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1854 – Liszt, Les Preludes, No. 3

 

1854 Franz Liszt Preludes: Symphonic Poem No. 3
Instrumentation Strings, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion and harp.
Overview This was the first piece to be given the official title of “Symphonic Poem”. Liszt was keen to keep the exact inspiration and dramatic content ambiguous and his programme note reads as follows:

“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song whose first solemn note is tolled by death? The enchanted dawn of every life is love. But where is the destiny on whose first delicious joys some storm does not break?… And what soul thus cruelly bruised, when the tempest rolls away, seeks not to rest its memories in the pleasant calm of pastoral life? Yet man does not long permit himself to taste the kindly quiet that first attracted him to nature’s lap. For when the trumpet sounds he hastens to danger’s post, that in the struggle he may once more regain full knowledge of himself and his strength.”

A) Overall form The piece is very free in its form and proceeds in a single movement broken down into episodes by changes of time signature, tempo etc.
H) Drama, programme Liszt keeps the programme of this work quite vague (see above) but what is clear is that the initial melodic idea (the enchanted dawn of every life?):

represents some sort of character that experiences a range of situations. These range from tender love:

… through to triumph in some sort of battle:

I) Melody and theme As outlined above a melodic motif is presented with different rhythms, textures, tonalities in order to portray different situations. Rather than the development of a motif being a purely musical narrative, the development is an emotional one.