Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt

of the 19th century. He was a renowned performer throughout Europe, noted especially for his showmanship and great skill with the piano. To this day, he is considered by some to have been the greatest pianist in history. [An example can be found in: Saffle: "Liszt in Germany", p.209. Regarding the 1840s Saffle wrote, "no one disputed seriously that he [Liszt] was the greatest living pianist, probably the greatest pianist of all time." Since Saffle gave no sources, his statement can only be taken as his own point of view. See also: Fétis: Review of the Transcendental Etudes, 1841."] He used both his technique and his concert personality not only for personal effect but also, through his transcriptions, to spread knowledge of other composers' music. [Searle, "New Grove", 11:29.]

As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the "Neudeutsche Schule" ("New German School"). He left behind a huge [ oeuvre] , including works from nearly all musical genres. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which influenced his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and trends. These included his inventing the symphonic poem for orchestra, evolving the concept of thematic transformation as part of his experiments in musical form and making radical departures in harmony. [Searle, "New Grove", 11:28-29.]


Early life

Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in the village of Raiding (Lang-hu|Doborján) in the Kingdom of Hungary, then part of the Habsburg Empire (and today also part of Austria), in the comitat Oedenburg ( _hu. Sopron). In the vast majority of Liszt literature he is regarded as either Hungarian or German. Every attempt to describe Liszt's development during his childhood and early youth has met with the difficulties of terribly sparse information. It had been Adam Liszt's own dream to become a musician. He played piano, violin, violoncello, and guitar, was in the services of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy and knew Haydn, Hummel and Beethoven personally.

At age six, Franz began listening attentively to his father's piano playing as well as to show an interest in both sacred and gypsy music. Adam recognized his son's musical talent early. He began teaching Franz the piano at age seven and Franz began composing in an elementary manner when he was eight. He may have also first played in public at Baden at age eight; he definitely appeared in concerts at Sopron and Poszony in October and November 1820. After these concerts, a group of Hungarian magnates offered to finance Franz's musical education abroad.Searle, "New Grove", 11:29.]

In Vienna, Liszt received piano lessons from Carl Czerny, who in his own youth had been a student of Ludwig van Beethoven. He also received lessons in composition by Antonio Salieri, who was then music director of the Viennese court. His public debut in Vienna on December 1, 1822, at a concert at the "Landständischer Saal," was a great success. He was greeted in Austrian and Hungarian aristocratic circles and also met Beethoven and Franz Schubert. At a second concert on April 13, 1823, Beethoven was reputed to have kissed Liszt on the forehead. While Liszt himself told this story later in life, this incident may have occurred on a different occasion. Regardless, Liszt regarded it as a form of artistic christening. He was asked by the publisher Diabeli to contribute a variation on a waltz of the publisher's own invention—the same waltz to which Beethoven would write his noted set of 33 variations.Searle, "New Grove", 11:29.]

In spring 1823, when the one year's leave of absence came to an end, Adam Liszt asked Prince Esterházy in vain for two more years. Adam Liszt therefore took his leave of the Prince's services. At the end of April 1823, the family for the last time returned to Hungary. At end of May 1823, the family went to Vienna again.

Adolescence in Paris

After his father's death Liszt returned to Paris; for the next five years he was to live with his mother in a small apartment. He gave up touring. To earn money, Liszt gave lessons in piano playing and composition, often from early morning until late at night. His students were scattered across the city and he often had to cross long distances. Because of this, Liszt kept uncertain hours and also took up smoking and drinking—all habits he would continue throughout his life.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.] [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 131.]

The following year he fell in love with one of his pupils, Caroline de Saint-Cricq, the daughter of Charles X's minister of commerce. However, her father insisted that the affair be broken off. Liszt again fell ill (there was even an obituary notice of him printed in a Paris newspaper), and he underwent a long period of religious doubts and pessimism. He again stated a wish to join the Church but was dissuaded this time by his mother. He had many discussions with the Abbe de Lamennais, who acted as his spiritual father, and also with Chrétien Urhan, a German-born violinist who introduced him to the Saint-Simonists.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.] Urhan also wrote music that was anti-classical and highly subjective, with titles such as "Elle et moi, La Salvation angélique" and "Les Regrets", and may have whetted the young Liszt's taste for musical romanticism. Equally important for Liszt was Urhan's earnest championship of Schubert, which may have stimulated his own lifelong devotion to that composer's music. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 137-8.]

During this period Liszt read widely to overcome his lack of a general education, and he soon came into contact with many of the leading authors and artists of his day, including Victor Hugo, Lamartine and Heine. He composed practically nothing in these years. Nevertheless, the July Revolution of 1830 inspired him to sketch a Revolutionary Symphony based on the events of the "three glorious days," and he took a greater interest in events surrounding him. He met Hector Berlioz on December 4, 1830, the day before the premiere of the "Symphonie fantastique". Berlioz's music made a strong impression on Liszt, especially later when he was writing for orchestra. He also inherited from Berlioz the diabolic quality of many of his works.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.]

After attending an April 20, 1832 charity concert, for the victims of a Parisian cholera epidemic, by Niccolò Paganini, [The date is known from Liszt's pocket calendar.] Liszt became determined to become as great a virtuoso on the piano as Paganini was on the violin. Nor was Liszt alone in developing his technique. Paris in the 1830s had become the nexus for pianistic activities, with dozens of steel-fingered pianists dedicated to perfection at the keyboard. Some, such as Sigismond Thalberg and Alexander Dreyschook, focused on specific aspects of technique. While it was called the "flying trapeze" school of piano playing, this generation also solved some of the most intractable problems of piano technique, raising the general level of performance to previously unimagined heights. Liszt's strength and ability to stand out in this company was in mastering all the aspects of piano technique cultivated singly and assiduously by his rivals. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 161-7.]

