Skip to main content


Franz Liszt Biography

Franz Liszt is one of the two greatest pianists of all time depending on how you judge their greatness. Liszt and Rachmaninov did not play at the same time, but they were two of the best. Liszt is more interesting because of his status as a rock star in his time. He was a composer, but he was much more than a classical composer who played the piano. He was like a rock guitarist who played the most wicked solos you could imagine.
Recent posts


1811 October 22: birth in Doborjan, Sopron County. 1820 October, first public performance at the Sopron Casino. November 26: concert at the Esterhazy palace in Pozsony: stipend from the Hungarian aristocrats. 1821 His parents take him to live in Vienna where he studies piano with Czerny, and composition with Salieri.

Franz Liszt Quotes

A person of any mental quality has ideas of his own. This is common sense. A theatre receives recognition through its initiative, which is indispensable for first-rate performances. As the mother teaches her children how to express themselves in their language, so one Gypsy musician teaches the other. They have never shown any need for notation.

1811-1823 in Habsburg

Franz Liszt was born in Western Hungary on 22 October 1811. His native village, Doborján (or Raiding in German), belongs today to Austria. Both of his parents — Adam (1776-1827), an employee in charge of sheep farming of Hungary’s richest and most powerful magnate Prince Miklós Esterházy, and Maria Anna Lager (1788-1866), orphan to an Austrian master baker — were of German origin.

1823-1839 in Paris

Was Adam right to take the child prodigy to the leading metropolis of Europe and take him on concert tours instead of letting him study and develop in peace? Master Czerny, who found Liszt’s playing undisciplined some years later, actually disapproved of it. From Liszt’s letters, written to his own children, we can see that he always felt handicapped because of his lack of formal education. In his essay “Lettres d’un bachelier es musique” published on 12 February 1837 in the Revue et Gazette music ale, he formulated it with more bitterness, mentioning that his father cast him “into the midst of a glittering society,” exposed him to the stigmatizing “humiliation of artistic dependency,” where he was “patronized and remunerated by” the aristocracy “like a juggler, or like Munito the performing dog.”

1839-1847 The Virtuoso Tours

The years between 1839 and 1847 were unprecedented triumphs for Liszt the virtuoso and creator of modern solo recital. In a few years with dazzling speed, he travelled over nearly the whole of Europe, with the exceptions of Scandinavia and the area south of the Balkan peninsula. From examining the map of his tours,10 we can see the incredible number of places he toured, including some he visited several times in Germany, Hungary, the Austrian Empire, France, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, the Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the principality of Romania. These tours included cities outlining the vast regions he travelled: Glasgow, Copenhagen, Riga, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Bucharest, Constantinople (Istanbul), Gibraltar, Lisbon, Limerick, and Dublin. Almost impossible to imagine, he toured for the most part in horse-drawn coaches and jolting post-chaises as well as, upon occasion, by ship. He also travelled in numerous regions where

1848-1861 Weimar

Liszt summed up his aims in his testament in 1860: “At a certain time (about ten years ago) I envisaged Weimar as a new art period, similar to the one under Carl August, where Wagner and myself should have been leaders just like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller had been earlier, but unfavourable circumstances destroyed this dream.” In 1848 Liszt settled down with Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in Weimar, capital of the German feudal Grand Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar. Liszt served as a conductor, Kapellmeister in extraordinary service, at the court of Grand Duke Carl Friedrich and later of his son Carl Alexander. The princess escaped from Russia with her young daughter Princess Marie Sayn-Wittgenstein, leaving behind the greatest part of her immense fortune. For Liszt, it meant a complete change of life, with restrictions and obligations of several kinds. No longer was he a free, travelling, and glorified artist. Now he had a place to live with a steady job and a commi

1861-1869 Rome

When Liszt arrived in Rome, capital of the Papal State, the city was passing through its death throes. Though divested of a large part of its territory, Rome was the last island of stubborn resistance to the Risorgimento, the Italian movement of national unification that proclaimed democratic ideas. The troops of Napoleon I I I , Emperor of France, defended the city. (Liszt, decorated in 1860 with the Croix d’officier and in 1861 with that of the Commander of the Legion d’Honneur, was a great admirer of Napoleon I I I , taking him and his regime for a most democratic and liberal one). In September 1870, with the fall of Louis- Napoleon Bonaparte, Rome “fell.” It became the capital of Victor Emmanuel’s Kingdom of Italy, and the pope lost his temporal power.

1869-1886 Weimar-Rome-Pest

This closing chapter of Liszt’s activities lasts seventeen years and constitutes the longest distinct compositional period of his life. When he left Rome in January 1869 at the persuasion of Grand Duke Carl Alexander to continue his work in Weimar, he was fifty-seven. When he died at the end of July 1886, he was nearly seventy-five. The average person and the majority of artists who reach this age are past their creative best. That was not the case with Liszt. Apart from Verdi and Wagner, Liszt was an exception to this rule in the nineteenth century. Arguably, he composed his most mature, intriguing, and expressive works in this last period despite his disappointments and sufferings from melancholy as well as from his physical decline in health. On 4 February 1876 he expressed his own opinion of these works to Olga von Meyendorff, noting his “increasingly poor opinion of my things.” However, the end of his career, unlike of those of Verdi and Wagner, was not a brilliant conclusion, ful

Franz Liszt Music

Liszt’s music remain orientated upon the one inflexible fact in a life that contained so many contrary forces, so many attempts and experiments in the art of composition—the fact that Liszt was primarily a player. He is moulded from first to last in his achievements as a composer by this dominant circumstance, and even when he seems to have escaped its influence it is still fundamentally the basis of both his strengths and weaknesses. In treating of the nature of his compositions consideration must first be given to his unique music of virtuosity, music that is not only unique in style but supreme in quality. It is relentless, brutal in its demands upon the player, but he who can perform it is master of his instrument.

