|Liszt, Franz (1811-1886)|
and composer, founder of the solo piano recital and perhaps the greatest
pianist of all time, as well as one of the important composers of the
Liszt was born on October 22, 1811, in the village of Raiding, near Sopron. He studied the piano first with his father, then with the Austrian pianist Carl Czerny in Vienna, where he also studied theory with the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. In 1823 he moved with his parents to Paris, where he soon established himself as a pianist. Meanwhile, he took composition lessons from the Italian opera composer Ferdinando Paërand the Czech-French composer and theorist Anton Reicha.
Residing in Paris for 12 years, Liszt knew many of the city's luminaries, including composers such as the French Hector Berlioz and the Polish-French Frédéric Chopin and, among many literary acquaintances, the French novelist and poet Victor Hugo, the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, the French liberal pamphleteer Félicité Lamennais, and the German poet Heinrich Heine. His connections with Lamartine and Lamennais particularly influenced his career, as did the appearances in Paris, beginning in 1831, of the Italian violin virtuoso Nicolò Paganini. In 1833 Liszt met the French countess Marie d'Agoult, known as a writer under the pseudonym Daniel Stern. They formed a liaison that endured until 1844, and they had three children, one of whom, Cosima, became the wife of the German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow and later of the German composer Richard Wagner.
From 1839 to 1847 Liszt toured the Old World from Lisbon to Moscow and from Dublin to Istanbul. He rose to a fame surpassing that of Paganini. In 1847, however, he abandoned his career as a virtuoso, rarely playing in public again. The same year he met the Russian princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, who remained his closest, most influential companion for the rest of his life. From 1848 to 1861 he was musical director at the grand ducal court at Weimar, giving performances of works by Berlioz, Wagner, and others, as well as his own.
Departing from Weimar in 1861, Liszt for nearly ten years resided chiefly in Rome, where he studied theology and became a secular cleric. After 1871, dividing his time between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest, he continued to conduct, teach, and compose and to promote the music of Wagner. He died in Bayreuth, Germany, on July 31, 1886, during the Wagner Festival there.
Liszt was one of the most remarkable personalities of his time. Aside from his achievements as pianist and conductor, Liszt taught more than 400 pupils, turned out some 350 compositions, and wrote or collaborated on 8 volumes of prose, not counting his correspondence. Certain writers have unjustly maligned his character. Despite his frailties, he was a man of noble aspirations and goodwill, of humility and remarkable generosity. This last trait may be seen in his more than 200 piano arrangements and transcriptions of works by other composers, whose music he wished to advance.
Liszt was one of the 19th century's harmonic innovators, especially in his use of complex, chromatic chords. He was an innovator also with respect to form, especially in his technique of thematic transformation, later known as leitmotiv. This technique and his chromatic harmony strongly influenced Wagner and Richard Strauss. His compositions for the piano inaugurated a revolutionary, difficult playing technique that gave to the piano an unprecedented variety of textures and sonorities. Among his well-known works for the piano are the Sonata in B Minor (1853), the 12 Transcendental Etudes (1851), the 20 Hungarian Rhapsodies (1846-1885; no.20 unpublished), Six Paganini Etudes (1851), Concerto No.1, in E-Flat (1849; revised 1853), Concerto No.2, in A-Major (1848; revised 1856-1861), and the character pieces making up the three-volume Years of Pilgrimage (1855, 1858, 1877). Some of these last, representing nature scenes, anticipate the impressionism of the French composer Claude Debussy. The orchestral works include, besides the Faust and Dante symphonies (both 1857), 13 examples of the symphonic poem, a genre of program music that Berlioz invented and Liszt named; Les préludes (1854), the best known, is based on a poem by Lamartine. Although the ultimate value of Liszt's large output remains uncertain, its originality is unquestioned; in harmony and form, his later compositions foreshadow music of such 20th-century composers as the Austrian Arnold Schoenberg and the Hungarian Béla Bartók.