In 1833 he made transcriptions of several works by Berlioz, including the "Symphonie fantastique"—his chief motive in doing so, especially with the "Symphonie", was to help the poverty-stricken Berlioz, whose symphony remained unknown and unpublished. He bore the expense of publishing the transcription himself and played it many times to help popularize the original score. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 180.] He was also forming a friendship with the third composer who would influence him, Frederic Chopin; under his influence Liszt's poetic and romantic side began to develop.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.]

With Countess Marie d'Agoult

In 1833, Liszt began his relationship with the Countess Marie d'Agoult. In addition to this, at the end of April 1834 he made the acquaintance of Felicité de Lamennais. Under the influence of both, Liszt's creative output exploded. In 1834 Liszt debuted as a mature and original composer with his "Harmonies poetiques et religieuses" and the set of three "Apparitions". These were all poetic works which contrasted strongly with the fantasies he had written earlier.Searle, "New Grove", 18:30.]

In 1835 the countess left her husband and family to join Liszt in Geneva; their daughter Blandine was born there on December 18. Liszt taught at the newly-founded Geneva Conservatory, wrote a manual of piano technique (later lost) [For more details see: Bory: "Une retraite romantique", p.50 sq.] and contributed essays for the Paris "Revue et gazette musicale". In these essays, he argued for the raising of the artist from the status of a servant to a respected member of the community.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.]

For the next four years Liszt and the countess lived together, mainly in Switzerland and Italy with occasional visits to Paris. During one of these visits in the winter of 1936-7, Liszt participated in a Berlioz concert, gave chamber music concerts and, on March 31, played at Princess Belgiojoso's home in a celebrated pianistic duel with Thalberg. Thalberg's reputation was beginning to eclipse Liszt's, but Liszt matched him handily in playing. [Walker, "Vitrtuoso Years", 240.] Critic Jules Janin wrote a detailed description of the duel, commenting,

Never was Liszt more controlled, more thoughtful, more energetic, more passionate; never has Thalberg played with greater verve and tenderness. Each of them prudently stayed within his harmonic domain, but each used every one of his resources. It was an admirable joust. The most profound silence fell over that noble arena. And finally Liszt and Thalberg were both proclaimed victors by this glittering and intelligent assembly. It is clear that such a contest could only take place in the presence of such an Areopagus. Thus two victors and no vanquished; it is fitting to say with the poet ET AD HUC SUB JUDICE LIS EST.Quoted in Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 240.]

When the princess herself was asked to summarize the event, she gave the diplomatic aphorism, "Thalberg is the first pianist in the world—Liszt is the only one."Quoted in Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 240.]

Liszt also composed the "Album d'un voyager"; these were lyrical evocations of Swiss scenes which he later reworked for his first book of "Années de Pèlerinage". He wrote the second book of "Années" in 1837 while in Italy with the countess; he also composed the first version of the Paganini Studies and the "12 grandes etudes", a greatly revised and expanded and revised version of the "Etude in douze exercises". On Christmas day their second daughter, Cosima, was born at Bellagio, on Lake Como. In 1838 Liszt gave concerts in Vienna and various Italian cities. he also began what would become a long series of Schubert transcriptions as well as the initial version of the "Totentanz".Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.]

On May 9, 1839 Liszt and the countess's only son, Daniel, was born, but that autumn relations between them became strained. Liszt heard that plans for a Beethoven monument in Bonn were in danger of collapse for lack of funds and pledged his support. Doing so meant returning to the life of a touring virtuoso. The countess returned to Paris with the children while Liszt gave six concerts in Vienna then toured Hungary.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.]

Touring virtuoso

For the next eight years Liszt continued to tour Europe; spending summer holidays with the countess and their children on the island of Nonnenwerth on the Rhine until 1844, when the couple finally separated and Liszt took the children to Paris to see about their education. This was Liszt's most brilliant period as a concert pianist. Honors were showered on him and he was adulated everywhere he went.Searle, "New Grove", 11:30.] Since Liszt often appeared three or four times a week in concert, it could be safe to assume that he appeared in public well over a thousand times during this eight-year period. Moreover, his great fame as a pianist, which he would continue to enjoy long after he had officially retired from the concert stage, was based mainly on his accomplishments during this time. [Walker, "Virtuoto Years", 285.]

After 1842 "Lisztomania" swept across Europe. The reception Liszt enjoyed as a result can only be described as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreads as souvenirs. More soberly-minded musicians such as Schumann, Chopin and Mendelsssohn were appalled by these displays of hero worship, eventually despising Liszt because of them. The emotionally charged atmosphere of his recitals made them seem more like séances than serious musical events. Helping fuel this atmosphere was the artist's mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt's playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 289.]

Adding to his reputation was the fact that Liszt gave away much of his proceeds to charity and humanitarian causes. While his work for the Beethoven monument and the Hungarian National School of Music are well known, he also gave generously to the building fund of Cologne Cathedral, the establishment of a "Gymnasium" at Dortmund and the construction of the Leopold Church in Pest. There were also private donations to hospitals, schools and charitable organizations such as the Leipzig Musicians Pension Fund. When he found out about the Great Fire of Hamburg, which raged three weeks during May 1842 and immolated much of the city, he gave concerts in aid of the thousands of homeless there. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 290.]

