Liszt, Franz


Born in Raiding, a small town of Hungary, near Odenburg, Oct. 22, 1811. His father, Adam L., was in the employ of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, and was himself a capable musician, performing on the piano and violin, and he early directed the study of his precocious son. Often would he say to him: "My son, you are destined to realize the glorious ideal that has shone in vain before my youth. I shall renew my youth in you even after I am laid in the grave." The father resolved to devote his life to developing the boy's talent. When nine years of age, Franz made his first public appearance in Odenburg. His performance was so remarkable that Prince Esterhazy, who was in the audience, agreed to defray the boy's expenses for six years of instruction. Accordingly, his father took him to Vienna, where he remained for a year and a half, studying piano under Czerny and composition under Salieri and Randhartinger, who introduced him to Franz Schubert. At a concert of his own while in Vienna he was enthusiastically applanded, but it was ever after memorable to him for the fact that Beethoven, at its close, kissed him on the forehead. Thinking to crown his education by instruction at the Paris Conservatory, the family repaired to that city. En route they  gave concerts at the large German towns, the boy being everywhere received with  wonder and applause. But Cherubini, director of the Conservatory, refused admittance to Liszt on account of his foreign birth, this being the rule of the institution. At first this seemed to be a great calamity, but in reality Liszt was quite as well prepared by his father. He was praised and petted by Parisians, and was in danger of being spoiled when his father took him to England, where his fame had preceded him. The bills which advertised his concerts resembled the circus posters of our day. He was called the " Little Liszt," and would be carried on the stage in token of his youth. As he grew older and the artist awakened in him, he disliked this treatment. He would say: " I would rather be anything in the world than a musician in the pay of great folk, patronized and paid by them like a conjurer or a clever dog." At this time he composed a one-act operetta, Don Sancho, which was received at the Academic Royale, and the principal role was taken by the famous tenor, Nourrit. While upon this work he saw his defects, and began to study composition seriously under Reicha and Paer. The next year he made a provincial tour. In 1827 he was again in London, and upon the return journey his father became ill and died at Boulogne. His father's death was a great loss, but he bore up bravely, and, as his mother had sacrificed so much for him, he turned over to her the earnings of his virtuoso career and lived himself by teaching. As his general education had been somewhat neglected, he now set to work studying philosophy and theology especially. Paris was just the place to develop the resources of his nature. Here he came to know Victor Hugo, Lamartine, George Sand, Berlioz, Heinrich Heine, Balzac, Dumas and others. Liszt was exceedingly sensitive and possessed a wonderful imagination. His affection for Mile, de St. Cricq and the subsequent disappointment upon her enforced marriage to another so affected his mind that he became ill. His thoughts turned to religion and he threatened to give up his art. Fortunately, however, he heard Paganini, and was so inspired by his playing that he resolved to become the Paganini of the piano, and took up his music again with renewed ardor. After two years spent at Geneva in composition he returned to Paris, to prevent the brilliant Thalberg from usurping his own place as pianist. In 1839 he started upon a tour of Europe, which was one long triumph. In Leipsic he made the acquaintance of Mendelssohn and Schumann. The latter says of him: "I never found any artist except Paganini to possess in so high a degree this power of subjecting, elevating and leading the public. It is an instantaneous variety of wildness, tenderness, boldness and airy grace." In Hamburg he aroused the critics from their usual coldness to the height of enthusiasm. He made his fourth visit to England in 1840, where he gave two concerts of his own, an unprecedented feat of that time, and he is supposed to have invented the term Recital for the purpose. Moscheles became his friend, and tells of him: " His technique beats everything; he does what he likes and does it exceedingly well, and his hands, thrown high into the air, descend seldom, astonishingly seldom, on the wrong key." Two incidents of this period of his life go to show the manner of man he was: The bronze statue of Beethoven, which  was to be erected at Bonn, lacked funds for its completion, and Liszt not only promised to make up the deficit but actually cancelled his engagements to assist in the arrangements. It was dedicated in August, 1854, and among those present at the ceremony were King William of Prussia and Queen Victoria of England. Liszt's performance of Beethoven's concerto in E flat was the crowning success of all. At another time, while he was in Italy, word came to him of the suffering of his countrymen, caused by the inundation of the Danube. He left immediately for Pesth, and gave concert after concert, devoting the proceeds to alleviate the suffering.

