FRANZ LISZT, the most eminent pianist of his time, who also obtained world-wide celebrity as a composer and orchestral conductor, was born at Raiding, Hungary, Oct. 22, 1811. His father was an accomplished amateur, and played the piano and violoncello with more than ordinary skill. He was so impressed with the promise of his son that he not only gave him lessons in music, but also devoted himself to his artistic progress with the utmost assiduity. In his ninth year Liszt played for the first time in public at Oedenburg. His performances aroused such enthusiasm that several Hungarian noblemen encouraged him to continue his studies, and guaranteed him sufficient to defray the expenses of six years’ tuition. He went to Vienna at once and studied the piano with Czerny, besides taking lessons in composition from Salieri and Randhartinger. It was while in that city that his first composition, a variation on a waltz of Diabelli, appeared. In’ 1823 he went to Paris, hoping to secure admission to the Conservatory but Cherubini refused it on account of his foreign origin, though Cherubini himself was a foreigner. Nothing daunted, young Liszt continued his studies with Reicha and Paer, and two years afterwards brought out a one – act opera entitled Don Sancho,” which met with a very cordial reception. The slight he had received from Cherubini aroused popular sympathy for him. His wonderful playing attracted universal attention and gained him admission into the most brilliant Parisian salons. He soon became known as the “wonder-child,” and was a favorite with every one, especially with the ladies. For two or three years he made artistic tours through France, Switzerland, and England, accompanied by his father, and everywhere met with the most brilliant success. In 1827 the father died, Ieaving him alone in the world ; but good for-tune was on his side. During his stay in Paris he had made the friendship of Victor Hugo, George Sand, Lamartine, and other great lights in literature and music, and their influence prepared the way for his permanent success. Notwithstanding that he was in many senses a Bohemian and a man of the world, he had a strong religious tendency. For a time he became deeply interested in the doctrines of Saint-Simon ; but his adherence to that system did not last long. He -speedily returned to the Roman Church, and some years afterwards went to Rame, at the suggestion of the Pontiff took orders, and set himself about the work of reforming the church music,–a task, however, which he soon abandoned; too many obstacles stood in his way. He expected to become Capellmeister at the Sistine Chapel; but, as he himself said : I was thwarted by the lack of culture among the cardinals ; and besides, most of the princes of the Church were Italian.” The Abbé was soon in Germany again, where he resided until the close of his life. From 1839 to 1847 he travelled from one city to an other, arousing the most extraordinary enthusiasm; his progress was one continued ovation. In 1849 he went to Weimar and accepted the post of conductor at the Court Theatre. He made Weimar the musical centre of Europe. It was there that his greatest compositions were written, that the school of the music of the future was founded, and that Wagner’s operas first gained an unprejudiced. hearing ; and it is from Weimar that his distinguished pupils, like Von Bulow, Tausig, Bendel, Bronsart, Klindworth, Winterberger, Reubke, and many others date their success. In 1859 he re-signed his position, and after that time resided at Rome, Pesth, and Weimar, working for the best interests of his beloved art, and encouraging young musicians to reach the highest standards. Few men of this century have had such a powerful influence upon music, or have done so much to elevate and purify it. His most important works were the “Divina Commedia” and “Faust” symphonies, the twelve symphonic poems, the six Hungarian rhapsodies, the ” Grauer Mass,” the ” Hungarian Coro-nation Mass,” and the oratorios ” Christus ” and “The Legend of the Holy Elizabeth.” Besides these he wrote a large number of orchestral pieces, songs, and cantatas, and a rich and varied collection of pianoforte solos, transcriptions, and arrangements. He died July 31, 1886.
The Legend of the Holy Elizabeth
The oratorio, ” Legend of the Holy Elizabeth,” was written in 1864, and first produced Aug. 15, 1865, upon the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Conservatory of Pesth-Ofen. The text, is by Otto Roquette, and was inspired by Moritz von Schwind’s frescos at the Wartburg representing scenes in the life of the saint. A brief allusion to her history will still further elucidate the story which Liszt has treated so powerfully. She was the daughter of King Andreas II. of Hungary, and was born in 1207. At the age of four she was betrothed to Ludwig, son of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, whom she married in 1220. After his death, in 1227, she was driven from the Wartburg and forced to give up” the regency by her cruel and ambitious mother-in-law. After long wanderings and many privations she retired to Bamberg, where her uncle, the bishop, dwelt ; but shortly afterwards her rights were restored to her. She renounced them in favor of her son, Hermann II., and died in 1231. Four years later she was canonized at Marpurg by order of Pope Gregory IX. Her life was devoted to the relief of the poor and suffering.
