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The four Mephisto waltzes of Franz Liszt Barrington, Barrie M.


The four Mephisto Waltzes of Franz Liszt constitute the focus of the present paper. Aside from the fascination they hold as individual works, they form an intriguing group related by title and heritage yet made distinct by important structural differences. Also, the separation of more than 20 years between the completion of the first and the last means that as a group they illustrate well the changes of style and concerns in Liszt’s composing. In this paper, the four works are discussed in a manner that reflects a shift in their dramatic source. The first two waltzes are closely tied to the poem Faust by Nikolaus Lenau and derive most of their drama from that extra musical link. The latter two pieces, however, exhibit fewer connections to the poem but contain compelling tonal and structural features. The first two chapters discuss the First and Second Mephisto Waltzes respectively with an emphasis on those aspects that are most closely associated with Lenau's Faust. In addition, certain passages that are not necessarily tied to the poem but are interesting in themselves are discussed. An example of this is the coda of the Second Mephisto Waltz and its effect on the piece's overall tonality. The third chapter discusses those few elements of the Third and Fourth Mephisto Waltzes that can be seen as stemming from Lenau's poem, while the final two chapters are made up of tonal and structural analyses of these latter two waltzes. The Third Mephisto Waltz, in particular, is treated to a more intense analysis since it is the most problematic of the group. In this piece, the overall tonic is unclear as two different, yet related, keys struggle to dominate, with neither coming to a clear and decisive victory. F-sharp major and D-sharp minor are supported in turn throughout the work and can be seen to coexist at times when the piece is viewed in its background. The Fourth Mephisto Waltz, although tonally more clear, contains a dramatic game of frustrated expectations and then unexpected fulfillment as the tonic, F-sharp, is strongly implied twice and only later is attained with little preparation. In order to come to terms with some of the problems posed by these works, I have used a modified form of Schenkerian analysis. Departures from, or additions to standard techniques are mentioned within the appropriate chapters. Since the four Mephisto Waltzes (especially the latter two) have not been exhaustively analysed, it is hoped that this study makes some contribution to the field of Liszt research.

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