Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Year No.5)
Countess Marie d’Agoult left her husband in the spring of 1835 to live with Liszt, who was 23 years old and seven years her junior. For several years the lovers travelled round Europe, mainly Switzerland and Italy, and en route they produced three children, one of whom eventually left her husband for Wagner. On their travels Liszt transmuted into piano music the impressions made on him by the places they visited, the art they saw, the poems they read together. Some years later he collected and revised these pieces for publication in volumes entitled Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). The second volume is devoted to Italy.
The summer of 1838 found the couple relaxing on the shores of Lake Lugano and reading two great Italian poets, Petrarch and Dante. The former, properly Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), was a scholar, humanist and poet whose verses to an idealised beloved were early inspiration for the lyric poetry of the Renaissance. Liszt set three of his sonnets as tenor songs and then transcribed the music into piano pieces.
Sonnet No.104, Pace non trovo, is a lover’s lament. Liszt’s music is built round a grandly romantic melody. Beginning in C sharp minor agitation and ending plaintively with a broken E major chord, it parallels the changing emotions expressed by Petrarch: ‘I find no peace…I fear and hope and burn and turn to ice…I long to die…I am in this state, Lady, through you’.
© Eric Mason