For the somewhat blessed life that Franz Liszt led, it's telling that the only two times he ventured into composing larger symphonic pieces (typically preferring to keep to more concise "symphonic poems" and, of course, piano work), he chose Goethe's "Faust" and Dante's "Divine Comedy" as thematic anchors. For a guy who received the rare benefit of being praised for his abilities while he was alive, pegging a two-movement symphony on "abandon every hope, you who enter" seems unnecessarily dark. But Lizst was known for risk-taking, and the "Dante Symphony" takes on "Inferno" and "Purgatory" with his post-Berlioz approach, painting vivid pictures that are as evocative as they are unsettling. Intricate and unsparingly intense, Liszt was clearly dredging up some sadness from his own charmed life while crafting the piece. Botstein wisely couples the "Dante Symphony" with Liszt's reinterpretation of Goethe's "Torquato Tasso," the deeply romantic "'Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo,'" emphasizing the existential trauma inherent in both pieces.
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