Here are the facts about the great composer – Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886).
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Facts About Franz Liszt:
- The Liszt family moved en masse to Paris in 1825 in support of their virtuoso son, Franz. However, his fame didn’t go ahead of him and Luigi Cherubini, the Director of the Paris Conservatoire of Music, refused the entry to the establishment on account of his being a foreigner; even letters of introduction from the Austrian Statesman, von Metternich wasn’t enough. Cherubini himself had lived in Paris for many years but was originally from Italy. He was old at the time (63) and was simply blinkered by the terms of his office.
- Someone who accompanies the Liszt family to the Paris Conservatoire was Sebastian Erard, the piano builder. He had a arranged a deal with Liszt father, Adam, that he would provide a piano at every concert venue that the young played. A tough assignment – Geneva, Bordeaux, London and even Manchester were included – but one which assured him very healthy sales of his pianos.
- We don’t know much about Liszt, the person because we only have what biographers have to say about it – and they all have their own opinions, which vary hugely. When asked why he hadn’t written the story of his life, Liszt famously replied, ‘because I was too busy living it’.
- Clearly believing that he knew more than his listeners, he was known to sing the words, ‘Das verstecht Ihr aller nichts‘ (‘This none of you understand’) along to the opening subject of the First Movement of his First Piano Concerto.
- Liszt was a great friend of Richard Wagner who married his daughter, Cosima. Cosima had originally married one of Liszt’s pupils, Hans von Bulow with whom she had two daughters – but even after a long affair and another child with Wagner, von Bulow refused her a divorce….until, that was, she had another child, a son, with him.
- Liszt, aged only 14, played a concert in the Theatre Royal Manchester (England) in 1825. A critic reported that ‘In power of tone, he is, perhaps, rather deficient’. Despite this withering assessment of the young pianist, the same critic did say that there wasn’t much else that he fault him on. That was good of him.
- The monumental set of 12 Transcendental Studies, were actually written three times; firstly, in 1825, when Liszt was only 13 years old – they were quite bland; then, the set written at the height of his virtuosic powers in 1837 (aged 26) – which were virtually unplayable; finally, the set which is most often heard and played, the 1857 version.
- In 1821, Erard, the piano builders that deemed Liszt to be one of their ‘Erard Artists’, on account of their providing him with pianos for his concerts, created an innovation still found in today’s pianos – the double escapement. This little invention (English patent no. 4,631 1821) allowed notes to be repeated far more easily and quickly than in previous ‘single escapement’ mechanisms.
- The piano owned by Liszt for the last 20 years of his life and which he’d had installed on the upper floor of his Villa in Tivoli Italy, was apparently ‘lost’ after the last known concert on it in 1904 by Paderewski. It was ‘re-discovered’ in 1991 in a religious institution in Rome and, after much investigation, was certified as his. It is still occasionally played in concerts.
- It is rare that the humble triangle should become the focus of any attention. But the use of this tiny percussion instrument in Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in E-flat, for a solo part (yes, a solo!) sharpened many a critics quill. In his defence, Liszt wrote the following in a letter, ‘As regards the triangle, I do not deny that it may give offence, especially of struck too strongly and not precisely. A preconceived disinclination and objection top percussion instruments prevails, which is somewhat justified by frequent misuse of them’. Liszt was one of the first composers to see the true value of the percussion section – something we take for granted in modern compositions.
- The three and a half Mephisto Waltzes (the fourth wasn’t finished when he died) were among Liszts’ most famous piano pieces – and immortalised in the 1971 film starring Alan Alda; they were written over a thirty year period. The fourth, written in 1885, was given the title of Bagatelle sans tonalite(Bagatelle without tonality) – which must have been very strange at that time.
- Liszt never married, but did have a long relationship (40 years!) with Polish Princess, Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein; they were together from 1847 until he died in 1887. After leaving her husband for Liszt, the two lived together and had three children. They had planned to marry on his 50th birthday but her ex-husband, the Prince, and the Tsar of Russia had made sure it wasn’t possible with Pope – the Prince also impounded her estate and the thousands of serfs she owned… The two remained close, however, and she died very shortly after Liszt did.
- It is thought, from his mental state over the last few years of his life, that Liszt suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). He died on the 31st July 1886 from pneumonia which brought on a heart attack at Wagner’s home (Wagner was married to Liszt’s daughter). He had previously spoken to his partner, Carolyne, and said that he’d wanted to be buried ‘without any facas, with no other funeral service than a low mass – consequently, without music’. Unfortunately, Carolyn wasn’t present and the service wasn’t as he wished; the streets were lined with people watching the funeral cortege; Bruckner played the organ.
- Liszt was never completely certain of his talent. He once wrote to his friend, Pierre Wolf, in 1832; ‘ My mind and fingers are working like the damned Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo….., Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber, are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them furiously. Furthermore, I practice for four or five hours a day….If only I don’t go mad, you will find in me an artist’.