LISZT’S SONATA, Some Jungian Reflections.
In February 1978 I started work on a paper called “Listening to the Shadows; Towards an Archetypal View of Music” and I read the completed essay two years later to a meeting of the Analytical Psychology Club of London. “Listening to the Shadows” was an attempt to compensate the contemporary tendency to think of music solely in terms of function by emphasising the element of meaning. I did this by drawing historical parallels between music and other areas of human endeavour, using the terminology of analytical psychology and the imagery of Jung’s model of the psyche where appropriate. In this way I hoped to emphasise meaning without falling into the trap of demoting music to the level of the purely illustrative. I also hoped my paper might help to build a bridge between musicians and non-musicians, and to place music where I believe it belongs – that is, at the centre of human spiritual experience, rather than at its periphery. Since I wrote it the world has changed almost beyond recognition and musical attitudes have also altered. I, too, have not stood still during this time, but even so, I find that, with minor revision, the paper stands. Decisive movements in musical history, and therefore the work of great composers like Franz Liszt, formed an integral part of the paper, and it seems a natural corollary to such a psychological-historical survey to apply the same ideas in more detail to single works.
Liszt’s Sonata is the ideal subject. Before we can begin work on it, however, we need to have some understanding of Jung’s Psychology, and I hope that the following introductory paragraphs will be helpful to those readers who may not be familiar with it.
“Analytical Psychology”, as Jung described his particular discipline, is concerned with the human psyche in all its aspects; the psyche considered not as the product of the brain, and therefore of matter, but as a parallel mode of existence of equal weight and capable of examination on its own terms. It is not difficult to see how far-reaching are the philosophical, theological, and metaphysical implications of this idea, and anyone whose “Weltanschauung” is Rationalist/Positivist on the one hand, or Fundamentalist/Religious on the other, will find it difficult to accept Jung’s thesis. A familiar exponent of such thinking today is the analyst/priest Dr Drewermann of Paderborn, whose theological teachings, though heretical in the eyes of the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, are entirely consistent with the principles of Jung’s psychology. And in recent years, the British biologist Dr Rupert Sheldrake, working in Cambridge, has produced a theory of “morphic resonance” which, as he himself has pointed out, lends more scientific credibility to Jung’s controversial ideas on the archetypes and the collective unconscious. Jung tried to unite science and religion, and came remarkably close to doing so: perhaps this goal may yet be within our grasp, with the help of people like Drewermann and Sheldrake and of parallel thinking in music and the arts. Artists have, indeed, always been the leaders of such thinking – Schiller and Schumann, Goethe and Liszt – to say nothing of Shakespeare! They were there long before Freud and Jung, and Freud himself is said to have remarked “Wherever I go, I find that a poet has been there before me”. Analytical psychology is a life-long study in itself, but here are some essential points that are necessary to an understanding of this essay.
Point 1: How we experience a phenomenon is a part of the total reality – what Jung called a “psychological fact”, and NOT – (as it is fashionable to assume in our one-sidedly extravert world) – an unreliable subjective factor to be dismissed if we wish to grasp the truth.
Any statement which does not take this into account is incomplete – or, (as Jung himself once put it): if someone believes that the moon is a piece of green cheese, there are two ways of regarding his point of view:- firstly; we know that he is mistaken. BUT secondly; HIS BELIEF IS ITSELF A PSYCHOLOGICAL FACT OF A DIFFERENT ORDER, WORTHY OF EXAMINATION ON ITS OWN TERMS. So, dreams and music are not ephemera, they are as real as the table at which I’m sitting.
Point 2: Ego – that which knows itself as “I” – is merely the brightest point of consciousness, and is neither the whole of the psyche nor its center. A positive relationship of Ego to the Self is the root of mental health, and that implies an ongoing and conscious relationship. The “Self” is Jung’s term for the totality of the conscious and unconscious psyche, which, because of the collective nature of the deepest layers of the unconscious, is simultaneously individual and universal. It is always spelt with a large “S”, in order to distinguish it from such expressions as “myself”, meaning “Ego”. The Self is an archetype (see below), which contains, at its Center, Everyman’s image of his God. The creative process, to my mind, represents a continuous and developing dialogue between Ego and the unconscious, and is therefore an important step in the direction of greater consciousness, which, together with psychic wholeness may be regarded as the – only relatively attainable – goals of analytical psychology. Psychic wholeness means the bringing together of the different and apparently conflicting elements in the psyche by assimilating them into consciousness. One function of the unconscious is to compensate the otherwise one-sided attitude of Ego: one function of the creative artist is to compensate the otherwise one-sided attitude of the society in which he lives. With respect to this function the artist may be described as a ‘psychopomp” or mediator between the conscious and unconscious worlds. (In mythology Hermes, the messenger of the gods, is such a figure.)
Point 3: As already remarked, the unconscious is partly personal and partly collective. The contents of the ‘collective unconscious’ Jung calls the ‘archetypes’. They are beyond space and time, (eternal) and cannot be directly perceived, only inferred. They are the origin of predetermined patterns of growth and behavior – Jung once said that an archetype is that which determines that an acorn will grow into an oak tree and not into a dog. It is therefore quite wrong to assert, as some have done, that there is a conflict between the archetypal and the historical view of reality.
The archetypes often present themselves symbolically to the conscious mind as living entities, having an existence independent of Ego – as, for instance, in mythological figures such as Hermes – or as patterns, as, for example the mandala, a circle containing a cross or a square and symbolising the totality of the Self, and which is an object of meditation for Buddhist monks.
It is important to understand what is meant by ‘symbolically’. In “Man and his Symbols”, ‘Jung writes, “a ‘symbol’ is a term, a name, or even a picture”, (which) “has a wider, unconscious, aspect which is never defined or explained.” Georg Baudler, in his book “Gott und Frau” (God and Woman) has defined “Symbolwahrnehmung” as “Wahrnehmung einer bersteigenden ‘Dimension der Wirklichkeit’” (“awareness of symbols as perception of a transcendent ‘dimension of reality’”.) Jung insisted that a symbol is quite different from a sign: a sign merely states something knowable that we need to know, like the picture of a little man or woman on the door to the sanctuary. A symbol, though, points the way to a great deal more than it appears to indicate. Meaning, as we experience it, is the crucial element that distinguishes symbol from sign. Symbols often come to our attention when we experience tension resulting from a conflict between conscious and unconscious attitudes, and an understanding of them is one of the means by which such attitudes may be reconciled. Jung called this process, “The Union of the Opposites”, and attached great importance to it. Liszt was a man full of contradictions, and his Sonata may be seen as a major undertaking towards the goal of uniting them.
