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Although Franz Liszt’s symphonic poems were inspired by works of literature, poetry, and painting, the resulting works are not mere replicas of the inspirational source. Rather, Liszt concentrates on themes of importance gleaned from the sources and uses these ideas to create a musical narrative. In this paper, I explore two distinct musical narratives in Liszt’s symphonic poems: the “conflict and resolution” narrative evident in Hunnenschlacht and the “suffering and redemption” narrative of Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo. Through these examples, I demonstrate that musical narrative is an organizing force in and of itself within Liszt’s symphonic poems; a narrative progression towards apotheosis propels the music forward and suggests Liszt’s programmatic inspiration in each work. Although some seek to fit the musical structure of Liszt’s symphonic poems into a preexisting model, this paper proposes that the program is their integral part, and that only through a combination of programmatic and formal analyses can one gain a deeper understanding of these works as a whole.

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