Franz Liszt: Liebestraum No.3

Context

Franz Liszt was born in 1811 in Hungary, into an already well-established musical family. His father, Adam Liszt, had been in service for Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy. This meant he was in direct contact with prolific composers such as Haydn, Beethoven and Hummel.

Liszt was an incredibly innovative, well-respected and frankly a legend in his lifetime. During his time in Weimar, Liszt composed and published his piano nocturnes, Liebestraum (Dreams of Love). This set of three piano works portray Liszt’s romantic writing, as well as programme music. The set was published in 1850 and are a key example of programme music due to their reference to various poems about love and death.

 

The Music

Number 3 is based on a poem written by German writer, Ferdinand Freliligrath. Entitled, O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst (Love as long as love you can) the work depicts themes of love and the loss of love. I have provided the poem and translations below:

 

O lieb’, so lang du lieben kannst!/O love, as long as love you can, 

O lieb’, so lang du lieben magst!/O love, as long as love you may, 

Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,/The time will come, the time will come, 

Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!/When you will stand at the grave and mourn!

 

Und sorge, daß dein Herze glüht/Be sure that your heart burns, 

Und Liebe hegt und Liebe trägt,/And holds and keeps love

Solang ihm noch ein ander Herz,/As long as another heart beats warmly

In Liebe warm entgegenschlägt!/With its love for you

 

Und wer dir seine Brust erschließt,/And if someone bears his soul to you

O tu ihm, was du kannst, zulieb’!/Love him back as best you can 

Und mach’ ihm jede Stunde froh,/Give his every hour joy, 

Und mach ihm keine Stunde trüb!/Let him pass none in sorrow!

 

Und hüte deine Zunge wohl,/And guard your words with care, 

Bald ist ein böses Wort gesagt!/Lest harm flow from your lips!

O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint, -/Dear God, I meant no harm, 

Der andre aber geht und klagt./But the loved one recoils and mourns. 

 

O lieb’, solang du lieben kannst!/O love, love as long as you can!

O lieb’, solang du lieben magst!/O love, love as long as you may!

Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,/The time will come, the time will come,

Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!/When you will stand at the grave and mourn.

 

Dann kniest du nieder an der Gruft/You will kneel alongside the grave

Und birgst die Augen, trüb und naß,/And your eyes will be sorrowful and moist,

– Sie sehn den andern nimmermehr -/– Never will you see the beloved again –

Ins lange, feuchte Kirchhofsgras./Only the churchyard’s tall, wet grass.

 

Und sprichst: O schau’ auf mich herab,/You will say: Look at me from below,

Der hier an deinem Grabe weint!/I who mourn here alongside your grave!

Vergib, daß ich gekränkt dich hab’/Forgive my slights!

O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint!/Dear God, I meant no harm!

 

Er aber sieht und hört dich nicht,/Yet the beloved does not see or hear you,

Kommt nicht, daß du ihn froh umfängst;/He lies beyond your comfort;

Der Mund, der oft dich küßte, spricht/The lips you kissed so often speak

Nie wieder: Ich vergab dir längst!/Not again: I forgave you long ago!

 

Er tat’s, vergab dir lange schon,/Indeed, he did forgive you,

Doch manche heiße Träne fiel/But tears he would freely shed,

Um dich und um dein herbes Wort -/Over you and on your unthinking word –

Doch still – er ruht, er ist am Ziel!/Quiet now! – he rests, he has passed.

 

O lieb’, solang du lieben kannst!/O love, love as long as you can!

O lieb’, solang du lieben magst!/O love, love as long as you may!

Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,/The time will come, the time will come,

Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!/When you will stand at the grave and mourn.

 

The expressive nature of this movement is reminiscent of the opening refrain which returns throughout the poem. The promise of love is hopeful at the start, however, it soon dissipates after the death of a loved one. The emotion within the poetry is what essentially shaped the form of Liebestraum No.3. 

The work begins in Ab major, with large arpeggiated phrases in the right hand, and through this large movement it represents the poets anguish. The refrain from the poem is repeated twice in the first 12 bars, with its simple melody and arpeggiated accompaniment. The harmonic progressions within this section show the movement within the poem. Each section of this piece is split up by a cadenza section. The cadenzas are there to represent the Liebestraum. 

The first highlights the dream-like state that the poet is in, where he can be reunited with his love once more. This cadenza is in B major, which shows a tonal shift. B major does not function with Ab major, which represents the battling feelings between love and death. The first theme comes back, but this time in C major, which shortly resorts back to Ab major. The constant turbulent tonal shifts suggest the emotional rollercoaster that the poet is finding himself in. This section really highlights the emotional and mental turmoil that is happening inside the mind of the poet.

The cadenzas are very interesting as Liszt uses the full range of the piano to express feelings of hope. The fast passages and chromaticisms emphasise the idea of ‘the dream state’. The second cadenza is the ‘coming out’ of his dreams. The range of the piano doesn’t go up and above, but stays grounded, giving a sense of what real life feels like.

The back and forth motion of this cadenza is very effective as it emphasises the change between dream and reality, as well as want and have. After this cadenza, the poet realises he can only be truly in love in his dreams. The idea is that the poet warns you that love is fragile but worth taking the risk for. Through dynamic changes you can feel the sense that the poet is feeling sorrowful and is faced with the reality of death. The piece ends very quietly, with this back story in mind it brings the piece into a whole new dimension.

 

Final Thoughts

It is a story of love and loss portrayed through music. An absolutely stunning piece which is both heart-wrenching and troubled. With his use of complex harmonic structures, simple melodies and a range of dynamics, Liszt was able to build a work that still nourishes the minds of musicians and classical music fans today.

 

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Frédéric Chopin: Raindrop Prelude

 

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