Les Préludes

Les préludes is the third of Franz Liszt's thirteen symphonic poems. Directed by Liszt himself, in April 1856 the score, and in January 1865 the orchestral parts, were published by Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig. Among Liszt's symphonic poems, Les préludes is the most popular. During World War II, the fanfare motif of the march finale was made the signature tune for the Wehrmachtbericht radio report and Die Deutsche Wochenschau newsreel.

The full title "Les préludes (d'après Lamartine)" refers to an Ode of Alphonse de Lamartine's Nouvelles méditations poétiques. The published score also includes a preface, which was not written by Lamartine.

What else is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown Hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death?—Love is the glowing dawn of all existence; but what is the fate where the first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, the mortal blast of which dissipates its fine illusions, the fatal lightning of which consumes its altar; and where is the cruelly wounded soul which, on issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavour to rest his recollection in the calm serenity of life in the fields? Nevertheless man hardly gives himself up for long to the enjoyment of the beneficent stillness which at first he has shared in Nature's bosom, and when "the trumpet sounds the alarm", he hastens, to the dangerous post, whatever the war may be, which calls him to its ranks, in order at last to recover in the combat full consciousness of himself and entire possession of his energy.

In autumn 1857, in Franz Brendel's Anregungen für Kunst, Leben und Wissenschaft ("Hints for Art, Life and Science"), Felix Draeseke published an essay with an analysis of Les préludes. He presumed that the preface was the program after which the work had been composed. The essay was read and approved by Liszt. Notwithstanding this, the preface, only added when the composition was already finished, cannot be regarded as source of Liszt's inspiration while he was composing the work. Also questionable is whether or to which extent he was influenced by the ode by Lamartine. According to Peter Raabe (1931), Liszt's symphonic poem had nothing at all to do with it. Raabe's position was shared by Emile Haraszti (1953). Both authors claimed that Liszt had taken one of his older works, an overture for an unpublished cycle of male chorus pieces Les quatre élémens, and later added the title "Les préludes", referencing to Lamartine, to it.

Raabe's and Haraszti's view was challenged by Alexander Main (1979) who tried to show that there was a close connection between Liszt's Les préludes and the ode by Lamartine. From this he concluded that Liszt must have composed Les préludes by following the ode as programmatic model, may he even have taken some materials from the abandoned overture to Les quatre élémens. Andrew Bonner (1984), however, in a paper that was read at an annual meeting at Philadelphia of the American Musicological Society, came to the conclusion that Main's view was wrong. Bonner's position was supported by Rena Charnin Mueller (1986). In a published version of his article, Bonner (1986) eventually tried to give additional evidence in favour of his view.

Liszt himself, in a letter to Eduard Liszt of March 26, 1857, still gave another hint with regard to the title "Les préludes". According to this, "Les préludes" was only the prelude to Liszt's own path of composition. Indeed, with the first performance of the work a new genre had been introduced. Les préludes is the earliest example for an orchestral work that was performed as "symphonic poem". In a letter to Franz Brendel of February 20, 1854, Liszt still had called it "a new orchestral work of mine ("Les preludes")". Two days later, in the announcement in the Weimarische Zeitung of February 22, 1854, of the concert on February 23, it was called "Les preludes—symphonische Dichtung". The term "symphonic poem" thus may have been invented at that time.

Read more about Les Préludes:  The Preface, Form, Arrangements, Flash Gordon, Traditional Performances, Bibliography

Other articles related to "les":

Les Préludes - Bibliography
... Bonner, Andrew Liszt's Les Préludes and Les Quatre Élémens A Reinvestigation, in 19th-Century Music, 10 (1986), p ... Draeseke, Felix Franz Liszt's neun symphonische Dichtungen, Les Préludes, in Draeseke, Felix Schriften 1855–1861, Veröffentlichungen der Internationalen Draeseke-Gesellschaft, Band 1, ed ... Haraszti, Emile Génèse des préludes de Liszt qui n'ont aucun rapport avec Lamartine, in Révue de musicologie 35 (1953), p ...

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