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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Franz Liszt was born near Oedenburg, in Hungary, on October 22, 1811. His father was a Hungarian in the employ of Count Esterhazy, with whom Haydn was so long connected, his mother of German descent. It was from his father that Franz received his first piano lessons, and he displayed such precocity that the family moved to Vienna in order that he might receive further instruction. For a year and a half Franz studied with Czerny, and after the age of twelve he took no lessons of anyone.
At that time he was acknowledged to he the equal of any pianist in Europe. He appeared frequently in public concerts and excited great admiration. A current journal of the time tells us of his reception in Paris, where in 1823 the family had made their home. "A year went by during which Liszt was, so to speak, the idol of all the ladies in Paris. Everywhere he was petted and caressed. His tricks and pranks, his moods and whims were all noted and discussed everywhere; everything was considered enchanting. Though barely thirteen years old, he already excited love, caused jealousy and stirred up enmity. He was the central figure of interest in every circle of society."
In time this flattery gave place to true respect and appreciation of his worth. The grief caused by his father's death in 1827, together with his natural religious inclinations, resulted in his withdrawing from public life to one of great seclusion. He gave himself up to moody meditation, which tended toward religious mysticism; this tendency so developed in later life that he was finally led to take orders in the Roman Catholic Church.
The young pianist spent the next eight years in teaching and composing. "His conduct at this. crisis," Mason says. "illustrates that keen sense of honor which was so agreeable a trait in his character. Considering that the money he had accumulated by his many successful concerts was rightfully his mother's because of all the sacrifices she had made to his career, he made it over to her in a lump sum, and took up teaching for his own livelihood. It was an act of delicate justice, freely and cheerfully performed. Outwardly Liszt's life now became quite simple and laborious, almost plodding; but inwardly it was developing apace, and ramifying in many directions, under the provocations of this brilliant and complex Paris."
He was so aroused by the playing of Paganini, who visited Paris in 183 1, that he could not rest until he had succeeded in reproducing on the piano the effects Paganini had produced on the violin; in short, he was resolved to become the Paganini of the piano. This necessitated an enlargement of piano technique, and to accomplish this Liszt devoted three years to constant study of the resources of his instrument.
In 1834 he again appeared as a public pianist. Making Paris his headquarters he toured Europe, everywhere meeting with the same success; no pianist, before or since, has ever created such a sensation. Liszt possessed a certain personal magnetism that set him apart from all others, and his genius illuminated everything he played. Amy Pay, concert pianist and pupil of Liszt, thus describes his playing in her charming compilation, Music-Study in Germany:
"His playing was a complete revelation to me, and has given me an entirely new insight into music. You cannot conceive, without hearing him, how poetic he is, or the thousand nuances that he can throw into the simplest thing, and he is equally great on all sides. From the zephyr to the tempest, the whole scale is equally at his command... Anything -so perfectly beautiful as he looks when he sits at the piano I never saw, and yet he is almost an old man now. I enjoy him as I would an exquisite work of art. His personal magnetism is immense, and I can scarcely bear it when he plays. He can make me cry all he chooses, and that is saying a good deal, because I've heard so much music, and never have been affected by it. Even Joachim, whom I think divine, never moved me. When Liszt plays anything pathetic, it sounds as if he had been through everything, and opens all one's wounds afresh. All that one has ever suffered comes before one again."
Liszt's social triumphs were as great as his musical successes. He was a polished and cultured man of society and was the intimate friend of titled nobility. The story is told that when he was leaving Berlin, after a most brilliant concert season, half the populace was, in the streets to give him a last farewell. The king, who chanced to be driving, by accident got into the midst of the throng and was scarcely noticed, so intent were the people on seeing the last of their idol. The circumstance was said to have put the king in great ill-humour and caused much amusement at court, where Liszt was a general favorite.
His rank as composer has not yet been determined. There are those critics who maintain that he lacked originality and that he was constantly laboring for effect, while his disciples firmly believe that he will ultimately be classed with the great composers. His piano works divide themselves into two classes: transcriptions, and original compositions It is not possible to draw a distinct line between the two, for many of the transcriptions contain much original material. His own works belong to the programme school, and reflect much of his own personality. The Etudes, "Legendes" and the Concerto in E flat are great favorites with concert players of today.
Liszt's transcriptions of many of Schubert's songs are familiar to every piano student and music lover. In them he retains the original melodies but adorns them in varieties of ways and clothes them in a perfect glory of tone. One wellknown group of transcriptions includes the "Hungarian Rhapsodies." These were a. result of Liszt's visits to his native country, where the playing of the national bands is one of the features of summer life. Their music is very spirited and possesses a peculiar wild charm. Liszt transcribed this native music in fifteen "Rhapsodies," which are delightful in their coloring and freedom of treatment.
Although not as daring as Berlioz in the matter of orchestration, Liszt was his superior in his grasp upon musical science and artistic feeling. He proved himself a master of the modern orchestra, and some of his finest work is to be found in his Symphonic Poems. This form was created by Liszt, and is a work in a single movement in which sometimes is pictured a series of ideas, sometimes a single conception. It stands half way between the poetic overture of Weber and the ode symphony of Berlioz. Its structure is free, the music closely following the programme. The titles of some of these poetic symphonies at once suggest the programme idea: Orpheus, Prometheus, Hamlet, Hungaria, Battle of the Huns, What is Heard upon the Mountains (Victor Hugo).
The poetical suggestiveness of Liszt's programmes, which renders them so favorable to musical treatment, is clearly illustrated in that of his "Preludes." "What is our life but a series of Preludes to that unknown song of which death strikes the first solemn note? Love is the enchanted dawn of every life; but where is the destiny in which the first pleasures of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, whose deadly breath dissipates its fair illusions, whose fatal thunderbolt consumes its altar? And where is the soul which, cruelly wounded, does not seek, at the coming of one of these storms, to calm its memories in the tranquil life of the country? Man, however, cannot long resign himself to the kindly tedium which has at first charmed him in the companionship of nature, and when `the trumpet has sounded the signal of alarms,' he hastens to the post of peril, whatever may be the strife which calls him to its ranks, in order to regain in combat the full consciousness of himself and the complete command of his powers."
Another group of Liszt's compositions consists of religious works-oratorios, masses and psalms. In these is displayed the intensity of his own religious feelings. Liszt was always a devoted Catholic and was granted the order of abbe in that church. It is somewhat hard to reconcile this with the unconventionality of some of his worldly relationships. It is more than probable that he sought the quiet of the Church as a means of getting away from the public life of which he was heartily tired, rather than as an end in itself. He never took a higher order than that of abbe, and he did not assume duties that should in any way interfere with his musical work.
Liszt's chief service to his art lay in his teaching,' interpretation of the masters and his invention of new technical effects, rather than in the compositions he has left to the world. Pianists of his own time said that no one could play his pieces, but after he taught them his own methods it was no longer impossible. Liszt employed daring skips, rapid scales. intricate runs and trills played by both hands at once. His works necessitate every possible position of the hand and novel systems of fingering. It may be truly said that he revolutionized piano technique.
Liszt was the most versatile of musicians; he was great as pianist, teacher, composer and conductor. His remarkable intellect and personal fascination made him the most compelling force of his time. Were it not for his work, musical culture of today would be far different than it is. He died suddenly in Bayreuth in 1886 while attending the Wagner festival.
Listz's teaching was entirely gratuitous in his later life.