Antony Peebles is recording for Meridian Records all fifty-five of the Schubert songs that Liszt transcribed for piano solo.
Volume 1 consists of the ‘12 songs of Fr. Schubert’ which were published in 1838, including ‘Erlkönig’, ‘Gretchen am
Spinnrade’, ‘Ave Maria’, etc., and also four songs from ‘Schwanengesang’. Volume 2 consists of the remaining ten songs from
‘Schwanengesang’ and the seven songs that Liszt transcribed from ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’. Then here in volume 3 we have the
twelve songs that Liszt transcribed from ‘Winterreise’ and six other songs. That leaves just the four ‘Geistliche Lieder’ for
volume 4, which will also include the nine Mendelssohn and eleven Schumann songs that Liszt transcribed.
Twelve Songs from ‘WINTERREISE’
Schubert composed ‘Winterreise’ in 1827 and 1828, shortly before his premature death at the age of 31. The poems are by the
same author - Wilhelm Müller - who wrote ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’. Joseph von Spaun recounts how during the time that he was
composing ‘Winterreise’ Schubert was seldom to be seen, and when he did appear the normally vivacious composer seemed
strangely withdrawn. Schubert told his friends that composing these songs had taken more out of him than all his other songs,
and that he preferred them above all the rest.
‘Winterreise’ tells of a man whose love affair has broken down and who in despair takes himself off on an aimless, meandering
journey through the bleak winter landscape. The idea is that the various scenes and scenarios in which he finds himself in some
way or other reflect and resonate his numb frame of mind.
The cycle consists of 24 songs; Liszt transcribed 12 of them. It should be noted that Liszt takes considerable liberties with the
order of the songs. In particular his placing of ‘Der Leiermann’ at number 8, when it is famous for being the final (24th) song of
the cycle, is somewhat disturbing.
1) Gute Nacht (Good Night) song no. 1
The cycle begins with the man gloomily departing from the town at night. The final verse shifts to a major key (one of many
such shifts throughout the cycle) as his thoughts turn directly to the girl: ‘I will not disturb you in your dreams… As I pass I will
write ‘Good Night’ on your gate so you will know I was thinking of you’.
2) Die Nebensonnen (The Phantom Suns) song no. 23
As the cycle progresses his sanity recedes, and a craziness increasingly pervades his thoughts. Here he looks up and sees three
suns staring motionless down at him. He wishes that there were none at all: ‘I should feel better in the dark’.
3) Mut (Courage) song no. 22
He defiantly declares that he will ignore the lamentations coming from his heart. ‘Lamenting is for fools’.
4) Die Post (The Post) song no. 13
The lively posthorn can be heard announcing the arrival of the mail-coach. But though he knows there will be no mail for him he
finds that his heart is jumping in a similarly lively way. Why? It’s because the mail coach has come from that town… and so his ~
thoughts for the girl are suddenly re-kindled.
5) Erstarrung (Numbness) song no. 4
He wants to savour the memory of those happy times back in the summer when, arm in arm, they had strolled over these
meadows. But now nothing is recognisable: the flowers are dead and the green fields have become blanketed in thick white
snow. So even the pleasure of memory is denied him. And what if these memories - the only thing he values - were to die in the
same way as summer has?
6) Wasserflut (Flood of Tears) song no. 6
He sees his hot tears dissolve in the snow. He asks the snow where it will go when it melts, and urges it to be guided by the tears.
They will lead you to the town, and when you are near her house you will know, because you will feel the tears burning.
7) Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) song no. 5
He comes across a linden tree, the same tree that had been one of his favourite haunts back in the summer, and in whose shade he
had spent many a happy hour dreaming away. But now the icy wind is blowing in his face. Yet as he shuts his eyes (and the
music turns to the major key) he hears the sound of the rustling branches saying ‘Stay here, friend, and you will find rest’.
8) Der Leiermann (The Organ-Grinder) song no. 24
This, the final song of the cycle, is the only song that introduces another human being. He is mesmerised at the sight of an old
organ-grinder. There he stands in rags, with his bare feet on the ice, ignored by all except the growling dogs, his plate bereft of
coins. Yet oblivious to his surroundings he keeps on grinding away. The cycle ends ‘Strange old man, shall I go with you? Will
you grind your organ for my songs?’
…from the stark parlando-style of this song (which Liszt abbreviates) we move without a break into the next one, the key of A
minor beautifully transformed into A major…
9) Täuschung (Illusion) song no. 19
He sees a light in the distance and allows himself to bask in the foolish illusion that this is a home that will give him a warm
welcome and a warm hearth.
10) Das Wirtshaus (The Inn) song no. 21
This is an exquisite study in loneliness. He finds himself in a snow-covered graveyard, but in his crazed state he imagines he is in
an inn. He asks for a room as he is weary and sorely in need of rest. But the song ends on a note of anger: there is no room and so
he is obliged to keep trudging on.
11) Der Stürmische Morgen (The Stormy Morning) song no. 18
Here at last is some weather that matches my wild heart…songs 11 and 12 are joined together to form a single piece in ABA
form: ‘Der Stürmische Morgen’ - ‘Im Dorfe’ - ‘Der Stürmische Morgen’…
12) Im Dorfe (In the Village) song no. 17
He pauses at a small village where - apart from a barking dog or two - there is no sign of life: everyone is huddled indoors out of
the cold. He imagines them - with their petty thoughts and their futile dreams of happiness which will almost certainly never
come. ‘I am finished with all dreams; why should I linger among slumberers?‘
Six Assorted Songs
13) Die Rose (The Rose) W533 (‘W’ refers to the Alan Walker catalogue)
Transcribed in 1833, this is the first of Liszt’s very many song transcriptions. It is a delicate song about the brevity and fragility
of a rose’s life.
14) Lob der Tränen (In Praise of Tears) W534
A song in praise of love.
15) Lebewohl! (Farewell) W540
Though this transcription (and the ensuing two) were published as part of ‘Sechs Melodien von Franz Schubert’, the fact is that
‘Lebewohl!’ is not by Schubert but by Hans von Weyrauch. It is a solemn but optimistic farewell to somebody on the point of
‘Farewell! a morrow‘s gladness
Follows a day of pain.
For hearts that part in sadness
In Heaven will meet again‘.
16) Mädchens Klage (The Maiden’s Lament) W540
‘For the grieving heart the sweetest joy, when the wonders of fair love have vanished, is the sorrow and lament of love‘.
17) Das Sterbeglöcklein (The Passing Bell) W540
This refers to the bell that tolls when a person dies and their soul passes on. ‘Ring, ring the night through; bring sweet peace to
him for whom you toll!‘ There are five verses in this lengthy song, with each verse - as is standard in a Liszt transcription -
having a different pianistic figuration. The fourth verse, for example, has a continuous trill throughout.
18) Die Forelle (The Trout) 2nd version W541
Who will win, the capricious, darting fish or the angler? In the end it is the angler, but only because he cunningly cheats.
The CD concludes thus - with its one and only cheerful piece!
Also Available on Meridian
Gaspard de la nuit
Pavane pour une infante defunte
Reminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) No.1
Reminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) No.2
La Sonnambula (Bellini)
Illustrations du Prophete (Meyerbeer) No.1
Fantasy on motives from Ruins of Athens (Beethoven)
March to the scaffold from Symphonie Fanttasique (Berlioz)