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Book description

Franz Liszt was preoccupied with a fundamental but difficult question: what is the content of music? His answer lay in his symphonic poems, a group of orchestral pieces intended to depict a variety of subjects drawn from literature, visual art and drama. Today, the symphonic poems are usually seen as alternatives to the symphony post-Beethoven. Analysts stress their symphonic logic, thereby neglecting their 'extramusical' subject matter. This book takes a different approach: it returns these influential pieces to their original performance context in the theatre, arguing that the symphonic poem is as much a dramatic as a symphonic genre. This is evidenced in new analyses of the music that examines the theatricality of these pieces and their depiction of voices, mise-en-scène, gesture and action. Simultaneously, the book repositions Liszt's legacy within theatre history, arguing that his contributions should be placed alongside those of Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Wagner.


'… a richly detailed interdisciplinary study that provides context for the symphonic poems' evolution, as well as a synthesis of Liszt's multifarious activities between February 1848 and August 1861 … The trenchant scholarship of Liszt and the Symphonic Poem is leavened with 77 music examples, reproductions of playbills and 11 helpful tables that detail, among other things, the evolution of individual symphonic poems as well as formal analyses.'

Patrick Rucker Source: Gramophone Magazine

‘I believe Liszt and the Symphonic Poem is a game-changer for our understanding of Liszt as a dramatic composer … beautifully written and meticulously researched.’

R. Larry Todd Source: Official citation for the 2020 Alan Walker Triennial Book Award, The American Liszt Society

‘… Liszt and the Symphonic Poem [is not merely a welcome addition to a sparse secondary literature, but instead] offers cohesive, intriguing views of Liszt as a man of the theatre, of his symphonic poems as works of astonishing ambition and breadth and of his pivotal position as an innovator in the tradition of nineteenth-century orchestral music.’

Paul Bertagnolli Source: Nineteenth-Century Music Review

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Primary Sources

Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Weimar

  • Bestand Kunst und Wissenschaft

  • Generalintendanz des Deutschen Nationaltheaters (DNT) Weimar

  • Hofbehörden

  • Grossherzoglich Sächs. Hausarchiv

  • Source for playbills: Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv, Weimar

  • Signatur 59 (miscellaneous documents relating to Liszt)

  • Signatur 60 (autograph scores)

Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar

  • DNT 376 (parts from Orphée et Eurydice, performed at the Weimar Court Theatre under Liszt)

  • DNT 595 (score from Orphée et Eurydice, performed at the Weimar Court Theatre under Liszt)

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

  • Hs 107016 (autograph scores)

National Széchényi Library, Budapest

  • Ms. mus.5.6000 (autograph correction sheets)


  • Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung

  • Allgemeine Theater-Chronik

  • Berliner Musikalische Zeitung

  • Berliner Musikzeitung Echo

  • Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik

  • Kölnische Zeitung

  • La Presse

  • Neue Berliner Musikzeitung

  • Signale für die musikalische Welt

  • Süddeutsche Musik-Zeitung

  • Weimarische Zeitung

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