In this article, as in my original paper, I am concerned with archetypal symbolism in meaningful sound patterns, which Jung did not cover, and which therefore must sometimes be described in non-Jungian terms. This symbolism is particularly apparent in intervals, chords, and scales. For instance, the difference in character between a major and a minor third, and therefore the major and minor chords and scales, can be accounted for on one level as an ‘acoustical-physiological’ phenomenon, as in Paul Hindemith’s “Craft of Musical Composition”.
But even Hindemith – to his great credit – makes near poetical references to the sun and planets and to a natural order before which he stands in wonder, as in the following passage:
“What did tonal materials mean to the ancients? Intervals spoke to them of the first days of the creation of the world: mysterious as Number, of the same stuff as the basic concepts of time and space, the very dimensions of the audible as of the visible world, building stones of the universe, which, in their minds, was constructed in the same proportions as the overtone series, so that measure, music, and the cosmos inseparably merged.” And the art of composition itself? “To pious musicians it was a means of praising God…” (Ibid, Chapter I, section 5. ) Ultimately we are brought back to the experience of these phenomena in meaningful terms, and not only with their physical origins and nature. And at the point of experience archetypal symbolism becomes an audible reality.
Jung’s psychic cosmology is enormous. When, for instance, Vaclav Havel complained that Jung was belittling God in treating Him as a product of the human mind, he was misunderstanding Jung and failing to see that, on the contrary, Jung regarded the individual psyche as so immense that God himself stands at its center. This idea enables us to examine the work of such a deeply religious man as Liszt in psychological terms without having to explain away its religious content in a Freudian manner. Jung found his evidence (or what he more modestly described as a “hint”) for the existence of the collective unconscious in the remarkable similarity between the symbolism of the world’s myths and religions, the dreams of his patients in analysis, and the visions of the insane. I believe he could equally have included in this list the meaningful sound-patterns of which music is composed.
Point 4: Experience of the archetypes is not under the control of Ego, but is rather an autonomous movement of psychic energy towards consciousness to which Ego must inevitably make some kind of response. Experience of an archetype is something that happens to us, not something that we ‘will’ to happen. It may manifest itself in outer events (a birth, a death, an earthquake, a war,) or in such apparently unaccountable inner experiences as, for instance, a religious conversion, or falling in love, or a feeling of “deja vue”, – or hearing a great performance of the Liszt Sonata. Archetypal content of an experience is recognisable by the overwhelming intensity of its emotional impact. The experience demands expression, which in turn calls for an image: or the image produces itself spontaneously in dream symbolism, or in the initial inspiration of the religious visionary or the creative artist. This conversion of psychic energy from emotion to image represents a step from unconsciousness towards consciousness.
So in completing and bringing to conscious expression this inspirational imagery, the artist is working towards “psychic wholeness” on his own behalf, and because of the collective nature of the material, on behalf of others also. This is the principal business of artists – including musicians and it is the reason why masterpieces can change lives.‘ The archetypal nature of some events in what I call the ‘outer collective’, – by which I mean the external world conceived collectively, as opposed to the inner experience of the collective unconscious – can best be explained in terms of Jung’s concept of ‘synchronicity,’ which might be described as the study of meaningful parallelisms which exceed the statistical probability of mere coincidence. Sheldrake’s ‘Morphic Resonance’ seems to confirm Jung’s ‘Synchronicity’. This rather Oriental idea of meaningful parallelism as opposed to the more familiar principle (to us Westerners) of cause and effect is basic to Jung. He wrote the preface to Wilhelm’s translation of the Ancient Chinese astrological book the I’Ching, and by the same principle became interested in numerology. In this essay I shall be concerned with the synchronous presence of past, present, and future during the creative process. Alchemy was also deeply interesting to Jung, not as failed chemistry, but as an early attempt at Jung-style psychology in which the psychological elements were projected on to matter.
Viewed in the light of these reflections, Liszt’s Sonata is concerned particularly with three archetypes; the Shadow, the Hero, and the Anima, and taken as a whole it aspires, through a process of alchemical change, to a timeless image of a fourth archetype – the Self. This last is particularly apparent in the work’s immense single-movement structure, which unites the traditional elements of four movement Sonata form within a first movement format. I shall refer to the sections as movements.
Here are brief descriptions of the above mentioned archetypes:
The Shadow is everything one does not wish to be, everything one does not wish to happen; also everything one rejects in oneself and which tends, therefore, to be projected in demonized form onto others. Although the Shadow contains that which is genuinely evil, it need not necessarily be so, and often turns out to be positive when it is faced. The unacknowledged – and therefore autonomous and often demonic – Shadow factor is easily recognized in the traditional image of the Devil, which has an exact musical parallel; the interval of the tritone, or Tritonus – known to medieval theorists as “Diabolus in Musica”.
Significantly, Liszt’s music makes extensive use of this interval which, viewed historically, has been the catalyst of change giving rise to the rich harmonic language of European music, despite (or because of?) having been banned, at one stage, by the Vatican: – a good illustration of the fact that everything that we choose to demonize is not necessarily demonic in itself. Another characteristic of the Shadow is its vagueness: – as a Jungian Psychiatrist once said to me, “the Shadow is shadowy”, and in this sense we often speak of the “shadow area” of the psyche, an expression which is sometimes synonymous with the unconscious itself. Jung, like Freud, used the word ‘Unconscious’ rather than ‘Subconscious,’ which was Pierre Janet’s term. Both Freud and Jung found it inadequate and misleading, and rejected it. The dream world does not behave logically, and can only be grasped according to its own inconsequent, amorphous processes – hence the imprecision of Jung’s use of the word Shadow. Tritonus symbolises this vagueness of the Shadow archetype too.
A famous literary portrayal of the autonomous Shadow is Stevenson’s “Mr Hyde”, and an equally famous operatic one is Hoffmann’s adversary in Offenbach’s “Tales from Hoffmann”. Goethe’s “Mephistopheles” and his musical characterisation by Liszt is another. The word “Shadow” is also sometimes used in a more limited sense to refer to the male image in the masculine psyche and the qualities that go with it, and in this sense it may be seen to overlap with The Hero – which hardly needs any further description.
