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The Impact of Literature on the Works by Franz Liszt

Program music is, probably, one of the best concepts capable of encompassing the creative manner and artistic principles of Franz Liszt. In this respect, the notion of program music implies that the Franz Liszt in his works has managed to reveal the link between music and other forms of art, specifically, poetry and painting. The combination of different forms of art of that kind served the purpose of making Fran Liszt’s compositions more relatable to the listeners themselves and easier for them to comprehend. In this respect, the quintessence of the composer attempts to combine different forms of art is a sonata cycle, entitled Les Années de Pélerinage (Eng. The Years of Pilgrimage).   

The Years of Pilgrimage can be characterized as an utterly unique, sublime piece. The bright emotional palette is the distinctive feature of the piece, meaning that the cycle of sonatas encompasses a wide range of feelings. As far as the works’ thematic framework is concerned, love and betrayal can be viewed as the leitmotif of the cycle. “Dante Sonata”stands out from the rest of the works that The Years of Pilgrimage cycle is comprised of, which is mainly due to the discernible romantic flavor of the work itself. The genre of the piece can be defined as a ‘sonata fantasia’ (Eng. “sonata fantasy”). A renowned masterpiece, “Dante Sonata” by Franz Liszt is, however, understudied. Compositions by Franz Liszt are unique. Even more importantly, however, another peculiar feature of composer’s works is the constant presence of a wider and appropriate philosophical context. The paper intends to investigate the philosophical context, imagery, and literary references that shaped “Dante Sonata” by Franz Liszt.

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The very title of the composition, “Dante Sonate”, implies a reference to Dante Alighieri and his magnum opus, Divine Comedy. One of the properties of program music, in Franz Liszt’s case, is the composer’s addressing the questions like how people interact with one another, their surroundings, and the environment. All in all, in “Dante Sonata” by Franz Liszt the plane of content manifests itself through an artistically perfect form. This program feature of music takes an intermediate position between the generalized embodiment of extra-musical components and consistent deployment of conflict of the piece, which is based mainly on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Franz Liszt emphasized the essence of program music by focusing predominantly on the spiritual constituent of his own composition. Religious and, at the same time, literary background of “Dante Sonata” happens to be something that, basically, makes the basis of the sonata itself. At this point, it is essential to take a small detour to point out that Franz Liszt viewed program music as purely instrumental. Music, no matter what medium it is based on, by hints or in details, gives insight into the thoughts and/or pictures that the composer attempts to develop, pursuing the goal of preventing the audience from arbitrary poetic interpretations of any kind, and thus, by so doing, composer manages to specify the subject matter of composition by themselves. This idea was the basis for the creation of the Years of Pilgrimage and “Dante Sonata” in particular.

Divine Comedy is a renowned masterpiece, and specifically, the work that inspired Franz Liszt’s own composition. Dante Alighieri, in his turn, raises a variety of questions in the Divine Comedy, such as, for example, life and death, sin, immortality, infinity, afterlife, virtuous life, have and hell, the struggle between good and evil. The questions stated above have been haunting mankind for centuries. Dante’s Divine Comedy teaches those who read it how to tell the right from wrong, how to choose the right side and follow the right path, keep to the codes of morality and humanity. The lyrical epic portrays people who are doomed to suffer in the depths of hell for all the sins they have committed in their lifetime, as opposed to the eternal heavenly bliss some who have lived their lives virtuously may gain. With regard to this, one of the key messages of Dante’s major work is as follows. Man’s life, according to Dante, is a constant search for God. Building on that, the God may become a part of the soul only of he who is kind and lives the life of a virtue. At this point, it has to be pointed out that Franz Liszt himself has been reputed an uncommonly kind man.

