Heroic Masculinity in Franz Liszt’s Symphonic Poems Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo and Mazeppa

  • Author / Creator
    Meyers-Riczu, Jamie F.
  • Franz Liszt’s symphonic poems Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo and Mazeppa portray expressions of heroic masculinity and creative genius in the nineteenth century. Both compositions are based on historical figures whose lives were reimagined to emphasize the larger socio-cultural meanings of what it means to be a man, a hero, and a genius in the Romantic era.
    In the introduction, I contextualize my examination of how Liszt’s Tasso and Mazeppa emerged within the nineteenth-century debates over the meaning and merits of program music. This discussion leads to my methodological approach, which draws from Lydia Goehr’s concept of doubleness. I specifically adopt from this theoretical framework the idea that tensions and contradictions retain power by remaining unresolved. I then relate this to Liszt’s writings on program music, which emphasize the need for both formalist musical structures (e.g., form, thematic material, harmony) and extra-musical content.
    Chapter one continues with the idea of doubleness by closely examining how tensions exist in discourses of masculinity and genius. I show that the men who were considered great and heroic during the Romantic era often exhibit traits of passive suffering, a concept that also relates to perceptions of the creative genius and his relationship to the whims of inspiration.
    Chapters two and three centre on the tension in Romantic-era reimagining(s) of Torquato Tasso’s legend. While Tasso’s poetry remained important—and relevant from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century and beyond—the myth surrounding his suffering, incarceration, and posthumous recognition became a potent theme to Romantic artists. Chapter two considers the biographies of Tasso that emphasize the tension in his character. He is a genius: both weak and exhibiting joy and melancholy. I then take these double relationships and show how Goethe and Byron portray the pitfalls and strengths of existing with such tension. Chapter three builds upon my discussion in chapter two and offers an interpretation of Liszt’s symphonic poem. I provide a close reading of the accompanying preface, which outlines the same tensions other writers of the period identify. My close reading of the preface guides my analysis of Tasso, where I focus on the tension that exists through form, harmony, thematic material and motive gestures. This close reading provides an interpretation that emphasizes the tension between suffering, triumph, and heroic legacy.
    Chapters four and five examine doubleness in the popular Mazeppa legend. In chapter four, I introduce “the” historic Mazeppa to contrast it to the legend that grew around him. Mazeppa was a Cossack Hetman known for switching his allegiance to Peter the Great. Yet in western Europe, Mazeppa was known for his legendary ride across the steppes of the Ukraine. His legend became solidified through the writings of Voltaire and, especially, Lord Byron. Over the course of the nineteenth-century, Mazeppa came to symbolize the heroic suffering of the genius. Central to my interpretation of this legend is the idea of tension: Mazeppa is physically bound but mentally free. I include a close reading of Victor Hugo’s “Mazeppa,” the poem Liszt uses as the program, to show how sensitive Liszt was to the symbolic meanings of the legend. Musically, I examine how form, thematic transformation, musical gestures, and harmony help contribute to an interpretation of Mazeppa that exists in tension: bound and free.
    The summary and conclusion provide a brief description of the dissertation, returning to the key points that emphasize Liszt’s use of doubleness as a way to interpret the legends of Tasso and Mazeppa. The dissertation concludes with a brief discussion of Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus as a way to extend my theoretical framework and analysis beyond the scope of this dissertation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.