The Anima is the dream or fantasy figure representing the feminine in the life of a man. She is projected when a man falls in love, and is often experienced as the Muse or “Femme Inspiratrice”, the idealised figure of whom Goethe wrote, in the words which Liszt quotes in the ‘Faust Symphony; “Das ewig Weibliche leitet uns an” (“The eternal feminine leads us on”.) And, like Dante’s Beatrice, she leads us into the unconscious world, and is thus at one and the same time precious and dangerous.
Like all such archetypal figures the Anima has a dark as well as a light aspect; the goddess Kali is a good example of the personification of the dark Anima; Goethe’s Gretchen of the light.
The parallel male figure in a woman’s psyche is the Animus.
Since “Anima” is the Latin word for soul, she also exists in woman, but in this case is better called the “soul-image’ to avoid confusion. Anima and soul may be regarded as synonymous in some contexts.
One more Jungian concept needs to be grasped in order to follow this article: the ‘Psychology of Types’ (Typenpsychologie), which Jung originally conceived in order to explain the painful rift that had arisen between himself and Freud. He based it on the ideas of Friedrich Schiller, to whom he gave full credit. It expresses individual psychology in terms of tendencies and preferences, and has two aspects:
- Introversion and Extroversion. These may be defined as preoccupation with one’s own thoughts and feelings (Introversion) or with external things and events (Extroversion). The totally introverted or extroverted type is rarely, if ever, to be found, and these qualities can best be expressed as a graph between the two. Such thinking can help us to understand the lifelong struggle between the (extrovert) performer and the (introvert) composer on which, taking the known facts of his life into account, it would seem that Liszt was working, inwardly, when he wrote the Sonata.
- The four functions. Friedrich Schiller postulated this idea as a possible explanation the dichotomy between the poet and the philosopher in himself. The functions are arranged diagrammatically as pairs of opposites represented as four points on a circle joined by a cross – a mandala in fact. This mandala Jung called his “compass of the Psyche” and it corresponds to the diagram that Ernö Lendvai uses to describe Bartók’s “Axis” system of four-dimensional tonality which includes the Tritonus relationship as part of the home key, and which is also composed of pairs of opposites. Liszt’s later works were an important influence on the development of this tonal system.
The four functions are:-
Thinking and its polar opposite Feeling: Sensation and its polar opposite Intuition. Polar opposites cannot be activated simultaneously. Here is a description of the terms:
THINKING is the function we use when we make judgments by the logical comparison of available data; also when we think our way from the known to the unknown, as in scientific research or in the structural aspect of musical composition.
FEELING must be clearly differentiated from EMOTION: – FEELING is rational, EMOTION is irrational. FEELING is the function by which we evaluate what is good or bad, worthwhile or worthless, desirable or undesirable, but EMOTION is not a function and has nothing to do with evaluation. Both exist, we need both, but they are entirely different. Here is an example to explain this difference:- Let us say that I am preparing a performance of Liszt’s Sonata. Naturally I have an emotional response to the work – without such a response it is impossible to give a serious performance of any music. The manner of my performance is partly an expression of this emotion, and as the emotional content of the Sonata is particularly strong, (archetypal in fact) the playing is likely to be passionately expressive. But that is in itself no guarantee of quality, so how am I to judge the result? Certainly not by using my emotions – emotion tends to reduce consciousness and therefore to impair judgment, not to enhance it. Should I use my thinking function – eg. by making logical comparisons of available data? Perhaps, up to a point, in such areas as compositional analysis and comparison of source material; but this method is very limited, and in any case heavily dependent on another factor, which has nothing to do with logic. A good illustration of this factor is the following:- When preparing his famous edition of the Sonata, Emil Sauer unaccountably ignored Liszt’s
clear instruction, in brown pencil, in the manuscript (which is now readily available in a colour facsimile) that the Recitativo passages during the transition to the slow movement should be written in large note-heads. This led several generations of pianists (myself among them) to play these passages too fast and without the intended melodic weight. Here Liszt communicates his intention not through logic, but through the direct psychological impact of typography, which cannot be described as a logical process. In any case, academic thinking, though important, can ultimately only scratch the surface of the question of what makes a good performance. So the final arbiter is not the thinking but the feeling function, by which, quite detached from our emotions, we can assess what is good or bad, worthwhile or worthless – in music as in life.
SENSATION is concerned with physical, practical matters, the apprehension of material reality through the senses. In musical performance it has much to do with technique.
INTUITION is the function by which we can apprehend data by direct contact with the unconscious. People with strongly developed intuition tend to arrive at conclusions without having taken any logical steps towards them, and those conclusions often turn out to have been correct. The great value of intuition is that it can help us to make contact with the less consciously differentiated functions and therefore assist us towards greater consciousness. It tends to work well in harness with the feeling function, but is inhibited by sensation.
It is important to emphasise that the functions are concerned with choices, not with abilities. For instance, the possession of a strongly developed thinking function does not necessarily mean that one has a high level of intelligence: it means that one prefers, very strongly, to use this function rather than the others, and may be inclined to over-value it. This fact is a major element in the kind of spiritual process that stands behind Liszt’s Sonata. The psychological type to which one belongs is assessed by the proportions of the function or functions within the consciously differentiated area of the individual’s psyche and the relative dominance of introversion or extraversion. So, a type is described as being, for instance, “Introvert/Feeling” or “Extravert/Thinking”. I am convinced that Liszt was equally divided between extravert and introvert, strongly
intuitive, and probably having problems with feeling – an Extravert/Introvert Thinking-Intuitive type, in fact. And since the author’s “type” has a bearing on what he writes, and having done the appropriate tests twice in my life, I can say positively that I am an Extravert/Introvert Feeling-Intuitive type!‘
What of the functions not mentioned in such a description? These reside in the shadow area of that which we prefer not to know, and which therefore tends to operate outside our conscious control, which is why the mandala of the four functions is shaded at the bottom. As we go through life and respond to feed-back from within and without, we usually find we must modify the type – or, in Jungian terms, work on our weak or unconscious functions rather than rejecting them. That can be painful and difficult. All this implies that our way forward is contained within the unconscious. It also implies that a striving towards greater and greater consciousness is both the goal of individual human lives and, according to Jung, of evolution itself. Analysis is partly a technique for getting us moving on our way again, when, as Jung put it, we “get stuck”, and partly an intensification of a natural process which Jung called ‘individuation’, which in a neurosis has become blocked by the machinations of Ego to place itself at the center of the psyche. The need to individuate has been beautifully described by Nietzsche in the words “Werde der du bist” – “Become what thou art”. One form of this intensified process is the never-ending, life-long self-criticism of the true artist. Over a period of history, one can see the long-term effects of this ongoing dialogue with the unconscious as a collective, as well as an individual, matter – especially when these effects are understood in the light of synchronicity. So one may regard the work of a creative genius like Franz Liszt as carrying the individual light against which the collective shadow of complacent self-acceptance is ultimately powerless. But paradoxically, this inevitably means that Liszt’s own shadow is also very evident:- “The greater the light, the greater the darkness.”
