Franz Liszt – Die heilige Cäcilia, legend for a mezzo-soprano voice with choir and orchestra accompaniment
(b. Raiding, (Doborján), 22 October 1811– d. Bayreuth, 31 July 1886)
für eine Mezzo-Sopran-Stimme mit Chor und Orchester Begleitung (1874)
Franz Liszt was born in Raiding, Austria on October 22, 1811. He was a Hungarian virtuoso, composer, and piano teacher of the Romantic period. During his touring years (1830s -1840s), he created a reputation for his breathtaking performances. He was able to bring more of a general public to his concerts instead of just playing for the wealthy. Liszt became one of the most significant representatives of the New German School. Thanks to this, and his extensive body of work, he was able to anticipate 20th-century trends and ideas. His musical contributions were the symphonic poem and innovations in harmony. Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth, Germany on July 31, 1886, at 74 years old. It is believed that pneumonia caused his death.
Liszt completed the religious vocal work, Die heilige Cäcilia in 1874, and he dedicated it to Hungarian archbishop Lajos Haynald (1816–1891). Its first publication was in 1876, in Leipzig; it is unknown when it was premiered. At that time, Liszt traveled to Rome, where he arrived on May 21, 1874. He regularly saw Countess Carolyne von Wittgenstein, who for almost fourteen years sought to annul her first marriage to be able to marry Liszt. When everything seemed to be ready and a wedding ceremony was arranged, it was canceled at the last minute under mysterious circumstances. Liszt retired for several months to the Villa d‘Este in Tivoli, and there he composed Die heilige Cäcilia. For this work, Liszt took inspiration from the Roman virgin martyr, Saint Cecilia, also known as Cecelia or Cäcilia. Despite her vow of chastity, her parents forced her to marry a pagan nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, Cecilia sat apart, singing to God in her heart, and for that, she was declared the patron saint of musicians. This text comes from the Golden Legend, a 13th century anthology of saints’ lives by Jacobus de Voragine.
The work was published in three languages—French, Italian, and German—and he chose these three languages due to their popularity at the time. He composed the work for mezzo-soprano soloist, choir, and orchestra: two flutes, two C clarinets, two oboes, two bassoons, two French horns, two C trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, two harps, organ, first and second violin, viola, and cello. This is a one movement-work; however, with the tempo and key changes it could be viewed otherwise. Liszt creates enough contrast between the sections, and he also keeps developing the material, making it more engrossing to the listener. Liszt uses twelve stanzas of text in the whole piece; however, he elongates and repeats some sections of the verse. The choir enters towards the end and introduces a new texture. By doing this, Liszt is able to manipulate our feelings, thanks to the emotions that are elicited in the audience when the different layers and harmonies work together, helping to prepare them for a more relaxed finale. At the moment, we do not know where the score and parts are located.
Mia Padilla, 2023
For performance material please contact Editio Musica, Budapest.