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"Sorrowful and great is the artist's destiny."
Liszt, Franz (1811-1886)

 

Origin

Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in the village of Raiding (Hungarian: Doborján) in the Kingdom of Hungary, then part of the Habsburg Empire (and today also part of Austria), in the comitat Oedenburg (Hungarian: Sopron). In his Latin Catholic baptism record, his first name was registered as "Franciscus", but most of his closer friends called him "Franz", the Germanized version of "Franciscus". He was called "François" in French, and "Ferenc", "Ferencz" or "Ferentz" in Hungarian; in his Hungarian passport of 1874 he was "Dr. Liszt Ferencz". His parents were Adam and Maria Anna Liszt (née Laager, from Krems an der Donau).

Liszt grew up in Raiding, a part of the Burgenland. The main language in that region was German, while only a small minority could speak and understand Hungarian. For official purposes Latin was used. Liszt's father Adam Liszt, during the first half of the 1790s, had had lessons in Hungarian for five years at the gymnasium of Pressburg (now Bratislava, capital of Slovakia), but he learnt nearly nothing of it and always had the worst grades. In Raiding it had only been since 1835 that children had lessons in Hungarian at school. Liszt himself was fluent in German, French and Italian. He also had some knowledge of English, but his knowledge of Hungarian was very poor. In the early 1870s, when all people living in Hungary were forced to learn Hungarian, Liszt also tried to learn it, but after some lessons he gave up.

The issue of Liszt's nationality has triggered many interpretations. The question is considered by some to be controversial to this day, since important sources are missing. According to the mainstream literature about Liszt, his great grandfather Sebastian List was a German who came to Hungary in the early 18th century. Since in Hungary the nationality of a child was inherited from the father's side, Liszt's grandfather Georg List and Liszt's father Adam List would have been Germans too. Adam List was in his youth registered as "Adamus Matthäus Liszt, natio et locus natalis Germanus", i. e. "Adam Matthäus Liszt, of German nationality and origin". Liszt's mother Anna Maria Laager was of Austrian origin, which in those days was also regarded as German. Following this line, Franz Liszt himself would have been German, although born in Hungary. The writings also claim that his father, in his time as pupil at the gymnasium of Pressburg, had changed the name's orthography from "List" to "Liszt", to secure what seemed to him the correct (German) pronunciation of "list", avoiding the Hungarian pronunciation "lisht". Since 1843, that version of the name was also taken by Liszt's grandfather Georg. De facto the name of Liszt's father was recorded in the gymnasium as "Liszt Ádám".

On the other hand, the theory of Sebastian List's German origin is an assumption without sufficient proof in sources. During the 1930s, Ernő Békefi searched in Hungarian archives for Sebastian List's birth certificate. Since he could not find it, he presumed that Sebastian List must in his youth have come to Hungary. However, Sebastian List's birth certificate has not been found in German or Austrian archives either. Since during the 18th century many materials in Hungarian archives were destroyed by the Ottoman Turks, it can be imagined that this was the reason Békefi could not find Sebastian List's birth certificate—Sebastian List might therefore have been born in Hungary.

In the vast majority of Liszt literature he is regarded as either Hungarian or German. By many authors, among them Émile Haraszti and Béla Bartók, the character of Liszt's music was regarded as mainly French. Liszt, since 1838 at least, claimed that he was Hungarian, and it was important for him. Liszt and his father Adam had both solely Hungarian passports for their entire life. Furthermore his children bore Hungarian citizenship as well. In a 1845 letter to Lammenais abbé Liszt wrote: "My children bear their father's nationality. Whether they like it or not they are Hungarians". One also has to note that the name "Liszt" originates from the word of "flour" in Hungarian. Hence it can also be interpreted as the short form of "lisztes molnár" which means "miller".


Early life

Every attempt to describe Liszt's development during his childhood and early youth has met with the difficulties of terribly sparse information. Authors of a traditional line, such as Lina Ramann, Peter Raabe, and later Alan Walker, concentrated on the task to show that Liszt already as a boy had been an artist of highest genius, and especially as pianist was surpassing everything that might have existed in all parts of music history. But, taking this point of view, it cannot be understood for which reasons he would have needed further lessons. All contemporary virtuosos of even the highest caliber have had to take lessons from boyhood.

