wandrers Nachtlied II”), Liszt’s setting is – for today’s listeners – reminiscent of Brahms. But, of course, if a real influence can be surmised, its direction would be from Liszt to Brahms, not vice-versa. The exquisite lyrics describe the quietness of night as an anticipation of death; Liszt’s magnificent setting perfectly renders the desolate atmosphere, but also the eerily suggestive idea of death as a harbour of peace.
The only song to French lyrics recorded here is one of the numerous settings of Victor Hugo’s poetry created by Liszt. Inspired by both the specificity of the French language and the subject of the poem, Liszt punctuated his version with eloquent pauses and unexpected harmonies, as well as with and enchanted and enchanting piano accompaniment.
In Ich liebe dich, to lyrics by one of Schubert’s and Schumann’s favourite poets, Friedrich Rückert, every word is carefully crafted by Liszt as a musical intention. The composer develops the poem’s potential in a succession of unforgettable moments with a wide affective palette, enhanced by his constant use of chromaticism and enharmony.
Der Fischerknabe, on lyrics from Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, is yet another sophisticated evocation of water, seen here as a symbol for femininity, in an evident connection with the myth of the Sirens; a similar topic pervades Die Loreley, on one of the most famous poems of German literature. Here too we have the alluring fascination of a female seductive character, whose watery background contends with the Siren for the role of protagonist in Liszt’s setting. As in the preceding Lied and in Im Rhein, Liszt’s unequalled bravura at the piano is revealed in the “accompaniment” he devises: this also characterizes the delightful piano part of Wie singt die Lerche schön, on lyrics by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, a progressist poet of the era.
Both Hohe Liebe and O lieb so lang du lieben kannst are also found in solo piano versions in Liszt’s output, as two of the three Liebesträume; a thorough knowledge of how intensely Liszt rendered every word of their lyrics sheds new light on the enormously successful solo piano works.
An entirely different atmosphere is found in Bist du, on lyrics by a Tartarian poet (Prince Elim Meshchersky): here, the icy purity and the snow-like candour of the beloved suggests to Liszt an algid setting, which anticipates his late works and his foreshadowing of modernity in music.
Together, the songs recorded in this album wonderfully portray Liszt’s mastery of the voice, of the piano, and of their combination in chamber music: they also provide a much-needed light on a relatively hidden component of his extraordinary musical output.
Liner Notes © Chiara Bertoglio
Monika Lukács was born in Miskolc (Hungary). She is a coloratura soprano, highly trained in Belcanto tradition.
She graduated with the highest honours at the King Stephen’s Conservatory of Budapest in 1997. She studied at Conservatory "G. Verdi" with Adele Bonay and then with Maestro Vittorio Terranova in Milan.
In 2005 she graduated in Vocal Chamber Music with Stelia Doz, and specialized in lieder music.
She also attended many advanced courses with Katalin Szőke, Jùlia Hamari, Silvana Manga , Renato Bruson, Teresa Berganza, Helmut Deutsch, Erik Battaglia.
Since 1996 she gives concerts in Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Germany, France, Croazia, Israel. In Italy she sang for Serate Musicali, Società del Giardino, Società del Quartetto and Amici del Teatro alla Scala Association. She took part to many opera recitals in Milan, Brescia, Rome, Lodi, Mantua, Bergamo, Florence, Naples, Venice. She performed with the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Theater National in Miskolc, the Opera House "Erkel Ferenc" in Budapest. She sung at the "Festival György Ligeti" with the Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, at the "Festival Liszt - Mahler" in Milan. She took part in the Second International festival of Chamber Music under Marcello Abbado’s artistic direction, at Lugano Auditorium in Switzerland, Teatro Bibiena in Mantua, Teatro Sociale in Como, Teatro Mancinelli in Orvieto. She also won national and international competitions.
She recorded for the Sarx Records and for Stradivarius. She recorded for Swiss Radio, for the Hungarian Radio, for RAI 3 and RAI International, and for Japanese TV. She collaborated with Teatro alla Scala in Milan. She is often a member in the jury panel in competitions and holds Masterclasses in Europe.
Stefano Ligoratti: Stefano Ligoratti (Milan 1986) studied at the “G. Verdi” Conservatory of Milan. His Academic course was characterized by a certain musical versatility that led him to obtain many degrees. He graduated in Piano, Organ, Harpsichord, Orchestral Conducting and Composition. He won several prizes in national and international competitions, including the prestigious European Piano Competition "Mario Fiorentini" of La Spezia (Italy, January 2010), where he won the first prize, the audience award and the prize for the youngest pianist. He is Artistic Director of the music network "ClassicaViva", and he performs with the homonymous orchestra, which he founded in 2005, often in the dual role of pianist and Conductor. Recently he is involved in musical dissemination, strongly believing that the historical period in which we live needs a wide operation of musical literacy. In this regard, in January 2019, together with the pianist and musicologist Luca Ciammarughi, he began a season of eight Concert Lessons (still in progress) at the Palazzina Liberty in Milan, under the name of "Non capisco! ... Son profano!”, Offering the public an historical and analytical verbal explanation of the various musical forms. As a pianist he recorded CD’s for the labels: "ClassicaViva" ("Variations ... and beyond", published in 2007; "Fantasies", published in 2009; in duo with the russian violinist Yulia Berinskaya: "Violin in Blue" published in 2010 and "Violin in White" published in 2012); "Limen" ("Sturm und Drang" published in 2018); “Da Vinci” (“F. Schubert: Works for Piano 4 hands” in duo with Luca Ciammarughi published in 2017), (“The voice of Violin” in the role of Conductor of “I musici di Parma Orchestra” and Yulia Berinskaya as a Violin Soloist), (Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano” Published in 2019 in duo with Matilda Colliard as Cellist). Also He is finalizing the recording of complete works for Cello and Piano by G. Goltermann (for “Brilliant Classics” label) with the cellist Cosimo Carovani.
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