Liszt’s struggle with the Shadow is, I believe, the subject of the Sonata, individuation its goal. Since the Sonata has qualities in common with the Faust Symphony, we may assume that Goethe’s “Faust” was a source of inspiration for Liszt in composing it, although there is no evidence that Liszt himself ever said so. Faust is Everyman in his struggle with his God, and Liszt seemed to a great extent to identify with Faust. So the Sonata may be understood as a Faustian story of dialogue between good and evil within the human spirit. Liszt’s principle of ‘Metamorphosis of Themes’ is a marvellously appropriate tool for the telling of such a story. The Sonata was composed at a crossroads in Liszt’s life – at precisely that crossroads which Jung described as the “Mid-life crisis” and which he regarded as the most important turning point on the road to individuation. This is the time when unresolved and unacknowledged inconsistencies in the psyche clamour for recognition and may be reconciled by a strenuous inner struggle against the fruitless “escape” of wilful unconsciousness. So strenuous is this process that Jung once described it as like an “operation without anaesthetic”. To walk away from the crisis is at best to lose an opportunity, at worst to take refuge in neurosis, or even psychosis or suicide: but to face it represents an inner process which can only be successfully carried through with the support of highly disciplined mental techniques, and in most cases with some measure of outside help. Jung regarded the religions as psychological systems for enabling the individual to withstand the impact of the collective unconscious at such times, but I would say that the techniques of musical composition represent in themselves just such a system. I believe that the Sonata is the story of how one man of genius, who – like Jung – was also endowed with immense physical stamina, armed himself with these techniques and with his religious faith, and employed both to face his mid-life crisis and so proceed on his way.
Let’s begin by applying what in analysis is called “Personal association” and try to place the Sonata in its biographical context. The technique of personal association serves the double purpose of separating out the archetypal from subliminal memory in dream contents, and placing archetypal elements in the appropriate personal setting. Liszt finished his Sonata on the 2nd of February 1853, when he was 42 years old. In 1847 he had retired from the concert platform and taken up a very different life, personally and musically. There is evidence of emotional strain in accounts of his life during these years, and this is to be expected. In his youth, after he had been torn from his first love, he had suffered a breakdown so devastating that in one newspaper he had been reported dead. His anima had shown him a vision of Paradise so real that when it was snatched away from him, it turned to Hell. He was a man to experience life to the hilt, a man in dangerously direct contact with the collective unconscious. On his death bed, Liszt’s father expressed anxiety about the future role of women in his son’s life, and events proved his fears to have been well founded. Apart from the serious loves of his life – the Comtesse d’Agoult and the Princess Saint-Wittgenstein – his career was peppered with little affairs. Some, like the liaison with Lola Montez, caused major scandals, while at least two put him at risk of his life. And it’s often not quite clear who was pursuing whom. Obviously there was a great deal of work to be done to improve the quality of Liszt’s relation to his anima. Liszt seems to have been able to make people think of him as a magician, and Jung would, I believe, have regarded him as a shaman. Liszt also had inner work to do in his relation to the hero archetype. His dangerously heroic self-image still infects people today and is one of the reasons why I have long distanced myself from the “Lisztians” to whom I have in any case never really belonged. Such hero worship can and does pervert sensible judgment to a disastrous degree. Even the brilliant and articulate Louis Kentner, who has written so interestingly about Liszt, shows a marked tendency to regard all other 19th century composers in comparison as mediocrities who took refuge in comfortable positions and more or less came to nothing. In fact that charge can be laid at the feet of only one of them – and then only circumspectly – Mendelssohn. Liszt’s lifelong concern with Catholic theology combined with his alchemical ability to transform everything he touched – for good or ill – place him in a typically “Jungian” context.
Taking the Weimar years as the years of mid-life crisis in the life of this anima-ridden alchemist-theologian-shaman-artist-hero we shall come very close to the spirit of the Sonata on one level. If we accept Liszt’s apparent identification with Faust (and with Mephisto) we come close to it on another. And if we see this time of crisis in Liszt’s life as the decisive point on the inner journey of individuation, we shall unite the two.
Liszt’s Sonata was 22 years old when Carl Gustav Jung was born, and Jung was ten years old when its composer died. There is speculation as to whether Jung was an extra-marital descendent of Goethe, and Jung himself seems to have welcomed the idea. His psychology, seen in the context of the history of European thought, was itself a product of the Romantic Movement, following naturally from the work, not only of Goethe, Schiller, and Liszt, but also of such figures as E.T.A.Hoffmann, Robert Schumann, Caspar David Friedrich, and Friedrich’s disciple the doctor and painter Carl Gustav Carus, whose interest in the psychology of his patients and the symbology of painting foreshadowed Jung to a remarkable degree. (It should perhaps be said that Jung’s own understanding of artistic matters was uneven and that his observations on such subjects range from the inspired to the embarrassingly inept.)
Let us begin at the beginning: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep”. All music arises out of silence, and as the Sonata begins, this silence is interrupted after a quarter-note rest on the first beat by two low G’s, played pianissimo, separated by an ominous void. The fact that the work begins on the second beat and not the first is of great importance in the performance of this opening, not only because of it’s dramatic effect, but because if – as I have sometimes heard from students – the player doesn’t feel that first rest and consciously begin on the second beat, what follows makes no sense.