It had been Adam Liszt's own dream to become a musician. He played piano, violin, violoncello and guitar. During the winter of 1797-98, while studying philosophy at the University of Pressburg, he took lessons in instrumentation by Paul Wigler; unfortunately, due to poverty he had to give up his studies. Beginning January 1, 1798 he undertook a paid appointment in the services of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy. During the years 1805-1808 he was working in Eisenstadt where Prince Esterházy, usually living in Vienna, had a summer residence with an orchestra. The orchestra was until 1804 directed by Joseph Haydn, and afterwards until 1811 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. On several occasions, Adam Liszt took part as second cellist. On September 13, 1807, the orchestra performed Beethoven's C major Mass under Beethoven's own direction. Adam Liszt knew Haydn, Hummel and Beethoven personally. From his perspective, the Viennese classics had reached the highest level of music as art.

Liszt himself, as a mature artist, frequently said that the most important musical impressions of his childhood had been the playing of Gypsy artists. However, the repertoire he had to study as a boy at the piano had been different. According to Adam Liszt's letter to Prince Esterházy of April 13, 1820, he had bought 1,100 "Bogen", i.e. 8,800 pages, of music of the best masters. During the previous 22 months, his son already had worked through the complete works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi, Hummel, Cramer, and further composers besides. Since the boy had for several times been ill, it is doubtful that he actually had played all of those works, but he had started in summer 1818 at age of nearly 7. His progress was of an extraordinary kind. In October 1820, at the old casino of Ödenburg, he took part in a concert of the violinist (alleged) Baron von Praun, himself child prodigy. At the second part of the concert, Liszt played a concerto in E flat major by Ferdinand Ries with much success and an improvisation of his own.

In November 1820 Adam Liszt took an even better chance to present his son's playing to the public. In Pressburg, the Diet met for the first time after a break of 13 years. On November 26, at Count Michael Esterházy's palace in Pressburg, Liszt gave a concert in front of an audience of aristocrats and members of the society. A group of magnates secured for a duration of six years to pay an annual sum of 600 Gulden (Viennese Currency), so that Liszt could study abroad.

Adam Liszt had already petitioned Prince Esterházy on August 4, 1819 in favor of his son's education. In that petition he had estimated annual expenses of 1,300-1,500 Gulden. He did not expect the Prince would pay that sum, but he had asked for a position in Vienna. He himself could earn money, and his son could take lessons from a prominent master. The petition was supported by Hofrat Johann von Szentgály, an official in charge. But with no vacant positions in Vienna, the petition was refused by the Prince. In comparison with the 1,300-1,500 Gulden of annual expenses, the 600 Gulden offered by the group of magnates in November 1820 was by far insufficient. Nothing happened for the following one and a half years. On March 6, 1822, Adam Liszt asked in a new petition for a year's leave of absence. After the Prince had agreed, Adam Liszt sold everything he owned in Raiding. On May 8, 1822, the Liszt family went to Vienna.

In Vienna, Liszt received piano lessons from Carl Czerny, who in his own youth had been Beethoven's student. Czerny, according to his "Lebenserinnerungen" (Memoires), had had the impression that the boy's talents were very strong. But the boy had no knowledge of proper fingerings and his playing style was very chaotic. Further information can be taken from sources which were authorized by Liszt himself. According to this, Czerny, at first attempt, had let the boy play some of Clementi's easier sonatas. The boy played them without effort, but he could not understand that he had to work on details of the execution and expression. Also, master and pupil had different opinions regarding the fingerings. In order to escape the hated lessons, some would argue that Franz wrote unnecessarily complex fingerings into his scores. He afterwards went to his father, claiming those fingerings were Czerny's. It had "become obvious" that Czerny had no knowledge of piano playing. After Adam Liszt had talked with Czerny and - as to be presumed - also with his son, the lessons were continued.