Secular Choral Works

67. Festkantate zur Enthullung des Beethoven-Denkmals in Bonn (O. L. B. Wolff). SSTTBB soli, chorus and orch. 1845. 68. Zur Sakularfeier Beethovens (2nd Beethoven Cantata) (Adolf Stern and Gregorovius). SATB soli, chorus and orch. 1869-70. 69. Chore zu Herders EntfesseltemPrometheus. SATTBB soli, chorus and orch. 1850; rev. 1855. 70. An die Kunstler (Schiller). TTBB soli, male chorus and orch. 1st and 2nd version, 1853; 71. Gaudeamus igitur. Humoreske. Soli (ad lib.), mixed or male chorus and orch. 1869. 72. Four-part male choruses (for the benefit of the Mozart-Stiftung). 1. Rheinweinlied (Herwegh). 2. Students’ song from Goethe’s Faust 3 and 4. Reiterlied (Herwegh), 1st and 2nd versions. 1 and 3 with pf., 2 and 4 unacc. 1841. 73. Es wareinmal ein Konig (Goethe’s Faust). B solo, male chorus and pf. 74. Das deutsche Vaterland (Arndt). 4-partmale chorus. 2 versions. 1841. 75. Ober alien Gipfeln ist Ruh (Goethe). Male chorus. 1st version, unacc., 1842; 2nd version, with 2 horns, 1849. Cf

Orchestral Works

SYMPHONIC POEMS  95. Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (Bergsymphonie) after Victor Hugo. 3 versions: 1. 1848-9. 2. 1850. 3. 1854. 96. Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo, after Byron. 4 versions; 1849-54. (S. W. 1841-1854.) 97. Les Preludes, after Lamartine, 1848, as intro. to 80; rev. before 1854. Cf. 142, 304. 98. Orpheus 1853-4. 99. Prometheus. 1850, as overture to 69; rev. 1855. Cf. 121. 100. Mazeppa, after Victor Hugo. 1851; rev. c. 1854. F r om 139, 4. 101. Festklange. 1853. 102. Heroide funebre. 1848-50, from 690; rev. c. 1854 (S. W. 1849-50.) 103. Hungaria. 1854, from 231. 104. Hamlet. 1858. 105. Hunnenschlacht, after Kaulbach. 1856-7. 106. Die Ideale, after Schiller. 1857; cf. 70. 107. Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe. 1881-2. Cf. 198.

Pianoforte, Orchestra and Chamber Music

PIANOFORTE AND ORCHESTRA 120. Grande Fantaisie Symphonique on themes from Berlioz’ Lelio. 1834. 121. Malediction, with string orchestra. Sketched c. 1830 (?); rev. c. 1840 (?). Cf. 99, 108. (S.W.: 1840). 122. Fantasia on themes from Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens. 1848-52. (S.W.: latest 1837). 123. Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes. C. 1852, from 244, 14. 124. Concerto No. 1. in E flat. Sketched c. 1830; completed 1849-56. (S. W . : sketched 1832.) 125. Concerto No. 2. in A major. 1839; rev. 1849-61. 126. Totentanz. Paraphrase on the Dies Irae. Planned 1838; (i) 1849; (ii) rev. 1853 and 1859. (S. W. planned 1839.)

Pianoforte Works

STUDIES 136. Etude en 48 exercises dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs. 1826; only 12 were written. Cf. 137-9. 137. 24 Grandes Etudes. 1837; from 136. Only 12 were written. 138. Mazeppa. c. 1840 (?) from 137, 4. (S.W.: sketched 1829) 139. Etudes d’execution transcendante. 1851; from 138-8. Cf. 100. 1. Preludio. 2. A Minor. 3. Paysage. 4. Mazeppa. 5. Feux follets. 6. Vision. 7. Eroica. 8. Wilde Jagd. 9. Ricordanza. 10. F minor. 11. Harmonies du soir. 12. Chasseneige. 140. Etudes d’execution transcendante d’apres Paganini. 1838; cf. 141. 1. G minor. 2. E flat major. 3. La Campanella. 4. E major. 5. La Chasse. 6. Theme and Variations. 141. Grandes Etudes de Paganini. 1851, from 140. 142. Morceau de Salon, Etude de Perfectionnement. 1840; cf. 97, 143. 143. Ab Irato. Etude de Perfectionnement de la Methode des methodes. 1852, from 142. 144. 3 Etudes de Concert. 1. A flat major. 2. F minor. 3. D flat major. C. 1848. (Sometimes known as II lamento, La leggierezza, Un sospiro.) 145. 2 Concer

Organ, Songs and other Vocal Works

ORGAN 259. Fantasy and Fugue on the chorale: Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. 1850; theme from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete. Cf. 414. 260. Prelude and Fugue on the name BACH. 1st version, 1885; 2nd version, 1870. Cf. 529. 261. Pio IX. Der Papsthymnus. 1863 (?). Later became 3, 8. 261a Andante religioso. 262. Ora pro nobis. Litanei. 1864. 263. Resignazione. 1877. 264. Missa pro organo lectarum celebrationi missarum adjumento inserviens. 1879, from 8 and 20. Cf. 265. 265. Gebet. 1879. Cf. 264. 266. Requiem fur die Orgel. 1883, from 12. 267. A m Grabe Richard Wagners. 1883. Cf. 135, 202. 268. Zwei Vortragsstucke. 1. Introitus. 2. Trauerode (Les Morts, 112, 1). 1, 1884; 2, 1860.