Liszt: Symphonic Poems


After listening to the violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini in 1831, Franz Liszt decided to become a virtuoso on his instrument. In 1832; He was interested in the music of his close friend Frederic Chopin, which is seen as the pinnacle of romantic piano music, compared his own music with Chopin and thought that what he was doing was not romantic enough.

Franz Liszt's interest in symphonic poetry and programmed music began on December 4, 1830, when he met Master Hector Berlioz and listened to his "Fantastic Symphony".

He was able to find time to study fields such as literature, mythology and history, which he would use in his symphonic poems, after leaving his "Kapelmeister" (Palace composer) job, which he started in Weimar in 1848.

The first person to use the name symphonic poem was Franz Liszt, whose 13 symphonic poems he dedicated to Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (She was a Polish Lady [Polish: szlachcianka]) are today cited as the best in this field.

About the Artifacts

Symphonic Poem No. 1 “Heard Over The Mountain”
(Fr. “Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne)

This work, which is the longest of the poems (about 30 minutes), was inspired by Victor Hugo's French poem of the same name.

For Liszt's work:The poet perceives two voices: one is immeasurable, powerful and orderly, delivering cheerful odes to his master; the other is dull, painful, tearful, full of trouble and curse. One speaks of nature, the other of humanity! These two voices fight each other, meet, melt into each other. Until they become clear together and their voices disappear with holiness."

A section from the Andante episode

Symphonic Poem No. 2 “Lament and Glory”
(Fr. " Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo”)

Liszt wrote a piece for Goethe's play “Tasso” in Weimar, which was stolen on August 100, 28, at a ceremony in Germany to celebrate Goethe's 1849th birthday. From his youth, Liszt was an admirer of the 16th-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso.

In this work, he deals with Tasso in two themes and in two sections. In the first part, “The Complaint” gives Tasso's pain and resistance with cello and double basses. The main theme is announced with the bass clarinet. “Victory”, on the other hand, shows the eternal victory of the poet by living in the hearts of the people with Allegro.

Giving the main melody by wind instruments.

Symphonic Poem No. 3 “Preludes”

Liszt wrote this work, inspired by French poet Alphonse Lamartine's "Les Préludes", the fifteenth in the series of poems called "New Poetic Meditations" (Fr. Nouvelle Méditations Poétiques).

The poem continues:

Is not life a series of preludes to an unknown song, the most solemn and ceremonial note arranged for death? The magical sunset of every life is love; but the dreams of youth are destroyed by the deadly breath of the storm that blows over this first pleasurable happiness...

The work, which is based on two themes that change between each other; The struggle for life, the joy and pain of love, the consolation in nature, but the most important and sacred of these "preludes" is death.

The piece opens with an andante ascension, the theme is highlighted with trumpets and trombones, this part is in 12/8 measure. The delicate 4/4 theme that follows tells us about love and nature. The rise at the end of the work tells about war and victory.

Symphonic Poem No. 4 “Orpheus”

The story of Orfeo, one of the most famous subjects of the classical music repertoire, is brought before us this time by Liszt. Considered Wagner's best Liszt composition, it was a birthday present for Grand Duchess Maria Paulowa. It was originally composed as a prologue to Glück's opera Orpheus and Euridice.

Symphonic Poem No. 5 “Prometheus”

Liszt was inspired by the German poet JG Herder's work “Prometheus in a Chain” in this work. The piece was played for the first time at the opening of the Herder statue in Weimar on August 24, 1850. The work tells about the punishment of Prometheus because his fire was delivered to people. French organist Jean Guillou adapted this piece for organ.

Symphonic Poem No. 6 “Mazepa”

Liszt began to write this work, inspired by a Victor Hugo poem of the same name. On April 16, 1854, the piece was performed for the first time in Weimar. The piece was played for many years as Liszt's favorite piece, its staging was very colorful and it had a rich orchestral staff. Ivan Stepanovich Mazeppa is the appointee of the Ukrainian Cossacks. The country was then under Polish rule. Little Ivan had grown up in the Polish Palace, became King Jan Casimir's right-hand man, but was punished by his stunning life and by a trap set against him by being wound up on the back of a wild mare and driven into the steppes. Ivan is later rescued by horsemen and taken to the Dnieper Cossacks.