The characters introduced in the oratorio are Saint Elizabeth, Landgrave Ludwig, Landgrave Her mann, Landgravine Sophie, a Hungarian Magnate, the Seneschal, and the Emperor Frederick II. The last three rôles are usually assigned to Ludwig, thus reducing the number of solo-singers to four. The work is laid out in two parts, each having three scenes corresponding in subjects with Von Schwind’s six frescos. The first describes the arrival of Elizabeth at the Wartburg, and the welcome she receives. In the second she is married, and her husband, Ludwig, has succeeded to the throne. His devotion to knight-errantry leads him from home. During his absence a famine breaks out, and Elizabeth in her devotion to the sufferers impoverishes herself and incurs the wrath of her mother-in-law, the Landgravine Sophie. While carrying a basket of bread and wine one day to the victims of the scourge, she is met by her husband, who has unexpectedly returned. Amazed at the absence of her attendants, he questions her, and she excuses herself with the plea that she has been gathering flowers. Doubting the truth of her statement, he snatches the basket from her. She confesses her falsehood ; but upon examining the basket it is found to be full of roses. The Lord has performed a miracle. Overcome with remorse for doubting her, Ludwig begs her forgiveness, and the two join in prayer that the Lord may continue His goodness to them. The third scene opens at Schmalkald, on the borders of Thuringia, where Ludwig has assembled his knights and nobles who are to accompany him to the Holy Land. They declare their allegiance to Ludwig as their leader, and he calls upon them also to swear fealty to his wife. After a sad farewell Ludwig rides away at the head of his Crusaders. The fourth scene opens with the news of Ludwig’s death. The Landgravine claims the castle as her inheritance, compels Elizabeth to abandon the regency, and drives her out in the midst of a furious storm. In the fifth scene we find her at a hospital which she has founded, and notwithstanding her own troubles and sufferings still ministering to others in like affliction. This scene closes with her death, and in the last we have the ceremonies of her canonization at Marpurg.
The first scene opens with a long orchestral introduction, working up to a powerful climax, and based mainly upon a theme from the old church service, which is Elizabeth’s motive, and is frequently heard throughout the work. An animated prelude which follows it introduces the opening chorus (” Wei come the Bride “). A brief solo by Landgrave Hermann (“Welcome, my little Daughter”) and another of a national character by the Hungarian Magnate attending the bride intervene, and again the chorus-break out in noisy welcome. After a dignified solo by Hermann and a brief dialogue between Ludwig and Elizabeth, a light, graceful allegretto ensues, leading up to a children’s chorus (” Merriest Games with thee would we play “), which is delightfully fresh and joyous in its character. At its close the chorus of welcome resumes, and the scene ends with a ritornelle of a plaintive kind, foreboding the sorrow which is fast approaching.
The second scene, after a short prelude, opens with Ludwig’s hunting-song (” From the Mists of the Valleys “), which is written in the conventional style of songs of this class, although it has two distinct movements in strong contrast. As he meets Elizabeth, a dialogue ensues, including the scene of the rose miracle, leading up to a brief chorus (” The Lord has done a Wonder “), and followed by an impressive duet in church style (” Him we worship and praise this Day “). The scene closes with an ensemble, a duet with full choral harmony, worked up with constantly increasing power and set to an accompaniment full of rich color and brilliant effect.
The third scene opens with the song of the Crusaders, an impetuous and brilliant chorus (” In Palestine, the Holy Land “), the accompaniment to which is an independent march movement. The stately rhythm is followed by a solo by the Land-grave, bidding farewell to Elizabeth and appealing to his subjects to be loyal to her. The chorus replies in a short number, based upon the Hungarian melody which has already been heard. Elizabeth follows with a tender but passionate appeal to her husband (” Oh, tarry ! oh, shorten not the Hour “), lead. ing to a solo (” With Grief my Spirit wrestles “), drums, forming the funeral song of the sainted Elizabeth, the same effect, and produced in the same manner, which Wagner subsequently used with such magnificent power in the dirge of Siegfried. It is followed by ‘a solo from the Emperor, ” I see assembled round the Throne,”a slow and dignified air, Ieading to the great ensemble closing the work, and descriptive of the canonization of Elizabeth. It begins as an antiphonal chorus (” Mid Tears and Solemn Mourning “), the female chorus answering the male and closing in unison. Once more the Crusaders` March is heard in the orchestra as the knights sing, “O Thou whose Life-blood streamed.” The church choir sings the chorale, “Decorata novo flore,” the Hungarian and German bishops intone their benedictions, and then all join in the powerful and broadly harmonious hymn, Tu pro nobis Mater pia,” closing with a sonorous and majestic “Amen.”
