Between Paganini’s first concerto and this one lie eight years during which he toured the concert halls of Europe, astonishing audiences of the time with effects they had never heard on the violin before. Paganini’s second concerto is operatically flamboyant.
Underneath the violin’s displays lies a precisely-structured concerto. The insistently
chiming handbell of the gypsy-influenced third movement gives the concerto its name, “La Campanella”. Liszt later adapted one of the melodies in this movement to create his “Grande Etude No. 3”.
Liszt was a rock star of the piano, he toured Europe’s concert halls, greeted everywhere by swooning fans. Liszt adapted this work from one of his virtuosic piano etudes which was based on the story of Ivan Mazeppa. Mazeppa, entangled with a Polish noblewoman, was punished by being tied naked to a horse, which galloped him to the Ukraine where he raised an army who rescued him. Liszt’s music
evokes the wild gallop across the steppes.
Liszt’s best-known symphonic poem was inspired by Romantic poetry, the Meditations of Alphonse de Lamartine. “What is life but a series of preludes to that unknown hymn whose first solemn note is intoned by death?”
The work develops its thoughtful opening theme, moving from one scene to another like a poem describing the many episodes of a full life: glorious, romantic, dreamy, martial.