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Thursday, 28 January 2016

Franz Liszt


Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in the village of Doborján in Sopron County, in the Kingdom of Hungary.

Franz's parents were his Hungarian father Ádám Liszt and Austrian-born mother Anna Liszt, née Lagen.

Franz's father played the cello, guitar, piano and violin. He had been in the service of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy and knew Haydn and Beethoven personally

Franz displayed a huge musical talent at a young age, easily sight-reading multiple staves at once.

Franz made his first public performances at the age of 9.  They were  such a success that on one occasion Beethoven, who was in the audience, rushed up on stage and kissed him.

After the concerts, a group of wealthy sponsors offered to finance Franz's musical education abroad, so he went with his family to Vienna.

In Vienna he was educated in the technical domain by Carl Czerny. His father had wanted him to be taught by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837), but Hummel's fees were too high.

Antonio Salieri (Mozart's supposed rival.) taught Franz the technique of composition and fostered the youngster’s common musical taste.

By the age of 11 Franz had claimed Beethoven amongst his many admirers. The famed composer referred to young Liszt as "a happy fellow."

After his father's death in 1827, Liszt moved to Paris; for the next five years he lived there with his mother in a small apartment.


After attending an April 20, 1832 charity concert, for the victims of a Parisian cholera epidemic, by the virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini, Liszt became motivated to be the greatest pianist of his day. He often took to seclusion in his room, and was heard practicing for over ten hours a day.

The flamboyant pianist typically begun a concert by tossing his long blonde hair and throwing his green gloves to the floor. Liszt then proceeded with hair flopping over his eyes, thumping his piano to pieces.

At some concerts, Liszt could not find musicians to share the program with, and consequently was among the first to give solo piano recitals in the modern sense of the word.

The term piano recital was coined by the publisher Frederick Beale, who suggested it for Liszt's concert at the Hanover Square Rooms in London on June 9, 1840. It was introduced at Liszt's London performance to great bemusement. One pundit sniped, "What does he mean?  How can one recite upon the piano?"

Liszt giving a concert for Emperor Franz Joseph I on a Bösendorfer piano

In 1848 Liszt gave up public performances on the piano and went to Weimar, remaining there until 1861. During this period he acted as conductor at court concerts and on special occasions at the theater, gave lessons to a number of pianists, including the great virtuoso Hans von Bülow, who married Liszt's daughter Cosima in 1857.

Pope Pius on hearing Liszt play in 1862 said: "The law... ought to employ your music... in order to lead hardened criminals to repentance."


Despite being the most famous performer of his day, Liszt was not so known for his composing . However the Hungarian was pretty prolific, producing 400 original compositions and 900 transcriptions for piano in his lifetime.

"Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2," is the second and by far the most famous in a set of 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt. Composed in 1847, the year he retired from the concert platform, the rhapsody was first published as a piano solo in 1851. Its immediate success and popularity on the concert stage soon led to an orchestrated version. In addition to the orchestral version, the composer arranged a piano duet version in 1874.

Liszt invented a new orchestral form called a symphonic poem, later known as a tone poem. A groundbreaking way of getting the orchestra to tell a story, it was often based upon a poem or a literary excerpt and was symphonic in spirit, rather than in form.


Franz Liszt was regarded as one of the most handsome men of his time in the 1830s. Women worshiped him, fought over him and collapsed in orgasmic swoons while he played.The most charming women vied with one another for his favor.

Franz Liszt, portrait by Hungarian painter Miklós Barabás, 1847

The German romantic literary figure Heinrich Heine coined the term "Lisztomania" to describe the huge public response to Lizst's piano performances.

A brochure published at the time referred to Berlin under Liszt thus "The whole city was electrified. Everyone who could crowded into the holy of holies of the temple of art (opera house) to hear this modern Orpheus.”

Liszt received so many requests for locks of his hair that he bought a dog and sent his admirers clippings of its fur instead.

Lizst was the first performer to whom women threw their underwear at during concerts.

At the age of 30 Liszt went for a rest to the island of Nonnenworth on the Rhine, but a river steamer with 340 philharmonic musicians arrived at the island from Cologne and he was carried to Cologne in triumph to the accompaniment of song and the firing of a cannon.


In 1833 Liszt began an affair with Marie Catherine Sophie de Flavigny, former wife of the Comte d'Agoult. She is better known by her pen name, "Daniel Stern". They had two daughters and one son. One of their daughters, Cosima, became the wife of Richard Wagner.

On December 13, 1859, Liszt lost his 20-year-old son Daniel, and on September 11, 1862, his 26-year-old daughter Blandine passed away.

In 1847 Liszt met Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. The couple had intended to marry at some point in the early 1860s, but since the Princess had been married before to another, she and Liszt could not openly wed with the approval of the Roman Catholic authorities in the Vatican.
Liszt never recovered from being unable to marry her although they remained friends.

Liszt and Frédéric Chopin were friends early in life, but later, due to fierce competition for better compositions, turned into rivals.

He was friendly with Johann Strauss who played Liszt compositions at concerts. They once partnered each other in a game of whist.

Liszt also fraternized with Robert Schumann, and his future son-in-law Richard Wagner.


During his Weimar years, Liszt wrote a biography of Frédéric Chopin, Life of Chopin, as well as a chronology and analysis of Gypsy music in Hungary (which later inspired Béla Bartók).

Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein was an author, whose one work was published in 16 volumes, each having over 1600 pages. Her long-winded writing style had some effect on Liszt himself. His biography of Chopin and his chronology of Gypsy music were both written in the Princess' loquacious style.

First known photograph of Liszt in 1843, at the height of his career

Liszt kept the original death mask of Beethoven at home.

Despite being born in Hungary Liszt never spoke Hungarian, (French was his first language.) His later letters and diaries show that he came to regret this deeply.


On several occasions Liszt contemplated becoming a monk. He eventually joined the Third Order of St. Francis on June 23, 1857.

After the loss of his son and daughter, Liszt announced that 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.

Liszt, photo by Franz Hanfstaengl, June 1867

In 1865 Franz Liszt became a secular Franciscan priest. After his ordination on July 31, 1865, he was often called Abbé Liszt. Fourteen years later. he was made an honorary canon of Albano.


Abbé Liszt divided his time between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. During this time, his daughter Cosima left her first husband, Hans von Bülow, as he had been abusing her. She hooked up with Richard Wagner. The intensely devout Catholic was personally repulsed by his new son-in-law, but continued to champion his music, and regularly attended the Bayreuth Festivals.

From 1876 up until his death, Liszt taught for several months every year at the Hungarian Conservatoire of Budapest.

Liszt a few months before his death.

Liszt died in Bayreuth on July 31, 1886 as a result of pneumonia which he contracted during a Wagner festival hosted by his daughter, Cosima.

Liszt had requested in his will that he buried in his Franciscan cassock and that a requiem mass be played at his funeral. However as he died during the Wagnerian musical festival at Bayreuth, his wishes were forgotten.

Sources My entry for Songfacts, Comptons Encyclopedia

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