Petrarch Sonnet 104

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Petrarch Sonnet 104

I. Liszt and his Years of Pilgrimage

“Western composers-Mendelssohn and Schumann, for example-wrote works using national color characteristics of various countries. In so doing they came to fabricate some imaginary national atmosphere, as in the making-believe Hungarian and Spanish music of Liszt, Brahms, Bizet. But above all, new national styles of their own developed in the various countries of East as well as West Europe”. The Years of Pilgrimage is a collection of Liszt’s trip. During the years of travelling performances in various countries, Liszt composed a set of large divertimento which depicts the artist’s lifestyle travelling. Among these tunes many are derived from the years Liszt spent with his lover Marie d’Agoult in Switzerland and Italy. These poetic tunes are based on the composer’s impression and perception of natural landscape.

Years of Pilgrimage (Années de pèlerinage) includes three suites in total. Liszt started the composition in 1835 and finished its final revision in 1877, and the composition of this work was under construction throughout most of his career as a pianist and a composer. The first two suites are “First Year: Switzerland” and “Second Year: Italy”, which are bundles of the piano pieces Liszt composed during his travelling performances in Europe. During the composition, the composer kept getting rid of everything that is not in accordance with the theme of the music, and kept internalizing the objective external world into personal emotions. The third suite was finished in Rome and therefore it is usually called “Rome”. This paper introduces the second suite “Italy” with a table: Second suite “Italy”|

From the table it is explicitly that in the second suite Liszt mainly focuses on the depictions of Italian arts and literatures. Compared to “Switzerland”, “Italy” pays more attention to the music. During his stay in Milan in 1837, Liszt got his inspiration from the artistic works of the Renaissance, especially from poetries, paintings, sculptures and literatures. As a result the composition emphasizes particularly on the retrospect of arts and history. “Petrarch Sonnet 104” is a classical combination of poetries and music. This work differs a lot from people’s common perception of Liszt’s works since this work creates an atmosphere mixed of peace, meditation, roar, despair and tenderness. Piano pieces such as this one reveal many aspects of Liszt’s multiple layers of his personality and show the world his colorful, philosophical and poetic way of thinking.

II. Sonnet

Sonnet is one of the forms of European poetry, and it is usually written in three traditional formats. These formats include Italian, Spenserian and English. “Italy” is composed in the format of an Italian sonnet. “The sonnet has a good claim to be one of the oldest and most useful verse forms in English. Like the engraving or the string quartet it provides simple yet flexible means to a classic artistic end: the expression of as much gravity, substance and lyrical beauty as a deceptively modest form can bear”. Sonnets in this category typically have a general tone that is relatively romantic and have a theme based on love.

Petrarchan is the earliest notable sonnet writer; therefore “Italian sonnet” is also called “Petrarchan sonnet”. “Petrarchan sonnet which is the legitimate form, for it alone recognizes that peculiar imbalance of parts which is its salient characteristic”. Using musical language, Liszt conveys his personal feelings through the depiction of natural landscape with the fundamental of Petrarchan. “Petrarch Sonnet 104” by Liszt completely grasps the emotional implication of the texture, and Liszt did not compose it in the righteous order of the poem. With a deep comprehension of the context of the poem, Liszt composed his work with a macroscopical horizon. Consequently, performers can interpret this composition in a way as if they have read the poetry works by Petrarch. This composition is an outstanding representative of the works in the late period of Romantic era as it effectively combines music with literature. The following is the poem of “Petrarch Sonnet 104”: I find no peace, but for war am not inclined;

I fear, yet hope; I burn, yet am turned to ice;
I soar in the heavens, but lie upon the ground;
I hold nothing, though I embrace the whole world.

Love has me in a prison which he neither opens nor shuts fast; he neither claims me for his own nor loosens my halter;
he neither slays nor unshackles me;
he would not have me live, yet leaves me with my torment.

Eyeless I gaze, and tongueless I cry out;
I long to perish, yet plead for succour;
I hate myself, but love another.

I feed on grief, yet weeping, laugh;
death and life alike repel me;
and to this state I am come, my lady, because of you.

III. Historical Background

The nineteenth century is a time when Romantic musicians can fully demonstrate their personal characteristics. As an advocate and pioneer of program music in that era, Liszt refers to the title in the program music as a headline which points out the true intention and the most important concepts of the score. Composers exploit the use of the title in order to prevent the audience from misinterpreting their works.