Very soon Liszt was heard in private circles. His public debut in Vienna was on December 1, 1822, at a concert at the "Landständischer Saal". Liszt played Hummel's concerto in A minor as well as an improvisation on an air from Rossini's opera "Zelmira" and the "Allegretto" of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. On April 13, 1823, he gave a famous concert at the "Kleiner Redoutensaal". This time, he played Hummel's concerto in B minor, variations by Moscheles and an own improvisation. According to the legend, he impressed Beethoven, although deaf, to such an extent that he congratulated Liszt on the stage, kissing him on the forehead and giving him enthusiastic praise. However, the unparalleled event left no traces in contemporary reviews of the concert. According to Schilling's account, authorized by Liszt, during the concert the boy had had the impression, Beethoven was looking from a distance at him, but without saying a single word or even kissing him- but Beethoven's conversation books show that Beethoven did not attend the concert.

Since July 1822, Liszt also received lessons in composition by Antonio Salieri. According to Salieri's letter to Prince Esterházy of August 25, 1822, he had until then introduced his pupil to some elements of music theory. Earnest lessons in composition should follow later. Since from the side of his admirers the child prodigy was very soon praised as a new Mozart or Beethoven, Salieri had chosen not an easy task.

In spring 1823, when the one year's leave of absence came to an end, Adam Liszt asked Prince Esterházy in vain for additional two 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. Liszt gave concerts in Pest on May 1 and May 24. He also took part on May 10 and 17 in concerts at the "Königliches Städtisches Theater" and on May 19 in a "vergnügliche Abendunterhaltung" (an "entertaining musical evening"). At the event of May 19, Liszt played an arrangement of the Rákóczi march as well as from a printed edition of Hungarian dances some pieces by Csermák, Lavotta and Bihari. At end of May 1823, the family went to Vienna again.


The child prodigy

On September 20, 1823, the Liszt family left Vienna for Paris. To support himself and his parents, Liszt gave concerts in Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart and Strasbourg. In Miesich he was regarded as an equal to the child Mozart. On December 11, 1823, the family arrived in Paris. The next day, Adam Liszt together with his son went to the Conservatoire, hoping the child prodigy would be accepted as a student. But Cherubini, the director, told them that according to a new rule only the French were allowed to take part in piano class. Consequentially, Liszt's only piano teacher, who had very despotic manners, was now- his father. Adam Liszt had his son practise scales and etudes (that is, studies) with a metronome and also play a number of fugues by J. S. Bach every day, transposing them into different keys.

Liszt learned French quickly and it became his main language. He made the acquaintance of the piano manufacturer Sébastien Érard, pioneer of the "double-escapement" system of piano mechanics. After Liszt had played in private circles and given concerts on March 7 and April 12, 1824, at the "Theâtre Italiènne", he had become a most famous and popular artist. He was well known in Paris as "petit Liszt" ("little Liszt"). In 1824, 1825 and 1827, together with his father, he visited England, where he was known as "Master Liszt". He earned large sums of money with concerts: his father invested a sum of 60,000 Francs in bonds of his former employer Prince Esterházy. The money was kept until 1866, when Liszt's mother died. She had until then received the interests.

Since 1824, Liszt studied composition with Anton Reicha and Ferdinando Paer. From Adam Liszt's letters it is known that his son had composed several concertos, sonatas, works of chamber music, and much more. While nearly all of those works are lost, some piano works of 1824 were published. They were Variations on an original theme (op.1), Variations on a theme by Rossini (op.2), an Impromptu on melodies by Rossini and Spontini (op.3), and two Allegri di Bravura (op.4).

