The pieces based on Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète represent Liszt’s largest work in this genre. Even without the ‘Ad nos’, the Illustrations are enormous, and manage to include many aspects of the opera. Le Prophète was a tremendous success in its day and, although there have been recent revivals, it is really necessary to try and think of the work as it must have seemed to Meyerbeer’s contemporaries to imagine (understand?) why Liszt should have taken quite such an interest in it. But no apologies are required for the attractive and sensible skills of Meyerbeer’s composition, and many music lovers will recall the successo strepitoso of Constant Lambert’s ballet Les Patineurs culled from the same source. And the Coronation March, in various arrangements, was a regular drawing-room and organ loft companion for half a century or more.
The first Illustration is of the medley paraphrase variety. It may, of course, be performed independently of its fellows, but the pieces work very well as a contrasted set, and there is a certain amount of thematic cross-referencing.
Although Liszt’s subtitle accounts for the main material of the piece, the movement is seriously infiltrated by the Coronation March which appears, ghostlike, at the outset, and whose trio section dominates the peroration. The Prière is rather fragmented but introduces the theme ‘Ad nos’ in Meyerbeer’s original compound time (cf. the ‘Ad nos’ Fantasy and Fugue). Quite the most impressive passage is the fanfare which leads from the Hymne to the Marche du sacre, which is itself defiantly four-square.