The genre of Dante’s magnum opus is defined as a comedy for a reason. Mystery is a genre that enjoyed utmost of popularity in Middle Age. Mysteries served to entertain the public, portraying the lives of ordinary people that alternated between passions and the precepts of the code of humanity and morale and the Ten Commandments in particular. Dante’s Divine Comedy has been having Liszt’s undivided attention and interest for years. The researchers and biographers are inclined to think that “Dante Sonata” was written prior to other sonatas featured in the cycle The Years of Pilgrimage. In his own interpretation of the original lyrical epic by Dante Alighieri, Fran Liszt emphasized the humanist motives of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Since “Dante Sonata” by Franz Liszt is a piece of program music, the question of how the composer himself contemplated and treated the questions of morality. In his compositions, Liszt has managed to create a unique artistic reality that abounds with stunningly beautiful images. As far as the concept of imagery is concerned, one cannot help but notice that ironic, heroic, lyrical, and, at some point, demonic images appealed to Liszt. Franz Liszt believed that it is in a nature of a man to be kind and forgiving. Sin and repentance (penance) are some of the motives that Franz Liszt has managed to reconsider artistically in his own compositions. Thus, sin and repentance in the works by Franz Liszt go hand in hand with compassion and sorrow. The fate of the main characters of Dante’s lyrical epic, and particularly, canzone No. 5 in the cycle “Hell”, as pondered by Franz Liszt, prove that the composer himself actually sympathized with the main characters. Liszt believed in the almighty power of everything Divine that in new manner lit up the gloomy realm of Hell and has prompted a new way of reading Dante’s verses. Liszt believed and embodied in his work two lovers hope that the power of love will help them find peace, save them from the harsh and ruthless Hell, in which they got to being cheated. Perhaps, this sad love story would have remained in the old fortress walls, if a contemporary of Francesca and Paolo – Dante Alighieri has not appeared. Traveling with Virgil on the circles of hell described in the Divine Comedy, he saw a man and a woman, who have not given up in an eternal whirlwind of diabolic fire. Love passion has led them straight into the arms of death, and from that moment they have shared the suffering of Hell as once they shared love and joy.

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As mentioned above, Liszt turned to this topic not accidentally. Romanticism sought to recreate the lost ideals and values of the European Middle Ages. Liszt was acutely aware of the nature of modern conflict. The main conflict of conjugal duty – love, betrayal in sonata is implemented by means of music and the symbolic and semantic complex (rhetorical figures) – passus duriusculus (Greek – harsh move, symbolizing the death of flour on a deathbed), catabasis (Lat. – downward movement, or spiritual fall). Free composition of “Dante Sonata”, which is a sonata form of poem with the episode in progress, recreates the poetic writings shaped structure. Here is the opposition of hell suffering and torments by sensualists fortunately experienced love, betrayal that brought heroes to death.

Liszt became a pioneer in the field of romantic interpretation of the sonata form which is transformed under the influence of the program music guidelines. Later, such techniques were used by Liszt in the genre of the symphonic poem. “Dante Sonata” is a vivd example of the use of free synthetic composition principle, the peculiarities of which were dictated by the concept of the work. Obviously, the poem form dictated the desire of the composer to call it a fantasy. The piece is written in sonata form with the entry, an episode in the development and dynamic mirror reprise. The shaping of this sonata shows an extended poem reading of a sonata form, with the inclusion of the development of the episode, which is figurative being in semantic association with the second (slower) part and dramatic development, built on the principle of wave sonata drama. Since the entry theme here is repeatedly held the rondo features occur at the level of form of the second plan.

Entry theme of “Dante Sonata” consists of two elements of dialogue, written in a simple three-part form of the evolving nature, where octave theme, built on tritone (the invariants of quart and quint) speed is interspersed with grace notes. This musical means embody the image of Hell gates and depict the suffering of those who were there. The second element of the theme is a chord texture (Figure 1). At its core there are elliptical successions of major 6th chord with diminished triad, the development of which ends in A-flat major. A movement towards the approval of an optimistic outcome anticipates sonata code is planned already in the entry theme.

Fig. 1. The second element of the theme is a chord texture.

Piu mosso section draws an image of Hell itself and shows its power where the wicked suffer. The first element of the entry is exposed to the active development and transformation, opposing the fatal inevitability of fate and the elements depicting moans and fears of suffering bodies. Fanfare voices, chromatic passages convey the sinister image of a terrible place of Fallen (Figure 2). The content of the sonata exposition can be compared with the description of Hell, suggested by Dante.

Fig.2. Fanfare voices, chromatic passages.

