The sound of galloping horses must have been one of the background noises of the nineteenth century. They gallop through the music of the period, too – through Schubert’s Erlkönig, Schumann’s Wilder Reiter and through Liszt’s Wilde Jagd, but here the horses and hunters are spectral, nocturnal, airborne and mythical.
The Wild Hunt is a myth common to European countries; in England it is mentioned in the Peterborough Chronicle of 1127 – ‘ …many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns …’
It’s odd to think that Liszt played in both Peterborough and Stamford during his 1840 English tour. The Wild Hunt has also been seen crossing the skies of France, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain …
Presto furioso, and in compound time, Liszt’s Wilde Jagd is built on three musical ideas: an alternating-hands martellato (hammered) figure, a buoyant dotted rhythm, and a lyrical, long-phrased melody. Syncopations and cross-rhythms give lift and energy, and an onward propulsion which mustn’t be allowed to run away. The lyrical melody – espressivo, un poco rit e cappriccio – appears above the dotted motive quasi timpani; the martellato motive is used stealthily – senza ped, leggero, sempre pp – in a long build up section towards the end; thereafter are some perilous octave leaps for the RH, and a passionate conclusion.
Plenty of technical challenges in this Etude – and reading some of the literature associated with the Wild Hunt might help interpretation by fuelling the imagination, too.
Here is Berezovsky –