Unsigned mid-19th century caricature of Liszt

Unsigned mid-19th century caricature of Liszt


So here’s the classical world’s first real superstar, caricatured in pen and ink by two mid 19th century artists.

The beanpole profile, dramatically raised hands and follically extravagant hairdo follow a trail blazed by the cadaverous, devilish Paganini.

Liszt’s sideways profile to the audience and the absence of music in front of him were his own doing.

Unlike other touring pianists who were quick to follow his lead, Liszt didn’t just play his own music. He championed music he felt should be better known – Schubert’s songs, which he skilfully transcribed for solo piano, for example.

The concept, indeed the very name, of the piano recital originated with Liszt.

Audiences, of course, worshiped at the shrine.

In the caricatures, they lie prostrate under the piano, dwarfed in front of the giant in front of them, insignificant among the strewn flowers and flying notes, their faces a mixture of awe and incredulity.

Women would fight over Liszt’s snuff box, his discarded gloves, the grounds from his coffee cup.

Another carried his cigar butt in her bosom.

Liszt in June 1845, signed by Al(fred) Bertrand

Liszt in June 1845, signed by Al(fred) Bertrand

Liszt’s fabulous technique derived from the fleet-fingered Czerny (he of the volumes of études, The School of Velocity and The Art of Finger Dexterity),from the showmanship and unprecedented technical excellence of Paganini, together with the poetry of a pianist-composer born just one year before himself – Fryderyck Chopin, whom he met in Paris.

Liszt had the good looks and quickly acquired the sophistication to move in fashionable Parisian salons – not to mention the city’s bedrooms – despite being born in provincial Hungary to a father who was eager to exploit the talents of his son.

By 1826, the 15 year-old Liszt had already published a collection of Études which, a quarter of a century later, were to form the basis of the Études d’exécution transcendante. These Transcendental Studies, as Schumann pointed out in a positive review, were of such complexity that probably the only pianist capable of playing them with true musical feeling was Liszt himself.

The quarter century gap between first draft and final, polished masterpiece is crucial to an understanding of Liszt.  Used to living life on the public stage, Liszt, naturally enough, viewed musical composition in a similar way. He saw no harm in publishing everything and he was teeming with ideas.  Ground-breaking masterpieces like the B minor Sonata – or the Funérailles and Dante Sonata in Ms. de la Salle’s recital – appear alongside first drafts, crowd-pleasing pièces d’occasion and potboilers.

Liszt at 30

Liszt at 30 in the midst of what still ranks as one of the longest concert tours ever undertaken – 8 years on the road,well over 1000 concerts. ‘Le concert, c’est moi!’ he could comfortably write in a letter.

Liszt only revised and refined his first drafts once he quit the concert platform.  He never gave a paid concert after the age of 35.  Based in Weimar, later in Rome where he took minor orders, he now began to produce some of his best music.

They”re still sorting out and publishing an authentic edition of Liszt’s 1300 piano works – and there are concertos, orchestral and choral works, songs, a handful of chamber works and some 7000 letters when these run out.
Certainly some of it is uneven.  (Would you expect otherwise in 7,266 minutes worth of piano music?).
But sorting out the wheat from the chaff is what makes Liszt so compelling a listen.  In art (as in his life) Liszt’s stylistic development was huge, progressing from the works of his virtuoso years to the visionary miniatures of his old age.
You can hear this span in MusicTORONTO`s next recital.
Liszt, who traveled throughout Europe by post-chaise rather than train or plane, now has both a train and Budapest's Ferenc Liszt Airport named after him

Liszt, who traveled throughout Europe by post-chaise rather than train or plane, now has both a train and Budapest's Ferenc Liszt Airport named after him

Lise de la Salle (piano). Ravel/Debussy/Liszt. Tuesday November 8, 2011 – 8:00 pm. Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto
Posted by Keith Horner

“Le concert – c’est moi!” – “I am the public concert!” | 2011 | Uncategorized | Tags: ,
Scroll to top