The main part was written in ternary form with a reprise dynamized in the key of d-moll, where there is a principle of rhythmic durations crushing. Main part is based on elements of passus duriuscolus rhetorical figures, in its varied conduct, which becomes the basis of both upper and lower voices in the piano. It is rhythmically crushed alternately at the top and in lowercase, sequentially sounding in the background of ostinato bass (d, then cis, and d contraoctaves). Suffering element (a, b, a, gis, g, fis, f, e, es, e, b, cis, a) amplifies due intonation. The parallel movement of octave-chord complexes down (Lamentoso, sempre legato, marcatissimo) deepens the state of suffering and pain of agony, which the heroes are not possible to escape. Section sounds on pianissimo dynamics, creating a mess state of tortured souls. It reaches its peak expression of the image in the reprise of the main part. Dante meets sinner souls of Francesca and Paolo in the vortex of the sinners. Their story is accompanied by a general depiction of the picture of the second circle of Hell, and their enchanting torment. There intonation of the first element of entry theme appears. It is held in the form in which it appeared in the middle section of the entry, further it is enhanced by drama sound of the topic and reduced introductory seventh chords before main part, alternately in D major and D minor (Figure 3).

Fig. 3. Seventh chords before main part in D major and D minor.

Description in F-sharp minor, the so-called vortex, begins on the background support with the inclusion of fanfare speed. It transmits state of whirling in the vortex of sinners souls tossing those in the air. Therefore, Liszt used vortex ups parallel octaves along with elements of texture. Composer also used chords sequences, passages containing arpeggios and arpeggiatos (wiggles), ranging from a third octave to contra octave and aspiring to a climax, where octave presentation sounds as a rhetorical figure (in bass key). Forzando is another embellishment the composer uses to create ominous atmosphere of Dante’s vision of hell.

A section of the linking part smoothly goes into the binder episode that is located before of the final theme, which transmits choking groans, the mournful gestures of suffering souls. Trumpet tone of the main part reappears sounding in the background of quarto-fifths speed that acquire diatonic tonal basis, instead of the original rule of tritones. This anticipates shifting development into the other sphere (Figure 4). They are interspersed with chromatic inflections of a breath.

Fig.4. Trumpet tone of the main part with quarto-fifths speed.

Hymn in nature final theme part (F major) sounds in background of octave’s figurations (causing an analogy with jubilees), which give a solemn and sublime tone to final section. The final part is based on the intonations close the main part being its monothematic plan. Figurative development of exposure is directed of the theme of the sinners fall through mental and physical torment to approval of hymn topic – the image expressing feelings of love, as Paolo and Francesca fly in this state, even in Hell.

The development opens with a sound of entry theme (Hell’s Gate), where, once again, crawling diminished chord-shaped reflection fed directly to the development of the story of Francesca, the Andante section of the Fall, where she tells the story of a meeting with Paolo, their first encounter (Figure 5). Episode Andante is written in a complex of three type form with F-sharp major tonality. It begins outlining lyrical version of the theme, fully built on rhetorical passus duriusculus figure, covertly determining the meaning of the fall of heroes. Genre theme is based on the second nocturne. It is associated with an episode of Paolo and Francesca love, and the birth of a sense of love. The topic is presented in parallel octaves in the background chords, but, in essence, it is the subject of the final transformed part, which can be compared in its expressive value with timid fight feelings of a doubt and passion.

Fig. 5. Chord-shaped reflection.

The next stage of the drama section transmits the polar state, the expression of feelings, and the anticipation of falling into the abyss, where alternately elements of final part sound, being faced with carrying passus duriusculus themes and sound on the trumpet against Hell at climax. Further development leads to the final section of it being characterized by damping dynamics imitation of certain exclamations, groans of despair chords. At the end of the first Andante sounds reminiscent of the theme outlined in the reduction, as a way of – reminiscent of the lost.

Thematic development of reprise expresses contradictory struggle unfolded between the importance of emotions and suffering of hell apotheosis feeling of love. Reprise is a mirror type and begins with the intonations of the final part (Andante) in the key of D major being transformed into a hymn-enthusiastic in the key B minor. Enthusiastic and expressive sounds of a theme are converted to intonations of final section, as it prepares for presenting the main part. It is given in the form, which appears in the design, which combined chords (tonic D major, minor subdominant D major, low B-flat major). The development of the code leads to the conclusion in D major, where again in the upward and downward octave movement in the bass passes passus duriuscolus figure. Hymn sound and fanfare are heroic cries transfigured entry indicates approval of an optimistic idea, the importance of a sense of love.

