Of Liszt's smaller Tone-Poems, thirteen in number, No.III, Les Preludes, is probably the best known and most popular, as it is in many respects the one most characteristic of Liszt's original methods. Its origin is traceable to the Poetic Meditations of Lamartine, though the actual undercurrent of the work is defined by Liszt in a "preface" of his own, the lines of which: "What is our Life but a series of Preludes to that unknown chant, the first solemn note of which is sounded by Death?" supply the title of the Tone-Poem. The composition is a continuous unit, divided into four Episodes, remotely analogous to the four Movements of the Traditional Symphony. These Episodes are called: (1) Dawn of Existence; Love; (2) Storms of Life; (3) Refuge and Consolation in Rural life; (4) Strife and Conquest. The structural plan does not---with its poetic, realistic aim it could not---conform to any of the classic designs. But it presents two clearly defined, well-contrasted, effective and extremely engaging Themes, treated with superlative skill, and alternating in a fairly regular manner, suggestive of a Rondo-form. The Motive which accompanies Theme B in the third Episode assumes almost the importance of a third Theme, since it constitutes the proper basis of that entire Episode.
The nature of the other Tone-Poems of Liszt may be inferred from this one (Les Preludes). They all contain passages of great beauty, and all bear witness to the refined manner of their genial author. The complete list of them may be found in the musical dictionaries.