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At the midpoint of Franz Liszt’s Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountains of the Villa d’Este), as the music modulates into a radiant D major, the composer places in the score the following inscription from the Gospel According to John: Sed aqua quam ego dabo ei, fiet in eo fons aquae salientis in vitam aeternam (But the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life).

The two great halves of Liszt’s long life (he lived from 1811 to 1886) are synthesized here. His early touring years as perhaps the greatest piano virtuoso of all time are manifested in the brilliant instrumental effects that abound in the music; a true test of any performer’s technical mastery. And his later years of spiritual enlightenment and teaching shine through in the serene ecstasy sustained throughout.

While Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este is the progenitor of all pianistic water-music to come (Ravel and Debussy lay decades ahead), its intent goes beyond the musical depiction of the rilling and leaping of waters in fountains. It offers water as the symbolic focus of profound contemplation.