The next event is a descending scale, every tone of which seems to point inexorably downwards like an imperious finger commanding us into the darkness of the deep unknown. Framed in a sustained “G”, it resembles a scale of G minor with a flattened supertonic serving as a descending leading-tone. But Louis Kentner points out that it may also be regarded as a scale of C minor, played downwards from dominant to submediant. Kentner takes quite a humorous, practical view of this, suggesting that the Sonata begins a semitone too high, as it were. But C is the flattened supertonic of the home key of B minor, and viewed in this light, not only the last tone but the entire scale takes on the character of a descending leading tone – or “leading mode” – which could partly account, tonally, for its downward leading psychological power. (Fig.1. First three measures, “Lento assai”.) There is, however, another way of understanding the function of this scale; namely as a mode outside of the major/minor system, whose final is G. Let us now trace this scale, and its meaning, to its ancient, archetypal origins. The major/minor system dominated European music for only a comparatively short time – about 250 years, from Bach and the baroquists to the first decade of the 20th century. The major scale, or mode, and the melodic descending form of the minor mode are survivors of the system of Church modes which preceded them, and which lasted much longer – for 1200 years, in fact, from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries. The system of Church modes was itself derived from the Ancient Greek modes, after which the Church modes were named. As with the Indian Ragas, the Greek modes were associated with particular moods or conditions of mind. There was clearly no embarrassment in either culture about the element of meaning ‘in music: one would not play a Raga intended for the morning during the evening – the ‘feeling tones’ would be wrong. And in Ancient Greece we find Plutarch writing that “the Mixolydian, thanks to its pathetic character, is suitable for tragedy”, and Aristoxenus explaining that Sappho invented it, and taught the tragedians to use it “by combining it with the Doristi, which ‘expresses the majestic and the dignified.”okç”The Music of Ancient Greece”, An Encyclopaedia, by Solon Michaelides. Faber and Faber; London 1978. Of the Doristi, Plato wrote that the true musician ‘is one who has regulated his life and deeds (my italics) “according to the Dorian harmonia “okç” – ibid.
[Endnote: ibid.] © the Ancient Greeks didn’t trivialise music as we do, and they were not ashamed to place it at the center of life. Neither was Liszt. The names of the Church modes as now accepted were established in 1547 by Henricus Glareanus, and according to his system, the scale Liszt has used at the beginning of
the Sonata is the third or Phrygian mode transposed. The most striking feature of this mode is the half-tone at the beginning, which in its descending form becomes the downward leading tone we have already noticed, and which is the equivalent of the flattened supertonic in the major/minor system.
But Glareanus was mistaken in his use of the Greek nomenclature, so that what we now know as the Phrygian mode was originally the Dorian, or Doristi, and this we have already seen was said to express “the majestic and dignified”. Heraclides Ponticus also describes the Doristi as expressing “The masculine and the majestic ethos” and “The somber and powerful”.
Masculine, majestic, dignified, somber, powerful – there we have it all. How could Plutarch and Aristoxenus, Sappho and Pontius have known that they were giving an ideal lesson on the first three measures of the Liszt Sonata…? Of course, Ancient Greek music was monodic, and by the 19th century, polyphonic, homophonic and complex rhythmic and motivic factors had also come into play; the descending doristi scale is not the only meaningful feature of the second and third measures. The intervals arising between the tones of the scale and the sustained “G” against which it is set are another factor, as is the characteristic dotted rhythm and the heavy tread of spondaic quarter-note feet with which it is surrounded, a rhythm which unites all the statements of this motif, effectively lending it it’s specific identity as one of the key compositional units of the work even when the scale is altered. Thus Liszt’s principle of the “Metamorphosis of Themes” makes it possible for him to integrate this and other motifs into the Sonata as a whole while leaving them free to undergo kaleidoscopic changes of character as the work progresses. This process should be understood psychologically as well as structurally, and these motifs – or archetypal sound images – function as what Jung has called “Symbols of Transformation”. After another descent into silence interrupted by two more staccato ‘G’s, measures 5 and 6 repeat the descending scale motif, also framed in a sustained “G”, but with a different scale; this time one of Liszt’s own invention which begins as a harmonic minor scale of G but repeats the augmented second using the dominant “D” as a pivot. ‘ (Fig.2. Measures 4 to 7.) This second version of the descending scale motif effectively adds another element of painful tension by substituting a half tone for a whole tone between the sustained “G” and the first tone of the scale – in this case “F#” – a real symbolic “clash of opposites”. The two augmented seconds – strongly reminiscent of middle-eastern religious music – seem also to be bursting with tension within themselves, pressing outward towards the longed for resolution of the perfect fourth, which is denied to them by the descending movement of the upper leading tones. In dream symbolism, doubling of an image often implies emphasis, and in just this way Liszt increases the tension which is about to explode. All these tensions do not, at this early stage of the inner journey, find their resolution. On the contrary, after they have briefly sunk back into the void they take two more isolated “G’s” as a springboard from which to leap upwards through giant octaves, rebelliously re-forming themselves into a heroic motif consisting almost entirely of augmented seconds and minor thirds. Together these intervals form an arpeggiated chord of a diminished seventh, which consists of two tritones – the image of “Diabolus”, the Shadow – again emphasised by duplication. (This pair of tritones is identical to Bartók’s “Axis” mandala, the equivalent in sound of Jung’s “Compass of the Psyche”.) This motif, like the first, is further defined by its characteristic rhythm, in which a group of three eighth-notes are juxtaposed with triplets, so that it, too, is recognisable even when the intervals are altered. (Fig.3. From measure 8, “Allegro energico” to the first quarter-note of measure 13.) Let us call these two motifs the melancholic and the heroic. (“Melancholia” was not regarded as unhealthy in medieval times, and need not necessarily be so now. It can be simply an expression of ego’s need to look inward as well as outward, to peer into the darkness as well as to bask in the light. It can enable ego to tap the source of all creative energy and imagery, and it’s denial can literally starve the soul. It is dangerous, of course; but then, what is there in life that is worthwhile and does not include an element of danger?) Let us also assume that, like dream figures, they embody qualities – one deeply introvert, the other extravert – within Liszt himself. We have seen that they are interrelated, and that they contain a hidden shadow element. The motif that follows them is recognisable as a completely alien factor, as pure shadow; that is, a factor as yet totally unacceptable and unacknowledged by ego as a part of the psyche, and therefore autonomous and in this case malicious. This new motif is stated twice. In the first statement the shadow-tritone A# to E binds the theme in the bass from start to finish. In the second statement this interval is placed melodically in a weak part of the phrase (C# to G at the end of the full measure,) but entirely dominates the harmony, which consists of two diminished seventh chords – an emphatic doubling of the identical element in the heroic motif.
