Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress - Mohandas K. Gandhi.
It's strange that one work that is considered so ahead of his time by one of the most popular composers exists just in a version on lp.
Last edited by norman bates; Jul-18-2012 at 10:08.
& that Liszt choral LP, I found it second hand also by chance, but its good we are talking now, I will have to relisten, it has been ages.
Last edited by Sid James; Jul-18-2012 at 10:12.
Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress - Mohandas K. Gandhi.
An update on my experiences with Liszt's choral works:
I've listened to most of the more important ones now, but usually only 1-3 recordings of the works (then again, there are usually only 1-3 available). Here are my impressions of índividual works:
Large Scale Sacred
Christus: Probably his most important choral work, Liszt considered this to be the greatest piece of music he wrote. Despite a couple movements in the first part that are, perhaps, overlong (the opening movement, and the Stabat Mater Specicosa), this is a masterpiece containing vivid orchestral movements detailing certain events in Christ's life, ranging from the delightfully innocuous to other movements that remind one of Liszt's better tone poems, movements for Choir and Organ of the utmost devotion, to monumental movements for full choir and orchestra (the Stabat Mater Dolorosa in particular has been called some of the greatest music of the 19th century). This work deserves to be mentioned amongst the truly great 19th century choral works.
Missa solennis zur Einweihung der Basilika in Gran: Second only to Christus amongst his choral works, the Gran Mass is (imo) THE Romantic era setting of the Mass (not including Beethoven as Romantic). It is a magnificent work, unabashedly Romantic and 'big,' but at the same time shows a tremendous depth of religious conviction. To quote Michael Saffle, this work "is held together by an intricate network of motifs, key relationships, and styles of expression that serve primarily to illuminate the words of the Holy Eucharist."
Psalm XIII: Of a much smaller scope than the previous two works, but still among his greatest choral works, this work was very important to Liszt in that it describes Liszt's frustration at the continued poor reception of his music, followed by his faith and trust in God's will. The choral writing is very grand, which might be difficult for some, but it is also full of glorious and beautiful passages, and impeccably written in its use of thematic transformation and fugal writing.
^^These three works are really ideal for those who are deeply religious, and also love music from the Romantic era.
Via Crucis: One of Liszt's most startling creations, this work deals with the death of Jesus in a rather apt way: harsh, brutal, and unrelenting. To quote Humprhey Searle, this work attains its expressiveness "not by organic development or contrapuntal complexity, but a forthright 'primivity' remarkably attuned to the 20th century spirit and ideal." There is a organ/choir/soloists and also a piano/choir/soloists version, as well as a solo piano version. I find the ones including voices to be better, and both the organ and piano versions have their own merits.
I believe the four aboves works represent Liszt's most important large scale choral works. Here are some of my impressions of the other ones:
Missa choralis, Missa quattuor vocum ad aequales concinente organo, Requiem: These three works show Liszt at his most intimately devout and 'pure.' They are all pleasant works in the Renaissance style, that also include much Lisztian harmony and chromaticism. All three are fine, skillfull works that should be of interest to the deeply religious, but probably less so forothers.
Hungarian Coronation Mass: The Hungarian Coronation Mass is, in a sense, a somewhat disappointing work in that Liszt expressed great interest in composing the work in the mid 1860s, seeing it as an oppurtunity to finally prove himself in three large parts of his life where he had been questioned: as a Hungarian, a Catholic, and a composer in general. Unfortunately when he recieved the commission to compose the work in 1867, there were a few things that limited him. He only had three weeks to compose the work, and in the end Liszt seems to have written the work more for the occasion rather than for any lasting merit.
To quote Liszt:
"First of all I must apologize from a musical point of view for the unusual simplicity of the mass; it was impossible for me to evade my prior instructions to keep it as short as possible and so abandoned a larger scale work. Despite that, I hope the work's two main characteristics - its ecclesiastical and its Hungarian national aspect - can plainly be seen. You will, by the way, see how careful I have been to make sure that the performance should under all circumstances be exceptionally light and smooth. The vocal parts are kept within their most comfortable registers and the instruments accompanying them also play in their most comfortable positions. I have renounced enharmonice so as to prevent all dissonance, I have restricted myself to the customary devices and forsworn all offensive instruments, various percussion effects, bass clarinets or other innovations; I was not able even to include a single harp. In short, the mass is built up in such a way that it can be well sung and performed at sight ..."
So in the end what we have is a very simple, diatonic, concise, and effective mass. It's an easy listen, with some wonderful moments - one of those works that you listen to every now and then and get some enjoyment out of without having to try too hard.
The Legend of St. Elisabeth: This work has a reputation as one of Liszt's weakest large scale works. I've always found this work to be better than people would have you think it is. Sure, it has some weaknesses and is a bit uneven overall, but I still think it's a good work, one that belongs in any serious classical music library. It runs for some 2-3 hours and has great thematic unity - using Leitmotifs in the Wagnerian sense (well, Lisztian sense, really) - and contains some truly glorious and compelling music at times, music that doesn't deserve to be forgotten. I've found that those (including myself) who actually give it a shot have found the work to be very enjoyable overall (including one distinguished reviewer who called it "the greatest Wagner opera you've never heard") and it really can be quite an experience if you don't let the occasional shortcomings throw you off.
Liszt was working on a third Oratorio on St Stanislaus before he died and the unfinished version (only the drafts of the first and last parts are finished) has been performed, but overall, despite some radical harmony, the work isn't very effective.
