Franz Liszt

(22 October 1811, Raiding - 31 July 1886, Bayreuth)


Franz Liszt was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor and teacher who lived in the 19th century. Hailed by some as a visionary, reviled by others as a symbol of empty Romantic excess, Franz Liszt wrote his name across music history in a truly inimitable manner.

Born in a family with musical knowledge (his father, Adam Liszt, who was in service of Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy, played the piano, violin, cello and guitar), Franz began studying music from an early age. His took his first piano lessons from his father when he was 7 years old, and by the age of 8 already composed music. He gave his first public performance at the age of 9, which impressed the local Hungarian magnates so much that they offered to finance the little boy's musical education for the next 6 years.

Having managed to obtain a leave of absence from his post, Adam took Franz to Vienna so he could study piano with Carl Czerny, a former student of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Nepomuk Hummel and renowned piano teacher. Czerny developed the young boy's inclination towards virtuosity, thus ensuring him a solid technical basis. At the same time, Liszt studied composition with Antonio Salieri, who was at that time the music director of the Viennese court.

Liszt moved with his family to Paris in 1823, giving concerts in Germany on the way. He was refused admission to the Paris Conservatoire because he was a foreigner; instead, he studied with Anton Reicha, a theorist who had been a pupil of Joseph Haydn’s brother Michael, and Ferdinando Paer, the director of the Théâtre-Italien in Paris and a composer of light operas. Shortly after, the adolescent pianist won the appreciation of every aristocratic salon, becoming one of the most cherished artists of Parisian musical life. Stimulated by the July Revolution of 1830, he started composing his Revolutionary Symphony.

The signs of his deteriorating health were more and more present, in 1828 after falling in love with one of his pupils and being rejected by her father, Liszt became extremely ill. For more than a year he did not touch the piano. At the age of 20, he came in contact with the music of the great Paganini, which impressed him so much that he took even greater interest in the virtuoso technique and sought to equal the violinist in virtuosity. He wrote a fantasia on Paganini's La Campanella with the main purpose of transposing some of Paganini's fantastic violin effects on the piano. At this time he also met Frédéric Chopin, whose poetical style of music exerted a profound influence on Liszt.

After a fruitful period of composing virtuous piano pieces (1825-1838), followed a period of well received tours (1839-1848) with delirious success in all Europe. In 1842, he traveled for the first time in Russia , and in 1847 he undertook a long tour in Romania. Adding to his reputation was the fact that Liszt gave away much of his proceeds to charity and humanitarian causes. In fact, Liszt had made so much money by his mid-forties that virtually all his performing fees after 1857 went to charity.

In 1848 he settles in Weimar, where he developed a prodigious activity as a conductor at the Theater and Court Chapel of Duke Karl Friedrich. Here he presented works of Schubert (Alfonso and Estrella), Wagner (Tannhäuser, Lohengrin), Schumann(Genoveva), Berlioz (Benvenuto Cellini, Romeo and Juliet, The damnation of Faust, The Childhood of Christ), Peter Cornelius (The Barber of Bagdad) as well as unjustly neglected symphonic works such as: Samson and Messiah by Handel, Egmont by Beethoven, Loreley by Mendelssohn, Paradise and the Peri by Schumann.

At Weimar (1848-1861), Liszt enjoyed the most fruitful composing period of his life. His best symphonic works as well as his most valuable piano creations were composed during this time. Along with his brilliant conducting activity and his laborious composing, Liszt manifested himself as a passionate teacher as well.

His last composing period (1861-1886) is marked by religious works, without the dramatic vigor of his previous works. He completed the oratorios Die Legende von der heiligen Elisabeth (1857–62) and Christus (1855–66) and a number of smaller works. After his last tour in Paris and London, where he enjoyed great success, he returned to Bayreuth, where he died at the age of 75.

Liszt was viewed by his contemporaries as the greatest virtuoso of his time (although Liszt stated that Charles-Valentin Alkan undoubtedly had a technical facility superior to his own), and in the 1840s he was considered by some to be perhaps the greatest pianist of all time. He was the first to give complete solo recitals, and also did at great job at promoting the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, Wagner and Robert Schumann by transcribing their works for piano and playing them in his concerts at a time when they were insufficiently appreciated. He also helped younger composers, including Edvard Grieg, Mily Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin, and Claude Debussy, and he taught a number of pupils who themselves became famous virtuosos.

Apart from his legacy of more than 700 compositions, Liszt was the author of books on Frédéric Chopin, Hungarian Gypsy music, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, John Field’s nocturnes, the lieder of Robert Franz, and the Goethe Foundation in Weimar. controversial figure in his time, he was attacked for his innovations, and his rivals were jealous of his brilliance and panache. For a long time he was regarded merely as a superficial composer of brilliant trifles, but in recent years his true stature has been seen more clearly as that of a composer who revolutionized the music of his time and anticipated numerous later developments.

Here  you can find a complete list of Franz Liszt's compositions.