Franz Liszt

Classical Music /  Composer's Datebook: October 22

Franz Liszt, his life, musical style, influence and works. Arguably considered the supreme Romantic composer. He is best remembered for his orchestral symphonic poems and for his unsurpassed piano virtuosity.

Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt (Raiding, October 22, 1811 - Bayreuth, July 31, 1886), is best remembered for his concept of descriptive orchestral music he called 'symphonic poem ,' also known as 'tone poem,' and as the most talented pianist of his time.
His primary interests in life were threefold - religion, music, and the arts; perhaps we can add the fourth, a female companionship - in equal fervor.
Liszt was taught the piano by his father and later by Carl Czerny in Vienna, he made his debut establishing himself as a remarkable concert pianist by age 12. In Paris he studied theory and composition, then travelled widely in Europe, at age 14, writing the opera Don Sanche in Paris.  There, he also met Chopin and Berlioz.

When he became the musical director and conductor at Weimar, he championed the music of Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner. Intellectual growth which came through literature and his associations with prominent artists and writers, the opera and especially Niccolo Paganini had spectacular effects on him which he transferred to the piano in original works and operatic fantasias.

I've always enjoyed the story related to his famous public piano contest with rival piano virtuoso player Sigismund Thalberg, a composer who may not be as popular as Liszt but whose music I've also loved through the years. They were both declared winners!

Two women figured prominently in the life of Liszt although he didn’t marry either of them: Countess Marie d’Agoult (between 1833-44) where they lived in Geneva, and Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein (from 1848 until his death), a gifted writer.
His expressive and frequently chromatic works include piano music (Transcendental Studies), masses and oratorios, an opera, a symphony, piano concertos and pieces, organ music and songs.  Much of his music was programmatic having originated the symphonic poem.
Retiring to Rome, he turned again to his early love of religion, and became a secular priest (adopting the title Abbé) in 1865 while continuing to teach and give concert tours for which he also made virtuoso piano arrangements of orchestral works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner.
From the passion of Liebestraume No.3 in A-flat (as a song, known as 'Dream of Love') to his Hungarian Rhapsodies, ever popular to this day, his music has never been surpassed for its virtuosity.  

Liszt's Major Works:
24 Grand Studies for piano
Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano
Symphonic poem, including Les Preludes
Trois études de concert  including Un Sospiro
Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat major  (A splendid interpretation  by Martha Argerich, better than ever, aged 75. (2016 UK) BBC Prom 43: Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall.)
Années de Pèlerinage, Book I, II, III
Three Liebestraume (Dreams of Love) for piano including Liebestráum No.3 in A-flat)
Transcendental Studies for piano
Piano Sonata in B minor
Symphonic Poem, Orpheus
Dante Symphony
Faust Symphony
Mephisto Waltz No.1 for piano
Oratorio, Christus

Image Credit:

Franz Liszt as a Young Man. / Public Domain  

Video Credit:

Liebestraume No.3 in A-Flat major performed by Evgeny Kissin. Youtube, uploaded by Daniel Ard.  Accessed October 22, 2016.   

Liszt - Complete Hungarian Rhapsodies. Youtube, uploaded by Ignotus Est. Accessed October 22, 2017. 


Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford: OUP, 2002
The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, edited by Stanley Sadie.  London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1994

Note:  I originally published a longer article at Suite101, June 10, 2007. This piece is a brief version. 

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