L’art pour l’art and brilliance as a proof of virtuosity is the law – Franz Liszt’s lifelong guiding principle. While he lived in Paris and Italy, he edited a collaborative piano work called “Hexaméron” with the subtitle “Grandes Variations de Bravoure sur la Marche des Puritains de Bellini. Liszt recruited upon a suggestion of Princess Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso five pianist-composers to write variations on a march from Vicenzo Bellini’s opera “The Puritans”, following Ludwig van Beethoven’s example who has written a little earlier the “Diabelli Variations”.
The sea has inspired many a composer, but how about mountains? Richard Strauss has composed his “Alpensinfonie” and Olivier Messiaen “Chronochromie”, both subject of an earlier post. And then there is Vincent d’Indy with a beautiful symphonic poem: “Jour d’été à la montagne” (Summer day in the mountains), Op. 61. The piece is written in three pieces with the thematic ideas following the course of the day: Twilight – Day (Afternoon under the pines) – Evening and partly it takes up Strauss’ language. In a post about d’Indy’s earlier work “Tableaux de voyage” (Op. 36) I explained how this French composer wanted to follow in the footsteps of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and d’Indy’s proximity to Strauss should not come as a surprise.
Serenity and joy – those were the emotions that I felt after I had listened several times to Bedrich Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15. Interesting when sou consider that the composer wrote this piece st a moment of incomparable sorrow. “The death of my eldest daughter, an exceptionally talented child, motivated me to compose my Trio in G minor”, he confided many years after the tragedy in a letter to one of his physicians.
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.