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Classical Composers A-Z: Franz (Ferencz) Liszt

Peter Wintersgill brings us a potted biography of Franz Liszt, who was known as the second Mozart.

Born
22nd October 1811 in Raiding, Hungary.

Father
Adam, steward in service of Prince Esterhazy.

Mother
Anna, partly Germanic in origin.

Childhood
Had piano lessons from father. Moved to Vienna aged 10 in 1821. Had lessons from Salieri and Carl Czerny (Beethoven's last pupil). Beethoven came to one of his concerts and was so moved that he came to him afterwards and kissed him. Czerny was so impressed by his progress that he would take no fee.

Liszt moved to Paris after two years, via Munich. Stuttgart and Strasbourg. Astouning the public and critics alike by the brilliance of his playing, he became known as the "second Mozart".

He visited London in 1824 where he played to George IV. He returned to France to tour the provinces, then went back to England next year.

Adolescence
He made a third trip to England in 1827 and gave more concerts. Then he went with father to Bologne for a holiday, where his father died of typhoid, after saying, "Je crains pour toi less femmes", which is roughly "Women will be the death of you".

Shortly after, he fell in love with a 16-year-old pupil, Caroline de Saint Criq. This was broken off after a 'lesson' lasted till midnight. He was very upset for a while, losing consciousness and not eating for two days. He was not seen for so long that he was given up for dead; at one point he read his own obituary.

Early Adult Life
Liszt was roused by the gunfire of the Paris Revolution of 1830. He settled down in Paris with his mother and met three musicians who were to have a great influence on him - Paganini, the great violinist, and the composers Berlioz and Chopin.

The latter introduced him in 1834 to Countess Marie d' Agoult, the most attractive mother of three children, who was separated from her much older husband. This led to a liaison lasting some five years and producing three children, one of whom, Cosima, was to marry Wagner. They moved to Geneva and then back to Paris where, in 1836, he played in a concert arranged by Berlioz, his superb skill amazing everyone. Sir Charles Halle, founder of the Halle Orchestra, described the proceedings thus - "... played his own arrangement for the piano of a march, which had just been played by the orchestra, creating an indescribable furore".

He moved to Italy, gave a series of concerts in Milan, then moved on to Vienna to give 10 charity concerts for the victims of flooding around the Danube. These were followed by a series of recitals for the Beethoven Memorial statue, which followed a concert he gave for the Emperor Ferdinand and the Empress Anna Carolina.

Character
Liszt was a great showman, revelling in the hero worship his playing provoked from his fans, especially his female fans (rather like modern pop stars). He grew his hair long and developed a habit of throwing it back with a toss of the head. His fans used to scramble for his cigar butts and sometimes for the covering of the stool he had been sitting on. He was very independent and was quite capable of telling off the nobility, and even royalty, on occasion.

Later Adult Life
He gave a season of concerts in Kiev in 1847. His relationship with the Countess having finished, he met Princess Carolyne of Sayne-Wittgenstein, who was 28 to his 36. They fell in love and were to live together for the next ten years. He settled in Wiemar with her in 1848 as Musical Director. She, fortunately for posterity, persuaded him to give up his concerts and devote himself to composition.

He started with his two piano concertos, No. 2 in 1839 and No. 1 in 1849. He wrote 12 Hungarian Rhapsodies (No. 2 in 1850), based on gypsy music. The vast majority of his output was for piano, to play himself, but he wrote a few songs and choral works, including Prometheus (1850). He wrote very few sonatas, the best known being the B minor Sonata (1853). He wrote several symphonic poems, including Les Preludes (1854).

He wanted to marry the princess, who had divorced her husband in readiness, but the marriage was forbidden by the Pope in 1861. As a result Liszt took minor orders in the Roman Catholic church, but was not actually ordained. He could not, therefore, hear confessions or take mass, but did not have to adopt a celibate life!

He wrote only two symphonies, the Dante in 1856 and the Faust in 1857. This was a very productive period of his life; compositions came thick and fast. He arranged many works of other composers for the piano, e.g. a Bach fugue, all Beethoven's symphonies and works of Chopin, Berlioz and Schubert. He also conducted many premieres of contemporary composers' works, e.g. Wagner's Lohengrin, Schumann's Manfred and Berlioz's Benevenuto Cellini.

He wrote two major choral works, Christus and St. Elizabeth, also the Variations on "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen", (weeping, complaining, worrying, hesitating) for organ in 1862.

Towards the end of his life he made a final tour, taking in Paris and London. While in Rome he had a brief affair with a 19 year old Russian girl, Olga Janina. When he wanted the affair to finish, she became hysterical and threated to commit suicide.

He died in Bayreuth of pneumonia on 31st July, 1886.

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