1. Introduction of Franz Liszt

“Born in Raiding, Hungary, Franz Liszt is a worldwide renowned Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor and great master of Romanticism”. Liszt created orchestra sound effects on piano and developed the piano technique to such a level that it enhances the artistic expression of piano. As an influential figure in the area of musical aesthetics, Liszt associated various forms of arts with music and made an effort to promote the development of program music. Under the influences of Berlioz, Hugo and Byron, Liszt also intended to explore and experiment on the composition of his piano pieces. As Paul Henry states in “Music in Western Civilization”, “Liszt’s great innovation and achievement consisted in proving that it was possible to create a well-rounded and logically organized piece of music without forcing the ideas into the established frames of traditional forms. This he achieved by following a program, hence the popular term ‘program music’”.

2. Romantic Music and Program Music

Romantic music refers to a style of Western classical music in the late 18th to early 19th century, during which artists intend to enrich their compositions with their personal emotions and emphasize on their subjective sentiments in the music. Romantic music inherits some of the traditions from Classical music, and innovates on the basis of the fundamental methods of composition. “Program music aimed to absorb and transmute the imagined subject wholly into the music in such a way that the resulting composition, while it includes the ‘program’ nevertheless transcends it and is in a certain sense independent of it”. As a romantic musician and advocate for Program music, Liszt referenced from literal works to set up the framework and composed his works based on his inspirations. By doing so, Liszt combined rationality and sensibility into his music and managed to affect the audience in a sensitive and subtle way with the use of title in Program music. Consequently, his audience is more able to recognize the meaning of his music.

“Music embodies feeling without forcing it – as it is forced in its other manifestations, in most arts and especially in the art of words – to contend and combine with thought”. The real intention behind Liszt’s promotion of Program music is to present various degrees of passion and sensation through music, as he realized that no other form of arts than music is capable of expressing abstractive feelings. For this reason Liszt used poetry as titles in Program music so as to state the limitation of art of words and that music is capable of uncovering some particular and unexplainable states of mind. “Music on the other hand, presents at one and the same time the intensity and expression of feeling; it is the embodies and intelligible essence of feeling; capable of being apprehended by our senses, it permeates them like a dart, like a ray, like a dew, like a spirit, and fills our soul”.

Liszt believed that the poetic meaning of Program music is the essence, and such poetic meaning is the outcome of the interaction between the music and the poetry. Further, such poetic meaning can be amplified through the presentation of music. On the other hand, musical presentations without any poetic meaning can be obscure and vague. In other words, Liszt considered that he grasped the idea of “poetic meaning” in literatures through his composition of program music.

3. Interpretation of “Petrarch Sonnet 104”

Liszt’s music grew under the influence of Romantic music. Liszt incorporated poetic descriptions into some of his works, which endowed his piano pieces with unique demeanors. Three piano pieces “Petrarch Sonnet” are inspired by Petrarch’s rhythmic sonnet. Among them “Petrarch Sonnet 104” gained the most appraises. It presents the desire and the despair of love. Liszt’s elegant and sophisticated piano pieces combine music with poetry. In this way they musicalize literature as well as poetize music.

IV. Music Style of “Petrarch Sonnet 104”

“The piano was invented ‘to obviate the bad habit of the harpsichord which could not express coloring at all, or expressed it in exaggerated contrasts by it stops”. Because of the change of the piano, the composers can start to create more compositions those are infectious, expressive and vocal.

1. Poetic Starting – Recitation of Recitative

Liszt’s music displays the mixture of his poetic imagination and his enthusiasm; as a result the music is full of tones resembling passionate recitation, as if it were an exciting monologue of the poet. For instance, in measures 1-4, Liszt uses the recitation of recitative to enhance the expression of life, and to adapt the music to the accordance of poetic title. This phrase imitates the talking style, as the staccato chords resemble a roar from the bottom of one’s heart. The emotions of the line “I fear, yet hope; I burn, yet am turned to ice” are exactly expressed through Liszt’s music, as the music reflects the poet’s unlimited aspire for love along with his tortured mind.

“Harmonic features of last period include parallel chords, parallel consecutive 5ths; functional and non-functional use of the augmented triad, the diminished 7th chord and the 6/4 chord”. “Also found are many secondary 7ths, dominant 9th chords, secondary 9ths and sometimes chord of the 11th and 13th . Chains and sequences of unusual chords are common”. Liszt composes the beginning through his harmonic features of last period – parallel chords, by using colorful dominant 7th chord that proceed to the diminished 7th chord. The melody in soprano and alto makes a series of half-note sequences progress. These two relationships of harmony are both very raspy, but they play an important role in measures 1-4. First, Liszt makes the words like shuttle in the melody in order to express his excitement but is also full of contradiction. Second, he desires to endow the music with more symphonic, it can make the poem has a stronger dramatic effect.

