Monday, May 30, 2016

Chopin/Liszt - Six Polish Songs

Franz Liszt and Chopin met each other in Paris about 1831, and they performed in concert together a few times. The two composers developed a somewhat uneasy friendship for many reasons, perhaps mostly because of their differing personalities. Liszt was the most dynamic piano virtuoso of the time, and had a huge stage presence and charisma. Chopin was never the towering virtuoso that Liszt was, and his piano playing was more suited to the salon than the concert hall. But Liszt showed no hesitation in showing his admiration for Chopin's compositions, and Chopin admired Liszt's playing abilities.

Chopin was a composer that attended opera on a regular basis and helped create a singing style of
Frederic Chopin
piano playing, but his output for voice is very small. He wrote only 19 completed songs in his lifetime, and a few others that remain incomplete. And though many tried to persuade him to try his hand at opera, he refused. None of his songs were published in his lifetime. It wasn't until 1853 that one of his songs was published. The Opus 74 set of 17 songs was first published in 1859, and it is not a song cycle as there are no connecting themes to the poems. Each song is independent of the other.

After Chopin's death in 1849, Liszt wrote a biography of his friend and transcribed six of Chopin's songs for solo piano. The six transcriptions helped make Chopin's songs better known, and became popular encore pieces. 

I. The Wish, The Maiden's Wish - In the original song, the title is simply The Wish. Liszt gives the song a German title that translates to The Maiden's Wish.  Liszt deftly combines the piano part with the vocal part, and gives three variants of the melody. Liszt's transcriptions can be described as paraphrases. He used the term himself on occasion, and it meant that the work in question was not being literally transcribed, but passed through the filter of Liszt's tremendous genius, sometimes to the benefit of the work, sometimes not.  With Chopin's songs, Liszt makes new pieces of them that are complimentary related to the original. 

II. Spring - For a song titled Spring, the mood is decidedly forlorn as the lyrics to the original song tell of a person lamenting the death of a lover. Liszt reinforces that mood by adding the tempo designation of Andantino maliconico. Liszt doubles the vocal line with octaves.

III. The Ring - Liszt's highly decorated version adds spice and movement to a song about a man seeing the engagement ring he got his former lover still on her hand after she married someone else.  Hardly a sad song, but some of the anger that the man has does come through.

IV. Drinking Song - The previous song segues directly to this jaunty drinking song. Liszt boldly colors the bright and festive melody with glissandos, including a double glissando near the end.

V. My Darling - A passionate song about a beautiful woman and the love a man has for her. As he shows his affection by kissing her, Liszt adds to the original with decorations and short, expressive runs in this longest song of the set.

VI. The Bridegroom - The original song tells of a bridegroom furiously riding his horse to his lover, not knowing she has died. Liszt retains the rushing scale figures to represent the galloping horse, while the rest of the song is a dramatic piece, one inspired by Chopin's original, and transformed into a Listzian composition.

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