Recorded on 08/15/2011, uploaded on 09/29/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
During the late 1830s, Franz Liszt and his mistress, Countess Marie d’Agoult, travelled throughout Switzerland and Italy. Inspired by the Swiss countryside and Italian art, Liszt composed many of the pieces that would become the first two volumes of his three-part suite Années de pèlerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”). Alongside these piano works, he composed settings of three Petrarch sonnets for tenor voice and piano. Though youthful works, the three songs already show Liszt’s sensitivity to Petrarch’s verse and that his compositional ability extended beyond the piano. The Petrarch sonnets remained unpublished for nearly a decade, finally appearing in print in 1846. During this time, Liszt made transcriptions of them for piano solo and included them in Deuxième année: Italy, the second suite of Années de pèlerinage. It is in this form that they are primary known today. Like many of his compositions, Liszt later revised the Petrarch sonnets in 1865, transcribing them for lower voice and somewhat darkening their mood.
In the third and final Petrarch sonnet, “I’ vidi in terra angelici” (“I saw on earth angelic grace”), Liszt begins his setting with an expressive introduction marked dolce misterioso. Underpinning the poignant melodic motif heard in the treble are wavering triplets outlining the harmony and so the poet’s “dreams and shadows.” Yet, out of this mysterious introduction of beautifully dissonant harmonies soars a passionate melody, first breaking unexpectedly into the key of E major, but then as if regaining its composure, settles into the tonic key of A-flat major over a dominant pedal leading to the first stanza. Each of the sonnet’s stanzas are set to different music, though the first and last have similar beginnings. The first and second stanzas, with their flowing vocal melodies, are accompanied by graceful broken chords in the piano, stressing the simple admiration of the poet for his beloved. A brief interlude from the piano shifts the key to C major at the close of the second stanza in which key the third begins. In solemn reverence, the third stanza begins but then builds with fervent energy as it approaches the final lines of Petrarch’s verse. Simple, arpeggiated chords replace the accompaniment heard in the first stanza as the voice begins in like manner as before. However, the imagery of the sonnet’s final line is portrayed in the music with gently flowing lines in both hands of the piano. At the same time, the voice slows its rhythmic pace, becoming more intimate. Finally, with gentle sighs atop rolled chords, Liszt’s setting of Petrarch’s sonnet fades to a tender close. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of the Steans Institute
The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.
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