Piano Works By Franz Liszt
- Featured: Maggie O'Herlihy
- Release Date: 12/28/2004
'I have seldom witnessed such a composed, unselfconscious display of mature virtuosity' Irish Examiner, 2003 ''Apres une lecture du Dante' demonstrates a splendid control of large scale music and a remarkable technique...Very Impressive' Sunday Tribune, 2005 Artist Biography Maggie O'Herlihy studied piano with Dr. Bridget Doolan at the Cork School of Music, and from an early age won many prizes at competitions throughout Ireland. At 12 years of age she was awarded full scholarships to three specialist music schools in England, and as a result she spent two years at Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, under Michael Young. Returning home in 1994 she studied with Jan Cap at the Cork School of Music, under whose guidance she was soloist at the 1996 Cork Proms playing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, with the CSM Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Adrian Petcu. She studied for two years at the Leinster School of Music, Dublin with Mabel Swainson before winning the Edith Best Scholarship to the Royal College of Music, London, where she studied with the late Professor Irina Zaritskaya for two years. She completed her degree with the distinguished pianist Yonty Solomon in 2003. Maggie recently graduated with first class honors from the RCM Masters Program having completed her studies with Kevin Kenner. Maggie has performed on RTE radio & television and has given recitals throughout Ireland, Britain and South America. She has been the recipient of the Killultagh Properties Ltd award at the Belfast Classical Music Bursaries 2002 and of the Philharmonia Orchestra/Martin Musical Scholarship Fund for the past four years. Maggie is grateful to the Arts Council of Ireland for their continued support. Liszt's music is a paradigm of nineteenth-century thought. He read and travelled widely and incorporated these explorations of the soul and body into his music. No recent age before or after him was so ready to see the connections between the arts and use one to express or illuminate another. As Walter Pater said in the latter half of the century: 'All art constantly aspires to the condition of music', and music responded by trying to reach beyond it's notes to penetrate the world of poetry, painting, novels and natural beauty. Liszt's earliest piano music was primarily virtuosic or a transformation of contemporary operas; but by the 1840s he was beginning to explore a wider range of ideas. He coined the word 'recital' to suggest his piano concerts could be an equivalent of a poetry recital, and some of his compositions took on the parallel character of musical reflections to resemble the public poetry readings of his time. As a consequence a new collection of works bore titles of, and were sometimes prefaced by, the lines of poetry or prose that inspired them. Typical of these were the Années de Pèlerinage. 'Years of wandering' would be the literal translation, but the title bears much richer implications. A pilgrimage is a special sort of journey in the Christian world. In Liszt's piano music it implies a kind of spiritual journey, not exactly secular, but more like a religious quest. In a sense his three volumes of Années de Pèlerinage are a reflective diary of his responses to particular places or items in this quest, some being more programmatic than others. The emergence of the first book of Années began life in another collection composed between 1835-6 while Liszt was travelling with Comtesse Marie d'Agoult in Switzerland, and some of these pieces were published under a different title in 1840. But Liszt revised the pieces between 1848 and 1853, as the idea of what they were about became clearer to him. Finally, he published them in 1855 as Année de Pélerinage, Première Année, Suisse. Vallée d'Obermann is sixth in this collection and in many ways it's core. It is prefaced with two quotations from the novel Obermann by Etienne Pivert de Senancour (1770-1846), a work that Liszt greatly admired. It is full of what the German philosopher Kant described as the 'sublime' or what later Freud would describe as the oceanic feeling. The first quotation begins typically for a quest: 'What do I want? What am I? What do I want of nature? . Every cause is invisible, every goal an illusion, every form changes. I exist to consume myself in unconquerable desires.' In the second he describes how he sees the magnificence of the natural world. 'Vast consciousness of a Nature that everywhere is overwhelming and impenetrable, a universal passion, indifference, advanced wisdom, voluptuous abandon; all that the mortal heart can sustain of need and profound passions.' Finally Liszt quoted Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (note that word again) 'Could I embody and unbosom now /That which is most within me, - could I wreak / My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw / Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong and weak / All that I would have sought and all I seek, /Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe, - into one word'. Byron's answer is no, he is consigned to a voiceless thought 'sheathing it as a sword.' Liszt's translation of this powerful soul-state begins with an indication he is already trying to stretch out beyond the limits of the piano, as the left-hand melody bears the direction 'like a cello'. The opening lyrical 'cello' tune is interrupted by short chromatic inserts. The melody then takes to the upper part of the