Liszt in Weimar

In February 1847, Liszt played in Kiev. There he met the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who would dominate most of the rest of his life. She persuaded him to concentrate on composition, which meant giving up his career as a traveling virtuoso. After a tour of the Balkans, Turkey and Russia that summer, Liszt gave his final concert for pay at Elisavetgrad in September. He spent the winter with the princess at her estate in Worononce. [Searle, "New Grove", 11:31.] By retiring from concertizing at age 35, while still at the height of his powers, Liszt succeeded in keeping the legend of his playing untarnished. [Walker, "Virtuoso Years", 442.]

The following year, Liszt took up a long-standing invitation of Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia to settle at Weimar, where he had been appointed "Kapellmeister Extraordinaire" in 1842, remaining there until 1861. During this period he acted as conductor at court concerts and on special occasions at the theatre. He gave lessons to a number of pianists, including the great virtuoso Hans von Bülow, who married Liszt's daughter Cosima in 1857 (before she was married to Wagner). He also wrote articles championing Berlioz and Wagner. Finally, Liszt had ample time to compose and during the next 12 years revised or produced those orchestral and choral pieces upon which his reputation as a composer mainly rests. His efforts on behalf of Wagner, who was then an exile in Switzerland, culminated in the first performance of "Lohengrin" in 1850.

Princess Carolyne lived with Liszt during his years in Weimar. She eventually wished to marry Liszt, but since she had been previously married and her husband, Russian military officer Prince Nikolaus zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg (1812-1864), was still alive, she had to convince the Roman Catholic authorities that her marriage to him had been invalid. After huge efforts and a monstrously intricate process, she was temporarily successful (September 1860). It was planned that the couple would marry in Rome, on October 22, 1861, Liszt's 50th birthday. Liszt having arrived in Rome on October 21, 1861, the Princess nevertheless declined, by the late evening, to marry him. It appears that both her husband and the Czar of Russia had managed to quash permission for the marriage at the Vatican. The Russian government also impounded her several estates in the Polish Ukraine, which made her later marriage to anybody unfeasible.

Liszt in Rome

The 1860s were a period of severe catastrophes of Liszt's private life. After he had on December 13, 1859, already lost his son Daniel, on September 11, 1862, also his daughter Blandine died. In letters to friends Liszt afterwards announced, he would retreat to a solitary living. He found it at the monastery "Madonna del Rosario", just outside Rome, where on June 20, 1863, he took up quarters in a small, Spartan apartment. He had on June 23, 1857, already joined a Franciscan order. [See the document in: Burger: "Lebenschronik in Bildern", p.209.] On April 25, 1865, he received from Gustav Hohenlohe the tonsure and a first one of the minor orders of the Catholic Church. Three further minor orders followed on July 30, 1865. Until then, Liszt was Porter, Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte. While Princess Wittgenstein tried to persuade him to proceed in order to become priest, he did not follow her. In his later years he explained, he had wanted to preserve a rest of his freedom. [Comp. Ramann: "Lisztiana", p.198.]

At some occasions, Liszt took part in Rome's musical life. On March 26, 1863, at a concert at the "Palazzo Altieri", he directed a program of sacral music. The "Seligkeiten" of his "Christus-Oratorio" and his "Cantico del Sol di Francesco d'Assisi", as well as Haydn's "Die Schöpfung" and works by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Jornelli, Mendelssohn and Palestrina were performed. On January 4, 1866, Liszt directed the "Stabat mater" of his "Christus-Oratorio", and on February 26, 1866, his "Dante-Symphony". There were several further occasions of similar kind, but in comparison with the duration of Liszt's stay in Rome, they were exceptions. Bódog Pichler, who visited Liszt in 1864 and asked him for his future plans, had the impression that Rome's musical life was not satisfying for Liszt. [ [Sources for this paragraph will be added later.] ]

Threefold life

Liszt was invited back to Weimar in 1869 to give master classes in piano playing. Two years later he was asked to do the same in Budapest at the Hungarian Music Academy. From then until the end of his life he made regular journeys between Rome, Weimar and Budapest, continuing what he called his "vie trifurquée" or threefold existence. It is estimated that Liszt travelled at least 4000 miles a year during this period in his life—an exceptional figure given his advancing age and the rigors of road and rail in the 1870s.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:781.]

Last years

On July 2, 1881, Liszt fell down the stairs of the Hofgärtnerei in Weimar. Though friends and colleagues had noted swelling in Liszt's feet and legs when he had arrived in Weimar the previous month, Liszt had up to this point been in reasonably good health, and his body retained the slimness and suppleness of earlier years. The accident, which immobilized him for eight weeks, changed this. A number of ailments manifested—dropsy, asthma, insomnia, a cataract of the left eye and chronic heart disease. The last mentioned would eventually contribute to Liszt's death. He would become increasingly plagued with feelings of desolation, despair and death—feelings he would continue to express nakedly in his works from this period. As he told Lina Ramann, "I carry a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound." [Walker: "Final Years".]

He died in Bayreuth on July 31, 1886, officially as a result of pneumonia which he may have contracted during the Bayreuth Festival hosted by his daughter Cosima. Questions have been posed as to whether medical malpractice played a direct part in Liszt's demise. [Walker: "Final Years", p.508, p.515 with n.18). ]

Technique and performing style

Piano recital

Liszt has most frequently been credited to have been the first pianist who gave concerts with programs consisting only of solo pieces. An example is a concert he gave on March 9, 1839, at the "Palazzo Poli" in Rome. Since Liszt could not find singers who - following the usual habit of the time - should have completed the program, he played four numbers all alone. [Comp.: Óváry: "Ferenc Liszt", p.147.] Also famous is a concert on June 9, 1840, in London. For this occasion, the publisher Frederic Beale suggested the term "recital" [Comp.: Walker: "Virtuoso years", p.356.] which is still in use today.