Liszt's published works were written in the common style of the contemporary brilliant Viennese school. He had taken works of his former master Czerny as a model, which Liszt's later virtuoso rivals Sigismond Thalberg and Theodor Döhler would also emulate. The success of Liszt's published works was very poor. Czerny wrote to Adam Liszt on September 5, 1825, that he had sympathetically looked at Franz's works. If Franz, after some time, had gained better knowledge of the requirements of musical setting and was successful in putting better order to his future works, he then would have earned the honour that his works might be presented to the public. Adam Liszt had done well not to publish all of Franz's works. A much more cruel opinion is known from a letter by Alois Schmitt to Ferdinand Hiller dated March 22, 1829, in which Schmitt wrote that with publication of his Allegri di Barvura Liszt "had shown that he had no talent for composition at all".

In spring 1824, with Paer's help, Liszt started composing an opera Don Sanche, ou Le château de l'amour ("Don Sanche, or The Castle of Love"). Under direction of Rodolphe Kreutzer, with Adolphe Nourrit as Don Sanche, the opera premiered on October 17, 1825 at the Académie Royale de Musique, but without success. Liszt afterwards felt drawn in a different direction. He started disliking music and spent much time with religious ideas. However, he was forced by his father to continue giving concerts. In 1826 in Marseille he started composing original etudes. They were projected as 48 pieces, but only 12 pieces were realized, and published as his Opus 6.

In summer 1827, Liszt fell ill. Adam Liszt went with his son to Boulogne-sur-Mer, a spa town on the English Channel. While Liszt himself was recovering, his father fell ill with typhus. On August 28, 1827, Adam Liszt died. Liszt composed a short funeral march which might have been meant with double meaning. Altogether with his father, the concertizing child prodigy had died. Adam Liszt was buried in Boulogne. Liszt never visited his father's grave.

In later years, Liszt himself always took a skeptical point of view regarding his career as child prodigy. While he had earned much money and gained a prominent name, his general education had had no chance of development. Since the early 1830s, he started reading huge amounts of books. When he died in 1886, he left behind many thousands of books. Regarding his former oeuvre as child prodigy, he wrote to Lina Ramann in March 1880 that nothing had become of it because there was nothing to it. For young as well as for old composers it was always the best when the manuscripts were lost, he felt.


Artistic development

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, the address of which was Rue Montholon No.7. In 1831 they moved to Rue de Provence No.61. At the end of 1833 Liszt rented his own apartment which he called "Ratzenloch". To earn money, Liszt gave lessons in piano playing and composition. He took an appointment at a private school for young ladies at Rue de Clichy No.43, run by one Madame Alix, as well as giving private lessons. On October 23, 1828, the Corsair erroneously reported that Liszt had died. But a correction appeared in the same paper three days later: a note from Madame Alix said that he actually lived, had not ceased teaching at her school, and was in good health.

At occasions, Liszt performed at private soirées, typically organized by Rossini, who would invite other artists as well. At the designated time, they all entered their host's building, taking a back entrance. In the salon, they silently assembled around the piano. They would perform their pieces in turn. After the host had politely thanked them, they would leave. Rossini would receive the money the next day to distribute among the artists.

Liszt also took part in concerts of other artists. For December 25, 1828, he announced a concert of his own. In the first part he wanted to play Beethoven's concerto in E flat major and an improvisation. In the second part he wanted to play variations by Czerny on a melody from Bellini's opera "Il pirata" and take part in a duo with violin by Mayseder. But the concert had to be cancelled since Liszt had fallen ill with the measles. On March 22, 1829, at the Salons Pape, he took part in an arrangement for twelve hands of Mozart's overture "Die Zauberflöte". On April 7, 1829, at the Salons Dietz, he for the first time played the first version of his fantasy on a Tyrolian melody from Auber's opera "La fiancée". Also during winter 1829-30, Liszt gave several concerts. On April 29, 1830, he took part in a soirée of Charles Schunke.

In July 1830, a revolution swept through Paris. King Charles X had attempted to overturn the constitutional monarchy and re-establish the absolute monarchy. Students and workers of Paris erupted in revolt. Liszt, whose apartment was near to the main centers of fighting, composed a "Revolution Symphony". However, it turned out that the revolutionists had exchanged Satan with the Devil. The new King Louis-Philipe very soon let social laws become even worse than the previous ones. It might have been for this reason Liszt let the "Revolution Symphony" lie without orchestrating it. Much later, the first movement was taken as origin of the Symphonic Poem "Heroide funèbre".

