Recorded on 05/01/2005, uploaded on 08/02/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
One of the greatest epic poems in Western literature, Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy inspired two compositions from the pen of Franz Liszt. The composer was introduced to the works of Dante in the 1830s and soon after composed a two-movement piece titled Fragment after Dante, which he premiered in Vienna in 1839. Liszt later returned to the work in 1849, concurrent with the composition of the much grander Dante Symphony, and revised it into a lengthy, single-movement composition. Giving the work a new title, Après une Lecture de Dante, borrowed from Victor Hugo, Liszt made it the last installment in the second volume of his Années de Pèlerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”).
Liszt termed the work a Fantasia quasi Sonata. Though it is often referred to as the “Dante Sonata,” it is strictly speaking certainly more the former than the latter. Structured quite freely, it is based on two distinct themes, with the second being a transformation of the first. After a menacing introduction of tritones and dissonant harmonies, Liszt arrives at the key of D minor and the chromatic first theme depicting the tortured souls Dante witnessed in Hell. Liszt also used D minor in the Dante Symphony and the key has a rather infamous reputation throughout classical music of being associated with death. This theme is developed to great extent before the arrival of the second theme. Shifting to F-sharp major, Liszt now portrays the joy of those in Heaven. The chromatic first theme also reappears, though greatly transformed, and now appropriate for the heavenly vision. Ultimately arriving at the key of D major, the ending comes not in gentle tones that one might expect of a depiction of Paradise but instead with grandiloquent chords in D major. The final cadence, plagal in nature, concludes with resonant open fifths, hearkening back to the religious works of centuries past. Joseph DuBose
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