Liszt and His World: Proceedings of the International Liszt Conference Held at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 20-23 May 1993

By Michael Saffle | Go to book overview

Rey M. Longyear


STRUCTURAL ISSUES IN LISZT'S
PHILOSOPHICAL SYMPHONIC POEMS

The artist, without his knowing it, is always creating forms.
Richard Wagner, On Franz Liszt's Symphonic Poems1

Liszt's symphonic poems show great variety both in structure and in content. Several models exist for some of these innovative works. The concert overture with its sonata-form structure underlies four of the most frequently performed of these works—Tasso, Les Préludes, Orpheus, and Prometheus—as well as portions of the later Faust symphony.2 Sectional forms, especially march and dance forms, dominate Festklänge, Héroïde funébre, and Hungaria as well as earlier works like the Grand Galop chromatique, Funérailles, and the Hungarian Rhapsodies.3 Narrative strategies, whether verbal or visual, may be perceived in Mazeppa and Hunnenschlacht as well as in portions of the Dante symphony. Hamlet consists of “character portraits” (Hamlet and Ophelia) akin to those of the Faust symphony.4

1 Published originally in NZfM (10 April 1857), pp. 157-163. Translated into English
by W. Ashton Ellis in Richard Wagner's Prose Works, Vol. HI (1894; reprint New
York: Broude Bros., 1966). Hereafter “Wagner.” The quotation is taken from p. 242.
2 See Richard Kaplan, “Sonata Form in the Orchestral Works of Liszt” 19th Century
Music 8 (1984), pp. 142-152; and the response by Rey M. Longyear and Kate
Covington in the same journal, 9 (1985), pp. 185-160 See also Longyear and
Covington, “Liszt, Mahler, and a Remote Tonal Relationship in Sonata Form” in
Studien zur Instrumentalmusik: Festschrift Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht zum 60.
Geburtstag, ed. A Bingmann, K. Hortschansky, and W. Kirsch (Tutzing: Hans
Schneider, 1988); and “Tonic Major, Mediant Major: A Variant Tonal Relationship
in 19th-century Sonata Form,” Studies in Music from the University of Western
Ontario 10 (1985), pp. 126-130. Not all opera overtures, though, are in sonata form;
one need but mention such significant examples as the overtures to Gluck's
Iphigenie en Aulide or Cherubini's Medée.

3 Consider Wagner's remark: “Not only the overture, but every other independent
instrumental tone-piece owes its form to the Dance or March” (Wagner, p. 244). “I
disagree. Festklänge is clearly modeled on sonata form, as I shall demonstrate in an
article to be published in Analisi. - Ed.”

4 See Joan Backus, “Liszt's Hamlet and Hamlet's Ophelia”: a paper presented at the
annual meeting of the American Liszt Society, October 1992. “See also Edward
Murphy, “A Detailed Program for Liszt's 'Hamlet',” Journal of the American Liszt

-247-

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