Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was one of the most important composers of the Romantic period. His compositions inspired a whole generation of keyboard virtuosi.
Life and Music
Liszt’s output for solo piano was prodigious, centered on a core of more than 100 original titles, many of which subdivide into sets of half-a-dozen pieces or more.
Liszt’s early progress was so astounding that by the age of nine he had already mastered Ferdinand Ries’s excruciatingly difficult E flat major Piano Concerto.
Liszt developed a morbid obsession with death in the 1830s. Some particularly horrific scenes during the Paris cholera epidemic of 1832 so moved him that he once spent all night thrashing out the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) chant on the piano.
Between 1839 and 1847 Liszt gave well over a thousand concerts throughout most of western Europe, Turkey, Poland and Russia, stunning audiences wherever he went with his blend of pianistic devilry and showbiz razzmatazz.
He started every performance by ceremoniously removing a pair of white gloves and he invariably employed a second piano on stage so that onlookers could admire his prowess from every conceivable angle.
In 1848, Liszt accepted a full-time professional post in Weimar where he increasingly turned his attention towards composing.
In 1861 he moved to Rome. Such was his devotion to the church that Pope Pius IX conferred on him the title of ‘Abbé’ four years later. The rest of his life was dominated by a series of inspired sacred compositions, while his piano music became more calmly reflective and meditative in tone.
Active to the end, even in 1886 (the year of his death) Liszt was on a tour which embraced his first visit to London in more than 40 years.
July 1886 he died from dropsy complicated by pneumonia.
Did you know?
Legend has it that Beethoven kissed Liszt on the brow after the young boy played him his Archduke Piano Trio from memory with the missing violin and cello parts incorporated as he went along.