Recorded on 10/02/2011, uploaded on 10/02/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Shaken by the loss of his son Daniel in 1859 and daughter Blandine two years later, Franz Liszt retreated into a solitary life taking up modest quarters at a monastery outside of Rome. His compositional efforts during the succeeding years also turned inward. No longer composing with general audiences in mind, the music of Liszt’s later years became a personal exploration of new possibilities and, at times, expressions of intense religious feelings. Many of these pieces were not known beyond Liszt’s close circle of friends and, in some cases, were resigned to wait decades before their premiere.
Perhaps the most profound of these late religious works and certainly more intimate than his grand experiments in oratorio is Via Crucis. A work for soloist, chorus and organ composed in 1878-79, it did not receive its premiere until 1929. Meaning “Stations of the Cross,” the work is Liszt’s personal artistic representation of the final hours of Christ’s passion. He drew on multiple sources—scripture directly from the Bible, liturgical hymns and German chorales—for the fourteen traditional scenes associated with Christ’s passion but prefaces the work with a short introductory movement (“Vexilla regis prodeunt”).
Utilizing the overbearing chromatic and dissonant harmonic language of his late music, Liszt creates a powerful musical evocation of Christ’s suffering. Augmented triads, a favorite harmony of Liszt’s, are frequently used throughout the work and many other dissonant harmonies result out of the individual movements of the voice. Yet, the work is not without its unity. Beginning in D minor, Via Crucis inevitably concludes in D major. Liszt’s masterful skill of creating unity through recurring motifs and thematic transformation is here on display aided by the reappearance of certain passages which help to create a more apparent structure to the piece.
A profoundly personal work, Via Crucis opens the door on Liszt’s most deeply held religious convictions. While its strident harmonic language may seem out of place for such a religious theme and certainly sets it apart from the sacred music tradition before him, it also displays Liszt’s effort to capture the emotions of the narrative more than its spiritual significance. Joseph DuBose
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