Created by: Anna Peternák and Miklós Török

Liszt: Sposalizio

Franz Liszt captures the memories of his journey to Italy from 1837 to 1839 in his Années de Pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italie series. Some of the pieces are related to non-musical works of art (like painting, sculpture, poetry). During the period of Romanticism very often different fields of art interwove like in the case of Liszt. The first piece of Années de Pèlerinage’s second series entitled Sposalizio was composed by Franz Liszt based on a painting of Raphael. He saw Raphael’s Sposalizio (The Marriage / Engagement of the Virgin) in the Brera of Milan, and was so overwhelmed by the experience that he decided to compose a piece with a similar title. Liszt gave instructions that the reproduction of Raphael’s painting should be published along with the musical piece Sposalizio in the first edition of the Années de Pèlerinage. The music follows the structure of Raphael's painting. First of all we can hear sounds imitating church bells and this motif reoccurs later in the piece in various forms. It is followed by a soft, lyrical melody which evokes the intimate atmosphere of the engagement or wedding ceremony.

The Sposalizio (The Marriage / Engagement of Mary) is the work of the young Raphael from 1504 who was strongly influenced by his master Perugino at that time. Perugino’s fresco Christ gives the keys to St. Peter (1481-82, Sistine Chapel) and The Engagement of Virgin Mary (1500-1504) served as a model for the painting. All of them are centrally composed paintings, the main figures are located in the foreground next to each other, a church can be seen in the background right in the middle, marble floors constructed in perspective. According to apocryphal texts, the Lord chose Joseph from many others to become Mary’s husband; Joseph’s branch suddenly blossomed. Raphael depicted this miracle in his painting; next to Joseph, we see the group of the disappointed suitors, some of them are breaking their branch. Although Raphael imitated his master which can be detected by the selection of the subject and the main figures - some of the faces are typical Perugino style - , he painted several details his own way. The colors are warmer, more harmonious, the movements of the characters, the expression on their faces are more natural, while the composition of the group is more diverse. These qualities characterize all of the later works by Raphael as well.

Liszt: Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este

In the 1870s Franz Liszt spent a lot of time at Villa d’Este, the summer residence of his friend Cardinal Hohenlohe. The villa is located in Tivoli, near Rome. The beautiful fountains of the park inspired Liszt to compose Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este which was completed in 1877 and became part of the third cycle of Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). This work is the one that music historians consider to be the first impressionist musical piece preceding Debussy and Ravel who composed similar kinds of water music such as Ravel's magnificent Jeux d’Eau from 1901. Liszt chose the key F sharp major for Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este providing an innovative, expressive sound (and the structure of the score was quite unusual at the time, too) that displays the ripple of the fountains and water droplets . Unlike Ravel, who used a quotation of a poem about a pagan river god as the motto for his Jeux d’Eau, Liszt inserted a quotation from the Gospel of John in the middle of the music score: „But the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). Originally the quotation is in Latin: “Sed aqua quam ego dabo ei, fiet in eo fons aquae salientis in vitam aeternam.” At this point, the pleasant water music turns into a deeply religious piece, the concept of the water changes completely. Jesus said these words to the Samaritan woman, to whom he spoke about the promise of eternal life by using this water metaphor.

Liszt: Au bord d’une source

Au bord d'une source (Beside a Spring) is a virtuoso piano piece by Franz Liszt; it is the 4th piece of the first suite of Années de Pèlerinage (Première année: Suisse; Years of Pilgrimage, first year: Switzerland). There are three separate versions of Au bord d'une source. The first version appears in Liszt's set Album d'une voyageur (1834–1838), and the second in the first suite of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage (Suisse, 1836–1855). The last version is almost identical to the second one, except for the final nine bars, which were added in 1863 by Liszt as a coda for his Italian piano student Giovanni Sgambati. The second version of Au bord d'une source is often regarded as the most popular. The piece opens in a peaceful, bright mood, its playful main theme conveys effectively images of water droplets. Liszt links the various sections of the piece together using passages of complex scale and arpeggio patterns ascending high into the upper register, descending back down and transforming back into the melody; this allows the whole piece to flow as one.

French realist painter Gustave Courbet’s studies of the Loue river’s source have a similar attitude to that of Liszt’s music which is to immerse deeply in the observation of nature. The Loue river originates from the mouth of a cave near Courbet's birthplace, Ornans in the Franche-Comté, it is one of the area’s natural wonders. The Loue is subterranean until this point, and already quite large when it emerges from the immense grotto. Courbet was fascinated by the geologic forces that are somewhat mysterious because they originate underground. The paintings he created of the „source de la Loue” may also be read as his realist response to the allegorical "sources"—academic female nudes holding a vessel from which water flows (like Ingres’ famous Source from 1856).

Debussy: En bateau

Debussy’s Petite Suite (1886-1889) was originally written for piano, four hands and first performed in 1889 by Debussy and pianist–publisher Jacques Durand at a salon in Paris. The pieces were transcribed several times; our version of En bateau is written for cello and piano. Petite Suite has four movements: 1. En bateau („Sailing”), 2. Cortège („Retinue”), 3. Menuet, 4. Ballet. It may have been written upon request – possibly from Durand – for a piece that would be accessible to skilled amateurs, as its simplicity is in stark contrast with the modernist works that Debussy wrote at the time. The first two movements are settings of poems from the volume Fêtes galantes by Paul Verlaine. His poem En bateau (from Fêtes galantes) influenced Debussy to compose his charming piece with the same title. The poems evoke the era of 18th-century aristocrats on country outings, the world depicted in the fanciful paintings of Fragonard and Watteau.

