Recorded on 04/21/1997, uploaded on 08/29/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Franz Liszt composed the ten pieces of his Harmonies poétiques et religieuses between 1845 and 1852. Only half, however, were new compositions; the others being either revisions or transcriptions of earlier works while Miserere d’après Palestrina was actually a piano transcription of a work by Palestrina, an extraordinarily novel idea at the time. In relation to the events of the composer’s life, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses followed Liszt’s decision to give up the life of the traveling virtuoso so as to focus more of his energies on composition. Several of the pieces, in fact, date from 1847 when he spent time at the Hungarian country estate of his mistress Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. The cycle also looks forward, in terms of innovation, to the Sonata in B minor which followed immediately in 1852-53.
Perhaps the most famous of the ten pieces is the seventh: Funérailles. It bears the date of October 1849 which has led to some speculation as to its origin. Some have speculated that Liszt composed the piece in memory of Frédéric Chopin who died on the 17th of that month. However, Liszt himself denied that he had Chopin in mind during the work’s composition and instead stated that it was written in memory of three friends who lost their lives in the Habsburg’s suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
Beginning with accented minor ninths in the lowest portion of the piano’s range, Funérailles begins with an ominous and dissonant introduction. Laboriously working its way up the keyboard, the introduction eventually arrives at piercing trumpet calls after which the funeral march proper begins. The F-minor march melody is heard first in the bass underneath weighted chords in the right hand, and then repeated in the upper voice with fuller accompaniment. Like a trio section, a new melody in A-flat major emerges after the two statements of the funeral march. This new melody is hopeful but tinged with a chilling awareness of reality. Nevertheless, it grows in fervor and resolve leading to the piece’s third section. Over a rumbling bass line, the third section introduces a new march theme, this one triumphant in the key of D-flat major. Passing quickly through the keys of A and F major, the theme builds to a bombastic climax in D major before returning in sweeping octave passages to the tonic key of F minor. Each of the piece’s three main themes is briefly recapped in the final measures of the work. The triumphal march theme occupies the closing measures and, though in F major, offers this time little comfort or consolation as it is harshly offset against the rumbling bass line in its minor counterpart. Building into a dissonant augmented triad, Funérailles ends abruptly with open fifths upon the tonic. Joseph DuBose
courtesy of the Liszt-Kodaly Society of Spain
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