PROGRAM NOTES and Links for extended listening .

Angelo's Links

Program Notes 2024.

Some thoughts on Liszt’s Vallee d’Obermann….

“Having recently travelled to many new countries, through different settings and places consecrated by history and poetry; having felt that the phenomena of nature and their attendant sights did not pass before my eyes as pointless images but stirred deep emotions in my soul, and that between us a vague but immediate relationship had established itself, an undefined but real rapport, an inexplicable but undeniable communication, I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impressions”- FRANZ LISZT.

“Ramparts of granite, inaccessible mountains now arose between ourselves and the world, as if to conceal us in those deep valleys, among the shadowy pines, where the only sound was the murmurng of waterfalls, the distant thunder of unseen precipices.”

Countess Marie d’Agoult (c.1835)

********************************************************** Senancour (1770-1843).

Étienne Pivert de Senancour’s “Valley of Obermann” is a seminal work of French Romantic literature, published in 1804 as part of his novel “Obermann.” Set in the Swiss Alps, the novel follows the protagonist, Obermann ( a real Byronic hero years before Byron’s Manfred and Childe Harold) as he grapples with existential angst, disillusionment, and the search for meaning in a world marked by alienation and despair.

Senancour’s novel reflects the spirit of the Romantic movement, with its emphasis on individualism, emotional intensity, and communion with nature. “Valley of Obermann” in particular serves as a lyrical meditation on the human condition, exploring themes of isolation, longing, and the quest for transcendence.

The novel’s protagonist, Obermann, retreats to the secluded valley in search of solace and spiritual renewal, but instead finds himself confronted with the overwhelming beauty and indifference of the natural world. Through Obermann’s introspective musings and encounters with the sublime landscape, Senancour explores the tension between human desire and the immutable forces of nature.

“Valley of Obermann” has inspired generations of writers, poets, and philosophers, including the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Friedrich Nietzsche, who admired its philosophical depth and poetic resonance. It remains a classic of Romantic literature, celebrated for its profound insights into the human psyche and its haunting evocation of the sublime.


In the preface to the score, Liszt also quotes from Byron (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage) : 

Could I embody and unbosom now
That which is most within me,—could I wreak
My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw
Soul—heart—mind—passions—feelings–strong or weak—
All that I would have sought, and all I seek,
Bear, know, feel—and yet breathe—into one word,
And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;
But as it is, I live and die unheard,
With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword.


Vallee d’Obermann features a distinctive descending scale as it’s central theme (later used -virtually note for note- by Tchaikovsky in Lenski’s Aria from his opera Eugene Onegin).

In Vallee d’Obermann’s first version, Liszt uses a three-note motif consisting of G, F#, and E.  This motif serves as a unifying device, not only initiating but questioning the fully extended melody that gradually stems from it.

Villani synthesises the two versions by providing a ‘prologue’ that utilises the opening lines of the first to usher in the expanded melodic premise of the later version. This creates a highlighted contrast between the three note ‘question’ and the descending expanded melody that ponders to ‘answer’.

The exhalted epiphany comes in the closing pages of the work and returns to the three note motif in triumphant fashion, thus synthesising question and answer into one.

Interestingly, the noted Liszt scholar Ben Arnold provides a curious observation on this paradoxical culmination : “This epiphany proves to be an illusion, since the final descending statement creates a heartbreaking close to this incredible pursuit. Obermann almost finds life’s answer and the happiness he seeks, only to realize that it is a mirage.”

Suggested further listening :

Vladimir Horowitz :

Ervin Nyiregyhazi:

Sviatoslav Richter :

György Cziffra :

Lazar Berman :