Liszt's Liebestraum - Beautiful Dreams of Love

The Liebestraum, or 'dreams of love' are glowing, romantic piano transcription of love songs. Explore Liszt's Liebestraume here...

The Liebestraume (catalog number S541), and especially the third one, have become amazingly popular over the years. They're some of the best examples of Liszt's ability to blend beautiful Romantic melodies and moods with complicated technical piano challenges.

Liszt published the three Liebstraume in 1850, when he was in Weimar. They were solo piano transcriptions of songs he had written for high voice and piano several years before.

The songs used lyrics from poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath.

Dreams of Love...

Liszt in love

The three Liebstraume express three different types of love...

  1. Hohe Liebe is about religious love for higher powers. The music has a moderate, holy feel, perhaps expressing the serenity a martyr feels after giving up earthly pleasures.

  2. Seliger Tod is about the delights of erotic love. The music is warm, sensuous, and has a sort of comfortable feeling. This is my favorite of the set.

  3. O Lieb (the famous one!) is about the purest love: unconditional love untainted by desire or delusions. The lyrics Liszt adapts say that one shouldn't stop loving until the beloved dies.

    The piece is in three sections, starting with a beautiful melody, then a long dreamlike piano cascade, and finishing with the same melody.

The pieces have a calm nocturne-like feel, full of rich harmonies and magical piano flourishes. Here's a video of the second Liebestraum...

Liszt was a contemporary and friend of opera legend Richard Wagner, whose music is similarly impassioned and sensual.


There are, of course, dozens of recordings available of the Liebestraume (especially no 3). Here are my choices...

Jorge Bolet's recording of the 3rd Liebestraum captures the warm, romantic mood, even if it is played slightly slowly. The best way to get this is the bargain double CD from Decca (featuring other popular Liszt pieces).

For a set of all three of the pieces, I suggest Jeno Jando's 10th volume of Liszt's piano music on Naxos. Jando plays a bit to quickly and stiffly for my tastes here, but technically he's brilliant.

And the third recording of the pieces I'd recommend is by piano god Leslie Howard, who recorded them as part of his monumental Liszt cycle. Howard has a tendency to play too fast sometimes (as if he's hurrying on to record the next piece...) but in terms of sheer skill this is probably the most impressive.

If you're looking for the original song version of the 3rd piece, I highly recommend the recording by tenor Dennis O'Neill with Adrian Farmer accompanying on piano.

O'Neill's soaring, perfectly-controlled voice captures the potent emotions of the lyrics, and Adrian Farmer's playing is wonderfully evocative. The only criticism I can really think of is that sometimes O'Neill's singing is too much in the "Italian opera" style for this very reflective German song. But it doesn't detract from the music-making.

Recommended Recording

You might also like Liszt's Consolations, miniature piano pieces packed with tenderness.

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