Hungarian pianist and composer. An outstanding virtuoso of the piano, he was an established concert artist by the age of 12. His expressive, romantic, and frequently chromatic works include piano music (Transcendental Studies, 1851), Masses and oratorios, songs, organ music, and a symphony. Much of his music is programmatic; he also originated the symphonic poem. Liszt was taught by his father, then by Carl Czerny. He travelled widely in Europe, producing an operetta Don Sanche in Paris, France, at the age of 14. As musical director and conductor at Weimar, Germany, 1848-59, he championed the music of Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner.
Retiring to Rome, Italy, he turned again to his early love of religion, and in 1865 became a secular priest (adopting the title abbé), while continuing to teach and give concert tours for which he also made virtuoso piano arrangements of orchestral works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner. He died in Bayreuth, Germany.
Liszt's father, a steward of the Esterházy family's property, was Hungarian, his mother Austrian. At the age of nine he gave a concert at Sopron and in 1823 he had advanced so amazingly that his father took him to Vienna and Paris, where he had immense success. In 1824-25 he paid two visits to England and another in 1827. His father died that year, and he was taken to Paris by his paternal grandmother, who looked after his education there. He remained in Paris, and after a period of religious mysticism under the influence of Félicité de Lamennais, achieved great success and fame as a pianist, his flamboyant stage manner having almost as much to do with his success as his dazzling technique. In Paris he came into contact with the Romantics, including Berlioz, Chopin, Paganini, and George Sand, and in 1833 he began his liaison with the Countess d'Agoult. They went to live in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1835, where a daughter, Blandine, was born, followed by another, Cosima (who became first Hans von Bülow's and then Wagner's wife), at Como in 1837. A son, Daniel, was born in Rome in 1839. During this time Liszt wrote the Album d'un voyageur, first published complete in 1842 (several of the pieces reappeared in the first book of Années de pèlerinage, 1855).
He travelled widely as a pianist and made much money. In 1840 he collected funds for the Beethoven memorial in Bonn, and often played for charitable purposes organized on a large scale. He paid further visits to England 1840-41, playing before Queen Victoria, and he toured Russia, Turkey, and Denmark 1842-44. He and the Countess separated in 1844, and the following year he visited Spain and Portugal; two years later, in Kiev, he met Princess Caroline Sayn-Wittgenstein, the wife of a wealthy Russian landowner, who fell in love with him and in 1848 left with him for Weimar, where he was engaged as conductor and music director to the grand-ducal court for certain periods of the year. He produced many new operas there, including Wagner's Lohengrin (1850) and Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict (1862), and settled down to write various works, some on a very large scale, having previously confined himself almost exclusively to piano music. His piano sonata of 1853, followed by the Faust and Dante symphonies (1854-57 and 1856), were revolutionary for their extension of sonata form in a cyclic process extending for several movements, and for their use of limited motifs that become transformed as a means of development. His chief orchestral writings are connected with his Weimar career, and the music of this period had a profound influence on his contemporaries: echoes of the opening theme of Liszt's Faust symphony appear in Sieglinde's solo scene at the end of Die Walküre, act II, by Wagner, while traces of the Dante symphony survive in Parsifal by the same composer.
He retired to Rome in 1861, and took minor orders in 1865, becoming an abbé, and henceforward many of his works were of a sacred character: Missa solemnis (1855), and other Masses, Christus (1862-66), Psalms, and the Requiem for male voices and organ. Becoming president of the Budapest Academy of Music in 1875, he lived in Budapest, Weimar, and Rome from this date. In his last years he often visited his daughter Cosima in Bayreuth, and irritated Wagner with his new-found religious fervour. In his last piano works he adopted a totally new, modern style which his contemporaries found incomprehensible. Liszt was the most important figure of musical Romanticism, influencing not only his own age but also the following century.
Until recently, Liszt's posthumous reputation has not been high; his lifestyle has distracted attention from his music. Frequent modern performances of the symphonies and symphonic poems, as well as the work of such pianists as Leslie Howard, Alfred Brendel, and Mikhail Rudy, have revealed a more thoughtful and serious composer.
13 symphonic poems for orchestra, including Les Préludes (1848), two piano concertos in A (1839, revised 1849-61) and E♭ (1849, revised 1853, 1856), Totentanz (1849, revised 1853, 1859), Faust and Dante symphonies (1854-57 and 1856).
Vocal and organ
oratorio Christus (1862-66), a number of other choral works; 55 songs; fugue on B.A.C.H., fantasy (1885) and fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam and a few other organ works.
a vast number of piano compositions, including 12 Études d'exécution transcendante (1851), sonata in B minor (1853), three volumes of Années de pèlerinage (1855-77), two Légendes, Liebsträume (three nocturnes, originally songs), 20 Hungarian Rhapsodies; innumerable transcriptions for piano including operatic pieces, symphonies, waltzes, and songs.
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