During the following years of his tours, Liszt gave concerts of different types. He gave solo concerts as well as concerts at which other artists joined him. In parts of his tours he was accompanied by the singer Rubini, later by the singer Ciabatta, with whom he shared the stage. At occasions, also other singers or instrumentalists took part in Liszt's concerts. For the case that an orchestra was available, Liszt had made accompanied versions of some of his pieces, among them the "Hexameron". Most frequently he also played Weber's "Konzertstück" F Minor as well as Beethoven's concerto E-Flat Major ("Emperor") and the Fantasy for piano, chorus and orchestra op.80. Besides, he played some pieces of chamber music, among them Hummel's Septet as well as Beethoven's "Kreutzer-Sonata" op.47, the Quintet in E-flat op.16 and the "Archduke-Trio" op.97.


Regarding Liszt's solo repertoire, his own catalogue of the works he had played in public during 1838-48 [Comp.: Walker: "Virtuoso years", p.445 sqq.] is strongly exaggerating. Taking the transcriptions of Schubert songs as examples, no less than 50 pieces are mentioned. In reality Liszt had in the vast majority of all his concerts only played the pieces "Erlkönig", "Ständchen (Serenade)" and "Ave Maria". Since spring 1846 he had added one of his two transcriptions of the "Forelle" to his regularly played repertoire. [According to: Walker: "Virtuoso years", p.291, Liszt had already in summer 1844 in Marseille played an own transcription of the "Forelle". However, Walker's source, cited in his n.17, shows that Liszt played Stephen Heller's Caprice op.33 on Schubert's song instead.] Another example can be found under the headline "Symphonies". While Beethoven's fifth, sixth and seventh symphonies are listed, Liszt had in public only played the last three movements of his arrangement of the sixth symphony. He did it for a last time on January 16, 1842, in Berlin and afterwards dropped it since it was not successful.

Liszt's legendary reputation as "transcendental virtuoso" was based primarily on repeated performances of fewer than two dozen compositions written or arranged by himself or by Beethoven, Chopin, Hummel, Rossini, Schubert, or Weber. [Comp.: Saffle: "Liszt in Germany", p.185 sqq.] Among the most frequently played pieces of this primary repertoire were the "Grand Galop chromatique", the "Hexameron", the arrangement of the Overture "Guillaume Tell", the "Andante final de Lucia di Lammermoor", and the "Sonnambula-fantasy". In many of Liszt's programs also the "Réminiscences des Puritains" can be found. In this case it is uncertain whether he actually played the entire fantasy or only a part of it. The last part was in 1841 separately published as "Introduction et Polonaise". When playing this, Liszt used to take a Mazurka by Chopin or his transcription of the Tarantelle from Rossini's "Soirées musicales", in some cases both, as introduction.

Liszt's most frequently played solo pieces by Beethoven were the Sonatas op.27,2 ("Moonlight") and op.26, of which he usually only played the first movement "Andante con variazione". His repertoire of Baroque music was very small. Of Scarlatti, for example, he played for all of his life just a single piece, the "Katzenfuge". His Handel repertoire was restricted to two, and his Bach repertoire to a handful of pieces. The piano works of Haydn and Mozart did not exist in his concerts. While in letters to Schumann Liszt assured, Schumann's and Chopin's piano works were the only ones of interest for him, for all of his life he actually played not more than a single piano work by Schumann in public, and this only at a single event. It was on March 30, 1840, in Leipzig, when he played a selection of 10 pieces of the "Carnaval". [In Liszt's catalogue also the Sonata in F-sharp Minor is listed. This might have been a slip of his memory. In the beginning of 1837 he had planned to play the Sonata, but actually never done it.]

Performing style

Early years

Liszt's career as concertizing pianist can be divided into several periods of different characteristics. There was a first period, his time as child prodigy, ending in 1827 with his father's death. Liszt's playing during this period was in reviews described as very brilliant and very precise, like a living metronome. While he was frequently criticized for a lack of expressiveness, it was hoped he would improve later. His repertoire consisted of pieces in the style of the brilliant Viennese school, concertos by Hummel and brilliant works by his former teacher Czerny. It was exactly this style in which also his own published works were written. Liszt's "Bride fantasy", composed in the beginning of 1829, can be regarded as his last work of that style.

The virtuoso years

In 1832, Liszt started piano practising and composing again. According to a letter to Princess Belgiojoso of October 1839, it had been his plan to grow as artist so that in the beginning of 1840 he could start a musical career. [See: Ollivier (ed.): "Autour de Madame d’Agoult et de Liszt", p.158 sq.] While much happened which Liszt could not predict, such as the development of his relation with Marie d'Agoult and the Thalberg encounter, his guess concerning his own development turned out to be correct. During winter 1839-40 he began a career as a travelling virtuoso. In a letter to Marie d'Agoult of December 9, 1839, he wrote that he had made an admirable start. [See: Liszt-d'Agoult: "Correspondance I", p.327.]

