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Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt Composer

Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree), S.186

Performances: 18
Tracks: 80
  • Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree), S.186
    Year: 1873-76
    Genre: Other Keyboard
    Pr. Instrument: Piano
    • 1.Psallite (Old Christmas Song)
    • 2.O heilige Nacht! (O Holy Night)
    • 3.Die Hirten an der Krippe (In dulci jubilo)
    • 4.Adeste Fideles (March of the Three Holy Kings)
    • 5.Scherzoso (Little Scherzo 'Lighting the Tree')
    • 6.Carillon (Chimes)
    • 7.Schlummerlied (Slumber Song)
    • 8.Altes provençalisches Weihnachtslied (Old Provençal Christmas Song)
    • 9.Abendglocken (Evening Bells)
    • 10.Ehemals (Old Times)
    • 11.Ungarisch (Hungarian)
    • 12.Polnisch (Polish)
Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) occupies an unusual place in Liszt's output. Unlike many of his earlier piano compositions, it is not difficult or complex, not the kind of fare a virtuoso pianist looks for to impress audiences. Neither is this collection of 12 pieces fraught with the kind of gloom or grandiose religiosity found in music from his late years. A parallel comes to mind in the twentieth century from Prokofiev: his Op. 65 Music for Children, which also consists of 12 piano pieces, is rather simple of execution as well, and direct in its mode of expression.

Liszt composed these pieces in 1874-1876 and dedicated them to his granddaughter, Daniela von Bülow. They are simple and straightforward, and in that sense typical of much of his piano writing at the time. However, their moods are upbeat and celebratory, placing them almost in a category by themselves. The first entry, "Altes Weihnachslied" (Old Christmas Carol) is joyous and colorful. It, like many of the items here, is based on a Christmas carol.

The next piece, "O Heilige Nacht! Weihnachtslied Nach Einer Alten Weise" (O Holy Night!: Christmas Song on an Old Theme) is solemn and has a simple religious air about it. "Die Hirten an der Krippe" (The Sherpherds at the Manger) returns to the lighter, more joyful mood of the first piece. "Adeste Fideles: Marsch der Heiligen Drei Könige" (Adeste Fideles: March of the Three Holy Kings) uses the famous Christmas carol tune and presents interesting variants that change the mood to the more serious.

The fifth piece here, "Altes Provenzalisches Weihnachtslied" (Old Provincial Carol) is lively in its evocation of joyful sentiments, and sounds as though it could have come from the Classical period. "Abendglocken" (Evening Bells) conjures sonorities of bells, but gently so. In great contrast to the last piece, this composition sounds modern, almost Impressionistic.

"Scherzoso: Man zuendet die Kerzen des Baumes An" (Lighting the Candles on the Tree at Last) is a brief and ecstatic piece, full of energy and childlike expectation. "Carillon" presents more bell-like sonorities, and it appears that Octavio Pinto imitated its frothy, rapid chords in his "Run, Run" from Scenes from Childhood, for piano. "Schlummerlied" (Slumber Song) evokes the images of a child or loved one sleeping peacefully in its calm mood and comforting music.

The last three pieces are not associated with Christmas, but, according to Humphrey Searle, with some aspect of Liszt's relationship with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, the woman the composer almost married some years earlier. "Ehemals" (In Days Gone By) is slightly melancholy, but never lapses into that late Lisztian gloom. This piece is believed to depict Liszt's first meeting with the Princess. "Ungarisch" (In Hungarian Style) begins in boisterous joviality, then goes on to suggest defiance and national pride. "Polnisch" (In Polish Style) begins in a reflective vein, then turns lively and colorful. Its ending is brilliant and full of joy. These last two pieces are thought to be musical characterizations of Liszt and Princess Carolyne, respectively. Liszt published Weihnachtsbaum in Berlin in 1882. He also arranged this collection for duet and made a version of the second piece for tenor, female chorus, and organ.

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