Benediction of God in Solitude

Where does this peace come from, O my God?

Where does this faith come from, with which my heart overflows?

To me who just now, uncertain, agitated,
And on the waves of doubt with every tossed wind,
Was looking for the good, the true, in the dreams of the wise,
And the peace in hearts resounding with storms?
Barely a few days have slipped on my forehead,
It seems to me that a century and a world have passed,
And that, separated from them by an immense abyss,
A new man in me is reborn and begins again.

Thus begins a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine which inspired Franz Liszt to write music with the same title. (To read the rest of the poem, click here. You may have to use Google translate if it shows up in the original language of French!) I have long loved Liszt's Liebestraum No.3, and I adore his virtuosic and almost-impossible-to-play Hungarian Rhapsodies, but it wasn't until this week that I discovered his "Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude." 

If, like me, you are unfamiliar with this work, it is well worth your time to look it up. YouTube has a recording of Claudio Arrau playing it at a slow, meditative pace, fitting for the text. His is a beautiful, ethereal, meditative interpretation.

Alfred Brendel has also recorded his interpretation of the piece, but at a more moderate tempo, which helps the melody to really sing. Brendel does not hesitate to play with passion the brilliant climaxes within the piece. Both are fine performances, and I challenge you to choose a favorite!

Liszt wrote this while at a chateau belonging to the Princess Carolyn von Sayn-Wittgenstein at a time when he was returning to his roots in the Catholic faith, and retreating from the limelight of public performance (he was quite the celebrity pianist) in order to spend more time composing. Pianist Stephen Hough, in Crisis Magazine, writes the following about this season of Liszt's life:

It is highly significant that one of the first pieces completed at this time was the Benediction, a double celebration of solitude in his retirement and of his rekindled faith in God. The musical leap is a chasmic one from the early operatic paraphrases and fiendish etudes to this long, ecstatic stretch of slow, serious material. The Benediction remained a favorite piece during the Weimar years, and Liszt would often choose to play it for students and friends at the candlelit soirees at the Altenburg.  (Click here for the rest of the article)

This particular piece is part of a larger collection called "Harmonies poétiques et religieuses." You can listen to the whole set below.

The pianist above performed this at age 85... 


 Piano Lessons for Homeschoolers

I have loved returning to piano teaching this year! My students are eager, quick learners, and we are having great fun in both our one-on-one lessons and our "piano parties"! The latter are group lessons we have every 5-6 weeks, in which we review music theory concepts by playing games, learn about various composers, and perform for each other. It is such fun to develop a community of budding pianists and to watch their love for, and skill at, the piano improve. If you know of someone who would like to join us during the school day, I would appreciate the referral! Information can be found on my website



What to Listen to?

 There are several great resources for finding, and learning more about, classical music. Some of my favorites are listed below.

The Art of the Piano: It's Performers, Literature, and Recordings by David Dubal

The Piano : A History in 100 Pieces by Susan Tomes

What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland

Around the Web

 A provocative article titled "The Real Threat to Classical Music," challenges current cultural ideas around the relevance of Western European classical music.

Along the same lines, how should we think about classical music? Jarrod Richey proposes a way that supercedes our individual preferences in "More Than Feelings: Some Key Concepts in Thinking about 'Musical Maturity."

Lastly, in this podcast, Tricia Hulet, director of The Master's University's Theater Arts program, considers how Christians can pursue authenticity and excellence in the performing arts.


This content is from Cori's February 2024 Newsletter. If you would like to receive her newsletters in your inbox, click to subscribe here.

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