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Franz Liszt             Franz Liszt             Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt,
born October 22, 1811; died 11:30 pm, July 31, 1886

Franz Listz - The Early Years

Born October 22, 1811 in Raiding (then Doborján), Hungary, Franz Liszt was recognized to be a child prodigy at the age of six. His father Adam, who played the cello in the local orchestra, taught Franz piano. Employed as a secretary by Prince Nicholas Esterházy, Adam asked for extended leave to further his son's musical education.

Adding further to his father's plea was a letter of request in 1822 by the famous Antonio Salieri, who was astonished upon hearing the young Liszt play at a private house. This prompted Salier's offer to teach the young Liszt for free in musical composition. Thus, the Prince finally gave the Liszt's leave to stay in Vienna.

Liszt at this time also studied piano for eighteen months under Carl Czerny - Beethoven's esteemed former pupil and the leading piano teacher in Europe. Liszt learned quickly. He had a grueling practice regime, sometimes practicing up to 14 hours daily. Franz Liszt was a man driven to break the bounds of all who had come before.

His tours and many performances generated amazement and praise for the young Liszt by audiences, musicians and Kings. They were especially impressed by his uncanny ability to improvise an original composition from a melody suggested by the audience. At age 12 he was besting or playing on par with established professionals - Liszt was fast becoming a sensation throughout Europe.

"King of the Piano"

Franz Liszt By 1832 Liszt was further inspired by hearing Paganini and meeting Chopin. In 1833 he met Comtesse Marie d'Agoult. They eventually eloped in 1835 and journeyed to Switzerland. There Liszt composed several impressions of the Swiss country in Album d'un Voyageur which would later surface as the Années de Pèlerinage - Première Année: Suisse.

Upon hearing of the success of a rival, Thalberg, in Paris, Liszt returned for his famous piano duel to ensure his title as "King of the Piano". His reputation grew and he soon became a living legend. Audiences of cultured gentlemen and ladies swooned in his presence. He touched the soul of his audience like no other performer before him.

Liszt was famous for his concert tours, conquering Europe by storm. In Portugal Liszt was described as "God of the Piano." Along his journey he performed charity concerts for worthy causes. Liszt was a very generous man and quick to help those in need. From his pupils, he accepted payment only from the very richest -- all others he taught for free.

By 1844, Liszt-mania was in full bloom across the whole of Europe. Meanwhile, Liszt's relationship ended with Marie d'Agoult after repeated attempts to suppress her manic-depressive condition. In 1847, Liszt met Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in Kiev, and to the world's dismay he retired from the concert stage to concentrate on the next phase of his amazing career - that of a great composer. Liszt had many compositions he had been working on since his youth and early adulthood. Now, he would dedicate himself to composition, conducting and teaching.

Innovative Genius

By 1848, Liszt had settled in Weimar, living in the Altenberg as Court Kapellmeister. The fact that Liszt could have made more money performing reveals Liszt's burning desire to concentrate on a higher mission - the creation of new musical forms via his fertile and innovative mind. This he achieved in his symphonic poems and unique piano scores. Taking on pupils without fee, Liszt cultivated a new breed of pianists nicknamed the "Altenberg Eagles".

For the next decade a whirlwind of radically innovative works flowed from Liszt's pen and into the concert halls, procuring staunch followers and violent adversaries.

In 1858, Liszt resigned his post as Kapellmeister after attacks from conservatives against his and his pupils' work. In 1860, Joachim and Brahms publish their Manifesto against Liszt and the modern composers in an unsuccessful effort to thwart new forms. But the old classic traditions would eventually yield to the music forged by Liszt and the Late Romantics as the century unfolded.

Listz's Monumental Legacy

Franz Liszt The Grand Master died at 11:30 PM on July 31, 1886. Playing solemnly at the organ at his funeral was Anton Bruckner. Through the succeeding years Liszt's genius as a composer would gradually surface shedding light on many previously unheard masterworks.

Strauss, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Sibelius to name a few have reaped the benefits of studying Liszt's innovative body of work. His is the legacy of a monumental man who indelibly marked music history. Liszt's unique compositions bewildered, inspired, and inflamed the imaginations of his own era. He also laid the seeds for a series of schools that would flourish in the near and distant future. Namely, the Late Romantic, Impressionist, and Atonal schools.

For these remarkable contributions, Liszt is unique. His immense influence is felt today and he remains an inspiration to all artists and performers. Liszt was a true genuis, devoted to the pursuit of perfection and innovation. He has beome a cultural icon representing the epitome of the inspired performer.

Today, the name of Liszt is held in awe by pianists. He is regarded as the greatest pianist to have lived. He, and Paganini on violin, created the "cult of the virtuoso" in the mid-19th century.

A Contemporary Account

"His (Liszt's) playing produced tremendous excitement in Europe, and his concerts in Paris in which he rivaled Thalberg will never be forgotten by those who lived to witness the sensation they produced.

"He gave concerts in all cities and European countries, was ever ready to aid in every good cause, and gave large sums for the relief of sufferers. Settled finally in Weimar, where he trained the court orchestra to a high degree of proficiency, interested himself in behalf of Wagner and Berlioz, composed industriously, and raised the little city of Weimar to a leading position as a center of musical life.

"In 1851 he settled in Rome where he took holy orders, since which time he lives alternately in Weimar, Perth and Rome. As a virtuoso he reached a position, which up to his time, was deemed unattainable, and by the side of his fabulous execution he displays great artistic enthusiasm, printing upon everything he plays the stamp of his own individuality.

"He has written much piano music, most of which was designed to display his marvelous technical skill. He also wrote many orchestral and some choral works, which are much admired by some and just as bitterly denounced by others. He has also written newspaper articles, and several books, all of which attracted a great deal of attention.

"Liszt has long since ceased to play in concerts, but is still active with the pen. He delights, however, to be surrounded by young pianists, who deem it an honor to play for him, and with whom he at times discusses musical questions."

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