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Matinee: 'Liszt's Sonetto 104 del Petrarca' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

3 April 2021

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 299th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Liszt's Sonetto 104 del Petrarca.

Michael Hess has put together a series of videos featuring his wife, pianist Sharon Cern. Our staff private detective informs us the couple resides in Kona, Hawaii, where Cern has been learning a few classical piano pieces (my, she's good) and Hess has been putting slide shows of photographs to them during the lockdown.

These photos are from a 2016 family vacation in Tuscany. There are bucolic scenes from Lucca, Pisa and Firenze among other locales. Perfect for Easter, we think, and a nice way to end Passover, too.

Francesco Petrarca, known in the English world as Petrarch, was one of the earliest humanists and a Renaissance poet. He was born and died in Tuscany, writing eloquently of his love for Laura, who remained mysteriously out of his reach his whole life.

In 1838 and 1839, Franz Liszt was traveling in Italy with Marie, the Countess d'Agoult. Inspired by Petrach's sonnets, he composed Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, which he published as piano solos in the 1850s. But by then he was with Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca is one of those piano solos.

Liszt published Petrarch's sonnet along with the music so we're going to follow suit with the sonnet in the original Italian and in English:


Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra;
E temo, e spero; et ardo, e son un ghiaccio;
E volo sopra 'l cielo, e giaccio in terra;
E nulla stringo, e tutto 'l mondo abbraccio.

Tal m'ha in pregion, che non m'apre né serra,
Né per suo mi riten né scioglie il laccio;
E non m'acide Amore, e non mi sferra;
Né mi vuol vivo né mi trae d'impaccio.

Veggio senza occhi, e non ho lingua, e grido;
E bramo de perir, e chieggio aita;
Et ho in odio me stesso, et amo altrui.

Pascomi di dolor, piangendo rido;
Egualmente mi spiace morte e vita;
In questo stato son, donna, per voi.


I find no peace and am not at war;
I fear, I hope; I burn and I am ice;
I soar into the sky and lie on the ground;
I grasp nothing and embrace the whole world.

Love imprisons me but neither frees nor holds me;
Not for itself it restrains me or loosens the noose;
Love neither executes me nor tosses me out;
Nor let me live, nor deal with my torment.

I look without eyes and, tongueless, cry out;
I long to perish, yet plead for help;
I hate myself, yet love another.

I feed on grief, yet weeping, laugh;
death and life both repulse me;
I'm like this, my lady, because of you.

It is, in short, a time-honored seduction along the lines of I'm-miserable-without-you, which Liszt might have found helpful but tends not to wear well.

There's no seduction going on here, though.

This is just a very pleasant visit beyond wherever you happen to be now into some lovely countryside and ancient towns that seem to have always been there and promise to remain until you're able to visit them.

It almost makes us want to sigh, "I find no war and am at peace...."

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