Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral Ad nos, ad salutarem undam

Franz Liszt

Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral Ad nos, ad salutarem undam

S. 259

About this work

The fourth in a series of "illustrations" based on Giacomo Meyerbeer's Le prophète (1849), Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" for organ is a massive work requiring the better part of three-quarters of an hour to perform. The Fantasy and Fugue is neither a direct transcription of music from the opera nor an operatic fantasia or paraphrase in the usual sense of the word; rather, it is a wholly independent composition based on a brief chorale melody used in Meyerbeer's work.

The Fantasy and Fugue falls into three large sections that collectively form a kind of ambiguous, large-scale sonata design in C minor. The harmonic language is marked by a high density and chromaticism that clearly pave the way to the masterful Piano Sonata in B minor (1854) and the Prelude and Fugue "B.A.C.H." (1855). Liszt uses diminished seventh chords and augmented triads with particular abundance.

The work unfolds in a process of virtually nonstop development after the initial statement of the chorale melody. Appropriately, Liszt alters Meyerbeer's theme so as to produce a number of melodic tritones, which are harmonically "composed out" as the piece progresses by means of the aforementioned diminished and augmented chords, as well as through transitional passages based on the whole-tone scale. The first of the sections is a colorful fantasia, agitated and harmonically restless. A marziale section in A flat major, based on the second phrase of the chorale melody, offers a brief respite from the incessant modulations of the opening, though it, too, is soon diverted to a number of secondary keys. The harmonic dissolution which ends the opening section is followed by a lengthy Adagio in F sharp major, which offers several expressive variations on the chorale theme. The whole-tone passages that link the variations are an extraordinary innovation for 1850, and one can clearly see the degree to which Liszt's music influenced the experiments of Debussy and Scriabin a few decades later.

An exciting flurry of activity, requiring some deft footwork from the organist, follows, after which the Fugue begins. In typical Lisztian fashion, the Fugue has little to do with traditional academic voice leading, though the imitations and stretto passages are quite cleverly constructed. The Fugue leads directly into a reprise of the marziale music, and the work comes to an end with a glorious rendition of the chorale melody in C major.

Shortly after the work's composition, Liszt also produced a version for piano solo (S. 624).