After the jaunty Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa in the Italian Année, Liszt turns to poetry – three sonnets by the 14th century poet, Petrarch. Love is the subject. Petrarch was in love with Laura de Noves; Liszt and Marie d’Agoult read the sonnets during their travels.
Liszt first set the sonnets as songs for high tenor voice, and it is that version which gives the most clues for interpreting the subsequent piano transcriptions; the soaring vocal line paints the words with much colour and drama. By the time the final versions of the piano transcriptions were published, Marie was no longer the object of Liszt’s affections.
Below is the second sonnet of the set, performed by John Aler and Daniel Blumenthal. Peace, war, fire, ice – the text is full of extremes as the poet is tortured by his emotions. The final part says it all – ‘To this state, Lady, am I come because of you.’
And here is Arrau playing the piano transcription and talking about Liszt –