Liszt is the most interesting and striking looking man imaginable. Tall and slight, with deep-set eyes, shaggy eyebrows, and long iron-gray hair, which he wears parted in the middle. His mouth turns up at the corners, which gives him a most crafty and Mephistophelean expression when he smiles, and his whole appearance and manner have a sort of Jesuitical elegance and ease. His hands are very narrow, with long and slender fingers that look as if they had twice as many joints as other people's. They are so flexible and supple that it makes you nervous to look at them. But the most extraordinary thing about Liszt is his wonderful variety of expression and play of feature. One moment his face will look dreamy, shadowy, tragic. The next he will be insinuating, amiable, ironical, sardonic ; but always the same captivating grace of manner. He is a perfect study.
Amy Fay (1844-1928), American pianist, student of Tausig, Kullak and Liszt.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) lived as he composed, always on a grand scale, the embodiment of the quintessential, nineteenth century, flamboyant romantic. Born a Catholic, all his life he maintained that he was a true believer. In a letter written in 1860 to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, he states :
I am writing this down on 14 September, the day on which the Church celebrates the Festival of the Holy Cross. The denomination of this festival is also that of the glowing and mysterious feeling which has pierced my entire life as with a sacred wound. Yes, "Jesus Christ on the Cross," a yearning longing after the Cross and the raising of the Cross, — this was ever my true inner calling; I have felt it in my innermost heart ever since my seventeenth year, in which I implored with humility and tears that I might be permitted to enter the Paris Seminary; at that time I hoped it would be granted to me to live the life of the saint and perhaps even to die a martyr's death. This, alas! has not happened — yet, in spite of the transgressions and errors which I have committed, and for which I feel sincere repentance and contrition, the holy light of the Cross has never been entirely withdrawn from me. At times, indeed, the refulgence of this Divine light has overflowed my entire soul. I thank God for this, and shall die with my soul fixed upon the Cross, our redemption, our highest bliss; and, in acknowledgement of my belief, I wish before my death to receive the holy sacraments of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, and thereby to attain the forgiveness and remission of all my sins. Amen.
Throughout his life, the central struggle of Liszt's being was fought on religious lines and he expressed his deepest religious sentiments through his music. He created an astonishing quantity of religious works, not only for chorus but also for the piano. His most famous piano cycle is a set of ten pieces entitled Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. The title of the collection was taken from a group of poems by Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) published in 1830. Liszt began sketching one of the piano pieces which eventually became the third in the set in 1845. The remaining pieces took form between 1847 and 1852. He published the collection in 1853.
There were good reasons why Liszt occupied himself with devotional expression. He developed a deep friendship with the young Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein during his last year of touring in 1846. She followed Liszt from Russia to Weimar. Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein was born on 8 February 1819, the daughter of the Polish aristocrat and landowner Peter von lvanovsky and his equally well-born wife Pauline. She lived in Woronince, a country house built in the early eighteenth century and situated between Kiev and Odessa. In 1836, when she was seventeen, she had been married, at her father's behest, to Prince Nicholas von Sayn-Wittgenstein, adjutant to the governor of Kiev and the youngest son of the victorious field marshal Prince Wittgenstein. The Princess's fateful meeting with Liszt persuaded her to leave Russia in April 1848, taking her eleven-year-old daughter Marie with her. For twelve years she lived with Liszt in Weimar, quickly surrounding herself with artists and scholars. Tireless in her campaign to obtain a divorce, she moved to Rome in 1860 and after two papal audiences was finally granted permission to marry Liszt. The wedding was planned to take place in Rome on Liszt's fiftieth birthday, but on the very eve of the ceremony the plan was frustrated. A cousin of the Princess who happened to be in Rome chanced to visit the Church of San Carlo al Corso, which was already decorated for the forthcoming wedding ; on the very eve of the wedding he persuaded the authorities to order an investigation into the records of the Princess's divorce. She refused to release them and the wedding did not take place. After that débacle she rarely left her rooms in the Via del Babuino. Liszt's pupil, Arthur Friedheim, remembered meeting the Princess.
During the winter of 1882-83 in Rome, after I moved into the Hotel Alibert with the Master and began to spend a great deal of time in his company, Liszt was paying weekly visits to the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein and on a number of occasions I accompanied him. This was a remarkable concession on her part, as she was living at this time in the greatest seclusion in her apartment on the Via del Babuino. One night she asked me to play and Liszt suggested his "Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude," which is dedicated to her. "No, no !" the Princess exclaimed. "No one will ever play that to me except Franz Liszt himself." The Master laughed gently: "But I am responsible for this performance!" She remained firm, and we had no music that night. It was no less than thirty-five years since she and Liszt had first met in Russia. Her whole life since then had been dedicated in undying devotion to this man. For him she had renounced husband, wealth, position and country and in 1848 she had come to Weimar to be with him. After she left Weimar, the Princess turned to a life of extreme religious devotion and cloistered herself in her Rome apartment, where the air was always heavy with the smoke of the strongest cigars she could find."
She died on 8 March 1887, shortly after completing her 24-volume Inner Causes of the External Weakness of the Church. Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein is buried in the Vatican cemetery.
Liszt prefaces the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses with a fragment from the foreword of Lamartine's collection of poems.
II y a des âmes méditatives que la solitude et la contemplation élèvent invinciblement vers les idées infinies, c'est-à-dire vers la religion; toutes leurs pensées se convertissent en enthousiasme et en prière, toute leur existence est un hymne muet à la Divinité et à l'espérance. Elles cherchent en elles-mêmes, et dans la création qui les environne, des degrés pour monter à Dieu, des expressions et des images pour se le révéler à elles-mêmes, pour se révéler à lui: puiss'-je leur en prêter quelques-unes!
II y a des cœurs brisés par la douleur, refoulés par le monde, qui se réfugient dans le mond de leurs pensées, dans la solitude de leur âme, pour pleurer, pour attendre ou pour adorer; puissent-ils se laisser visiter par une muse solitaire comme eux, trouver une sympathie dans ses accords, et dire quelquefois en l'écoutant: Nous prions avec tes paroles, nous pleurons avec tes larmes, nous invoquons avec tes chants !
© 1997 Victor and Marina A. Ledin, Encore ConsultantPlays
Source : http://www.naxos.com/mainsite/blurbs_reviews.asp?item_code=8.553073&catNum=553073&filetype=
Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses
1 I. Invocation 8:05
1 I. Invocation 8:05
2 II. Ave Maria 6:36
3 III. Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude 18:23
4 IV. Pensées des morts 14:33
5 V. Pater Noster 2:39
2 VII. Funérailles 12:40
3 VIII. Miserere d'après Palestrina 4:00
4 IX. Andante Lagrimoso 8:15
5 X. Cantique d'Amour 7:10
6 I. Andante con moto 3:52
2 II. Un Poco più mosso
7 III. Lento placido 3:41
8 IV. Quasi adagio 2:38
9 V. Andantino 2:23
10 VI. Allegretto sempre cantabile 2:46
Andrea Bonatta - p
"Piano Liszt" Eduard Steingraeber, Bayreuth 1873"
Recorded at Bayreuth, Jugend Kulturzentrum ; Septembre 1985 & December 1988.