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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Oratorio, "The Legend of Holy Elizabeth" (Liszt)


Oratorio, "The Legend of Holy Elizabeth"

Franz Liszt
(1811-86)



The oratorio, "Legend of the Holy Elizabeth," was written in 1864, and first produced August 15, 1865, upon the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Conservatory of Pesth-Ofen. The text is by Otto Roquette, and was inspired by Moritz von Schwind's frescos at the Wartburg representing scenes in the life of the saint. The characters introduced in the oratorio are Saint Elizabeth, Landgrave Ludwig, Landgrave Hermann, Landgravine Sophie, a Hungarian Magnate, the Seneschal, and the Emperor Frederick II. The work is laid out in two parts, each having three scenes.

The first scene opens with a long orchestral introduction, working up to a powerful climax, and based mainly upon a theme from the old church service, which is Elizabeth's motive, and is frequently heard throughout the work. An animated prelude which follows it introduces the opening chorus ("Welcome the Bride"). A brief solo by Landgrave Hermann ("Welcome, my little Daughter") and another of a national character by the Hungarian Magnate attending the bride intervene, and again the chorus break out in noisy welcome. After a dignified solo by Hermann and a brief dialogue between Ludwig and Elizabeth, a light, graceful allegretto ensues, leading up to a children's chorus ("Merriest Games with thee would be play"). At its close the chorus of welcome resumes, and the scene ends with a ritornelle, foreboding the sorrow which is fast approaching.

The second scene, after a short prelude, opens with Ludwig's hunting song ("From the Mists of the Valleys"). As he meets Elizabeth, a dialogue ensues, leading up to a brief chorus. ("The Lord has done a Wonder"), and followed by an impressive duet in church style ("Him we worship and praise this Day"). The scene closes with an ensemble, a duet with full choral harmony, worked up with constantly increasing power and set to an accompaniment full of rich color and brilliant effect.

The third scene opens with the song of the Crusaders ("In Palestine, the Holy Land"), the accompaniment to which is an independent march movement. The stately rhythm is followed by a solo by the Landgrave, bidding farewell to Elizabeth and appealing to his subjects to be loyal to her. The chorus replies in a short number, based upon the Hungarian melody which has already been heard. Elizabeth follows with a tender but passionate appeal to her husband ("Oh, tarry! Oh, shorten not the Hour"), leading to a solo ("With Grief my Spirit wrestles"), which is full of the pain of parting. A long dialogue follows between them, interrupted here and there by the strains of the Crusaders, in which finally the whole chorus joins with great power in a martial but sorrowful style. As it comes to a close, the orchestra breaks out into the Crusaders' March, the time gradually accelerating as well as the force, until it reaches a tremendous climax. The chorus once more resumes its shout of jubilee, and the brilliant scene comes to an end.





In the fourth scene a slow and mournful movement, followed by an Allegro ominous and agitated in style, introduces the Landgravine Sophie, the evil genius of the Wartburg. The tidings of the death of Ludwig have come, and with fierce declamation she orders Elizabeth away from the castle. The latter replies with an aria ("Oh, day of Mourning, Day of Sorrow!") marked by sorrowful lamentation. Sophie again hurls her imprecations, and a dramatic dialogue ensues, which takes the trio form as the reluctant Seneschal consents to enforce the cruel order. Once more Elizabeth tenderly appeals to her in the aira ("Thou too art a Mother"). Sophie impatiently and fiercely exclaims ("No longer tarry!"). The scene comes to an end with Elizabeth's lament as she goes out into the storm.

The fifth scene opens with a long declamatory solo by Elizabeth, in which she recalls the dream of childhood -- closing with an orchestral movement of the same general character. It is followed by the full chorus ("Here 'neath the Roof of Want"), which after a few bars is taken by the sopranos and altos separately, closing with chorus again and soprano solo ("Elizabeth, thou holy One"). The death scene follows ("This is no earthly Night"). Her last words ("Unto mine End thy Love has led me") are set to music full of pathos, and as she expires, the instrumentation dies away in peaceful, tranquil strains. A semi-chorus ("The Pain is over") closes the scene, the ritornelle at the end being made still more effective by the harps, which give it a celestial character.

The last scene opens with an interlude which gathers up all the motives of the oratorio -- the Pilgrim's Song, the Crusader's March, the Church Song, and the Hungarian Air -- and weaves them into a rich and varied texture for full orchestra, bells, and drums, forming the funeral song of Elizabeth. It is followed by a solo from the Emperor ("I see assembled round the Throne") -- a slow and dignified air, leading to the great ensemble closing the work, and descriptive of the canonization of Elizabeth. It begins as an antiphonal chorus ("Mid Tears and solemn Mourning"), the female chorus answering the male and closing in unison. Once more the Crusaders' March is heard in the orchestra as the knights sing ("O Thou whose Life-blood streamed"). The church choir sings the chorale ("Decorata novo flore"), the Hungarian and German bishops intone their benedictions, and then all join in the powerful and broadly harmonious hymn ("Tu pro nobis Mater pia"), closing with a sonorous and majestic "Amen."





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