During the early 1830s, some of Liszt's contemporaries called him a charlatan performer, a poor actor from the provinces who wanted to achieve an effect at any cost. [For example, see: Duverger, "Franz Liszt", p.140. The book was in May 1843 published with zhr consent of Liszt who read it before publication.] He would contort his face pretending to feel emotions; looking to heaven, he tried to act as if seeking inspiration from above. [See the description in "Le Pianiste" of March 20, 1835, p.77.] When playing the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata op.27,2 ("Moonlight"), he added cadenzas, tremolos and trills. By changing the tempo between "Largo" and "Presto", he turned Beethoven's "Adagio" into a dramatic scene. [See the description of Berlioz in his essay about Beethoven's Trios and Sonatas, in: "Musikalische Streifzüge", transl. Ely Ellès, Leipzig 1912, p.52 sq.] In his "Baccalaureus letter" to George Sand from the beginning of 1837, Liszt admitted that he had done so for the purpose of gaining applause. He promised he would from now on follow both the letter and the spirit of a score. [See: "Revue et Gazette musicale" 1837, p.55.] However, as soon as he had left Paris, it turned out that not much had changed. Especially in Vienna he was praised for the "creativity" with which he "interpreted" the music he played, finding effects of which the composer himself had had no idea. [ For example, see the review by Heinrich Adami, in Legány: "Unbekannte Presse und Briefe", p.28 sq.]

During the tours of the 1840s, Liszt's heyday as a performer, his technical skills were never in dispute. But he was merely considered a fashionable virtuoso entertainer lacking inspiration. While Thalberg's fame as a composer was very strong and even Theodor Döhler was quite well recognized, nothing of this kind can be said of Liszt. An example is a review in London's "Musical world" of Liszt's Fantasy on "Robert le Diable": "We can conceive no other utility in the publication of this piece, than as a diagram in black and white of M. Liszt's extraordinary digital dexterity." [Quoted after: Saffle: "Liszt in Germany", p.211, n.19.] The "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung", in a review of the "Sonnambula-fantasy", opined that it was at least not to be feared that any other artist would follow Liszt on his adventurous path. [See: "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 44 (1842), p.679.]

Later years

As soon as Liszt's career as a traveling virtuoso had ended, he himself took a critical point of view regarding his former concert activities. Much of his critique can be found in his book about Chopin. According to this, persons had not attended his concerts for the purpose of listening to his music, but in order to have attended them and to be able to talk about them as social events. A couple of measures of a waltz and a furtive hint at an emotion had been enough for them.

Consequently, Liszt's interpretive approach became more severe. He still played virtuoso works and smaller character pieces with a great deal of freedom. However, he now played major masterworks, particularly those of Beethoven and Chopin, with a sincere fidelity in sharp contrast with his previous approach. Moreover, he insisted upon this fidelity in his masterclasses, as well. [Hamilton, 174.]

Liszt's virtuosity and technical innovations

Perhaps the best indication of Liszt's piano-playing abilities comes from his "Douze Grandes Etudes" and early Paganini Studies, written in 1837 and 1838 respectively, and described by Schumann as "studies in storm and dread designed to be performed by, at most, ten or twelve players in the world". To play these pieces, a pianist must connect with the piano as an extension of his own body (Walker, 1987).

Liszt claimed to have spent ten or twelve hours each day practicing scales, arpeggios, trills and repeated notes to improve his technique and endurance. All of these piano techniques were frequently applied in his compositions, often resulting in music of extreme technical difficulty (his Transcendental Etude No.5 "Feux follets" is an example). He would challenge himself and his immaculate fingering by presenting random problems to his playing.

Perhaps a large contributing factor to Liszt's affinity for extreme technical difficulty was the structure of his own hands. An original 19th century plaster cast of Liszt's right hand has been reproduced, and is now held in the Liszt House at Marienstrasse 17 (also known as the Liszt Museum). The plaster cast reveals that while Liszt's fingers were undoubtedly slender, they were of no exceptionally abnormal length. However, the small "webbing" connectors found between the fingers of any normal hand were practically nonexistent for Liszt. This allowed the composer to cover a much wider span of notes than the average pianist, perhaps even up to 12 whole steps.

During the 1830s and 1840s — the years of Liszt's "transcendental execution" — he revolutionised piano technique in almost every sector. Figures like Anton Rubinstein, Paderewski and Rachmaninoff turned to Liszt's music to discover the laws which govern the keyboard.

While revolutionary and famously spectacular, Liszt's playing was far from mere flash and acrobatics. He also was reported to have played with a depth and nobility of feeling that would move sturdy men to tears. It seems that this quality to his playing may have continued to develop during his life, overtaking the youthful fire and bravura. Indeed, reports of his playing in old age include observations that it was surprisingly and distinctly subtle and poetic, with great purity of tone and effortlessness of execution; in contrast to the more tumultuous so-called "Liszt school" of playing, which by then had already started to become traditional in Europe. Examination of the late piano works seems to back up this expressive requirement, where the composer deliberately rejects the showiness of his earlier works.

Liszt was also a brilliant sight reader and stunned Edvard Grieg in the 1870s by playing his Piano Concerto perfectly by sight. The year before, Liszt played Grieg's violin sonata from sight. Decades earlier Liszt had played Chopin's studies at sight, prompting Chopin to write that he was consumed by envy, and wished to steal from Liszt his manner of playing his own pieces. This is all the more remarkable when one remembers that Liszt was playing at sight from a hand-written manuscript.

Musical works

Liszt was a prolific composer. Most of his music is for the piano and much of it requires formidable technique. His thoroughly revised masterwork, "Années de Pèlerinage" ("Years of Pilgrimage") includes arguably his most provocative and stirring pieces. This set of three suites ranges from the pure virtuosity of the Suisse "Orage" (Storm) to the subtle and imaginative visualizations of artworks by Michaelangelo and Raphael in the second set. "Années" contains some pieces which are loose transcriptions of Liszt's own earlier compositions; the first "year" recreates his early pieces of "Album d'un voyageur", while the second book includes a resetting of his own song transcriptions once separately published as "Tre sonetti di Petrarca" ("Three sonnets of Petrarch"). The relative obscurity of the vast majority of his works may be explained by the immense number of pieces he composed.

