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“Departure” is a starting point to examine how Franz Liszt responded to and expressed his life away from his homeland through the musical language of selected piano works. After his initial departure from Hungary, Liszt’s relocations, changes of occupation, and artistic vocations led to conflict and disillusionment and at the same time reawaken his creative craft and religious calling to God to which his emotional experiences and spiritual calling give witness. While the idea of departure in Liszt’s case often signifies a geographical separation, it also reflects the resulting inner conflict, which fundamentally shaped his choices of compositional tools that he used to express conformity or deviation from musical traditions. This study examines five spiritually influenced programmatic piano works dating from 1839 to 1877 in light of Liszt’s physical and musical departures and demonstrates how he infused an evolving selection of extramusical inspirations into his program music, forms, and harmonic language. It provides a timeline connecting the events of his life and his artistic development. The tension and conflict of his inner life and creativity, after many twists and turns, will be shown to have led to his reconciliation with his Catholic faith, but first led him to compose program music. Liszt encountered a variety of extramusical inspirations around the mid-1830s. His reading of literature, ranging from epic poems to poetry collections influenced him heavily. As a result, he began to conceptualize program music. All five examples discussed here drew inspiration from literary texts, but his symphonic poems were inspired by poetry and painting. After arriving in Weimar in 1848, he developed his program-music concept in his symphonic poems and in important published piano works including revisions of earlier piano works. He learned to be more selective in quoting from a program in his compositions—he typically included poetry to introduce musical scores or as inserted texts in musical scores—and in the mid-1850s, he further defined his thoughts on musical forms and programs in his essay of 1855, On Berlioz’s Harold in Italy. During his subsequent prolonged sojourn in Rome, the unexpected failure of his marriage plan and the loss of his two children brought heightened awareness of destiny and death. These tragic events led him to reduce the numbers of themes expressing different moods. That allowed him to delve into his quoted program more deeply, which he accomplished by experimenting freely with various harmonizations. In his programmatic works that were spiritually influenced, Liszt responded to the tension he felt between his Christian ideals and his worldly desires by the divine and the diabolical in his music, by including quoted literary texts in the score that inspired him, and by using harmonies based on different scales. His musical conception of the divine was inspired by the musical heritage of the Church, which he evoked with pentatonic and hexatonic (whole-tone) scales, Gregorian chant-inspired themes and melodies, and harmonizations based on the Church modes. In his spiritually inspired compositions, Liszt also favored F-sharp major, representing heaven, as his key of choice, and he balanced a selection of consonant or perfect intervals versus dissonant harmonies and diminished intervals based on his readings of spiritually inspired literature. In contrast, his diabolical side is manifested in tritones, diminished seventh chords, chromatic scales, unexpected modulations, and his “diabolical” themes, which were part of his programmatic plan and represented by thematic transformations. This study describes his nuanced compositional progress in his conception and application of new forms—a modified one-movement sonata form, a freely structured passacaglia theme and variation form embedding a recitative and answered by a chorale, a three- act dramatic form—and in his use of increasingly sophisticated compositional techniques. He transformed themes to advance the plot of the quoted poetry, composed melodies to ‘sing’ the syllables of an absent but musically implied and thus quoted text, and even deliberately placed the texts of a Lutheran chorale or from the Latin Bible within his musical scores to make his piano compositions resemble vocal or liturgical choral music. These observations show how Liszt’s physical departures from Hungary, Paris, Weimar, and Rome fundamentally stimulated his artistic growth, in that his resulting life as sinner and saint, and his inner spiritual conflicts awakened both his diabolical nature and his ultimate search for the divine. Liszt succeeded in representing his strongly felt inner departures with deeply informed imagination in his piano music. I performed these five compositions on February 16, 2021, in Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the University of Maryland. Both live and studio recordings of this performance can be found in the Digital Repository at the University of Maryland.



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