What does Liszt mean to you?
In my view, Liszt is first and foremost a pioneer, someone who opened an incredible number of doors. I thought I knew him. But when I picked up his biography again on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth, I discovered how much he embodies mobility, in so many different ways:
Finger mobility, of course!
Intellectual and artistic mobility,
Mobility in writing: in creativity and style,
And, finally, the traveler’s mobility.
How was the idea for your project “Liszt the Traveler” born?
This CD is set under the sign of travel, wandering, romanticism, the union of music and literature.
All these themes are particularly well illustrated by Der Wanderer, one of a number of Shubert’s songs that Liszt transcribed—Liszt thought of Shubert as the most poetic of all composers.
Alain and I wished to honor Liszt by avoiding the stereotypes that plague him, like that of the concert phenomenon or of the Mephistophelean seducer. Few artists so thoroughly crisscrossed the roads of 19th-century Europe, and his cosmopolitan popularity made him a precursor of today’s European citizen. Indeed, he set himself the goal of discovering all Europe’s cultures, going from St. Petersburg to Lisbon, from London and Dublin to Rome and Istanbul: he reached all the capitals of Europe and many of its larger cities. European ahead of his time, he was the “transnational artist.”
Why the peculiar pairing of Liszt and contemporary music?
Liszt was also a great traveler towards the future. He not only inspired Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Ligeti in the 20th-century, but his forays into atonal music also make him a true precursor of the second Viennese school represented by Berg, Schoenberg and Webern. Our disc aims to build a bridge between the audacity of his works and the music of today, a channel between the 19th-and the 21st-centuries.
To build this musical channel, Alain Bonardi chose a few of Liszt’s works, extrapolating on them to compose what he calls “commentaries.”
How is your disc organized?
We collected works with folkloric inspiration, like the Rhapsodie Espagnole, the Tarentella (Canzone Napolitana), and the Five Hungarian Folksongs. The Vallée d’Obermann evokes Switzerland, and the Nuages Gris (Grey Clouds), composed in Venice, take us all the way to Russia—theme of Abschied.
Geography then gets woven into musical space-time: the Five Folksongs (composed in 1873) announce Bartok, and Nuages Gris and Abschied (written respectively in 1881 and 1885) with their evocative starkness, their prophetic atonality, are like Liszt’s musical testament.
How did Liszt’s travels influence his music?
Although he came to know more European cities than most of us ever will, he traveled not by supersonic jet, but in a specially outfitted horse-drawn carriage. This gave him a privileged view of landscapes, cities, and country lanes, as well as plenty of time for meditation and inspiration.
In fact, he wrote about this quite well himself: “Having, in recent times, traveled through many new countries, many different sites, many places consecrated by history and poetry, I have felt that nature, in its many guises and its many landscapes does not appear before my eyes as vain images, but instead stirs up between us a relation that is vague but immediate, a connection that is indefinite but real, a communion that is certain yet cannot be explained. So I have tried to translate into music some of my strongest and most vivid perceptions…”
A typically romantic sentiment: Our access to the world is filtered through a very personal prism that is itself displayed without embarrassment.
As someone else would write a travel journal, Liszt conveys through his music an account of his visual and sensory rambles.