Shorter Scale Sacred Works
Liszt also wrote some very effective works on a shorter scale. I still have much to explore here, but here are some impressions of those I know well:
Psalm's: Liszt's other Psalm settings deserve to be better known than they are. There is some beautiful music here that are amongst Liszt's most lyrical creations. Some good examples are Psalm's 23, 137, 125 (Qui Seminant in Lacrimis) and 18.
Die Glocken des Strassburger Münsters: I found this cantata to be fairly boring, but quite a few distinguished scholars have had much praise for it. Up to you to decide!
Die heilige Cäcilia: A lovely short cantata of Parsifalian radiance.
Ave verum corpus: Lovely, solemn miniature.
St Christopher. Legend: Not a favourite of mine, but it does contain some beautiful writing.
Cantantibus organis: Another lovely work.
Secular Choral Works
Liszt's secular choral works are far less important than the sacred and on the whole this is probably Liszt's weakest genre. There are a few reasons for this: The majority of them were written when Liszt was learning the basics of orchestration, many of them he didn't really fully work out, and also most were occasional works not written to really have a future. I don't know many of his works here, but a couple I do know are:
Chöre zu Herders Entfesseltem Prometheus: The first truly large scale orchestral/choral work Liszt wrote, and probably his weakest large scale work. This piece is one that he did fully work out and intend to have a future. He wrote it just after he retired from the concert platform to become a more serious composer and to me it shows more of a developing composer than anything (some of the work seems rather clumsy). It also features a narrator before each movement to describe what's going on: unfortunately this gives the work a discursive feel although it does have good thematic unity. Despite this works weaknesses and unevenness, it is still enjoyable (the Chorus of the Harvesters is particularly nice), contains much innovatory writing, and overall is an interesting transitional work.
An die Künstler: Among his strongest secular choral works (it's far more refined than most of them) the poem it was based described the artists duty as a spiritual task - something Liszt greatly believed in. The work is probably equal to the middle-of-the-range symphonic poems: this is an enjoyable 12 or so minute work that doesn't deserve the oblivion it has fallen into. This is lyrical, rousing music that displays solid vocal writing and is very sensitive to the text (as always with Liszt).
Hungaria 1848: Probably above average for his secular choral works, this was intended as a rousing call to arms. It is a pretty effective work, but it does not fare well in comparison to similar works by later composers.
Last edited by Lisztian; Oct-19-2012 at 16:43.
Here are some discs to start off with for those who are interested (I have much more exploring to do as far as recordings go, though, so I may not be the guy to listen to here):
As for the works that I didn't list here (like the Gran Mass and St Elisabeth), well your guess as to which is best is as good as mine. Also, I didn't direct you to the place with the lowest price, so make sure you don't spend money you don't need to.
Here's a list of performances on youtube - you'll find some of these on the CD's I just listed.
Christus: Rilling, Dorati.
Via Crucis: Piano/voice.
The Legend of St. Elisabeth.
Psalms: 18, 125, 137.
Die Glocken des Strassburger Münsters.
Die heilige Cäcilia.
Ave Verum Corpus.
St Christopher. Legend.
An die Künstler.
And here's a recording of Ossa Arida for whoever is interested.
Last edited by Lisztian; Oct-19-2012 at 16:15.
I just changed my opinion of the Die Glocken des Strassburger Münsters - magnificent work!
Last edited by Lisztian; Oct-19-2012 at 16:07.
I'm listening to the Christus oratorio right now, conducted by Helmuth Rilling. I've begun to like this work a great deal. The length of the piece is... "heavenly", and adds to the experience, makes it seem more "weighty". "Weight" is a concept I find myself thinking about when listening to this. A feeling of weight in the heart; a heart heavy with not only pain, but also gratefulness and devotion, a devotion that's so deep, natural and "weighty" that it needn't be emphasized... or even thought of. It's there. This work is the opposite of flashy, cheap or superficial. Liszt doesn't go for effects here. A book I have described the orchestration of the work as "silvery", and I feel this is a very good description. The music seems to have a pale glitter of the moonlight about it. I find myself thinking about the composer, and his long and hard road to the church. This music suggests of hardships suffered and overcome, and the final acceptance of faith that has surpassed and outlived all doubts. It speaks of the wisdom of experience and conflict: the element of conflict is here, but it is only present here as its own absence. This absence is an ever-present void inside the music, a void that is respected and not filled up, but rather, a beautiful, silvery universe blooms and spreads around it.
"One way or another, the sons of our masters will become masters of our sons"
-A Rumanian woman
Liszt's setting of the 13th Psalm (I listed it above) has always been a work that I never enjoyed as much as I felt I should...that is until I heard Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra's live rendition. I'd always found it too discursively declamatory, pompous and at times saccharine, but this performance really seems to encapsulate Liszt's intention as per his saying it came to him out of abundance of the heart and that some passages were written with "tears of blood." Botstein pushes the tempo beyond what you usually hear in this work (19 minutes compared to the usual 25), and after hearing it like that it just sounds like everyone else is wrong, and turns what previously sounded theatrical into a truly heartfelt masterpiece of great profundity. Overall, for those looking for a good recording of this Psalm I can't recommend this recording enough. As for the other major choral works (excluding Christus) (Via Crucis, Missa Solennis, Missa Choralis, etc) i'm still searching for that illuminating recording that really makes everything clear and convincing.
And, here's a nice article on Liszt by the conductor.
Last edited by Lisztian; Dec-10-2012 at 13:46.