Liszt - Années de pèlerinage - 03 Troisième année: Fountains of the Villa d’Este
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
A suite for solo piano by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886), which is in part a revision of his earlier work "Album d'un voyageur". The title "Années de pèlerinage" refers to the Bildungsroman "Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and there are numerous other literary allusions throughout the suite.
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886), Années de pèlerinage, troisième année, S163 (1877)
Performed by Jeno Jando
00:00 - No. 1 Angelus! – Prière aux anges gardiens
07:03 - No. 2 Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este – Thrénodie I
13:22 - No. 3 Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este – Thrénodie II
22:41 - No. 4 Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este
30:03 - No. 5 Sunt lacrymae rerum – en mode hongrois
37:18 - No. 6 Marche funèbre – en mémoire de Maximilien I, Empereur du Mexique, d. 19 juin 1867
42:56 - No. 7 Sursum corda – Erhebet eure Herzen
The genesis of the Troisième Année de pèlerinage is very different from that of its two predecessors. The first (Suisse), and the second (Italie) were brought into their published shape in the mid-1850s during Liszt’s time in Weimar, although most of the pieces actually originated during the period of his young wanderings in the company of Marie d’Agoult in the 1830s. They are both volumes of intensely passionate, essentially young man’s music, whatever refinements accrued to them.
The third volume, sometimes very mistakenly published with the subtitle of ‘Italie’, is the product of a fundamentally solitary person, written during the later years of his life, when he made an almost annual triangular trip through Rome, Weimar and Budapest. Five of the pieces date from 1877, but Liszt added two earlier works: numbers 5 and 6, from 1872 and 1867. Angelus! also exists in versions for harmonium, for string quartet and for string orchestra and is an innocent diatonic melody in a lilting 6/8. It forms the beginning of the arch which ends in the experience of the seventh piece, Sursum corda—the exhortation to ‘lift up your hearts’ at the Eucharist—where a benign theme endures chromatic rigours and even a burst of whole-tone harmony before the strength of faith brings the cycle to a firm and positive conclusion.
Midway lies the mystical comfort of the Fountains of the Villa d’Este—an impressionistic masterpiece, years ahead of its time and much imitated, consciously or no, by Debussy and Ravel. Although this work is pictorial, its very key of F sharp major allies it to a number of Liszt’s most intimate religious reflections, particularly Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, and its message is spelt out at bar 144 (at the modulation to D major) with a quotation (in Latin) from the Gospel of St John:
‘The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ (Authorised Version, John 4: 14).
The four remaining pieces are all elegiac: the two Cypresses are both subtitled ‘Threnody’ although no specific object of lamentation is divulged. And it is clear that Liszt wrote the second under the misapprehehsion that Michelangelo had planted the first cypress at Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome, and that he changed the title when he discovered his error. Whilst the first of the Cypresses is nominally in G minor/major, the effect of suspended tonality is present from the beginning. There is some attempt here at depicting (in 3/4) the rocking of the trees in the wind, a feature altogether absent in the second threnody which makes an oblique nod towards the traditional funeral march without ever succumbing.
The other two elegies refer to Liszt’s personal acquaintances: in a broad sense in Sunt lacrymae rerum and specifically in the Marche funèbre. The first of these, originally entitled ‘Thrénodie hongroise’ refers to the rout of the Hungarian War of Independence (1848–1849) and the subsequent execution of some of Liszt’s patriotically distinguished friends (cf the earlier Funérailles) and the final title comes from words spoken by Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid (quoted here in the translation by W F Jackson Knight):
‘… there is pity for a world’s distress, and a sympathy for short-lived humanity.’
The music has several overtly Hungarian characteristics, especially in the matter of augmented seconds in the melodic lines. The hapless quondam archduke who became Emperor of Mexico, mistakenly believing himself to have been popularly elected, who attempted social and economic reforms, and who was eventually executed by the man he replaced, is commemorated in a powerful lament which emerges into triumphant optimism, in line with the quotation from an elegy by Propertius (Book 2, No 10) which Liszt placed at the head of the score:
‘In magnis et voluisse sat est’ (‘To have wished for great things is an accomplishment in itself’).