Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/159

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and arrangements would far exceed the limits of this notice. More important are the original pieces for the pianoforte also belonging to this earlier epoch and collected under such names as 'Consolations' and 'Années de pélerinage,' but even in these, charming and interesting in many respects as they are, it would be difficult to discover the germs of Liszt's later productiveness. The stage of preparation and imitation through which all young composers have to go, Liszt passed at the piano and not at the desk. This is well pointed out in Wagner's pamphlet on the Symphonic Poems:—

'He who has had frequent opportunities,' writes Wagner, 'particularly in a friendly circle, of hearing Liszt play—for instance, Beethoven—must have understood that this was not mere reproduction, but real production. The actual point of division between these two things is not so easily determined as most people believe, but so much I have ascertained beyond a doubt, that, in order to reproduce Beethoven, one must be able to produce with him. It would be impossible to make this understood by those who have, in all their life, heard nothing but the ordinary performances and renderings by virtuosi of Beethoven's works. Into the growth and essence of such renderings I have, in the course of time, gained so sad an insight, that I prefer not to offend anybody by expressing myself more clearly. I ask, on the other hand, all who have heard, for instance, Beethoven's op. 106 or op. 111 (the two great sonatas in B♭ and C) played by Liszt in a friendly circle, what they previously knew of those creations, and what they learned of them on those occasions? If this was reproduction, then surely it was worth a great deal more than all the sonatas reproducing Beethoven which are "produced" by our pianoforte composers in imitation of those imperfectly comprehended works. It was simply the peculiar mode of Liszt's development to do at the piano what others achieve with pen and ink; and who can deny that even the greatest and most original master, in his first period, does nothing but reproduce? It ought to be added that during this reproductive epoch, the work even of the greatest genius never has the value and importance of the master works which it reproduces, its own value and importance being attained only by the manifestation of distinct originality. It follows that Liszt's activity during his first and reproductive period surpasses everything done by others under parallel circumstances. For he placed the value and importance of the works of his predecessors in the fullest light, and thus raised himself almost to the same height with the composers he reproduced.'

These remarks at the same time will to a large extent account for the unique place which Liszt holds amongst modern representatives of his instrument, and it will be unnecessary to say anything of the phenomenal technique which enabled him to concentrate his whole mind on the intentions of the composer.

The works of Liszt's mature period may be most conveniently classed under four headings. First: works for the pianoforte with and without orchestral accompaniments. The two Concertos in E♭ and A, and the fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies are the most important works of this group, the latter especially illustrating the strongly pronounced national element in Liszt. The representative works of the second or orchestral section of Liszt's works are the Faust Symphony in three tableaux, the Dante Symphony, and the twelve 'Symphonic Poems.' Of the latter a full list is given on p. 149b. It is in these Symphonic Poems that Liszt's mastery over the orchestra as well as his claims to originality are chiefly shown. It is true that the idea of 'Programme-Music,' such as we find it illustrated here, had been anticipated by Berlioz. Another important feature, the so-called 'leading-motive' (i.e. a theme representative of a character or idea, and therefore recurring whenever that character or that idea comes into prominent action), Liszt has adopted from Wagner. [Leit-motif.] At the same time these ideas appear in his music in a considerably modified form. Speaking, for instance, of Programme-Music, it is at once apparent that the significance of that term is understood in a very different sense by Berlioz and by Liszt. Berlioz, like a true Frenchman, is thinking of a distinct story or dramatic situation, of which he takes care to inform the reader by means of a commentary; Liszt, on the contrary, emphasizes chiefly the pictorial and symbolic bearings of his theme, and in the first-named respect especially is perhaps unsurpassed by modern symphonists. Even where an event has become the motive of his symphonic poem, it is always from a single feature of a more or less musically realisable nature that he takes his suggestion, and from this he proceeds to the deeper significance of his subject, without much regard for the incidents of the story. It is for this reason that, for example, in his Mazeppa he has chosen Victor Hugo's somewhat pompous production as the groundwork of his music, in preference to Byron's more celebrated and more beautiful poem. Byron simply tells the story of Mazeppa's danger and rescue. In Victor Hugo the Polish youth, tied to

'A Tartar of the Ukraine breed
Who looked as though the speed of thought
Was in his limbs,'

has become the representative of man 'lié vivant sur ta croupe fatale, Génie, ardent coursier.' This symbolic meaning, far-fetched though it may appear in the poem, is of incalculable advantage to the musician. It gives æsthetic dignity to the wild, rattling triplets which imitate the horse's gallop, and imparts a higher significance to the triumphal march which closes the piece. For as Mazeppa became Hetman of the Cossacks, even so is man gifted with genius destined for ultimate triumph:

'Chaque pas que tu fais semble creuser sa tombe.
Enfin le temps arrive … il court, il tombe,
Et se relève roi.'

A more elevated subject than the struggle and