In his most famous and virtuosic works, he is the archetypal Romantic composer. Liszt pioneered the technique of thematic transformation, a method of development which was related to both the existing variation technique and to the new use of the "Leitmotif" by Richard Wagner.

Liszt's piano works are usually divided into two classes. On the one hand, there are "original works", and on the other hand "transcriptions", "paraphrases" or "fantasies" on works by other composers. Examples for the first class are works such as the piece "Harmonies poétiques et religieuses" of May 1833 and the "Klaviersonate in h-Moll" ("Piano Sonata B Minor"). Liszt's transcriptions of Schubert songs, his fantasies on operatic melodies, and his piano arrangements of symphonies by Berlioz and Beethoven are examples for the second class. As special case, Liszt also made piano arrangements of own instrumental and vocal works. Examples of this kind are the arrangement of the second movement "Gretchen" of his "Faust Symphony" and the first "Mephisto Waltz" as well as the "Liebesträume" and the two volumes of his "Buch der Lieder".


Liszt's composing music on music, being taken as such, was nothing new. Nevertheless, Liszt invested a particular kind of creativity. Instead of just overtaking original melodies and harmonies, he ameliorated them. In case of his fantasies and transcriptions in Italian style, there was a problem which was by Wagner addressed as "Klappern im Geschirr der Perioden". [While "Klappern" is "ratteling" or "clattering" and "Geschirr" is "dishes", "Klappern im Geschirr" is a German idiom with meaning, a thing was not properly made. Being taken literally, it can be imagined as a badly made cupboard in which the dishes are clattering when opening or closing a door.] Composers such as Bellini and Donizetti knew that certain forms, usually periods of eight measures, were to be filled with music. Occasionally, while the first half of a period was composed with inspiration, the second half was added with mechanical routine. Liszt corrected this by modifying the melody, the bass and - in cases - the harmonies.

Many of Liszt's results were remarkable. The "Sonnambula-fantasy" for example, a concert piece full of charming melodies, could certainly not have been composed neither by Bellini nor by Liszt alone. Outstanding examples are also the "Rigoletto-Paraphrase" and the "Faust-Walzer". The most delicate harmonies in parts of those pieces were not invented by Verdi and Gounod, but by Liszt. Hans von Bülow admitted, that Liszt's transcription of his "Dante Sonett" "Tanto gentile" was much more refined than the original he himself had composed. [Comp. his letter to Louise von Welz of December 13, 1875, in: Bülow, Hans von: "Briefe", Band 5, ed. Marie von Bülow, Leipzig 1904, p.321.]

Original songs

Franz Liszt composed about six dozen original songs with piano accompaniment. In most cases the lyrics were in German or French, but there are also some songs in Italian and Hungarian and one song in English. Lizst began with the song "Angiolin dal biondo crin" in 1839, and by 1844 had composed about two dozen songs. Some of them had been published as single pieces. In addition, there was a 1843-1844 series "Buch der Lieder" which had been projected for three volumes, consisting of six songs each.

Although Liszt's early songs are seldom sung, they show him in much better light than works such as the paraphrase "Gaudeamus igitur" and the "Galop" after Bulhakow, both composed in 1843. The transcriptions of the two volumes of the "Buch der Lieder" can be counted among Liszt's finest piano works. [Alan Walker, in: "Virtuoso Years", p.368, gives an example from a transcription of "Die Lorelei". While Walker claims, Liszt had with this stolen from the future of music, especially from Wagner's "Tristan", he overlooked that his example was from Liszt's second transcription of the song, composed 1860 after Liszt had already received the first act of Wagner's opera.] However, the contemporaries had much to criticize with regard of the style of the songs. Further critical remarks can be found in Peter Raabe's "Liszts Schaffen".

Today, Liszt's songs are nearly entirely forgotten. As an exception, most frequently the song "Ich möchte hingehen" is being cited. It is because of a single bar, most resembling the opening motif of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde". While it is commonly claimed that Liszt wrote that motif ten years before Wagner started work on his masterpiece [For example, comp: Raabe: "Liszts Schaffen", p.127, and Walker: "Virtuoso Years", p.408.] , it has turned out that this is not true: the original version of "Ich möchte hingehn" was composed in 1844 or 1845. There are four manuscripts, and only a single one, a copy by August Conradi, contains the said bar with the "Tristan" motif. It is on a paste-over in Liszt's hand. Since Liszt was in the second half of 1858 preparing his songs for publication, and he just at that time received the first act of Wagner's "Tristan", it is most likely that the version on the paste-over was a quotation from Wagner. [Comp. the discussion in: Mueller, Rena Charin: "Liszt’s „Tasso“ Sketchbook: Studies in Sour­ces and Re­vi­si­ons", Ph. D. dissertation, New York University 1986, p.118ff.] . This is not to say, the motif was originally invented by Wagner. An earlier example can be found in bar 100 of Liszt's "Ballade No.2 in B Minor" for piano, composed 1853. [Still earlier examples from works of Machaut, Gesualdo, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Spohr can be found in: Vogel, Martin: "Der Tristan-Akkord und die Krise der modernen Harmonie-Lehre", Düsseldorf 1962.]

Program music

Liszt, in some of his works, supported the idea of program music--that is, music intended to evoke extra-musical ideas. By contrast, absolute music (a radical new idea in the 19th century world of music) stands for itself and is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world.

Liszt's own point of view regarding program music can for the time of his youth been taken from the preface of the "Album d'un voyageur" (1837). According to this, a landscape could evoke a certain kind of mood when being looked at. Since a piece of music could also evoke a mood, a mysterious resemblance with the landscape could be imagined. In this sense the music would not paint the landscape, but it would match the landscape in a third category, the mood.