Liszt is here confronted directly with the hidden dangers of his heroic self-image. Liszt’s fascination with Mephistopheles, not only in Goethe’s Faust, but also in the version by Lenau – the famous Mephisto Waltz No 1 is based on a version of the story by Lenau – is so well known that we may safely call this motif Mephisto.
(Fig.4. Measures 14 to 16, plus the upbeat 32nd-notes before and the first three quarter-note beats after.) Measures 18 to 104 are the first stage of this confrontation, a struggle between the heroic and Mephistophelian elements in which the heroic prevails; in measure 40 Mephisto has already, if temporarily, been ousted by a murderous passage of double octaves. Even the descending scales of the melancholic element which follows this passage (measures 81 to 104) take on new forms which this time lead harmonically upwards and outwards towards the light. Here they are framed in a motorically repeated A, the dominant of the optimistic relative major key of D, and by chords which, though sometimes darkening briefly, grow ever more and more affirmative, till they reach the next new element, the magnificent Grandioso melody.
(Fig.5. Measures 105 to the first three quarter-note beats of 114.) One of the truly great melodic utterances of the 19th century repertoire, this theme presents a heroic portrait (self-portrait?) as of an individual. Let us call this individual Faust. Now we are solidly in the world of 19th century tonal harmony, at first clearly and diatonically in the key of D. The first chromatic side-step is to C major – significantly enough the flattened supertonic of B minor, followed immediately by E flat – the flattened supertonic of the relative major key of D, also the enharmonically altered mediant of B major. (109 and 110.) Except for the transitional secondary sevenths in measures 106 and 108 all the chords up to the last beat of measure 112 are either major chords, or dissonances resolving on to major chords. The roots of the harmonies in bars 105, 107, and 109 proceed by strong, perfect intervals. Affirmation is piled on affirmation, and the motoric repeated eighth-notes seem to ensure that the hero’s feet remain earthed while his imagination soars to the skies. But in music, as in life, the shadow is always present somewhere. Continuing to trace the ascending intervals between the roots of these affirmative chords, we can identify it here, too: in measures 109 to 110, instead of movement by strong perfect fourths in two measure phrases, we find a minor third after only one measure, and the shadow interval Tritonus one measure later, leading to A major (111). From measure 112 an element of doubt begins to creep into the music, which starts to fragment. What can be the nature of this alien element troubling Faust’s soul? In measures 120 to 140 this doubt transforms the heroic motif out of all recognition, presenting it at first as hesitant (measures 120 to 124) and then as uncharacteristically dreamy and tender (125 to 140.)
Mephisto takes this opportunity to re-enter the scene openly in measure 141 and during the following bridge passage – 145 to 152 – we find that he has been present in disguise even during the motorically repeated chords that accompany the Faust theme. What happens next, however, is a revelation. The yearning, sensuous, plainly feminine melody in D major, which serves as the second theme in the 2nd subject group, seems strangely familiar. Close examination shows that it is a version of the Mephisto motif. (Fig.6. Measure 153 to 158.) The nature of the disturbing element which fragmented the Faust theme is thus made clear: it is the Anima, not in her innocent aspect as in Goethe’s Gretchen, but in a far more ambiguous and seductive form as at least partly a dangerous shadow element. Or, in the classical Catholic terms which Liszt would himself have used, “woman” is here represented as temptress and servant of Satan. Gretchen, the innocent victim, does not appear in the Sonata: here the analogy with Goethe’s Faust seems to break down. Though we could see in that fact a suggestion that the devoutly Catholic Liszt was closer to the Middle Ages than to the Enlightenment, nevertheless, as a Romantic artist, he was aware of the Anima’s value as “femme inspiratrice” – “Das ewig’ Weibliche leitet uns an.” And at this point in the Sonata she leads us on towards a long dramatic outpouring of all the musical material heard so far – a kaleidoscope of thematic metamorphosis. Interesting points to note here are the simultaneous sounding of the melancholic and Mephisto motifs (191 – 196), and the use of the heroic motif as a scintillating free cadenza which sweeps the music forwards into the next section (200 – 204), which in turn alternates the heroic motif with an affirmative, rising theme strongly suggesting the melancholic motif inverted. After a joyous interlude based on the heroic motif, and a struggle with Mephisto (239 – 276), we come to the climax of this section. It is built on a forceful triple statement of the melancholic motif, with the mode twice altered (277 – 286).
Then the heroic motif rushes downwards to disaster – towards a terrible, broken caricature of the Faust theme, in C# minor, in short staccato chords reminiscent of the ominous opening of the work. This alternates with a passionate recitative in which the first phrase suggests the heroic motif inverted (286 – 306). Soon Mephisto re-enters, and as the first movement ends, the hero implores and then subsides over his reiterated threats in the bass. Clearly the time of crisis has arrived. How is it to be met? Let us examine the end of the bridge passage to the slow movement.‘ (Fig.7. Measures 319 to 330.) The bass makes use of the Mephisto motif as a Nota Cambiata formula around the repeated tone B, presented as an organ pedal point. Above it the heroic theme, now stripped of its heroism, leads slowly downwards in three-part harmony. Measure 320 begins with what appears to be a dominant 7th chord in E minor, resolving to an interrupted cadence on a chord of C.
