You know how it is after a holiday; you return laden with souvenirs and memories. With time, only the best or most meaningful items remain on display, while others are tucked away or discarded; and the mind filters and forgets all but the strongest impressions.
And so it is with Liszt’s music. The nineteen pieces of the sprawling Album d’un Voyager of 1842 included every possible Swiss musical allusion, except a cuckoo-clock. By the time of the 1855 Années de Pèlerinage-Suisse publication, only nine pieces are included; one is new, and of the remaining eight, all but two are revised. Lyon, the defiant opening piece from the first part of the Album – Impressions et poésies – has gone (wrong country), and so has the concluding Psaume; most pieces from the second part – Fleurs mélodiques des Alpes – have gone too, except No 3 which, shortened, moves from G Major to E major for the Pastorale, and No 2, which, stripped of its jolly interludes, becomes the lonely Le Mal du Pays.
An interesting piece; it reminds me of Alkan’s miniatures. Its title means ‘homesickness’, but of a certain kind; that which is brought on by hearing a Swiss Ranz des Vaches (herdsman’s melody), such as the one used in the piece, when abroad.
Gone, too, are the three Paraphrases – Ranz des Vaches, Ranz de chèvres, both on themes by the Swiss composer Hüber, and all that remains of the other Paraphrase, Un soir dans les montagnes, is the title Orage from its middle section. The musical material is new; the technical armoury required is similar: good octaves, chromatic thirds, chords, tremolando, swift arpeggios, weight and speed all combine to produce a graphic, sonic whirlwind. Byron’s words, from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, ask of the storm: ‘Are ye like those within the human breast? Or do ye find, at length, like eagles, some high nest?‘
Rossini’s 1829 William Tell Overture, which Liszt transcribed, also has a well-known Ranz des vaches, played by the cor anglais and flute, and an Orage, both of which resemble material in Liszt’s 1836 Un soir dans les montagnes.
Answers on a postcard, please…