It is unlike either of its predecessors. No geographic subtitle, such as Suisse or Italie; no easily discernible thread linking all of its movements. It even looks different: simpler, more white space on the staves, some titles and quotations in Latin. It sounds different; snatches of whole-tone scale, pungent augmented 2nds. The Troisième Année of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage is so different, so late in his output and so rarely played, that it’s easy to forget about it after the intoxicating soundworlds of Suisse and Italie, penned when he was in his twenties.
Again we fast-forward through Liszt’s life, to the 1870s. Behind him are the years of travel with Marie d’Agoult in the 1830s and their separation in the 1840s; behind him is his virtuoso concert career, voluntarily abandoned in 1847. His residence at Weimar lasted from 1848 to 1861, during which time he revised and published the first two Années. Weimar – scene of his great artistic triumphs, coupled with perhaps his greatest professional humiliation. Of his three children by Marie d’Agoult, two have died: Daniel in 1859 and Blandine in 1862; Cosima, divorced from von Bülow, marries Wagner in 1870.
Liszt has taken minor orders in the Roman Catholic church, and is known as the Abbé Liszt: an official recognition of a lifelong vocation. He lives a Vie Trifurquée; travelling between the cites of Budapest, Weimar and Rome, residing in each for a few months each year. The Troisième Année reflects this perfectly; qualifying geographic subtitles are unecessary. They are there within the music: his national identity based in Hungary, his musical identity forged in Weimar, and his spiritual identity rooted in Rome, the city and its church.
The set of 7 pieces is framed by two which have ecclesiastical references, both in E major. Angélus! Prière aux anges guardiens is at the beginning, dedicated to Liszt’s granddaughter, and Sursum corda – ‘Lift up your hearts’ from the liturgy of the Mass – is at the conclusion. In the Angélus! we are summoned by tinkling bells in a piece of simple devotion; yet there are harmonic touches that catch the ear. Sursum Corda ends the set with supreme confidence – literally ‘with faith’ – after whole-tone excursions raise the musical eyebrows a little.
Below is a recording of Liszt’s Sursum corda, performed by – Bartok.