Due to the revolutionary development, a general crisis of Parisian cultural life occurred. On of August 26, 1830, a petition to the French Minister of Interior was formulated demanding a new organization of musical life and - among other persons - signed by Liszt. It was still difficult to give concerts, since leading parts of the society had left Paris in protest against the new regime. On December 5, 1830 Liszt attended a concert at which the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz premiered with great success. At the end of December 1830 or at the beginning of January 1831, Liszt left Paris, travelling to Geneva. The voyage led to severe problems in his private life. For those reasons there was a gap of nearly two years in Liszt's concert activities. Not earlier than on January 28, 1832, he followed an invitation to a charity concert in Rouen. On April 2, 1832 he performed at a concert in Paris again.


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. Also famous is a concert on June 9, 1840, in London. For this occasion, the publisher Frederic Beale suggested the term "recital" which is still in use today.

Some remarks are needed for the purpose of avoiding misunderstandings. The term "recital", as suggested by Beale, was not meant as connotation of a solo concert. It can also be found in announcements of the concerts given by the troop of Lavenu in 1840-41 in Great Britain, in which Liszt took part. The announcements show that "recital" was meant in a sense that Liszt "recited" his pieces instead of just "playing" them. "Recital" in this sense was meant as specific kind of playing a single piece. The programs included further pieces besides, which were played or sung by other artists, sharing the stage with Liszt. But it is true, that on June 9, 1840, in London, Liszt played his program all alone.

Searching for earlier examples, there is a concert which Liszt gave on May 18, 1836, at the Salons Erard in Paris. He had in the beginning of May given concerts in Lyon, and then travelled to Paris where he arrived on May 13. On the following days he met some of his friends, among them Meyerbeer. He invited them to the Salons Erard, for the purpose of playing some of his new compositions to them. The meeting had a duration of an hour during which Liszt played his fantasy on melodies from Bellini’s opera "I Puritani", his fantasy on melodies from Halévy's opera "La Juive" and his fantasy "La serenata e l'orgia" on melodies from Rossini's "Soirées musicales". Might this be regarded as early example for a solo concert, it was an exception of the rarest kind. As usual case at that time, also Liszt's concert programs included not only solo pieces, but further instrumental or vocal pieces besides. Until spring 1840, at his concerts in Prague, Dresden and Leipzig, Liszt kept doing it that way.

On April 20, 1840, at a soiree at the Salons Erard in Paris, Liszt played another exclusive solo program. While this was an exception again, since Liszt himself had invited his audience, the success can be regarded as reason for which on June 9, 1840, Liszt did the same in London. By doing it that way, he could avoid the usual trouble when trying to find other artists who were willing to take part in his concerts. He could also hope to gain more money, since there was no need to share it with anyone.

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 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. 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. 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.

Looking at Liszt in his later years, in the 1870s a new development of classical concert life commenced. It was Liszt's former student Hans von Bülow who more and more concentrated on "serious" music. As consequence, nearly all of Liszt's fantasies and transcriptions and even the Hungarian Rhapsodies disappeared from Bülow’s programs. While the impact of von Bülow's new concert style was very strong, Liszt did not take part in this development. Whenever he played in public, he still chose a repertoire most resembling the style which had been in fashion during the time of his youth. Calling Liszt the father of the modern piano recital, as it has frequently been done, would therefore be wrong. His musical habits and also his taste were different from those of our times.


Performing style

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, contemporaries hoped, he would improve in later times. 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.

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. While much happened which Liszt could not predict, 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 his career as travelling virtuoso commenced. In a letter to Marie d'Agoult of December 9, 1839, he wrote, he started playing admirably.

During the early 1830s, with respect of his performing style, Liszt was by contemporaries accused to behave like a charlatan, a bad actor of the province who wanted effects at any cost. With expressions of his face he was pretending he had strong emotions. Looking to heaven, he tried to act as if he was seeking inspiration from above. 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. 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 letter and spirit of a score. 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.

