In two previous articles, I have commented on the first seven symphonic poems of Franz Liszt. This article deals with symphonic poems eight through ten.
The French Revolution began in 1789. Later Napoleon became emperor of France. After his defeat, the Bourbon monarchy was established.
However, revolutions continued to occur, and Franz Liszt apparently sympathized with them. After a revolution toppled the Charles X in 1830, he began to write a Symphonie Révolutionnaire but did not complete it. He later took the music that he did finish and turned it into a symphonic poem entitled Héroïde Funèbre.
According to Wikipedia, the French word héroïde is “a term in French literature for a letter in verse, written under the name of a hero or famous author, derived from the Heroides by Ovid.” Charles-Pierre Colardeau coined the term.
According to my French dictionary, funèbre means “funereal” or “dismal.” So héroïde funèbre is a melancholy letter in verse supposedly written by some distinguished person.
The music of this symphonic poem is certainly melancholy. I think that the music is supposed to describe an imaginary verse letter supposedly written by someone who suffered in some revolution. Music Web International mentions thirteen generals who were executed in 1849 for leading a rebellion against Austria. Perhaps the music of Liszt describes an imaginary letter that one of these generals wrote describing his fate and the fate of his companions.
According to Wikipedia, Hungaria does not have a program. It contains some patriotic Hungarian music. Unlike Héroïde Funèbre, the music is not oppressive. It pulses with life instead of brooding on death. However, Hungaria does contain some somber music that Wikipedia associates with the defeat of Lajos Kossuth in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
Wikipedia and other sources compare this symphonic poem to his Hungarian rhapsodies. I believe that the comparison is just.
The title of the work points to the program of the symphonic poem, namely, the famous tragedy written by William Shakespeare.
According to Music Web International, the music of this symphonic poem depicts such elements as Hamlet’s internal struggle, the gentleness of Ophelia, and the tragedy that occurs at the end of the drama. However, Liszt adds a spiritual dimension not expressed in Shakespeare’s work. He is concerned about Hamlet’s soul, and Ophelia is the instrument that effects his salvation.
It is hard to imagine Ophelia in the role that Liszt attributes to her. She is a charming girl who deserved a far better fate than Shakespeare allotted to her. However, she is hardly a heroine capable of effecting the salvation of Hamlet.
Music Web International
Wikipedia: Hungaria (Liszt)