Earnestly desiring to accomplish something higher in his art he took up his residence at Weimar, 1847, as chapelmaster to the Grand Duke. Some of his time was spent at composition and his afternoons were mostly devoted to giving lessons. Many young artists came to him for inspiration. He did more for Wagner than any other one man. Chopin, Berlioz, Raff, Franck, Saint-Saens and others owe much to him. Hans von Bülow, who married his daughter, Cosima, and Carl Tausig, were among his favorite pupils. Here was formed that gathering of young and enthusiastic musicians who called themselves the School of the Future. He undertook, in the theatre, to bring out works for the first time or to revive others. Among these were Lohengrin, Tannhauscr, and The Flying Dutchman, of Wagner; Benvenuto Cellini, by Berlioz; and Schumann's Genoyeva. During this period of his life he had the help and companionship of a noble woman, Princess Caroline of Wittgenstein. She collaborated with him in his literary efforts, notably his Life of Chopin; The Music of the Gypsies; and essays on German musicians and their compositions. He did much to make Weimar an art center, and the position it gained under him is still quite secure. He said: "I had dreamed for Weimar a new art period, similar to that of Karl August, in which Wagner and I would have been the leaders, as formerly Goethe and Schiller, but unfavorable circumstances brought these dreams to nothing." These circumstances were petty jealousy and opposition to his work by lesser musicians, which caused him to bring his official duties to a sudden end in 1859 and go to Rome. From that time he lived alternately at Rome, Pesth and Weimar, always surrounded by a circle of pupils and admirers and always working for music and musicians in the unselfish way that was so characteristic of his whole life. Not long after he had gone to Rome, the world was astonished at hearing that he had taken orders. This was quite in keeping with his nature. From a child he had been deeply religious, and now sought solace in his church for the many disappointments of his life. It was only a lower order, with the title of abbe, which in no way interfered with the free exercise of his genius. As a composer he then devoted himself almost entirely to sacred music. He spent his summers in Weimar, in the beautiful home that was a gift from the Grand Duke, and here his pupils flocked, and to them he was not only a teacher but a fatherly friend. At the annual reunion of the German musical societies he was always the honored head. In  1876 occurred an event for which he had worked long and earnestly, viz., the festival at Bayreuth. In 1882 he had the satisfaction of listening to his friend's swan song, the performance of Parsifal. Four years later, in 1886, he accepted the urgent invitation to visit Paris and London, scenes of his former triumphs. Though seventy-four years old, he was hale and hearty, erect and sure-footed. The primary object of his visit to London was to hear the performance of his St. Elizabeth at St. James' Hall by the Novello Oratorio Choir. During the forty-six years since his last visit there had been many changes in English musical taste. He was everywhere greeted with the wildest enthusiasm and shown every possible honor. There had been nothing like it since the days of Paganim. Upon his return he found himself in need of rest, but though no anxiety was felt at first he did not regain his former strength. Feeling able to undertake the journey to Bayreuth, he went to attend the festival. Against his physician's warning he attended some of the concerts, was taken ill with pneumonia, and died within a week in the arms of Cosima, who was then the wife of Wagner.

His life might be divided into five stages. The first as infant prodigy, "le petit Liszt;" second, the slender romantic youth, M. Liszt, the piano teacher of 1830; third, Liszt of Weimar, conductor and propagandist, the composer of symphonic poems, the teacher to whom pupils flocked from all over the world; fourth, Abbe Liszt, in the monastery of Monte Mario, near Rome, where for seven years he wrote only masses and oratorios; fifth, Liszt, The Master. He had absolute mastery of technical means. Franz Liszt's works may be classified as orchestral; piano; vocal; and literary. Among the first are Dante; A Faust Symphony; and his many symphonic poems. The most masterly of his piano-pieces are the concertos in E flat major, and A major, and the B minor sonata. Among his smaller works are the exquisite Consolation and also the Annees de Pelerinage, a series of fascinating tone-pictures. In his songs, as in other works, Liszt clings to the principle of program music. Most of his vocal compositions are sacred works; the Grand Mass; and the Hungarian Coronation Mass. He also arranged a great many psalms, the 137th being possibly the best. The crowning works of Liszt's religious compositions are the grand oratorios, The Holy Elizabeth, and Christus. There is no room even to mention the many works he composed in these classifications, besides those for piano and orchestra, piano and violin, twq pianos, organ, and cantatas.