Franz Liszt's Birthday

éljen sokáig Liszt Ferenc!

That means Long Live Liszt! in his native Hungarian language and was chanted many a time during his visits to his homeland as a great Ambassador.

Since many words have already been written about Liszt, perhaps as many as the notes he himself wrote, and instead of directing you to his Wikipedia Page for further reading or an excellent playlist by none other than Cziffra (Playlist), I wish to celebrate this day by sharing some lesser known tidbits about his life and some reviews of his performances by those who met both man and performer extraordinaire.

Franz became Liszt at a very young age and never really changed in terms of being incredibly receptive to music, putting others before himself and practising charity, not to mention his natural ability to astonish.
In Vienna, his first and only piano teacher, Carl Czerny, wrote of him, "Never before had I had so eager, talented or industrious a student... After only a year, I could let him perform publicly and he aroused a degree of enthusiasm in Vienna that few artists have equalled" - He was 12.

One story to demonstrate his philanthropic nature comes from when he was living life as a teenage Petit Litz [sic] in Paris and was asked by a poor boy for some money.  Since Liszt only had a coin of high value and could not deny his request, the young fellow ran to get some change and gave his broom to Liszt while he dashed off, those passing wondering what on Earth was taking place.
In later life, he spared little expense to provide the remaining funds for the Beethoven statue, still standing to this day in Bonn, Germany, due to the ineptitude of those managing the fund.  It goes without saying that his masterclasses remained free until his final days and his charity concerts are countless.  His own words regarding the statue matter are as follows:

"I offer myself to make up, from my own means, the sum still wanting for the erection of the monument, and ask no other privilege than that of naming the artist who shall execute the work. That artist is Bartolini of Florence, who is universally considered the first sculptor in Italy."

In 1838, Budapest experienced a terrible flood from the pre-frozen river suddenly melting and overflowing.  The city was practically destroyed, as well as farmland all around.  Liszt wrote of this before his charity concerts in Vienna, "O, my wild and distance homeland; my unknown friends, my great family! Your painful cry calls me back to you and deeply moved, I bow my head, ashamed that I could forget you for such a long time".  He raised 24,000 Gulden which was the largest donation received by a private donor.

One report of the concerts reads, "The arrival of this phenomenon amongst pianists was so unexpected, and his stay of so short a duration, that the longing to hear and to admire him is quite pardonable.  Invitation upon invitation from the highest nobility and most distinguished families crossed each other daily, nay hourly; and the modest, unassuming artist, doubly amiable by his obliging courtesy, which can refuse nobody anything, is quite out of breath; sometimes, indeed, he was obliged to divide his favours."

Another pianist in Vienna at that time was Clara Wieck (Schumann's wife-to-be) who wrote, "We have heard Liszt.  He can be compared to know other player.  He arouses fright and astonishment.  His appearance at the piano is indescribable.  He is original... he is absorbed by the piano".  Frightening, indeed.

As his life advanced, he travelled and composed, sharing his life with his first of two life-partners, Marie d'Agoult.  At one concert in Saint Petersburg, a critic wrote of his experience at a Liszt concert, "I was completely undone by the sense of the supernatural, the mysterious, the incredible.  As soon as I reached home, I pulled off my coat, flung myself on the sofa and wept the most bitter, sweet tears".  Quite an impact, you might say.

In 1883, once of his students, Bettina Walker, recalled, "He gave one the impression of possessing an almost terrible mastery over every imaginable variety of passage, especially in leaping intervals so wide apart that to play them with ease is nearly as possible as like being in two different places at the same time".

During his time in Paris, he met the acquaintance of the almighty Chopin in 1831 and played a role in introducing him to the salons which were his own first steps into the Parisian life of the 1820s.

Chopin was not made for public performances as he made clear in his own words, Liszt was: "I am not fit for giving concerts (he said to Liszt); the audience makes me shy, their breath stifles me, I feel myself paralysed by their inquisitive looks and I grow dumb before strange faces.  But you are called to it for if you cannot win the favour of the public, you have the strength to assail, to convulse, to overpower and lead them".

Chopin also wrote in a letter to an acquaintance, "I am writing to you without knowing what my pen is scribbling as Liszt is at this moment playing my Studies and transporting me away from all suitable ideas. I wish I could steal his manner of rendering my own works".  Quite a comment from such an individual.

In 1836, when he was living in Geneva for one year and teaching at the new Geneva Conservatory of Music (for no financial reward, much to the frustration of the director), the 'L'Europe Centrale' newspaper wrote:

"Where could his fingers find the necessary agility? It is the soul which makes them fly like thought; the body is not capable, however broken in it may be, to repeat such an exercise mechanically; it is not learned, it is a gift of heaven!
Liszt is one of those artists predestined to let us catch a glimpse of a certain connection between universal life and our individual existence. He raises music to the destination dreamed of by those who have thought that eternal blessedness consisted in always listening to music."  I quite agree.

It cannot be denied that Liszt's life was extraordinary, both within his great person and externally in terms of his persona and incomparable pianistic ability, not to mention his almost modern pop-star touring schedule which, considering was primarily endured in a horse-drawn carriage, exceeded many thousands of miles in total from Lisbon to Scotland, from Istanbul to St Petersburg... an astonishing feat only achieved by him... during his touring virtuoso years (around 1839 to 1845).

It is generally agreed that his new (and final) life-partner (but by no means romantic interest!), Caroline zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, encouraged him to give up his concertising and turn to composing, which he did (for better or worse) but what he produced from then on cannot be denied as being priceless additions to the piano repertoire.

From an enormous list, we can find:




Of the many deeds possible by only a Great man was the desire to establish a music academy in Budapest, Hungary.  This happened in November, 1875 and in 1877, it moved to what is now the Franz Liszt Museum and Research Centre.  I also invite you to Like their Facebook Page to show your support and to be sure to visit should you ever be in Budapest!

As a way to close this special article, I invite you to discover Liszt's music in perhaps deeper detail than you may have already done and to now listen to it in the knowledge that it comes from the mind, the heart, the soul of a man so determined to produce honest music, to inspire and bring about a connection between perfect inspiration and nature, a man who championed other composers' music ahead of his own, who lead a humble life of hardships (his son, Daniel, died at the age of 20, his first daughter, Blandine, at the age of 26 just after childbirth, his father died when he was 16, etc, etc) that it would be almost disrespectful and careless not to give him the time he surely deserves.

In some of his own words by way of conclusion:

"I did not compose my work as one might put on a church vestment... rather it sprung from the truly fervent faith of my heart, such as I have felt it since my childhood."

"Here is a whole fortnight that my mind and fingers have been working like two lost spirits: Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them with fury; besides this, I practise four to five hours of exercises (3rds, 6ths, 8ths, tremolos, repetition of notes, cadences, etc., etc.).  Ah! Provided I don't go mad, you will find an artist in me!" (aged 20)

 When pressed by some to leave the piano to focus on composing for orchestra, he responded in a newspaper article, the beginning of which I provide below:

"You can scarcely have an idea what a sensitive point you touch. You do not know that to speak to me of abandoning the piano is as much as to point to a day of mourning, to rob me of the light that has brightened the whole of the first part of my life, and has grown inseparably with me. For, do you see? My piano is for me what his frigate is to the seaman, his horse to the Arab—nay, more; it has been indeed till now my ego, my speech, my life! It is the guardian of all that has moved within me in the hot days of my youth; to it I bequeath all my wishes, my dreams, my joys and sorrows. Its strings have trembled under my passions, its docile keys have obeyed every caprice!"

  Liszt and his students, Weimar, October 22, 1884