2. Poetic cadenza

Another special feature of this composition is that Liszt creates five cadenzas in this composition which is full of depression and helplessness. Cadenza is one of the techniques that are always used by romantic composers. In this composition, cadenza is not only a virtuoso type of processing, but also an important technique in poetizing music. The first cadenza appears between the variation 1 and variation 2. The accompaniment of bass moves by arpeggio of triples. With the crescendo, this cadenza is just like the texture “he would not have me live, yet leaves me with my torment” in the poem. It is a preparation for the grand variation 2.

The second cadenza turns up in variation 2. The accompaniment of bass moves by arpeggio of triples and it leads to the cadenza. By using dominant 9th chord it makes this phrase full of tension, as if the suffering from love affair in the poem.

In the third cadenza Liszt again uses highly frequent harmony to reach a climax of the poetic emotions. Double-notes move down through a series of half-tone sequences, and subsequently, the same double-notes with trill pattern are being played with both hands. This cadenza presents the contrast between one’s yearnings and helplessness for love.

In the fourth cadenza, Liszt expresses the painful and conflicting emotions with respect to love affair through music, and from the line “I long to perish, yet plead for succour; I hate myself, but love another”, the poet shows the conflicts between his oppressed emotions and passionate love.

The last cadenza enters before the coda. Leading the direction of the story into the ultimate peace and relief, the right hand plays through sixth chords with scale pattern, and the tempo slows down.

3. Poetic Ending

The ending melody of this piece fluctuates three times that all begin the struggles and end with inevitable failures. Certainly music cannot be composed in the exact order of poetry, yet music could interpret the emotions and tunes of the poetry in a different way. In essence these expressions of music are similar to that of poetry.

In Liszt’s poetic music, the connections between music and poetry can be seen in every detail. The shift between emotions and the depiction of sentiments are expressed naturally in his music. This is also the very first common characteristic of the piano composers in the era of Romanic music. They incline to draw inspiration from different sorts of arts and create an innovative feel with the collision of different elements.

A+E Television Networks, LLC. “Franz Liszt.” A+E Networks, 2012. Fuller, John. The Sonnet: Italian Sonnet, 1. London: Methuen & Co, 1972. Grout, Donald
Jay. A History of Western Music: The Nineteenth Century: Romanticism; Vocal music, 660. New York: Norton, 1988. Hamilton, Kenneth. The Cambridge Companion to Liszt, 135 – 137. Edited by Kenneth Hamilton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Lang, Paul Henry. Music in Western Civilization: From Romanticism to Realism, 867-68. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1941. Liszt, Franz, and Wittgenstein, Princess Caroline von. Berlioz and his “Harold” Symphony, 849. Translated in SR. 1855. Liszt, Franz. “Second Year: Italy.” Sect. 2 in Années de Pèlerinage. New York: Dover, 1988. Liszt, Franz. “Petrarch Sonnet 104.” Edited by José Vianna da Motta. Accessed December 5, 2012. Petrarca, Francesco. “I Find No Peace.” Last modified September 2003.

Sachs, Curt. The history of musical instruments: Romanticism: The Piano, 391. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1940. Watson, Derek. Liszt: Music Language: Technique and Transformation, 191-92. New York: Schirmer Books, 1989. Wiora, Walter. The Four Ages of Music: Preparation of the Fourth Age, 140. New York: W. W. Norton, 1965.

[ 1 ]. . Walter Wiora, The Four Ages of Music: Preparation of the Fourth Age (New York: W. W. Norton, 1965), 140. [ 2 ]. . Franz Liszt, Années de Pèlerinage: Second Year: Italy (New York: Dover, 1988), catalog. [ 3 ]. . John Fuller, The Sonnet: Italian Sonnet (London: Methuen & Co, 1972), 1. [ 4 ]. . Ibid.

[ 5 ]. . Francesco Petrarca, “I Find No Peace,” last modified September 2003, [ 6 ]. . A+E Television Networks, LLC, “Franz Liszt,” 2012, [ 7 ]. . Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization: From Romanticism to Realism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1941), 867-68. [ 8 ]. . Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music: The Nineteenth Century: Romanticism; Vocal music
(New York: Norton, 1988), 660. [ 9 ]. . Franz Liszt and Princess Caroline von Wittgenstein, Berlioz and his “Harold” Symphony, Translated in SR (1855), 849. [ 10 ]. . Ibid.

[ 11 ]. . Curt Sachs, The history of musical instruments: Romanticism: The Piano (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1940), 391. [ 12 ]. .Derek Watson, Liszt: Music Language: Technique and Transformation (New York: Schirmer Books, 1989), 191. [ 13 ]. . Ibid., 192.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 12 October 2016

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