In July 1854 Liszt wrote his essay about Berlioz and the Harold-Symphony that stated that not all music was program music. If, in the heat of a debate, a person would go so far as to claim the contrary, it would be better to put all ideas of program music aside. But it would be possible to take means like harmonization, modulation, rhythm, instrumentation and others in order to let a musical motif endure a fate. [In August 1854 Liszt started composing his ‘’Faust-Symphony’’.] In any case, a program should only be added to a piece of music if it was necessarily needed for an adequate understanding of that piece.

Still later, in a letter to Marie d'Agoult of November 15, 1864, Liszt wrote:

:"Without any reserve I completely subscribe the rule of which you so kindly want to remind me, that those musical works which are in a general sense following a program must take effect on imagination and emotion, independent of any program. In other words: All beautiful music must at first rate and always satisfy the absolute rules of music which are not to be violated or prescribed". [Translated from French, after: Liszt-d'Agoult: "Correspondance II", p.411.]

Late works

With some works from the end of the Weimar years Liszt drifted more and more away from the musical taste of his time. An early example is the melodrama "Der traurige Mönch" ("The sad monk") after a poem by Nikolaus Lenau, composed in the beginning of October 1860. While in the 19th century harmonies were usually considered as major or minor triads to which dissonances could be added, Liszt took the augmented triad as central chord.

More examples can be found in the third volume of Liszt's "Années de Pèlerinage". "Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este" ("The Fountains of the Villa d'Este"), composed in September 1877, foreshadows the impressionism of pieces on similar subjects by Debussy and Ravel. However, other pieces such as the "Marche funèbre, En mémoire de Maximilian I, Empereur du Mexique" ("Funeral march, In memory of Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico") [The inscription "In magnis et voluisse sat est" ("In great things, to have wished them is sufficient") had in Liszt's youth been correlated with his friend Felix Lichnowski.] composed in 1867 are without stylistic parallel in the 19th and 20th centuries.

At a later stage Liszt experimented with "forbidden" things such as parallel 5ths in the "Csardas marcabre" [Liszt wrote to the cover of the manuscript, "Darf man solch ein Ding schreiben oder anhören?" ("Is it allowed to write such a thing or to listen to it?")] and atonality in the "Bagatelle sans tonalité" ("Bagatelle without Tonality"). In the last part of his "2de Valse oubliée" ("2nd Forgotten waltz") Liszt composed that he could not find a lyrical melody.Clarifyme|date=September 2008 Pieces like the "2d Mephisto-Waltz" are shocking with nearly endless repetitions of short motives. Also characteristic are the "Via crucis" of 1878 as well as pieces such as the two "Lugubrious Gondolas", "Unstern!" and "Nuages Gris" of the 1880s.

Literary works

Besides his musical works, Liszt wrote essays about many subjects. Most important for an understanding of his development is the article series "De la situation des artistes" ("On the situation of the artists") which 1835 was published in the Parisian "Gazette musicale". In winter 1835-36, during Liszt's stay in Geneva, about half a dozen further essays followed. One of them which should have been published under the name "Emm Prym" was about Liszt's own works and is lostFact|date=September 2008. In the beginning of 1837, Liszt published a review of some piano works of Sigismond Thalberg. The review evoked a huge scandalFact|date=September 2008. Liszt also published a series of writings titled "Baccalaureus letters" ending in 1841.

During the Weimar years, Liszt wrote a series of essays about operas, leading from Gluck to Wagner. Besides, Liszt wrote essays about Berlioz and the symphony "Harold in Italy", Robert and Clara Schumann, John Field's nocturnes, songs of Robert Franz, a planned Goethe foundation at Weimar, and other subjects. In addition to these essays, Liszt wrote a book about Chopin as well as a book about the Gypsies and their music in Hungary.

While all of those literary works were published under Liszt's name, it is not quite clear which parts of them he had written himself. It is known from his letters that during the time of his youth there had been collaboration with Marie d'Agoult. During the Weimar years it was the Princess Wittgenstein who helped him. In most cases the manuscripts have disappeared so that it is difficult to decide which of Liszt's literary works actually were works of his own. However, until the end of his life it was Liszt's point of view that it was he who was responsible for the contents of those literary works.

In his later years Liszt wrote voluminous "Technische Studien" ("technical exercises") which are now in three volumes available at "Editio musica", Budapest. Taking them as music, they are disappointing because Liszt gave nothing more than a collection of technical exercises. Lots of exercises of similar kind by composers such as Herz, Bertini and MacDowell existed besides. Carl Tausig's "Tägliche Studien" are, without doubt, of better use than Liszt's.Facts|date=January 2008

Liszt also worked until at least 1885 on a treatise for modern harmony. Pianist Arthur Friedheim, who also served as Liszt's personal secretary, remembered seeing it among Liszt's papers at Weimar. Liszt told Friedheim that the time was not yet ripe to publish the manuscript, titled "Sketches for a Harmony of the Future". Unfortunately, this treatise has been lost.



Liszt became one of the most noted teachers of his generation. Throughout his career Liszt is said to have taken on more then 400 students, though this number is impossible to prove and depends on how one phrases the term "a pupil of Liszt." Some who claimed to have had Liszt as a teacher actually had only one or two lesssons from him, others none at all.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:780.]

Liszt invented the masterclass, a concept which now dominates instrumental teaching. Liszt believed that young masters would stimulate one another and achieve even higher standards of perfection than they would achieve individually. One student would play with Liszt and the other students listening; then Liszt would make come comments about the performance and sometimes play portions of the work himself. His first generation of great students, whom he taught during the 1850s, included Carl Tausig, Hans von Bulow, Karl Klindworth and Hans von Bronsart; it was arguably the finest group to pass through Liszt's hands. However, the later generation also included impressive talent. Among those students were Eugen d'Albert, Walter Bache, Arthur Friedheim, Sophie Menter, Moriz Rosenthal, Emil von Sauer, and Alexander Siloti.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:780.]