Thus, Liszt completed his brightly innovative in content and form fantasy “Dante Sonata”. The Hungarian composer, unlike Dante, presented the idea of the feelings of love winning over the misery of Hell. A link between the concepts of Liszt and Dante is evident in the fact that the composer accurately represented the content of the fifth Hell lyrics. That is Francesca and Paolo story of love, death and suffering. However, unlike Dante, Liszt came to an opposite, optimistic, conclusion, asserting the importance of feelings of love as the main value of life. If Dante had compassion to fallen and suffered souls, because the very fall of the characters was originally based on deception and lies, it is likely that this explains the shock of the poet, and he experienced a feeling of sorrow.

The norms of Christian morality dictate that those in love restrain themselves. The main characters of Dante’s Divine Comedy disobey, and thus, they are doomed to eternal suffering. Doctrinal beliefs, however, turn out to be implicit in Dante’s work. Its main spokesman is God. A free man can choose the path of the active life, being properly measured of love for indirect, secondary benefits, which lead to virtue. However, natural love can be ruined by infringement action or not the right choice. This is a sin, which is the product of an immoderate or wrong love. This is the meaning of the story of Francesca and Paolo, Dante’s philosophical concept. Liszt retrieved it more emotionally, as a composer, romantic, for whom love was the meaning of life. The concept of the tragedy of the personal lives of the characters presented by composer in generalized in-picture mode, the unfolding means figurative genre, clearly emotional, lyrical and expressive development of drama and transform musical expression.

“Dante Sonata” is a vivid, innovative work. In it the composer created a free, one-part poem form, which elements, figurative meaning and subject to the decision of a genre fit to the program music’s logic. Composer reinvented cyclic structure of sonata cycle, part of which as being mounted in a one-part composition structure. In the sonata’s development appears the episode that is associated with slow part of the sonata-symphony cycle. Permanent holding of entry theme from one side expresses the idea of punishment, from the other, becomes a warning symbol. It appears on the verge of partition shape: in the development before the stage of death, the Andante episode and before the final part in the section before the reprise, which indicates the presence of the second Rondo form, as theme of the entry is constantly repeated performing the function of the refrain.

Rethinking of figurative and semantic content of the sonata exposition and methods of thematic development are based on mono-thematic principle. This is evident in the adverse part, which, as a rule, is a lyric in the majority of works by Liszt, but in “Dante Sonata” it is violently dramatic, full of intense intonations of suffering. The role of improvisation binder sections grows as these are important stages of development of the concept, where the entry theme necessarily comes first. The overall development in conflict-exposure becomes an opposition between the main and final parts. Most prominent here is conflicting juxtaposition implemented in the design, where the themes are faced in the climax of the development section embodying the idea of the of Paolo and Francesca death.

The work by step, consistently, presented a principle of symphonization in musical drama as the entry and main part have an active figurative genre transformation. The basis of the first is the initial element of rhetorical passus duriusculus figures, second is fanfare-tone signal. Thus, on the basis of a free sonata form the composer created synthetic composition, which is based on the principle of symphonization of musical drama. The composer used a variety of presentation techniques for an embodiment of the content: s the chiaroscuro, their transformation to a tonal harmonic plan, a complex variety of techniques as chord, octave, and virtuoso passages. Liszt lived this story himself realizing that in a destructive life a person is immersed in the maelstrom of temptation. Apart from literature, art, people of that time were already surrounded by evil, violence, flouting the moral foundations of life and the main of them – love, condemning humanity to the degradation. This theme of Dante, Liszt worked further in postmodern period being not only relevant, but the one which acquired massive global dimensions, since the notion of love lost ontological meaning. This story and sonata seem fantastic, unreal, but such examples of great art make people think about the importance of spiritual and moral foundations, which are to be intelligently and correctly followed in the stormy ocean of life.

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