During the same time, Liszt's development as composer of concert pieces reached from the Clochette-fantasy op.2, composed 1832-34, to the Lucia-fantasy op.13, composed in autumn 1839. While the Clochette-fantasy was composed in a very eccentric style, without much hope of gaining applause from a contemporary audience, the style of the Lucia-fantasy is different. Especially in the first part, as "Andante final" one of Liszt's most frequently played pieces of his concert repertoire, his own creativity as composer was only small. He took a popular scene, the famous Sextet, and made a transcription of it. To this he added a short introduction and a brilliant cadenza as very short middle section. In the second part he made use of the thumbs melody accompanied by large arpeggios, a most successful device of his rival Thalberg's Moïse-fantasy. According to a letter to Tito Ricordi, Liszt wrote the Lucia-fantasy for the purpose of gaining an easy commercial success.

In comparison with the "Andante final", some of the pieces of Liszt's stay in Geneva during 1835-36 are more interesting. An example is the Puritans-fantasy. Large parts were composed with techniques usually being used in the development section of a sonata form. A long middle section leads from the key E-flat Major of the first main part to the key D Major of the Polonaise-finale. It is a sophisticated modulation from A-flat Minor to D Major, while the D Major triad is strictly avoided. However, as it seems, Liszt found not much resonance with it. He more and more skipped the middle section, playing both main parts as separate fantasies instead. In the end, he restricted himself to playing only the last part as "Introduction et Polonaise".

During the tours of the 1840s, Liszt's Glanzzeit, it was never disputed that his technical skills were astonishing. But he was merely considered as fashionable virtuoso entertainer with missing inspiration. While Thalberg's fame as composer was very strong and even Theodor Döhler was quite well recognized, nothing of this kind can be said of Liszt. An example which illustrates it 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." The Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, in a review of the Sonnambula-fantasy, sentenced, it was at least not to be feared that any other artist would follow Liszt on his adventurous path.

Liszt himself, in parts of his career, may have been on error when regarding the impression he had made at his concerts. In December 1841 in Leipzig, for example, he thought, his success had been complete. No further opposition was possible at that place. However, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, in a review, complained about missing emotions and eccentricities of his playing style. Clara Schumann, in a letter to her friend Emilie List, wrote, it was astonishing that Liszt was not liked in Leipzig. While people had applauded him, nobody had been really charmed. With all his seeking for effects and applause, she for herself could not regard him as true artist.

As soon as Liszt's career as travelling 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 fugitive reminding of an emotion had been sufficient for them.


Liszt's virtuosity and technical innovations

Liszt's playing was described as theatrical and showy, and all those who saw him perform were stunned at his unrivalled mastery over the piano. 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 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.


Last years

From 1876 until his death he also taught for several months every year at the Hungarian Conservatoire at Budapest. 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, his body retained the slimness and suppleness of earlier years. The accident, which immobilized him eight weeks, changed all 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.

Seven weeks after the fall, on August 24, 1881, Liszt wrote the piano work Nuages Gris. With its dark tone, its compositional austerity and an ending which drifts away into nothingness, the piece could be taken as a soundscape of desolation: Liszt had expected to make a quick recovery, but his condition was now compounded by dropsy, failing eyesight and other difficulties. Liszt 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."

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. At first, he was surrounded by some of his more adoring pupils, including Arthur Friedheim, Siloti and Bernhard Stavenhagen, but they were denied access to his room by Cosima shortly before his death at 11:30 p.m. He is buried in the Bayreuth cemetery. Questions have been posed as to whether medical malpractice played a direct part in Liszt's demise. At 11:30 Liszt was given two injections in the area of the heart. Some sources have claimed these were injections of morphine. Others have claimed the injections were of camphor, shallow injections of which, followed by massage, would warm the body. An accidental injection of camphor into the heart itself would result in a swift infarction and death. This series of events is exactly what Lina Schmalhaussen describes in the eyewitness account in her private diary, the most detailed source regarding Liszt's final illness.

 


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Franz Liszt".

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