Tasso: Lamento e trionfo (1849) is the second of twelve symphonic poems Liszt wrote during his tenure as Grand Ducal Director of Music Extraordinary at Weimar. Liszt very much admired the work of sixteenth-century Italian poet Torquato Tasso and used Tasso's writings as the basis of a number of his own works. Tasso: Lamento e trionfo was originally conceived as an overture for Goethe's play Tasso, presented on the centenary of the poet's birth at a performance in Weimar in August 1849. Goethe's portrayal of Tasso concerns itself primarily with his position as court poet within the politically charged court life of the d'Esty family in Ferrara. Liszt, however, was more drawn to the poet's inner conflicts and the seven years he spent in an asylum (Tasso later received compensation for his suffering when he was brought to the Capitol and symbolically crowned). It was this figure -- the suffering and eventually triumphant Tasso -- that inspired Liszt's imagination.
Following a conventional overture form, the original Tasso was divided into a slow section ("Lament") and a fast one ("Triumph"). Despite this division, the entire work consisted of variations on a single melody, based on a folk hymn sung to Liszt by a gondolier in Venice in the late 1830s. Liszt had intended the incorporate the variations on this melody into his great piano cycle Années de pèlerinage (1837 - 77), but instead reserved them for use in the present work.
Liszt made several revisions to Tasso in the years following its premiere, the most significant of which was the addition of a middle section in the vein of a minuet; it is calmer than either of the outer sections, intended to depict Tasso's more stable years in the employment of the d'Esty family in Ferrara. More than a decade after the addition of the minuet in 1854, Liszt added an epilogue entitled "Le triomphe funebre du Tasso." The epilogue reflects the composer's conviction that Tasso's true triumph was that of his immortality as a poet, through which his works prevailed long after his own life of suffering had ended. The addition of these additional sections rendered the "Tasso Overture" an overture no longer -- far too long and developed; thus its designation as a symphonic poem.