The next three measures carry on in C major/A minor, leading to a four part diminished 7th chord, which, when taken together with the pedal point, makes what appears to be a dominant 9th chord in E minor. For the moment let us take it as such, and describe this sequence in terms of meaning. The diminished 7th chord we have already noticed in the outlines of the heroic motif, and we remarked that it consists of two tritones. The link with Mephisto is clear, but this chord is also dark in the sense of being obscure. It can belong to any key and move in any direction; it is a panacea for all the problems of modulation. Partly for this and partly for psycho-dramatic reasons, it became so beloved of 19th century composers that it was eventually overworked, and lost its power. Here, however, it is as precise a unit of meaning as one could hope to find; a symbol of fear-laden doubt and perplexity – and its appearance in this context is a step forward on the road to conscious differentiation and individuation, since we have already seen that it was present from the beginning in the defiant heroic motif. Like the Shadow itself, it is shadowy. The hero’s only point of orientation is Mephisto (in the bass), who is presented here as a sinister comforter, about to lead him via a reassuring perfect cadence (dominant to tonic) into the subdominant key of E – probably, but not certainly, in its minor form. In the major-minor tradition, the dominant to tonic progression has the quality of question and answer, proposal and disposal; the dominant has a directional character: Beethoven, for instance, uses the dominant pedal point to unify long sections of his symphonic works while keeping them afloat, as it were, before the inevitable resolution to the tonic. That Mephisto is thus proposing a way forward places the hero in deadly danger, and Liszt keeps the music suspended in this precarious situation by gently repeating the chord: “This is a dark time, “but the tide will turn” wrote Richard Hall of Advent, and it is the very ambiguity of the “Shadow” diminished 7th chord which opens the way to the hero’s partial redemption. As the chord finally dies away, C is enharmonically changed to B sharp, and the tide indeed turns: the music side-steps to a cadential passage which leads, not to the sub-dominant of E (here symbolising the dominant in Mephisto’s under or sub-world terrain) but to the true dominant of F sharp. This may seem fanciful, but it makes sense: the subdominant is not so named because as the fourth degree of the scale it is placed just under the dominant, but rather because it is a fifth under the tonic as an inversion of the dominant which is a fifth above. Taking the tonic as the center, it is the dominant’s equivalent below the line [in the unconscious], as it were. [This phenomenon once came to me in a dream in a context which could allow of no doubt as to its meaning.]
Measures 331 to 338 – Fig.8. This is the beginning of the slow movement, and it introduces a new theme, and a new psychological element. Apart from two ornaments, the harmonies from measures 332 to 338 are entirely diatonic, and this fact, together with the simple four part harmonic structure, have the effect of removing the elements of passion and sensuality which had been prevalent until now, and the atmosphere is strongly reminiscent of an introit before a church service. [Here I play almost without pedal, and try to emulate the sound of an organ.] I will call this new theme the Church theme: the hero, torn by inner turmoil, seeks and briefly finds the peace and consolation of religious meditation, the stilling of emotion that is necessary in order to make contact with feeling.
But it is not in his nature to remain long in this frame of mind. After only 18 measures his thoughts wander elsewhere, and the Anima motif returns as in a dream (349). In a pianissimo passage marked “dolcissimo con intimo sentimento” she comes to him in a lovely romantic vision, which quickly dispels the religious atmosphere, and leads soon afterwards to a long, passionate, declamatory passage based on the Faust theme, largely in legato octaves, which belongs, not at the altar, but on the operatic stage. Here it is not difficult to sense the spirit of Liszt’s beloved Italy, and the influence of Bellini and Verdi.
At the climax of this section (395) the Church theme returns, now transformed to an exalted vision of the Church Triumphant, ablaze with passion: God, too, has his Shadow, which may not be denied.
Now the music subsides in a spirit of post-cathartic tranquility which seems like a final resolution of the story. But we are still in the unresolved dominant key of F sharp, and in reality this partial redemption is only the calm before the storm.
The first indication of this is the re-emergence of the melancholic motif in its original form (453 to 459). This time, however, the final (or tonic) of the descending scale is not, as at the beginning, distant from the home key; it is F# – the tonic of the slow movement and dominant of the work as a whole. The mode remains the same, but its relation to the whole is stronger: introversion is now more accepted, more integrated into the scheme of things. The journey is proceeding, the feeling tones have slightly, but importantly, altered. Liszt now treats the dominant F#, enharmonically changed to G flat, as the submediant of B flat minor, thus compensating the work’s beginning a semitone too high (according to Kentner) with a fugato, fulfilling the function of the Scherzo, that begins a semitone too low (Fig.9a; measures 460 to first quarter-note of 465, leading straight on to 9b, concluding at the end of 469.) The subject of the fugato is in two parts; the first (Fig.9a) consists of the heroic motif, and the second (Fig.9b) begins with the Mephisto motif, which leads directly into the heroic motif.
As the fugato progresses, the hero sometimes seems to be wrestling with Mephisto (as in measure 475), but sometimes (as in measures 476 and 477) with himself. Is he becoming dimly aware that they are one and the same? In measures 506 to 508 the distinction is still evident – Mephisto in the bass, the hero in the treble – but immediately afterwards comes a remarkable passage in which an insistent bass, in a tone of self-aggrandisement, challenges the hero motif with an inverted image of itself, declaimed “fenergico”, like the horn section of a symphony orchestra [Fig.10; measures 509 to 518]. And who is Mephisto but the hero’s shadow, or inverted and distorted mirror image? The battle leads us on to the reprise of the original confrontation between these apparently hostile elements, which together make such a marvelous musical homogeny.
This recapitulation departs suddenly from the original exposition with a dramatic sforzato chord of E flat, which introduces an episode based on the melancholic motif – in the bass – accompanied by the motoric accompaniment to the Faust theme, beginning in this key [Fig.11. Measures 555 to 559] As we have already seen, considered enharmonically as D#, this is the mediant of the major form of the tonic key of B. The mediant was elevated by Beethoven (as in, for instance, the Waldstein Sonata) to a position in the major scale hardly less important than the dominant. Psychologically it is here experienced as a moment of hope, anticipating the eventual peaceful resolution of the whole work onto the major key. Structurally it begins the transition to the reprise of the Faust melody in the tonic major – the traditional key relationship for the recapitulation of second subject group material in a work in first movement form. And in this reprise of the Faust melody we hear clearly how far the hero has proceeded along his path of individuation since its first appearance. Warm and strong, it is much more humble
in character. The throbbing “Mephisto” eighth-note chords have been replaced in the right hand by broad, leisurely quarter notes, accompanied in the left hand by a soothing arpeggio figure; the word “Grandioso” has gone, and in place of ƒƒ Liszt writes mf.
