Franz Liszt's "Dante Sonata": The origins, the criticism, a selective musical analysis, and commentary.
AuthorYeagley, David Anthony.
Committee ChairZumbro, Nicholas
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe earliest European Christian (Catholic) music was exclusively vocal. Western music's Renaissance (c.1400-1600) brought about independent instrumental music. However, the idea that religious sentiment could be expressed non-vocally, in non-liturgical contexts, on instruments not associated with religious circumstance, did not develop before Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Though Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote non-liturgical music regarded as "spiritual," (e.g., the late piano sonatas, the late string quartets), Liszt sought to articulate a category of music specifically religious, apart from vocal, liturgical associations. Liszt invented such music at the piano, an instrument incorporating the variety of sounds, gestures, and harmonies he considered evocative of religious sentiment. The Dante Sonata is such a composition. Except for a brief, early moment in the Dante Sonata, the score is void of scales and arpeggios--very basic pianistic musical gestures. The score instead comprises innovative harmonies, creative use of octaves, chords, and original concepts of notation and rhythm. However, scales arpeggios, and indeed the gamut of 19th century pianism, are used by Liszt in other "religious" piano solos. The Legendes de St. Francois, contain substantial use of scales and arpeggiated figures. Other Catholic works, such as Pater noster, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt, Ave Maria, and numerous death-oriented works, though not virtuosic, are not limited in pianistic style. The Harmonies Poetiques et Religious (1845-1852, Nrs. 1-10), contain pieces with both limited and non-limited pianism. The Invocation is void of scales and arpeggios, like the Dante Sonata; but the Benediction and the Cantique d'amour contain much typical arpeggiated accompaniment of melody. The present essay does not identify individual compositional elements as "religious." Each element of the Dante Sonata selected for present analysis, is simply cited as interesting. The Dante Sonata itself is put in the context of religious music. The subjects of religious music and pianistic innovation are both addressed, though neither is interpreted nor defended. That the Dante Sonata is religious music, and pianistically innovative, are the author's judgments a priori. This essay assumes responsibility for circumstantial, pragmatic exemplification of these judgments, not the due process of academic logistics by which they derive. (The latter process requires separate essays.)