Biography, Fun Facts, Gallery, Quoes and Works of Franz Liszt

Early Life

  • Birth and Childhood: Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in the small village of Raiding in Hungary. His father, Adam Liszt, worked for Prince Esterházy and played several musical instruments, fostering Franz's early interest in music. Liszt began studying piano with his father at age six.
  • First Concert: By the age of nine, Liszt had his first public performance in Sopron, Hungary, which was met with critical acclaim and helped establish his reputation as a child prodigy.

Franz Liszt, photograph by Nadar, 1886
Franz Liszt, photograph by Nadar, 1886

Education and Early Career

  • Vienna (1821-1823): At the age of 11, Liszt moved to Vienna to study piano with Carl Czerny, who had been a student of Beethoven, and composition with Antonio Salieri. During this time, he performed for Beethoven, who reportedly gave him a kiss on the forehead in recognition of his talent.
  • Paris (1823-1827): In 1823, Liszt moved to Paris with his mother. Although he was denied entry to the Paris Conservatoire because he was a foreigner, he studied privately with teachers like Anton Reicha and Ferdinando Paër. He soon became a sensation in the Parisian musical circles, known for his virtuosic piano performances.

Virtuoso Pianist and Composer

  • European Tours (1839-1847): Liszt spent the 1830s and 1840s touring Europe, where he was celebrated for his extraordinary piano technique and charismatic performances. During this period, he revolutionized piano recitals by playing from memory, positioning the piano to allow the audience to see his hands, and varying his program from concert to concert.
  • Romantic Relationships: Liszt had a notable romantic relationship with Countess Marie d'Agoult, with whom he had three children: Blandine, Cosima, and Daniel. Later, he had a long-term relationship with Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who influenced his interest in religion and sacred music.

Weimar Period (1848-1861)

  • Kapellmeister in Weimar: In 1848, Liszt settled in Weimar, where he served as the court conductor. During this time, he composed many of his most important works, including symphonic poems and piano concertos. He also championed the works of other composers, such as Wagner, Berlioz, and Schumann.
  • Symphonic Poems: Liszt is credited with inventing the symphonic poem, a form that combines music with a narrative or pictorial idea. Some of his notable symphonic poems include "Les Préludes," "Mazeppa," and "Prometheus."

Later Years and Religious Turn

  • Religious Devotion: In 1865, Liszt took minor holy orders and became known as the Abbé Liszt. He composed numerous sacred works, including masses, oratorios, and psalm settings.
  • Teaching and Legacy: In his later years, Liszt divided his time between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. He continued to teach and mentor young pianists, including notable figures like Hans von Bülow and Alexander Siloti. His influence on piano technique and performance practice was profound and lasting.

Final Years

  • Liszt spent his final years in relative isolation, focusing on composition and teaching. He suffered from various health issues, including dropsy and cataracts. Despite these challenges, he remained active in the musical world until his death.
  • Death: Franz Liszt died on July 31, 1886, in Bayreuth, Germany, at the age of 74. He was buried in the Bayreuth cemetery.

Franz Liszt Fun Facts

1. Lisztomania: Liszt's concerts were so popular that they sparked a phenomenon known as "Lisztomania," with fans exhibiting extreme enthusiasm and even hysteria. Women would try to snatch his gloves, handkerchiefs, and even locks of his hair.

2. Piano Innovations: Liszt was a pioneer in using the modern grand piano's full potential, exploiting its dynamic range and technical capabilities. He also introduced the solo piano recital format.

3. Philanthropy: Liszt was known for his generosity. He often performed benefit concerts to raise money for various causes, including the construction of the Beethoven monument in Bonn and aid for victims of disasters like the Great Fire of Hamburg.

4. Multiple Residences: Throughout his life, Liszt maintained multiple residences, including homes in Weimar, Rome, and Budapest. Each location influenced his compositional output and personal life.

5. Transcriptions: Liszt transcribed many works by other composers, including Beethoven's symphonies, Schubert's lieder, and Berlioz's symphonies. These transcriptions helped make orchestral music more accessible to the public through piano performances.

Franz Liszt Quotes

1. On Music: "Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought."

2. On His Piano: "My piano is to me what a ship is to the sailor, the horse to the Arab, and more."

3. On Art: "The artist who always sticks to the bridge is perhaps prudent, but a true artist is not prudent. He is always pushing forward beyond what he has mastered."

4. On Virtuosity: "Virtuosity is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end."

5. On Life and Art: "Life is only a long and bitter suicide, and faith alone can transform this suicide into a sacrifice."

Franz Liszt Works

Piano Works

  • Hungarian Rhapsodies: A series of 19 piano pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music. The most famous, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, is known for its dramatic contrasts and virtuosic demands.
  • Transcendental Études: Composed in 1852, these 12 études are among the most technically challenging piano works ever written. They explore a wide range of pianistic techniques and expressions.
  • Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage): A set of three suites for solo piano, reflecting Liszt's travels in Switzerland and Italy. Notable pieces include "Vallée d'Obermann" and "Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este."
  • Sonata in B Minor: Completed in 1853, this monumental piano sonata is considered one of Liszt's masterpieces. It features a single continuous movement with contrasting sections, showcasing Liszt's innovative use of thematic transformation.

Orchestral Works

  • Les Préludes: One of Liszt's most famous symphonic poems, based on a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine. It explores themes of love, war, and victory.
  • Faust Symphony: A programmatic symphony inspired by Goethe's "Faust," consisting of three movements representing Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. The symphony includes a choral finale, the "Chorus Mysticus."
  • Dante Symphony: Inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy," this symphony depicts the journey through Hell and Purgatory. It includes a women's choir in the "Magnificat" section.

Sacred Music

  • Missa Solemnis: Also known as the "Gran Mass," this large-scale mass was composed for the inauguration of the Basilica of Esztergom in Hungary. It is noted for its grandeur and expressive depth.
  • Christus: An oratorio depicting the life of Christ, from the Nativity to the Resurrection. It combines elements of traditional church music with Liszt's own innovative style.
  • Via Crucis: A unique work for choir and piano (or organ), depicting the Stations of the Cross. It is notable for its sparse, introspective character and modern harmonic language.

Franz Liszt's contributions to music were immense, both as a composer and as a performer. His works continue to be performed and celebrated for their technical brilliance and emotional depth.