Excerpts from "Années de Pèlerinage, 3ème année"
One of Czerny's students was Franz Liszt (1811-1886), a composer who never had a problem identifying extramusical ideas behind his compositions. A child prodigy and a leading figure in the Romantic cult of the virtuoso, Liszt consciously and successfully adopted the model of violinist Nicolò Paganini's stagecraft, the black costumes and mannered air of mystery. The term "recital" was coined for his solo appearances, and he toured throughout Europe almost continually from 1839 to 1847.
For those performances he composed, arranged, and transcribed a huge body of work, much of it appearing in several different versions. Exploiting the new capabilities of the rapidly developing piano, Liszt created a new playing style full of technical dazzle and color over the whole range of the instrument. He firmly believed in the power of music to express extramusical subjects, the "intrinsic and poetic meanings of things," as he wrote in the preface to his early collection of character pieces, Album d'un voyageur. Literature, painting, and sculpture, scenes from nature, history, and legend, all inspired Liszt to compositions great and small. His goal was to express his response to the subject as much as to depict the thing itself in sound. He gathered two volumes of such pieces from his touring years under the title Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage).
Long after Liszt had retired from the concert stage and entered the minor orders of the Catholic Church as Abbé Liszt, he published a third book of Années. Several of these pieces - generally more austere in texture and more experimental in harmony than those in the earlier books - are specifically religious and most of the others have an elegiac or memorial cast, including the two threnodies he addressed "Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este" (Among the Cypresses of the Villa d'Este). Liszt followed these with another postcard from the famous Italian palace, "Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este" (The Fountains at the Villa d'Este).
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Director of Publications.