There are no longer sharp accents over the melody line, instead Liszt is content to remind the pianist to bring out the tune – “accentuato il canto.” [Fig.12. Measures 600 and 601]. Even more revealing is the way the music leads on to the anima motif, as if to say, “there is no cause for alarm; she, too, has her place in the scheme of things”. Gone are the anxious soul searchings of the hero motif robbed of its heroism. Instead, the anima is introduced simply by two long, soft chords; chords which unite the beginning and end of the work: the first is a chord of G minor, which is inherent in the opening “melancholic” descending scales; the second is a dominant seventh chord in B, with the fifth altered to C double sharp, leading inevitably to the major mediant of D# – a clear reminder that we are now no longer in the darkly brooding key of b minor, but in B major: much has been achieved in the task of reconciling the warring factions in the hero’s soul [Fig.13; measures 615 and 616]. Now the anima motif, no longer demonised, leads us by a shorter and less fantastic route than in the corresponding section of the exposition to the apotheosis of the Sonata, the Presto-Prestissimo [673 to 6990. At the beginning of this passage, the melancholic motif is stated in ff octaves, somber and imposing in the key of b minor. Immediately afterwards it is restated in B major, and the sun shines forth from a cloudless sky. [In performance I take the slight liberty of postponing the ff until this glorious moment.] Now the melancholic motif is transformed to a peal of victory bells, and at the Prestissimo the hero literally leaps for joy like a jubilant giant [Fig.14. Measures 673 to 683]. This mood of victory is sustained to the end of the passage with a final statement of the ‘Faust’ melody, played much faster and in fff. At this point the manuscript of the Sonata reveals clear evidence of a struggle within the composer’s psyche. Originally Liszt intended to end the Sonata here, with a loud and banal series of B major chords. The younger Liszt might well have done so, and so ruined his masterpiece. But – perhaps because of the psychic processes at work within him while writing the Sonata – the mature Liszt thought better of it. [I was once falsely credited with – I would rather say “accused of” – having recorded this ending to the Sonata. In fact I have never played it, and certainly never will. Liszt rightly rejected it. That is enough.]
After this inner struggle, Liszt seems to have remembered the missing element, the Church motif. It returns now, after a long meditative pause (710): in his time of triumph the hero has not forgotten humbly to give thanks to his God. At measure 729 a now defeated Mephisto mutters a tonic pedal point under a series of chords which include the original flattened supertonic of C, in its major form, and at measure 737 he is silenced by the hero motif with the original, challenging “D” replaced by a gentle “D#” – the major third saying clearly that, as in Goethe’s version of the Faust story, the hero’s redemption is complete, the drama successfully concluded. The work ends with a vision of Paradise in which the Shadow has found its rightful place; a “Tritonus” cadence of F to B, followed by three long chords of B major, suspended over the dominant and played ppp, which resolve at the last moment onto a low B, a single eighth-note recalling the isolated G’s in the opening bars; “In my end is my beginning” – [Mary, Queen of Scots.; quoted by T.S.Eliot at the conclusion of “East Coker”, from his “Four Quartets”. Faber and Faber, London.] Fig.15. Measure 754 to end.‘ “In my beginning is my end”: T.S.Eliot. Opening line of “East Coker”. Ibid.
A piece of music exists in time as a painting or sculpture exists in space. A single performance is the opening of the shutter and the flash – a glimpse, no more. Observing a drawing by Leonardo we ourselves introduce time into the work; we may take our own time and observe its elements in any order we wish and trace within them any inner relations we may find. With music this is not so. But that does not mean that the sense of the music is limited by time or that the relations between its elements exist only in a one-directional linear form. Indeed, we can only really experience a great work like the Liszt Sonata when we know it well enough to hear its events in relation to what follows, and not only in relation to what has already passed. Nadia Boulanger insisted that consciousness itself is just so: “I keep in mind a quotation from St Thomas Aquinas, ‘to be aware of what is going on one must feel the presence of the past, the presence of the present, and the presence of the future’. In another declaration, Bergson has said, ‘What is consciousness? Memory, attention, anticipation.’ And it is true; if I remember the beginning of the Sonata, the minute – the second – I am in the Sonata, and to the end the same line, the same attention; I have the Sonata with me. And if not, I have passing notes, having very little significance.” [From ‘Nadia Boulanger in conversation with David Wilde’: a BBC programme for her 90th birthday, broadcast in “Music Weekly” in September 1977, and published in Studies in Music, Number 13, 1979; Department of Music, University of Western Australia. At this crossroads in his life, Liszt wrote out of a deep awareness of all that he was, all that he had become, and all that he was to be. Present within the Sonata is the ambitious youth, the sensual lover, the heroic performer, the tireless creator, the narcissist, the generous princely spirit, the fighter of causes, the religious visionary, the abbé, the shaman, the magician, the alchemist – and their working out in this life’s journey; all contained in every moment of the work. Such music as the Liszt Sonata belongs in that realm which is beyond time and space – the realm which Jung called “Archetypal”. “Or say that the end precedes the beginning, and the end and the beginning were always there before the beginning and after the end. And all is always now.” T.S.Eliot. “Burnt Norton” from “Four Quartets”. Faber and
DAVID WILDE 10,966 words.Hannover, Germany, 1994.
Footnote1: This paper aroused considerable interest and I have since read it at the University of Sewanee, Tennessee; for the English Seminars of the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich, and – in a German translation – at the University of Cologne and at the State Academy of Music and Theater in Hannover [Hochshule für Musik und Theater]. It was published in the magazine “Harvest” in London, 1990.]
Footnote 2: Jung, like Freud, used the word “Unconscious” rather than “Subconscious”, which was Pierre Janet’s term. Both Freud and Jung found it inadequate and misleading, and rejected it.
Footnote 3: “The eternal feminine leads us on”.]
Footnote 4: The parallel male figure in a woman’s psyche is the “Animus”. Since “Anima” is the Latin word for soul, she also exists in woman, but in this case is better called the “soul-image” so as to avoid confusion.
Footnote 5: Favorite saying of Richard Hall, 1903 – 1982: composer, poet, philosopher, teacher, and priest; DW’s Professor of Musical Composition at the Royal Manchester [later the Royal Northern] College of Music.]
Footnote 6: “Melancholia” was not regarded as unhealthy in Renaissance times, and need not necessarily be so now. It can be simply an expression of ego’s need to look inward as well as outward, to peer into the darkness as well as to bask in the light. It can enable ego to tap the source of all creative energy and imagery, and it’s denial can literally starve the soul. It is dangerous, of course. But then, what is there in life that is worthwhile and does not include an element of danger?]
Footnote 7: Liszt’s famous Mephisto Waltz No 1 is based on a version of the Faust story by Lenau, and his fascination with that story is so well known that we may safely call this motif Mephisto.
Footnote 8: This may seem fanciful, but it makes sense. The subdominant is not so named because as the fourth degree of the scale it is placed just under the dominant, but rather because it is a fifth below the tonic – an inversion of the dominant, which is a fifth above. Taking the tonic as the center, it is the dominant’s equivalent below the line, as it were. This phenomenon once came to me in a dream in a context which could allow of no doubt as to its meaning.