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Featured on:
Listz, I cdc 014
Listz, II cdc 015

As soon as the young man appears on the scene the theatre explodes in unrestrainable enthusiasm. Tall and slim, with golden long blonde hair, elegant in his green tailcoat with golden buttons - magnificent! The audience immediately goes into a state of delirium. Franz has won before even beginning, and he knows it. When he begins to play - as only he knows how - there follows a cascade of notes.

Clara Wieck Schumann hears him in Vienna and writes: 'he cannot be compared to any virtuouso, he is one of his kind...his brilliance with the piano cannot be described...he provokes terror and amazement'. One day, in the audience, Beethoven is also there, and to everybody's surprise at the end of the concert he kisses him on the forehead. This is a consecration. But this artist, who at one stroke definitively cancelled every trace of the figure of the seventeenth-century musician - where did he come from? He learnt the first elements at the age of six from his father, Adam, a failed pianist who had been forced by the circumstances of life to be a superintendent with the Princes Esterhazy. His father was happy when he discovered his son's exceptional talents with the piano and hoped that the story of Leopold and Amadeus Mozart would be retold. At the age of nine Franz amazed everyone when he played the 'concerto in mi bemolle' by Ries. A year later, at Presburg Castle, he so enchanted a group of important people that they decided to provide him with sufficient funds to complete his musical education. Thanks to this money Adam took him to Vienna where he studied with two eminent musicians - Czerny and Saliero. His studies alternated with performances in public which continued to provide him with triumphant successes. His move towards the cultural capital of Eurospe was obvious - by December 1823 he was in Paris. Here the young man became immediately popular and sought after by high society, but then everything was halted. Following a disappointment in love - a sentimental experience with his pupil, the sixteen-year-old Caroline de SaintCricq, which was suddenly interrupted by her father, a Minister of Charles X - Franz underwent an existential crisis and, seized by religious mania, took refuge in mysticism. This was a listlessness which lasted only a short while: Paris knew how to offer the right stimuli to artists and Liszt was able to meet Rossini, Bellini, Chopin, Berlioz, Hugo, Dellacroix, and Lamartine. And it was Pagannini who gave him the impetus to transform his technique as a pianist into transcendental virtuosity. In the circle of intellectuals led by George Sand his second great love was born - that for Marie Catherine Sophie de Flavigny, with whom Franz lived an intellectually happy period. From their union three children were born: Daniel, who died at an early age, Blandine, and Cosima, who in 1870 married Richard Wagner. These were years of intense concert activity which helped to create and nourish the Liszt legend. He earned enormous sums of money, some of which was frittered away in useless things and some of which was given away to charity. When his love for Marie came to an end another intellectual lady appeared who hovered between sensuality and mysticism - the Polish Princess, Caroline de Sayn-Wittgensteim. He settled down with her in Weimar and here - having by now decided to retire from the tiring life of the concert performer - he dedicated himself to composition (in all he would write more than one thousand five hundred works) and became involved in being an orchestra conductor. He worked on a broad front - an organiser, an impresario, a promoter, and a patron. In a short space of time Weimar became the focus and reference point for the new musical currents of the time. Liszt also played the part of a talentscout when he decided to support, and with great generosity, Richard Wagner, whom he considered the greatest musical event of the age. Liszt was endowed with the characteristic of fighting battles to open up new frontiers through innovative proposals, and often his instinctual perceptions were brilliant. In Rome, one memorable evening in 1839, he invented the piano 'recital', and in Paris he introduced the performances of 'studies' into concerts. The search for new musical forms led him to create a new genre ? the symphonic poem. His life, with its ups and downs of mystic recurrence and its existential crises, was marked by a creative and innovative passion which conformed to the image of the highly active modern artist. He travelled around Eurospe until the last days of his life and during his final year he was still engaged in a triumphant tour: in Paris for the 'La Messa di Gran' performed in the church of Saint?Eustache, in London at St. James's Hall for 'Die Legende der Heilingen Elisabeth'. On his way back he caught a chill which developed into complications of the lungs, a condition from which he never recovered. He was still strong enough to listen to 'Parsifal' on 23 July and to 'Tristan' two days later. But on 26 July he was confined to bed, and on 31 July 1886 he died. During a commemoration ceremony held a few days later not one note of his music was heard.

Essential Chronology

1811 (22 October) Born at Raiding (Hungary) to Adam and Maria Ann Lager.

1819/20 (August/September) His first performances in public in Baden, Odenburg, and Bratislava.

1822 He moves to Vienna to study pianoforte with Czerny and composition with Salieri. (1 December) Gives his first concert in Vienna which meets with the enthusiasm of the audience. Writes his first composition (published in 1823): 'Variation sur une Valse de Diabelli'

1823 (December) He is in Paris to gain entrance to the conservatory. Cherubini rejects him because he is a 'foreigner'. He then studies privately with Ferdinand Paer and Antonin Reicha.

1824 (7 March) His first concert in Paris which was followed by various tours in the French provinces and in England, where he was presented to George IV.

1826 He composes twelve pieces for a collection of piano studies which when subsequently reworked became the famous 'Studi di Esecuzione Trascendentale'.

1827 His father Adam suddenly dies at Boulogne?sur?Mer. 1830 He meets some of the most famous names of Paris: Hugo, Lamartine, Heine, Delacroix, Rossini, Bellini, Meyerbeer, and Berlioz.

1831 (9 March) He listens to Paganini for the first time at the Opéra. Begins the transformation of his piano technique into transcendental virtuosity.

1832 (26 February) He meets Chopin and discovers the poetry of the pianoforte.

1833 He is presented to Countess Marie de Flavigny d'Agoult (Daniel Stern) to whom he is linked until 1839. From this union are born three children, one of whom, Cosima, would marry Richard Wagner.

1835/6 He composes 'Album d'un Voyageur' and 'Années de Pélerinage' (finished in 1877).

1840 He begins the composition of 'Hungarian Rhapsodies' (19 in number) which he would finish in 1885.

1842 (14 March) He is awarded the title of Doctor of Music in Konigsberg.

1847 In Kiev he meets Princess Caroline de Sayn?Wittgenstien, who would follow him to Weimar. 1848/61 He lives in Weimar where is engaged in intense musical activity. (1851) 'Etudes d'Exécution Transcendente'. 'Mazeppa' ? a symphonic poem by V.Hugo. 1861/69 He lives in Rome where he seeks to become the official composer to the Vatican. (1865). He receives the tonsure and takes minor religious orders.

1872 He becomes reconciled with his daughter and with Wagner, from whom he had been estranged.

1873 (November) The Hungarians proclaim him a national hero.

1883 (January) He meets Wagner in Venice, at Palazzo Vendramin, a short time before the latter's death. 'Mephistowalzer'.

1886 A triumphant tour in England and France. (July) Returning home by train he catches a chill which weakens him. Although he has a high temperature he goes to 'Parsifal' (23 July) and to 'Tristan' (25 July). (31 July) He dies at Bayreuth. His funeral takes place on 3 August. At the ceremony Brukner improvises on the 'Faith Theme' from 'Parsifal'.

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