Légendes S. 175
(S. Francesco da Paola – S. Francesco D’Assisi)
Cantico delle creature
Commissioned by Fondazione Teatro Carlo Felice Genova, Ensemble Modern and Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin
On the occasion of the project “Genova Capitale del Medioevo 2024”
Prometheus S. 99
Opera Carlo Felice Genova Orchestra
Religiosity had a great impact on Franz Liszt’s personal and artistic life. His output is full of references and references to the spiritual dimension, such is the case with the Légendes S. 175, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi (La prédication aux oiseaux – The Preaching to the Birds) and St. Francis of Paola (Marchant sur les flots – Walking on the Waves). Both Légendes were originally composed for piano in 1863, when the composer was living in Rome and was very close to the Franciscan order, of which he was a tertiary. The Legends, orchestrated in the same year, have, like many Lisztian compositions, a rhapsodic nature inspired by tales or narratives The first Legend retells the famous episode of St Francis’ sermon to the birds. The writing, almost impressionistic, sees trills, arpeggios and scales representing the lively song of the birds, and melodic episodes representing the Saint’s words, in a continuous alternation of repartee to highlight the incredible dialogue. The second Legend, on the other hand, focuses on Saint Francis of Paola, in particular on the miracle of crossing the Strait of Messina by walking on water. Here the music is less descriptive, recovering the sense of the miracle through a magnificent character that is constituted by the exposition and continuous expansion of the initial theme.
Cantico delle creature for soprano and orchestra is a composition by Francesco Filidei composed in 2023 on the co-commission of the Ensemble Modern, the Berliner Festspiele/Musikfest Berlin and the Fondazione Teatro Carlo Felice, with a dedication to the soprano Anna Prohaska and Sir George Benjamin, director of the Ensemble Modern. The text is the homonymous canticle of St. Francis of Assisi, written around 1224. The manuscript, a fundamental testimony to the Italian vernacular of the late Middle Ages, originally bore a musical accompaniment that has now been lost, and it is precisely with the aim of evoking the sonorities of the lauda that Filidei undertook this work. The macrostructure of the composition is based on the relationship between the descending chromatic scale beginning on F sharp and the verses of St. Francis. Each verse is developed around a note of the chromatic scale, which descending returns to close on F sharp, in a circular form. The piece, whose writing also gathers various references to medieval music itself, creates an intense and spiritual sound atmosphere, capable of restoring the sense of the words of the most famous praise to Creation in Italian literature, where mystery, amazement and the joy of faith alternate. The vocal line requires a refined technique, with ample madrigalisms, as well as careful expressiveness. Finally, the tolling of the bells suggests an ancient call to prayer and recollection.
Liszt’s Prometheus originated in 1850 as an overture with eight choruses. The piece was presented in Weimar during the inauguration of a statue dedicated to the philosopher and man of letters Johann Gottfried Herder, author of Prometeo liberato. Five years later, in 1855, the composer completed the final version of Prometheus, a reworking in symphonic poem form of the first overture with some references to choral parts. With this form, Liszt clearly expresses his predisposition for descriptive writing, once again oriented towards the musical telling of the myth. For the composer, Prometheus represented the audacity and endurance of a hero ready to sacrifice himself in virtue of creation and knowledge; it is therefore through a complex structure and an important ensemble that Liszt translates the different meanings of the myth into music. At the opening, a sombre theme introduces the terrible sentence to which the titan Prometheus – guilty of stealing fire from the gods to return it to men – is condemned. The theme of judgment and suffering is then followed by the motif of hope, which grows within Prometheus and contrasts with the initial despair. The two themes are then joined by the Titan’s struggle against adversity, in the form of fuga. The two motifs are intertwined with the flight in the triumphant finale.
L’Ascension, four symphonic meditations for orchestra, was composed 1933. It is one of the first large-scale orchestral compositions by Olivier Messiaen, then 25 years old but already established in the Parisian and European music scene. The composition is inspired by sacred texts, the four movements representing the different stages of Christ’s ascension to the Father. Messiaen’s spirituality is not expressed here in liturgical form, but rather as a reflection of faith realised in music. Each of the four episodes features alternating orchestral ensembles and a symbolist style of writing with sudden changes of rhythm and specific compositional techniques such as limited transposition modes. The first meditation, Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Pére (The Magnificence of Christ Asking for Glory from His Father), is dedicated entirely to wind instruments, and is almost like a hymn where tension and rhythm accompany the request for glory to the Father. This is followed by Méditation, Alléluias sereins d’une ame qui destre le ciel (Meditation, serene Alleluia d’une ame qui destre le ciel), which sees a definite change of atmosphere, where the dialogue between orchestral groups remains important with the introduction of the strings (there are also onomatopoeic references to birdsong in the woodwind lines, almost a signature of the composer). In Alleluia sur la trombette, alleluia sur la cymbale (Alleluia on the trumpet, alleluia on the cymbal) Messiaen rediscovers a more traditional symphonism, with the use of all the instrumental groups and an increasing tension that is determined around the rhythm introduced at the beginning by the trumpets. The final Prière du Christ montant vers son Père (Prayer of Christ ascending to the Father) is entirely entrusted to the strings, which, with a slow pace, express the final ascension and prayer as an expression of gratitude and pacification.