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About this Piece

A student of Carl Czerny’s, Franz Liszt was 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 voyager. 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).

“Vallée d’Obermann” (Obermann’s Valley) was inspired by Étienne Pivert de Senancour’s novel of the same title and first appeared in Part 1 of Album d’un voyageur, subtitled “Impressions et Poesies.” The piece was extensively rewritten before being included as No. 6 in Première année: Suisse (First Year: Switzerland), S.160, published in 1855. —Adapted from program notes by John Henken