piano before providing the basis for a passionate recitative-like quasi improvisation. Finally the melody reaches a new haven, E major, and from that the music explodes into pages of glorious fortissimo, as a kind of metaphor for the overwhelming feelings of the spiritual pilgrimage pictured by Senancourt and Byron. Années de Pèlerinage Deuxième Livre, Italie like it's predecessor had a complex start in life. Most of the pieces were inspired by Liszt's visit to Italy in 1838-9, and were composed at the same time. But they were revised and added to later on. The final version of the 2nd book was published till 1858. Of it's seven pieces five were inspired by literature, but the first two drew their inspiration from pictures. At the head of the collection is Sposalizio, which is Liszt's response to Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin (1504) which is in the Brera Museum in Milan but which was originally destined to hang in the church of San Franscesco. The mood of the painting is quietly contemplative, with the Virgin Mary poised to accept the ring Joseph is proffering her in the forefront of the picture. Crowning the whole scene is a polygonal building topped by a cupola. The colouring of the picture suggests an eternal, peaceful mid-day. The picture seems to imply as much a union between Mary and Joseph as a marriage between the Virgin and the Church. Liszt's response to the image produced one of his most beautiful piano pieces. The main idea takes a while to emerge from it's original association with a sinuous melody (not unlike Debussy's first Arabesque) that is heard at the beginning of the piece. However, hardly has the opening idea been heard than it is slid aside for a hymn-like chordal passage. Bit by bit the chords, the main idea and the opening sinuous melody are woven together to form a grand climax. The marriage of the musical ideas is a metaphor for the marriage in Raphael's picture; but Liszt may have looked beyond the synthesis of melodies to his own relationship with art and ideas, or even with Marie d'Agoult. Année de pèlerinage, Deuxième Livre ends with one of Liszt's most powerful compositions entitled (in it's final format) Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata. The original title comes from Liszt's mis-quotation of Victor Hugo whose poem Après une lecture de Dante appeared in his collection Les Voix intérieures (1837). But this was only a trigger as Liszt often read Dante with Marie d'Agoult in the 1830s. Perhaps the quotation from Hugo indicates that the piece is as much a picture of the torments described in Dante's Inferno, as it is Liszt's 'reading' of it. It's opening interval, the tritone, is less a musical pun (the medievals called the interval the 'devil in music') than a means of suggesting the perpetual turbulence and disorientation of hell. After the short introduction a menacing descending chromatic idea appears whose pianistic presentation almost bursts the instrument's capacity. In the end, however, Liszt suggests that he, like Dante, is only a visitor in Hell, and that even there each can have a vision of paradise, as the work ends in a swathe of confident D major. Just as Dante found Beatrice in his Paradiso so Liszt was not able to obey Dante's famous command placed above the entry to Hell, 'Abandon hope all ye that enter here.' Liszt's Dante Sonata ends in a peal of Hope. The revolutions of 1848 had a profound effect on Europe not least because of how widespread they were. In part the inevitable outcome of the reprisals made by different governments to the defeat of Napoleon, they were also an indication of the emergence of nationalism with it's craving to explore and establish national identities through music, poetry and prose as well as the strong desire to translate this desire into political self-governance. In Hungary, always something an a uncontainable Magyar subdivision of the mighty, sprawling Hapsburg Empire, the move for some kind of independence from the Viennese, German-speaking Empire became ever more powerful in 1848, and drew into it's aspirations many different views of how to achieve national independence. Liszt supported more the gradualist, legislative methods of the first elected Hungarian prime-minister, Lajos Batthyány as opposed to the more fiery, militaristic view of the more 'Romantic' politician Kossuth. In the end the Hapsburg troops won and, for the time being, suppressed the Hungarian uprising with it's deaths both of men and hopes. Liszt, though an ardent nationalist, was not a politician, so his response to the Hungarian defeat was more personal. His Funérailles was composed in 1849, and, perhaps as an indication of it's non-political status, formed part of his set of contemplative pieces Harmonies Poétiques et Religueses which had been begun as early as the mid-1830s. By 1849 Liszt was living in Weimar as the court's director of music. Funérailles is a paean to the Hungarian dead in general and in particular to Battyány and the other thirteen Hungarian generals, whose execution on October 9 1849 seems to have been the trigger for Liszt's moving tribute. After the opening, which resembles muffled bells, and the subsequent funeral march with it's trumpet-calls and measured tread, the work proceeds to include an inspiring march that appears above circling, ostinato left-hand octaves. From the despair of defeat Liszt manages to suggest a quiet confidence in the future. All will be well, though not quite yet. Roderick Swanston c 2004.
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