On the road again! In last Thursday’s post, we traveled with Schubert, but today we will journey with Franz Liszt through Switzerland and Italy. Between 1835 and 1838, he composed “Années de pélerinage” (Pilgrim Years) – a piano cycle of three suites inspired partly by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s novel “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre”, a prime example of Romantic literature, partly by a turbulent turn of events in his own life. As we have seen with the German composer and pianist Fanny Mendelssohn, the longing for antique ideals of beauty and wisdom – to be looked for in Italy – has inspired more than one artist from the Romantic period, and at the time when Liszt wrote this cycle, he was like Goethe’s hero on a quest for his true self.
Since my time at university, I have been flirting with Martin Luther. I grew up in Luxembourg, where the Catholics outnumber any other confession, and moved later to Munich, where Catholics have the upper hand over Protestants. In Munich, halfway through my studies, I attended a Protestant mass rally – the Evangelischer Kirchentag – out of mere curiosity. I found the discussions and the open-mindedness of these believers much more inspiring than what I knew from the Catholic Church.
“There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major”, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev once remarked. So true. Schubert’s piano piece “Wanderer Fantasy” in C major, Op. 15 D.760 for example. Take the opening: Massive accords gradually diluted in a lovely melody for the right hand… beautiful! If you care to look at the score, you may wonder how many fingers the pianist needs to play all those notes in any given time! To put it mildly, it requires a certain degree of virtuosity… of which I can just dream!
When I was at college, our German teacher made us read a curious text. It was about a guy called Bruckner playing a fugue on the organ. I had never heard of Bruckner and I had no idea what a fugue was. Actually I didn’t care about any of the two! It was just another boring German text I had to read so that I could write an essay. The essay did not go well… Much later I realized that the text was actually about Man’s fear of failure. Bruckner and his fear not to be able to play that complex fugue to its end was merely an example.