“Christus, oratorio, with texts from the Holy Scriptures and the Catholic Liturgy,” as Liszt entitles his work, was finished in 1866. At the outset the composer selected the Hymn of Praise ” and ” Pater Noster” from Rtichert’s ” Evangelical Harmony ; ” and upon these and one or two other detached numbers for a background, he built up a series of religious events connected with the offices of the Church according to the Vulgate and its Liturgy. These events are laid out in three divisions, ” The Christmas Oratorio,” ” After Epiphany,” and ” The Passion and Resurrection ; ” the separate parts of which are as follows : (r) The Introduction. (2) Pastoral and Vision of the Angels. (3) Stabat Mater speciosa. (4) Song of the Shepherds in the Manger. (5) The Anointing of the three Kings. (6) Hymn of Praise. (7) Pater Noster. (8) The Establishment or Foundation of the Christian Church. (9) The Storm on the Lake. (ro) The Entry into Jerusalem. (11) Tristis est anima mea. (12) Stabat Mater dolorosa. (13) Easter Hymn. (14) Resurrection of Christ. The motive of the work is announced in Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
The long instrumental introduction is constructed upon a theme representative of a text from Isaiah, Resound, ye Heavens above,” many times repeated, and leading to a pastoral which prepares the way for the angelic announcement to the shepherds. This announcement is made in the simple collect music by a soprano solo, and replied to by a female chorus, first accompanied by string quartet, and then by full orchestra, and leading to the full chorus, “Gloria in excelsis,” a series of mighty shouts, closing with a stately Hallelujah and a return of the orchestra to the pastoral movement. The next division is the old Latin hymn, ” Stabat Mater speeiosa,” the Virgin at the cradle of our Lord, a six-part chorus in church style, accompanied by the organ, with solo variations interspersed through it, and characterized by a lofty feeling of devotion, especially in the ” Inflammatus ” and the majestic final ” Amen.” The remaining numbers of the first part are entirely instrumental, including the ” Shepherd’s Song at the Manger,” a pastoral full of beautiful effects, and ” the Three Holy Kings,” a march which is majestic in its style and broad in its rhythm, and full of characteristic color. The two numbers close the part in a brilliant and jubilant manner.
The second part opens with the ” Seligkeiten ” (” Hymn of Praise “), a grand declamatory solo for baritone, accompanied by a six-part chorus, which, like the next number, was written by Liszt in his younger days and utilized in its present setting. The hymn is accompanied by organ throughout, and is followed by the ” Pater Noster,” also with organ, a fervent, almost passionate, offering of prayer by the precentors and congregation, closing with a mighty ” Amen.” In the next number the founding of the Church (” Tu es Petrus “), beginning with male chorus the orchestra resumes its work. The voices move on in stately manner until the words, ” Simon, son of Jona, lovest thou me ? ” are reached, when the full chorus comes in with imposing effect. Of this number, Nohl says in his fine analysis of ” Christus :
“The perishable, sinful world in all its aspects is here contrasted with an undoubting faith in an ever-lastingly constant higher ideal, to give it this name.
That it is the spirit of the subject, not its mere perishable husk, is shown by the nature of the melody, which rises to the most powerful expression of the final victory of this spirit of love. Now again the full orchestra joins the double chorus; for the world, the whole world, is meant.”
The next scene, entitled ” The Wonder,” is purely instrumental, and is a marvellous picture of the storm upon the lake, which Nohl also characterizes with reference to its inner meanings : “The ninth scene is a marvel. ‘ The storms rage in contention,’ not the storms of the sea, but the storm of desires to which the weak of faith are exposed. It is not the outward marvel or superstition that Is to be strengthened, but the faith of human nature in itself and its higher power and destiny. Hence the actual inner tranquillity when, after the raging orchestral tumult, ‘ a great stillness’ succeeds Christ’s words, which is ingeniously introduced with the motive of the ‘ Seligkeit,’ because such inner purity alone bestows upon mankind effective power over the savage forces of the world.”