Franz Liszt was the inventor of the symphonic poem (also known as the tone poem), a form in which a literary or other nonmusical source provides a narrative foundation for a single-movement orchestral work. Liszt's symphonic poems, however, were not exclusively dependent on their source material: the composer's goal was more to distill the essence of the poetic concept in music rather than to exactly recreate it. Festklänge (1853) is the seventh of the twelve symphonic poems Liszt wrote during his tenure as Grand Ducal Director of Music Extraordinary at Weimar. All twelve works are dedicated to Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein.
The "festive sounds" suggested by the title Festklänge refer to the celebrations which were to attend the upcoming marriage of Liszt and the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein. The work, in fact, was intended as a wedding march for the occasion; at the last moment, however, the Pope refused to grant the Princess the divorce she had sought in order to wed the composer, and the marriage never took place.
Festklänge begins with a percussion and woodwind fanfare, followed by a rising trumpet figure and the introduction of the main theme in the clarinets, bassoons and strings. The middle section includes both a polonaise in tribute to the Princess's Polish extraction and music in the manner of a verbunkos, alluding to the composer's own Hungarian descent.