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Franz Liszt

Life, career and music

Sherry Luc
History 3: 19th century to present
Ms. M. Case
Wednesday July 9, 2014

By the end of the Classical era came the demand for music with less structure
and a freer musical form. Effects of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th
century saw changes in political and social reforms, where individualism,
nationalism, and escapism were only some of the new ideas that would surface
artistically. Classicism was about balance and symmetry and Romanticism reacted
in opposition to these fixed structures by playing with freer forms filled with lyrical
melodies that painted pictures and told stories evoking listeners to the imaginary.
Franz Liszt was born at a time where all these ideas were starting to shift and take
on new forms. At the center of one of the largest cities for music, the Hungarian
Composer would write lyrical music that captured the spirit of his time.
Born October 22, 1811 in Raiding, Hungary, near the one of the largest hubs
of music, Liszt was no stranger to the fine arts. His father had played cello in Haydns
orchestra, which exposed Liszt to music at a very young age. He started learning
piano at the age of 6, then composing, and performing at concerts in the years to
follow. By age 10, the family had moved to Vienna so Liszt could pursue piano and
composition with the greats. Carl Czerny, a student of Bach, known for his technique
books, taught Liszt the discipline of piano playing. While Antonio Salieri, music
director in the Viennese court, teacher of both Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz
Schubert, instructed Liszt in composition. In 1823, at 12 years old he started his
performing career starting in Paris and soon touring around many parts of Europe
including London, Belgium, and Hamburg. With the unfortunate death of his father
in 1827, Liszt and his mother settled in Paris, where he read extensively on music
and literature. For the next twenty years Liszt would teach but mostly perform.
During his time on stage, Liszt modernized the culture of piano performance by
introducing the piano solo recital. These piano soliloquies were now played with the
piano facing parallel to the audience, showcasing the players visual performance.
Pieces were usually memorized as to focus on his virtuosity and improvisation
skills. His stage presence was one to be remembered and revered.
1832 was a year he was exposed to different influences that shaped Liszts later
works. In early spring he attended a concert featuring Niccolo Pagnini. Paganinis

performance was so striking that Liszt was determined to concentrate on his

playing in order to achieve the same kind of virtuosity on the piano after the
violinists talents he so admired. In late 1832, Liszt attended the premiere of
Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz, again leaving Liszt in awe. Berlioz, did not
have a conventional musical education therefore he was very creative in a sense that
he wasnt confined to a traditional forms of music; From Berlioz, Liszt learned to
think on a bigger scale. Chopin, also in Paris at the time, had also left an impression
on Liszt. Known as the poet of piano, Chopins use of subtletly, almost understated
but complex harmonies, helped Liszt refine his writing, and style.
Large portions of Liszts early works include hundreds of orchestral
transcriptions for piano; among them was Paganinis Violin Concerto No. 2 in B
minor, La Campanella. He was interested in the idea of thematic transformation:
changing the theme rhythmically, harmonically using different tempos and different
instruments. Liszt also favoured mediant and submediant relationships as tonal
centers in his work as did more and more harmonies of the Romantic musical style;
which was far from the typical relation of tonic and fifths. He developed the
symphonic or tone poem; a single movement orchestral piece associated to a poem,
story, or picture to programs such as, Les Preludes. Liszt was also known for quick
tempo changes, pieces filled with relentless chromatic passages and tempo rubato in
his work including the renowned, Piano Sonata in B minor.
Throughout his lifetime Liszt had many amorous affairs due to his stardom,
but two women stood out as long standing and very influential on his music. He
would meet Countess Marie d'Agoult sometime in 1833 and for the next few years
Liszts creative outlet would flourish with numerous piano works including piano
duos and orchestral pieces. Liszt was settled in Vienna for a while but did extensive
performing at the height of his fame and travelled everywhere with the Countess,
and (eventually) with their three children. With many ups and downs in his career,
their separation in 1839 included, this was definitely the period where he had
achieved the most recognition as a virtuoso.

In 1847 at a concert Liszt had performed in Kiev, he met Princess Carolyne von
Sayn-Wittgenstein. She would eventually follow Liszt to Weimar as he took up the
position of Grand Ducal Director of Music Extraordinary. During his thirteen-year
stay in Weimar he focused on composing and conducting music. Liszt would go on to
write many symphonic programs, etudes, and piano concertos. With the rest of his
time in Germany, Liszt taught music using his own master class technique; this was
where any pupil willing to learn would perform in front of him and fellow peers. It
was showcasing but critiquing in order to develop a players musicianship, a method
that is still used today. In 1861 he followed the Princess to Rome but their
relationship ended shortly after.
Liszt had always been interested in joining the church, but at an early age his
mother convinced him to go with music. Sacred music was written during a dark
period where his son, Daniel, daughter, Blandine, and mother would pass. Liszt dealt
through this dark period by semi-retiring from performing and focused on
religious studies. In 1865, he would go on to acquire minor orders in the Catholic
Church. His time in Rome, up until 1866, would be spent occasionally performing
oratorios, such as Cantico del Sol di Francesco d'Assisi a dedication to his
Franciscan order.
His final years were spread between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest teaching
master classes a few months each year, but around 1881 much of this slowed down
due to ailments of old age. His last concert was held in July 19th, 1886 and shortly
after on July 31st he passed leaving behind a legacy. Being the most brilliant virtuoso
pianist, Liszt lived up to a reputation that rivaled almost none in his lifetime and
afterwards. His stardom was all but deserved for his contributions in writing and
setting the bar for performance. Franz Liszt emulated Romantic music style with his
lyrical expression, tempo rubato, and rapid repeating notes to name a few. His
contributions in thematic transformations and innovation of the tone poem would
leave a lasting mark in piano composition and the modern concert industry.