This is the third set in Franz Liszt's triology, Années de Pèlerinage ("Years of Pilgrimage" or "Years of Travel"). Unlike its predecessors in the series, it carries no subtitle relating it to a locale, though the first four pieces were inspired by Italian landmarks. The earliest work here, Marche funèbre dates from 1867, and thus all the music comes from Liszt's final period. The tempos are mostly slow and the moods meditative or mournful, with only the fourth piece, Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este, featuring lively tempos and brighter atmosphere. The set was published in 1883, three years before the composer died.
Angelus! Prière aux anges gardiens (Angelus! Prayer to the Guardian Angels) was inspired by the sounds of the Angelus bells, which Liszt heard in Rome one evening. Dedicated to his granddaughter, Daniela von Bülow, the work is more directly spiritual than mystical and is shorn of the virtuosic demands, thicker textures and elements of bombast, typically found in music his earlier periods.
Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este, no. 1 Threnodie and Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este, no. 2 Threnodie are dark-sounding elegies, despite their aim to depict the large cypresses of the Villa d'Este. Apparently, Liszt's reaction as he viewed them from his Villa quarters was one of sorrow and lament. The harmonies of both pieces are quite advanced, foreshadowing Ravel, and the themes sound closer to what Busoni would write well after 1900.
Impressionism is clearly in evidence in Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este (The Fountains of the Villa d'Este), the most popular piece from the set and the brightest and most picturesque creation in the entire trilogy. You can see cascading droplets and streams of water falling, spraying and splashing in the sunlight. The work also has its share of pianistic challenges, not least of which are the demands for coloristic effects and tonal subtlety. Sunt lacrymae rerum, subtitled "In the Hungarian mode", returns to the mood darker moods of the earlier pieces. Here, however, the approach is more declamatory, the composer once again, as in Funerailles, depicting Hungary from the time of the country's failed efforts at independence in 1848-49. The mood is tragic but defiant, almost proud.
The Marche funèbre, subtitled "In memory of Maximilian I of Mexico", is, at least in the first half, one of the most morbid creations to come from Liszt's pen. It was written in memory of the Hapsburg ruler (brother of Franz Josef I) enthroned in Mexico in 1864 against his will, who was overthrown and executed by revolutionaries three years later. The solemn funeral march builds at the outset with angry, low chords, and is unrelentingly ominous, as if the piece will end in catastrophe. After its grim but irresolute climax, a peaceful episode ensues and leads finally to a triumphant ending. The last piece in the set Sursum corda (Lift up your hearts), from the Preface to the Mass, is a triumphant work, but not without suggestions of struggle against dark forces. The main theme has a profound character, seeming to reach upward while striving to remain planted on the safer terrain of the supportive bass chords. It is the shortest piece in the Third Year and the fact Liszt chose to end his series with this triumphal, clearly religious piece suggests his affirmation of a spiritual life.