The Liszt Year, dedicated to the 200th anniversary of Ferenc Liszt's birthday, comes to an end on March 31st, 2012 with a spectacular concert planned at the Budapest Opera. While Liszt's name is familiar to most people, here is an overview of the celebrated musicians life and his legacy.
Liszt, the musician
The inventor of the modern solo piano recital was born in Doborján, Kingdom of Hungary on October 22nd, 1811. The young Liszt learned music from his father, Adam Liszt, who was in the service of the Eszterházy’s (Prince Nicolas II) and played the piano, cello and violin. Growing up in a milieu where Haydn and Beethoven were frequent guests of the aristocratic Eszterházys’ made an impression on the young boy and at the tender age of eight Liszt was already writing and performing music. Liszt later perfected his musical skills in Vienna and at the age of 19, after his father’s death, he returned to Paris to seek fame.
During the 19th century Liszt became one of the most famous performers throughout Europe. He was an influential composer, a celebrated conductor and a piano teacher. According to his peers his technical skills as a pianist were unmatched.
Liszt, the biggest ‘celebrity’ of his time
Renowned for his showmanship, Liszt became a touring virtuoso giving concerts throughout Europe, sometimes as many as three or four a week. Celebrated just like today’s rock stars, the handsome Liszt was extremely popular with women, so much so that ‘Liszt fever’ followed him across Europe leaving behind many broken hearts and initiating several scandals. Lisztomania, a phrase coined by his contemporary Heinrich Heine, referred to the intense fan frenzy and hysteria accompanying his concerts.
Liszt was also one of the most generous philanthropists of his time, giving to charities and supporting humanitarian causes. By his mid-forties he had made so much money that virtually all his performance fees were donated to charity. Most notably, Liszt founded the Beethoven monument in Bonn, the Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest and gave generously towards building the Cologne Cathedral.
Liszt is best known for his piano music, especially for the level of technical difficulty with which he composed his original works and his transcriptions. He also wrote orchestral music and music for opera. Perhaps most notably he invented the symphonic poem, orchestral music in a single movement form in which a poem, a novel or a painting provides a narrative or illustrative element. Amongst his well-known compositions are the Hungarian Rhapsodies and the Faust Symphony. As a religious artist, Liszt remained loyal to the Catholic Church. He wrote several organ pieces, psalms, oratorios and masses, such as the Coronation Mass, written for the coronation of Franz Joseph and Elizabeth. In addition to his many contributions, Liszt is truly unique for his immense influence on 20th century music and artists, like Debussy, Ravel and Bartók.
Liszt was honored many times throughout his life. In 1872, on the 50th anniversary of his carrier, Liszt fans organized a three-day celebration in Budapest to honor the master. A series of concerts were held in Rome for Liszt’s 70th birthday and as part of his last concert tour Liszt performed for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. Today, his memory lives on. There are several statues, public spaces and institutions commemorating his legacy in Europe and his name will forever be preserved on one of the many Mercurian craters named after famous musicians and artists as well as a small planet called 3910 Liszt, located in our solar system somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.
In Hungary, Budapest's airport was recently renamed to Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport in his honor. To learn more about Liszt and visit the places where he lived and worked in Budapest, sign up for UniqueBudapest's 'In the Footsteps of Franz Liszt' tour.