Anima Eterna Brugge
- Wednesday, 7 September 2011
“I remain from birth to grave, in heart and mind, a Magyar,” declared Franz Liszt. His Hungarian Rhapsodies decisively formed the image of Hungarian folk music, though it was later determined that they had no connection with the music of the region’s peasants. Even Liszt’s piano piece “La notte”, from the Trois Odes funèbres inspired by the Medici tombs in Florence, surprisingly, contains a Hungarian-sounding cadence.
In Liszt’s symphonic poems, poetry and symphonic composition are synthesized into a new kind of expression – a heightened form of poetry. “Only the poet among composers,” wrote Liszt, “is endowed with the power to escape from the fetters hindering the free upsurge of his thought and to widen the boundaries of his art.” Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From the Cradle to the Grave) is a late iteration of the genre. The musical texture is more transparent than in his earlier works, the expression of a “growing antipathy to polyphonic podginess,” as he put it. How arbitrary the attribution of a programme can be in the vague semiotics of the symphonic poem, however, is exemplified by Liszt’s Les Préludes, whose fanfare theme was appropriated by the Nazis for war propaganda. Originally conceived as the prelude to a work about the four elements of nature for men’s chorus and orchestra, Les Préludes was later prefaced by Liszt with a diffuse philosophical programme about the stages of human life.
Jos van Immerseel and his Bruges-based orchestra Anima Eterna have meanwhile convincingly demonstrated, with Franz Liszt as a case in point, that historical performance practice can also bring new insights into Romantic music. Liszt’s piano works reveal their full expressive range only on a historic instrument. This can be especially impressive with such striking character pieces as the Deux Légendes and Totentanz.
The Liszt works will be performed together with the Goethe settings by Hugo Wolf that the composer orchestrated. When Wolf, an ardent Wagnerian, met his model Liszt for the first time, the older composer advised him to tackle larger forms. But Wolf’s ambitious attempts at writing symphonic poems were largely unfruitful. Instead he continued to develop as a song composer and in his works, which he assembled in large collections, he infused the genre of the German Lied with new expressive forms, not least by incorporating elements of symphonic music.
Franz Liszt [1811–1886]
Ungarische Rhapsodie No. 3 for orchestra in D major [ca. 1857/60]
La notte [based on Michelangelo]. From the Trois odes funèbres [1863–64]
Hugo Wolf [1860–1903]
Harfenspieler I, II , III, Prometheus
from the Goethe-Lieder for vocals and orchestra [1888/90]
Deux Légendes 
1. St. François d’Assisi La prédication aux oiseaux
2. St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots
Les préludes (d’après Lamartine). Symphonic poem 
Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe. Symphonic poem [1881–82]
Paraphrase on »Dies irae« for piano and orchestra