#Liszt104 update

One of my (several) current projects involves analyzing Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet 104. Of particular interest are Liszt’s interesting choices in notation/spelling. I had done an informal/partial roman numeral analysis a couple years ago as part of a presentation I did in a keyboard lit class, but coming back to it after a break has alerted me to new depths of chromatic craziness. For one thing, he can’t decide what to call his Augmented chord. The chord is spelled differently in the beginning than it is in the end (the end is the only time it’s different – a C instead of a B-sharp). When it’s a B-sharp, it functions as a leading tone (i.e. VII+ /iv) to C-sharp minor, but when it’s spelled with a C it becomes a bVI+ in the tonic. Liszt, why can’t you make up your mind???? On top of this, when the „main theme“ shifts/modulates half way through, the spelling is again modified so that in the new key it’s spelled as a bIII+ but functions as a V+/IV or a VII+/IV depending on how you want to hear leading tones. Or, of you don’t believe in secondary dominants, it’s a bVI+ in the new and temporary key of D major.

All this about how he uses ONE CHORD in an 8 bar phrase. The piece is 5 pages long (in the Henle Edition score I’m using for my initial analysis because it has lots of space for scribbling in the margins). I haven’t even started talking about the introduction yet, which is a series of syncopated suspensions „resolving“ from a dominant 7 sonority to a diminished 7 one, leading into an extended „recitative“ or cadenza-like passage outlining a VII˚7 chord (D#, F#, A, C) over a G-sharp, which is either ^3 in the tonic or a ^5 in the relative minor.

I must say, while it is a bit of an adventure to analyze, this rampant chromaticism does do a very fine job setting the scene for what was originally a song (set for tenor with piano accompaniment), the test of which Petrarch’s 104th Sonnet, „Pace non trovo“ (Peace I cannot find). The sonnet is full of contradictions, and illustrated the conflicted/agitated state that the writer finds himself in because of his love for an (in this case) unidentified lady. Petrarch’s original text and my own translation, which is quite literal and much less poetic than it might be follow:

Pace non trovo, e non ho da far Guerra;

E temo e spero, ed ardo e son un ghiaccio;

E volo sopra ‘l cielo e giaccio in terra;

E nullo stringo, e tutto il mondo abbraccio.

Tal m’ha in prigion, che non m’apre, ne serra;

Ne per suo mi riten, ne scioglie il laccio;

E non m’ancide Amor, e non mi sferra;

Ne mi vuol vivo, ne mi trae d’impaccio.

Veggio senz’ occhi, e non ho lingua e grido;

E bramo di perir, e cheggio aita;

Ed ho in odio me stesso, ed amo altrui:

Pascomi di dolor, piangendo rido;

Equalmente mi spiace morte e vita.

In questo stato son, Donna, per Vui.


I know not peace, yet I do not wage war;

I fear and I hope, I burn and then I freeze;

I fly high above the sky, then lie on the ground;

In vain I grip, the entire world in my embrace.

I am held prisoner, yet do not seek release;

He neither holds me nor loosens the noose;

Love will not bind me, nor will he free me;

My life means nothing, yet brings me no difficulty.

Seeing without eyes, and without a tongue I shout;

I long for death, I ask for help;

I hate my very existence, yet I love another.

With pain I am nourished, while weeping I laugh;

Equally I despise both death and life.

In this state am I, Lady, for you.

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