Transcription of 'Liebestod' from 'Tristan and Isolde' : Work information

Franz Liszt ( Music, Images,)
(Wilhelm) Richard Wagner ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
John Nauman (Piano)

This work

Work name
Transcription of 'Liebestod' from 'Tristan and Isolde'
Work number
S. 447
1867-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Newport Classic
David Frost
Virginia Read
Recording date
1996-06-12 00:00:00

Track listing

  • Transcription of 'Liebestod' from 'Tristan and Isolde' 7:30 min


This work is a fine example of Liszt's virtuosic piano transciptions of Wagner's music.

The Composers

Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt was the son of a talented amateur musician who was a steward in the service of the Esterhàzy family. He was a child prodigy at the piano and, by the time he was eleven, had performed in many parts of Europe and was well-established as a concert pianist.

In 1821 he left Hungary and moved to Vienna where he studied piano with Carl Czerny and composition with Antonio Salieri. Two years later he went with his family to Paris where he was recognised as a brilliant performer and quickly became a favourite of the wealthy French families. In 1830 he met Chopin, Berlioz and the violin virtuoso, Paganini. Paganini’s virtuosity inspired Liszt to explore the expressive possibilities of the piano, transferring the violinist’s technical wizardry to his own instrument.

As a young man in Paris, Liszt was as famed for his affairs of the heart as for his piano technique. In 1835 he eloped with his mistress, the Countess Marie d'Agoult (who was already married), to Switzerland and they spent the next few years in the Alps and in Italy. They had three children.

Between 1839 and 1847, Liszt took on the role of a traveling virtuoso, playing all over Europe to wide acclaim. It is said that he invented the concept of a modern piano recital. He separated from his mistress in 1844, and in 1848 took up a full-time conducting post as Kapellmeister at the Weimar court, where he lived with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. He abandoned his performing career and devoted his attention mainly to composition, although he conducted and taught, among others, Hans von Bülow. Here he wrote some of the most difficult piano music ever written, such as the Transcendental Studies. He expanded some of the ideas of musical form, increasing the length and scope of traditional ideas such as Sonata Form, and turning multi-movement pieces into single works.

It is in his piano compositions, though, that Liszt’s virtuosity as a performer shows through. His imaginative use of unusual combinations of chords, scales and intervals is punctuated by a very advanced use of chromaticism. He also had the ability to express a very wide variety of moods and ideas in his music, which makes it so rewarding to listen to. Unfortunately for Liszt, public denouncements on his relationship with the Princess forced him to move to Rome in 1860, where he stayed until 1869. Here, he found expression for his long-held spiritual leanings and he composed many religious works. In 1865 he joined the Franciscans and was given the title of Abbé. From 1870 onwards, he traveled regularly between Rome, Weimar, where he had many pupils, and Budapest, where he was regarded as a national hero.

Related Composers: Wagner, R Strauss, Chopin

(Wilhelm) Richard Wagner

Wagner wrote operas on a vast scale telling tales of tragic love and epic stories of battles between the gods. With wars, a revolution and a scandalous love affair, his own life saw its fair share of turmoil too, and not necessarily on a smaller scale.

There is some doubt as to exactly who Wagner’s father was. Officially, his father was Friedrich Wagner, a police actuary who died soon after his son’s birth. In August 1814, though, Wagner’s mother married her friend Ludwig Geyer, an actor, poet and painter, and there is speculation that he was actually Richard Wagner’s father.

Regardless of this question over his parentage, the young Wagner went to school in Dresden and then Leipzig. His first creation was not musical, but a play, which he wrote when he was 15. The next year he started to write music. In 1831 he went to Leipzig University, also studying music with the Thomaskantor C. T. Weinlig, and in 1832 he wrote a symphony, which was also performed.

At the age of 20, in 1833, Wagner became the Chorus Master at the Würzburg theatre and wrote his first opera, Die Feen. It wasn’t performed, but his next opera (written in the same year), Das Liebesverbot, was staged in 1836.

Wagner made his début as an opera conductor with a small company which went bankrupt soon after performing his opera. Despite this failure, he married the singer Minna Planer in 1836 and moved with her to Königsberg where he became Musical Director at the theatre. He soon left and took a similar post in Riga where he began his next opera, Rienzi. In Riga, he did a lot of conducting, especially of Beethoven. However,  Wagner’s financial situation was bad, and when creditors demanded their money in 1839, he and his wife escaped by boat to London and then to Paris. Here he worked for publishers and theatres, and continued to write. In 1842, Rienzi was performed in Dresden, and was a great success. Wagner was appointed joint Kapellmeister at the Dresden court, and in 1845 Tannhäuser was performed, and Lohengrin started.

In 1849, Wagner fled revolutionary Paris and went to Weimar, where he was helped by the composer Franz Liszt. He was very anti-Semitic and spent time in France and Switzerland, as he was unable to enter Germany for 11 years. He began sketching the text and music of a series of operas on the Nordic and Germanic sagas - The Nibelung's Ring. Among the friends to whom Wagner showed the operas was a rich patron named Otto Wesendonck. Wesendonck’s wife Mathilde, who loved him, wrote poems that he set, and inspired Tristan und Isolde (written between 1857 and 1859).

In 1855 he conducted in London, and by 1860 was in Paris, where his views made him unpopular. In 1862 he returned to Germany, and separated from his wife Minna, who was ill. Wagner gave concerts all over Europe, and in 1864 King Ludwig II invited him to settle in Bavaria, near Munich. The King settled Wagner’s debts and provided him with an income.

In the later part of his career Wagner enjoyed the support of King Ludwig II. There was some scandal at the court when it became known that Wagner was having an affair with Franz Liszt’s daughter Cosima, who was married to the conductor Hans von Bülow. However, Bülow didn’t seem to mind, and conducted several of Wagner’s operas, including the premiere of Tristan und Isolde in 1865. In 1868, Cosima moved in with Wagner at his home in Tribschen, near Lucerne, and by the time they got married in 1870, they had two children. By 1876, Wagner was finally able to establish his own theatre and festival at the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, and it was there that The Ring was premiered. The performance of this 18-hour epic was an artistic success, but a financial disaster.

In order to try and earn some money, Wagner spent the next few years conducting in London and throughout Italy, as well as writing more operas. In Venice, Wagner experienced a worsening of the heart trouble he had suffered from for some years, and he died there in February 1883. His body was returned to Bayreuth to be buried.

Wagner’s influence on harmony, large scale works, and opera in particular is considerable. He developed the use of the Leitmotiv (leading motif). He was a remarkable innovator both in harmony and in the structure of his work. It can be said that his Prelude to the love tragedy Tristan und Isolde led to a new world of harmony. Wagner was a remarkable innovator both in harmony and in the structure of his work. He created his own version of the Gesamtkunstwerk, a type of dramatic composition in which all the arts (music, poetry, the visual arts, dance etc.) were brought together into a single unity. His political ideas sometimes overshadow his real significance as a composer.

Related Composers: Liszt, Weber, Franck, Humperdinck, Korngold, R Strauss