Liszt offered his students little technical advice, expecting them to "wash their dirty linen at home," as he phrased it. Instead, he focused on musical interpretation with a combination of anecdote, metaphor and wit. He advised one student tapping out the opening chords of Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata, "Do not chop beefsteak for us." To another who blurred the rhythm in Liszt's "Gnomenreigen" (usually done by playing the piece too fast in the composer's presence): "There you go, mixing salad again." Liszt also wanted to avoid creating carbon copies of himself; rather, he believed in preserving artistic individuality. This attitude contrasted sharply with many of Liszt's teaching contemporaries.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:780.]

Also unlike his contemporaries, Liszt did not charge for lessons, believing in the motto, "Génie oblige!" He was troubled when German newspapers published details of pedagogue Theodor Kullak's will, revealing that Kullak had generated more than one million marks from teaching. "As an artist, you do not rake in a million marks without performing some sacrifice on the altar of Art," Liszt told his biographer Lina Ramann. He also wrote the "Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung", urging Kullak's sons to create an endowment for needy musicians—a suggestion that may have lost its potential for presumptuousness by Liszt's personal example.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:781.]

Liszt Academy of Music

In March 1875 Liszt became the first president of the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. The institute (which has since been renamed the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music), opened officially on November 14, 1875. Before its opening, the best Hungarian musicians had to study abroad. Liszt understood this process had to be reversed for the musical life of the nation to develop. He helped appoint the faculty and draw up the curriculum, assisted by his distinguished contemporary Ferenc Erkel.Walker, "New Grove 2, 14:781.]

Liszt insisted that all composition students study piano and all piano students study composition. Admission standards were high. Each candidate was obliged to exhibit skills in improvisation, sight-reading from full score and transposition. This policy paid rich rewards. By the end of the century three of the country's most prominent musicians—Béla Bartók, Zoltan Kodály and Ernst von Dohnányi—had already graduated from the Academy.Walker, "New Grove 2", 14:781.]

Liszt School of Music Weimar

Liszt spent a great deal of his life in Weimar and encouraged the founding of a school in 1835 for the education of musicians in orchestral instruments. It was his student Carl Müllerhartung who realized Liszt's dream, founding what is now called the Liszt School of Music Weimar on June 24, 1872. The school offers programs in all orchestral instruments, piano, conducting and composition.



ee also

* List of compositions by Franz Liszt (S.1 - S.350)
* List of compositions by Franz Liszt (S.351 - S.999)
* Symphonic Poems (Liszt)
* War of the Romantics



*Bory, Robert: "Une retraite romantique en Suisse, Liszt et la Comtesse d'Agoult", Lausanne 1930.
*Burger, Ernst: "Franz Liszt, Eine Lebenschronik in Bildern und Dokumenten", München 1986.
* ed. Hamilton, Kenneth, "The Cambridge Companion to Liszt" (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). ISBN 0-521-64462-3 (paperback).
** Hamilton, Kenneth, "Performing Liszt's piano music"
*Jerger, Wilhelm (ed.): "The Piano Master Classes of Franz Liszt 1884-1886, Diary Notes of August Gollerich", translated by Richard Louis Zimdars, Indiana University Press 1996.
*Legány, Deszö: "Franz Liszt, Unbekannte Presse und Briefe aus Wien 1822-1886", Wien 1984.
*Liszt, Franz: "Briefwechsel mit seiner Mutter", edited and annotated by Klara Hamburger, Eisenstadt 2000.
*Liszt, Franz and d'Agoult, Marie: "Correspondence", ed. Daniel Ollivier, "Tome 1: 1833-1840", Paris 1933, "Tome II: 1840-1864", Paris 1934.
*Ollivier, Daniel: "Autour de Mme d’Agoult et de Liszt", Paris 1941.
*Raabe, Peter: "Liszts Schaffen", Cotta, Stuttgart und Berlin 1931.
*Ramann, Lina: "Lisztiana, Erinnerungen an Franz Liszt in Tagebuch­blättern, Briefen und Doku­men­ten aus den Jah­ren 1873-1886/87", ed. Arthur Seidl, text revision by Friedrich Schnapp, Mainz 1983.
*Rellstab, Ludwig: "Franz Liszt", Berlin 1842.
* ed. Sadie, Stanley, "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, First Edition" (London, Macmillian, 1980). ISBN 0-333-23111-2
**Searle, Humphrey, "Liszt, Franz"
* ed. Sadie, Stanley, "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition" (London: Macmillian, 2001). ISBN 0-333-60800-3
** Walker, Alan, "Liszt, Franz"
*Saffle, Michael: "Liszt in Germany, 1840-1845", "Franz Liszt Studies Series No.2", Pendragon Press, Stuyvesant, NY, 1994.
*Walker, Alan: "Franz Liszt, The Virtuoso Years (1811-1847)", revised edition, Cornell University Press 1987.
*Walker, Alan: "Franz Liszt, The Final Years (1861-1886)", Cornell University Press 1997.

External links


NAME= Liszt, Franz
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Composer, conductor, pedagogue, pianist
DATE OF BIRTH= October 22, 1811
PLACE OF BIRTH= Doborján/Burgenland, Kingdom of Hungary
DATE OF DEATH= July 31, 1886
PLACE OF DEATH=Bayreuth, Germany

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