Ode to Franz Liszt
A prophetic voice, borne on the golden wings of time,
Transcends the beat of the human drum…ever sublime
Ancient strategic dots that plot a masterful score
Slumber for a century till given life once more
Clay digits cascade over ivories, black and white,
Summoning reveries that croon and howl in the night
More profound than the Pole or diverse than all his peers
His rich tapestry of sound soaks in blood, sweat and tears
Once Prometheus bound his exhumed spirit now soars
Enlightening future generations both mine and yours
Enraptured by a Lisztian whirlwind of vivid sound
Heaven joyously splits open… a hero is crowned.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Liszt’s influence as a, pianist, composer, and great personality spans almost the entire nineteenth century and is felt into the twentieth. He was born with the first generation of romantic composers, Berlioz, Chopin, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. But he outlived them all and played a hugely significant role in the development of the ?music of the future.?
Franz Liszt was born in 1811 in Raiding, Hungary. By the age of six it was obvious that he was no ordinary child. His father gave him piano lessons and arranged for Franz to play for many aristocrats in hopes that someone would sponsor his son’s musical education. At the age of nine he won an award to study in Vienna. He studied piano with Carl Czerny, prot?g? of Beethoven, and composition with Antonio Salieri. He continued touring Europe until the age of 17, performing for the likes of King George IV and Beethoven. By this time he had already written his first and only opera, Don Sanche, that was performed in Paris and many virtuoso pieces. Liszt established himself as a master of the piano. Some have dubbed him the ?King? or ?God? of piano. Moscheles, who heard a performance in London, wrote, ?In its power and mastery of every difficulty Liszt’s playing surpasses anything previously heard.?
Liszt took up full time residence in Paris where he spent much of his time with the greats of literature, music, and art such as Victor Hugo, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Delacriox, Berlioz, Paganini. This time in Paris was filled with romance and culture. Liszt developed his complex aesthetic character.
He was still developing as a composer, though. Most of his work at this time consisted of transcribing works of other composers such as Paganini, Gounod, Verdi, and Wagner. In 1834, at the age of 23, he and his scandalous lover, the Countess Marie d’Agoult eloped to Switzerland. Her wealth provided him the opportunity to devote himself to composing. During this period Liszt wrote the Transcendental Etudes, Lelio Fantasy, and 12 Grand Etudes to name a few. He was prolific.
By 1843 Liszt had established himself as a composer of symphonic poems. He is credited with inventing this genre of music. He wrote songs of Goethe, Heine, and Hugo, and his first Hungarian Rhapsody. This era is the height of Lisztomania, an incredibly successful tour all over Europe in which he originates the solo piano recital, calling them ?soliloquies.? He was the first to fully orchestrate the piano. During Lisztomania he also began a new style of conducting, breathing life into the works instead of merely signaling a beat.
Liszt was also recognized as an altruist. He promoted the work of other composers such as Faure, Debussy, Saint-Saens, and Grieg. He gave free concerts to raise money for charities, and he mentored such young talent as Berlioz and Wagner free of charge.
In 1847 he officially retired as a performer never accepting another fee for a concert. He met the second great love of his life, Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein in Kiev after having broken with Marie. She eventually joined him in Weimar where he had been appointed Grand Ducal Director of Music Extraordinaire. He settled here producing some of his greatest works, Les Preludes, the Dante and Faust Symphonies, Twelve Symphonic Poems including Hamlet, and Hungaria, and the Sonata in B for Piano. In 1860 Liszt moved to Rome. He divided his time between Weimar, Budapest, and Rome until his death in 1886.
Liszt continued to compose, teach, and perform until he died at the age of 74. He had his critics, but his style has shaped music to the present. He will always be remembered as a charismatic performer and a pioneer in the development of impressionism. The symphonic poem has outlasted any other form of music. Liszt’s influence on the music world will be forever respected.
When When he sits at the piano and, having repeatedly pushed his hair back over his brow, begins to improvise, then he often rages all too madly upon the ivory keys and lets loose a deluge of heaven-storming ideas, with here and there a few sweet flowers to shed fragrance upon the whole. One feels both blessedness and anxiety, but rather more anxiety.