Boats and lakes are often the subjects of Impressionist paintings. Monet had his own boat studio where he could observe the water closely; this boat studio is depicted by his friend Manet and by Monet himself as well. Some paintings from Monet’s series of water lilies (Nymphéas) are also present in our collection - series of approximately 250 oil paintings in the garden he had installed in his property at Giverny. Never was the artist's brushstroke so free, so detached from the real form of objects. A close-up view of these canvases gives a feeling of abstraction. Renoir’s La yole (The yawl, 1875) is a charming idyll as well with two young ladies sitting in a boat; the reflections on the water are extremely detailed using colors like blue, green and yellow.

Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini is Berlioz's first opera firs performed in the Paris Opéra in 1838. The premiere was a fiasco, the audience, disturbed by the radical new opera, rioted, and the musicians branded the work as impossible to play. Critics refused to accept the comical Cellini at Paris' most elite forum for serious drama. In 1851, Franz Liszt offered to revive the opera and suggested changes to the score. This version was performed in Weimar in 1852, the reception was quite poor again. The overture, however, enjoyed a successful career as a separate piece, Berlioz performed it with success during his European concert tours of the 1840s wherever he found an orchestra capable of rising to its brilliant demands. The libretto bears only scant relation to the autobiography of the Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, rather more resemblance to E.T.A. Hoffmann's story Signor Formica.

Benvenuto Cellini was an outstanding sculptor and goldsmith of the Mannierism. He is also famous for writing an adventurous authobiography „La Vita”, which depicts a vivid portrait of the Italian society’s manners and morals with the power of its narrative, self-referential and descriptive overstatements. Cellini created beautiful sculptures like the statue of Perseus located in the shade of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. This work was mentioned in the opera of Benvenuto Cellini. According to the story of the opera, Pope Clemente VII ordered this statue from Cellini, who had to melt down all his sculptures to create his masterpiece because he didn’t have enough bronze material. It is true that only a few of his sculptures had survived and he mentioned many others in his authobiography which were completely lost. But we still can find some beautiful sculptures and drawings attributed to Cellini which prove that despite his excessive tales, his talent is not just a legend.

Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre

Saint-Saëns composed the Danse macabre in 1874 and published it in 1875, considered to be his most popular work among his orchestral compositions. It started out in 1872 as a song for voice and piano with French text by the poet Henri Cazalis, which is based on an old superstition that every year on Halloween at midnight Death appears and calls forth the dead from their graves to dance. Death plays his fiddle (in Danse macabre, it is also represented by a solo violin) and the skeletons dance for him until the rooster crows at dawn when they must return to their graves until next year. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times which means the twelve strokes of midnight. After that, the violin soloist plays as if he/she was tuning his/her instrument and then a solo flute performs a bouncy melody. A new melody in the woodwinds is based on the Dies irae, a Gregorian chant setting the text of the Last Judgment Day and often invoked by Romantic-era composers when their subject was death. The Dance macabre is full of grim humour. Furthermore, Saint-Saëns parodies his Danse macabre in The Carnival of the Animals (Le carnival des animaux), as well as works of other composers.

The dance of death as a theme in art was typical not only during the Middle Ages but in the 19th century as well. German artist Alfred Rethel executed his powerful Dance of Death engraving series influenced by the revolutions of 1848. In its precision of line and style, it is reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer’s drawings. As a famous example, some of Hans Holbein the Younger’s Dance of Death series are also part of our collection. These pictures show the universality of death: no matter one's station in life, the Dance of Death unites all. Death takes away people of all kinds no matter who they were in their lifetime: kings, abbots, monks or nuns and he reminds them how vain the glories of earthly life are.

Ravel: Jeux d'eau

Jeux d'eau, which translates as "Play of Water" or "Fountains," draws on the technically brilliant pianistic style of Franz Liszt, one of Ravel's heroes; indeed, it is often considered that Ravel's work is something of an homage to Liszt's similarly scintillating Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este. At the time of writing Jeux d'eau (1901-1902), Ravel was a student of Gabriel Fauré, to whom the piece is dedicated. The atmosphere of exuberance reflected in the quotation at the front of the manuscript score and often included on published editions: "Dieu fluvial riant de l'eau qui le chatouille..."- a quotation from Henri de Régnier's Cité des eaux, which in English editions is sometimes translated to "River god laughing as the water tickles him...". The form of the piece is quite classical using two themes and sonata structure but it doesn’t retain the classical tonal order. It is combined with the continuous arpeggiations and chromatic flourishes. Ravel gained a great success with Jeux d’eau which he didn’t expected.

In our collection of reproductions, we have selected some paintings of lesser-known artists depicting different kinds of fountains. Mostly from the beginning of 20th century, these works illustrate the atmosphere of Ravel’s music. It is interesting to see the diverse styles and points of view of the artists from the same period when the modernism was born. Maurice Denis’ colorful fountain from 1904 shows the efforts of the group Les Nabis which produced a great effect on the fauvism. Unlike Denis, the American painter John Singer Sargent uses more conventional and sensationalist devices to display his fountains from 1907-1912.