„We are talking about our greatest sacred music composer”

2011.05.11. 12:53


The first Sunday of May is the beginning of the Liszt Year’s sacred music series. We ask Tamás Bubnó, artistic director of the programme about the works, their characteristics and about Liszt’s sacred musical compositions.

- Why did you choose these particular pieces for the Musica Sacra series?

- The aim was the same as in the Haydn Year in 2009: I wanted the complete masses of Liszt to be heard in the frame of early Roman rite masses. I am really glad that the plan seems to come true unchanged, as we seem to be the only ones in the world who came up with this idea - just like in 2009 when Budapest was the only place to put on Haydn's complete masses incorporated in Tridente liturgies. At least, going through the various, sometimes overexuberant programmes worldwide, I didn't find authentic Liszt mass performances anywhere else. I think maybe the programme organisers thought that the secularized world does not need them anymore. In my opinion, this view is totally wrong, especially regarding the works of Liszt. Operas can also be played in an orchestra performance, but maybe I'm not the only one to believe that the real thing is still the staged performance. The same applies to masses performed in orchestra adaptations.

- The original plan also included the oratorios, but they did not get into the final programme. Why?

- Perhaps it was too grandiose a plan to play the complete sacral works of Liszt as well. Although it certainly would have suited the Master's grandiose character. After all, we are talking about our greatest sacred music composer... Unfortunately, the project lacked financing. But all the better this way: at least we have a reason to continue the series.

- In two cases, the same masses will be heard, albeit in different versions.

- We can only really talk about different versions in the case of Missa solennis, popularly known as the Esztergom mass: the 1855 and the 1857-58 versions. The former one was written for the consecration of the Esztergom Basilica, then Liszt recomposed it in order to make it feasible for a performance in the Vatican. However, the last one, the Szekszárd Mass, written in 1850, is different in many parts from he first one, Missa quattor vocum ad aequales concinente organo,which he wrote in 1869. The musical basis and the apparatus, male choir and organ, are essentially the same, but there is a 20 years' time difference between the two versions. In 1850 Liszt wrote in one of his letters that he was constantly thinking about Palestrine and Rome while composing his first mass, while in 1869 there were already the other 4 masses that had been born in the meantime, as well as many more musical experiences for him to think of.

- Liszt composed liturgy-inspired pieces both in his grandiose Weimar-period, and later, in his expressive period. Can we talk about a homogenous style in his religious music, or is it as varied as his piano oeuvre?

- As far as I can judge, he tried to 'go back to the basics' both in his written and in his musical works, his composition technique and melody. Providence had given him the wisdom to study a lot of - and the best of - religious music first before starting to compose his own. I would not say that he had a heterogenous style in this respect. Rather that his young, noble and energetic face, which probably annoyed many people at the time, together with his whole character, provocative and often sentimental, but doubtlessly a genious - had grown old, preserving his beauty and his sense, and above all, his living faith. Then it was the inner beauty that shone through the weary, hard-bitten face. All along, his religius music had remained the reflection of his personal faith, and that is what connects the early mass with Via Crucis.

- Could Liszt's religious music be popular without these anniversary periods?

In the past 100 years, the religius works of Liszt have not been heard too often. Missa choralis is popular, (rightly so, since it is a wonderful mass), and so are the two oratorios, more or less, and Via Crucis has also been put on more often in recent decades, especially at the time of Lent. The organ works are also played quite frequently, mostly by András Virágh and by others as well. This is the positive side of sustaining the Liszt heritage. However, many of his works which should be brought to the podium are not. I really hope that the works performed in the Liszt Year will not dissappear afterwards either, and that the ones hardly ever played will also be discovered. That is what I will be working on, anyway.