When he regains his former power, he swears to avenge his enemies, reigns as a Hetman, but suffocates his people with excessive taxes… He balances the Turks and Moscow, and leads a pompous life. After the Ukrainians' revolt against him, he was defeated in Poltova, took refuge with the Turks, and ended his life by drinking poison. Victor Hugo, it: “…he runs, he flies, he falls, and when he gets up he finds himself king” he describes.

The main theme at the beginning comes in 4/4 measure, the trombone, double bass and cellos represent Ivan. Ivan's coming face-to-face with death is announced with a pathetic theme, and his dramatic salvation is indicated by the trumpet. The work ends calmly.

Ivan Mazeppa. (With Red Cape)

Symphonic Poem No. 7 “Holiday Music”
(Alm. Festkläne)

It was intended as Princess Wittgenstein's wedding music. French music writer Guy de Pourtalés says that the polonaise here is a musical portrait of the Princess.

Symphonic Poem No. 8" Heroïde Funébre”

While writing this work, Liszt was inspired by the work written by Ovid with the same name in 15 BC, the lyric poems expressing the mourning (funebré) of famous women in love such as Penelope, Phédre and Helena, namely Heroïdes, who were deceived by their lovers.

Symphonic Poem No. 9" Hungaria”

This poem called “Hungary” was written by Liszt to represent his pride in his country. Written for two pianos in 1854, the adapted version for orchestra was performed at the Budapest National Theater on September 8, 1856, with great festivity.

Symphonic Poem No. 10" Hamlet"

This symphonic poem is a musical portrait of Shakespeare's famous character and his lover Ophelia.

Symphonic Poem No. 11 "Hun War"
(Alm. Hunnenschlacht)

Liszt completed this work on February 10, 1857, inspired by the flamboyant painting of the same name by the famous German painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach. In the poem, the Huns were portrayed with horns and the Romans with trumpet motifs. The motif of the Romans was strengthened by the old Christian chorale "Crux Fidelis" and declared its victory accompanied by organ tones.

Kaubach's work

Symphonic Poem No. 12 “Die Ideale”

Liszt wrote this piece, inspired by Schiller's lines of the same title, which was performed at the opening of the Goethe-Schiller monument in Weimar in 1857. Liszt added sections from poems to the beginning of some sections in the score.

Symphonic Poem No. 13 “From Cradle to Grave”
(Alm. Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe)

The work is dedicated to Count Zichy. Inspired by the paintings of Liszt Zichy.


Hanslick: (On Mazeppas and Preludes)

“Liszt belongs to extremely talented but unproductive natures driven by artistic ambition.” According to Hanslick's aesthetic, working together "program" and music is pretentious.


“The motifs are very short and disjointed, the melody is very weak and does not contain integrity, the existence of a thematic work is obvious, but it consists of the sequencing of themes with different instruments and tones, the use of artificial and extreme harmony and rhythm, simple and complex, scratching the ears without being in a simple and beautiful harmony. and turbulent chromatic/harmonic transitions…”


Wagner wrote a letter to Princess Carolyne's daughter, Marie, about the symphonic poems of Liszt, whom he loved very much. In this letter, he made explanations for programmatic music and mentioned that Liszt is specializing in this subject.

The letter was an open letter and was subsequently published. Wagner has always been very supportive of Liszt's work. In the letter, he spoke in a sincere and sarcastic language about the "too crowded note usage" incident, which is similar to other criticisms.

For this reason, he also says that Liszt's works will not be immediately understood by the public. Wagner also mentions in this letter that Hector Berlioz is the best performer as a musical poet.

He states that because the programmed music contains so much detail, the listeners will have a hard time following the music (sometimes even he has a hard time!).


Reading Music, Volume 3, İrkin Aktüze

Keith T. Jones, Franz Liszt's Symphonic Poems and The Press: The Reception of First Performances 1850-1861

The Wagner Journal, Volume 5 Number 1


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