Crafting a musical jewel with Schubert’s gems

Passion and elegance. © Charles Thibo

Songs? Definitely. Meditations? Certainly. Prayers? These pieces feel like musical prayers, and Franz Liszt must have felt that way when he transcribed four songs written by Franz Schubert and performed them as “Franz Schuberts Vier Geistliche Lieder” (Franz Schubert’s Four Spiritual Songs, S. 562). Schubert composed lyrical delicacies when he wrote the three songs “Litanei, auf das Fest aller Seelen” (All Saints Litany), “Himmelsfunken” (Heaven’s Gleam), “Die Gestirne” (The Firmament) and the piece “Hymne/Geisterchorus”, (Hymn/ Ghost Chorus) from his incidental music “Rosamunde”. And Liszt, a deeply spiritual man, transformed them into something that transcends the worldly life.

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A lyrical moment in a Polish backyard

Music as a personal diary. © Charles Thibo

When I come to think of it, the images I associate with this music go back exactly 29 years. It was in 1988, in Leszno, Poland, and the song was written by Felix Mendelssohn  in E major. No. 1 of op. 19b. On a hot summer afternoon I went for a walk, a walk through an idyllic countryside. The houses were old, but tidy. Leszno was called Lissa when it was still part of the German Reich. Perhaps that explains why the courtyards were so neat, the bushes trimmed. I remember a particular garden, lush with green plants, bathed by the sun, flowers everywhere, a bench in front of the house. That garden – Mendelssohn’s “Song without words” made these memories resurface.

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Lermontov and Chekhov stood at the poems’ cradle

The rock. © Charles Thibo

Dark, sombre – an old man. A light arpeggio theme with a solo flute – a young woman. Two characters from a poem written by the Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov.

A golden cloud slept for her pleasure
All night on the breast of the gaunt rock.
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