1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Liszt, Franz

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3673651911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16 — Liszt, FranzEdward George Dannreuther

LISZT, FRANZ (1811–1886), Hungarian pianist and composer, was born on the 22nd of October 1811, at Raiding, in Hungary. His appeal to musicians was made in a threefold capacity, and we have, therefore, to deal with Liszt the unrivalled pianoforte virtuoso (1830–1848); Liszt the conductor of the “music of the future” at Weimar, the teacher of Tausig, Bülow and a host of lesser pianists, the eloquent writer on music and musicians, the champion of Berlioz and Wagner (1848–1861); and Liszt the prolific composer, who for some five-and-thirty years continued to put forth pianoforte pieces, songs, symphonic orchestral pieces, cantatas, masses, psalms and oratorios (1847–1882). As virtuoso he held his own for the entire period during which he chose to appear in public; but the militant conductor and prophet of Wagner had a hard time of it, and the composer’s place is still in dispute. Liszt’s father, a clerk to the agent of the Esterhazy estates and an amateur musician of some attainment, was Hungarian by birth and ancestry, his mother an Austrian-German. The boy’s gifts attracted the attention of certain Hungarian magnates, who furnished 600 gulden annually for some years to enable him to study music at Vienna and Paris. At Vienna he had lessons in pianoforte playing from Carl Czerny of “Velocity” fame, and from Salieri in harmony and analysis of scores. In his eleventh year he began to play in public there, and Beethoven came to his second concert in April 1823. During the three years following he played in Paris, the French provinces and Switzerland, and paid three visits to England. In Paris he had composition lessons from Paër, and a six months’ course of lessons in counterpoint from Reicha. In the autumn of 1825 the handsome and fascinating enfant gâté of the salons and ateliers—“La Neuvième Merveille du monde”—had the luck to get an operetta (Don Sancho) performed three times at the Académie Royale. The score was accidentally destroyed by fire, but a set of studies à la Czerny and Cramer, belonging to 1826 and published at Marseilles as 12 Études, op. i., is extant, and shows remarkable precocity. After the death of his father in 1828 young Liszt led the life of a teacher of the pianoforte in Paris, got through a good deal of miscellaneous reading, and felt the influence of the religious, literary and political aspirations of the time. He attended the meetings of the Saint-Simonists, lent an ear to the romantic mysticism of Père Enfantin and later to the teaching of Abbé Lamennais. He also played Beethoven and Weber in public—a very courageous thing in those days. The appearance of the violinist Paganini in Paris, 1831, marks the starting-point of the supreme eminence Liszt ultimately attained as a virtuoso. Paganini’s marvellous technique inspired him to practise as no pianist had ever practised before. He tried to find equivalents for Paganini’s effects, transcribed his violin caprices for the piano, and perfected his own technique to an extraordinary degree. After Paganini he received a fresh impulse from the playing and the compositions of Chopin, who arrived in 1831, and yet another impulse of equal force from a performance of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique, épisode de la vie d’un artiste,” in 1832. Liszt transcribed this work, and its influence ultimately led him to the composition of his “Poèmes symphoniques” and other examples of orchestral programme-music.

From 1833 to 1848—when he gave up playing in public—he was greeted with frantic applause as the prince of pianists. Five years (1835–1840) were spent in Switzerland and Italy, in semi-retirement in the company of Madame la comtesse d’Agoult (George Sand’s friend and would-be rival, known in literary circles as “Daniel Stern,” by whom Liszt had three children, one of them afterwards Frau Cosima Wagner): these years were devoted to further study in playing and composition, and were interrupted only by occasional appearances at Geneva, Milan, Florence and Rome, and by annual visits to Paris, when a famous contest with Thalberg took place in 1837. The enthusiasm aroused by Liszt’s playing and his personality—the two are inseparable—reached a climax at Vienna and Budapest in 1839–1840, when he received a patent of nobility from the emperor of Austria, and a sword of honour from the magnates of Hungary in the name of the nation. During the eight years following he was heard at all the principal centres—including London, Leipzig, Berlin, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Constantinople, Lisbon and Madrid. He gained much money, and gave large sums in charity. His munificence with regard to the Beethoven statue at Bonn made a great stir. The subscriptions having come in but sparsely, Liszt took the matter in hand, and the monument was completed at his expense, and unveiled at a musical festival conducted by Spohr and himself in 1845. In 1848 he settled at Weimar with Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein (d. 1887), and remained there till 1861. During this period he acted as conductor at court concerts and on special occasions at the theatre, gave lessons to a number of pianists, wrote articles of permanent value on certain works of Berlioz and the early operas of Wagner, and produced those orchestral and choral pieces upon which his reputation as a composer mainly depends. His ambition to found a school of composers as well as a school of pianists met with complete success on the one hand and partial failure on the other. His efforts on behalf of Wagner, who was then an exile in Switzerland, culminated in the first performance of Lohengrin on the 28th of August 1850, before a special audience assembled from far and near. Among the works produced for the first time or rehearsed with a view to the furtherance of musical art were Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer, Das Liebesmahl der Apostel, and Eine Faust Overtüre, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, the Symphonie Fantastique, Harold en Italie, Roméo et Juliette, La Damnation de Faust, and L’Enfance du Christ—the last two conducted by the composer—Schumann’s Genoveva, Paradise and the Peri, the music to Manfred and to Faust, Weber’s Euryanthe, Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella, Raff’s König Alfred, Cornelius’s Der Barbier von Baghdad and many more. It was Liszt’s habit to recommend novelties to the public by explanatory articles or essays, which were written in French (some for the Journal des débats and the Gazette musicale of Paris) and translated for the journals of Weimar and Leipzig—thus his two masterpieces of sympathetic criticism, the essays Lohengrin et Tannhäuser à Weimar and Harold en Italie, found many readers and proved very effective. They are now included, together with articles on Schumann and Schubert, and the elaborate and rather high-flown essays on Chopin and Des Bohémiens et de leur musique en Hongrie (the latter certainly, and the former probably, written in collaboration with Madame de Wittgenstein), in his Gesammelte Schriften (6 vols., Leipzig). The compositions belonging to the period of his residence at Weimar comprise two pianoforte concertos, in E flat and in A, the “Todtentanz,” the “Concerto pathétique” for two pianos, the solo sonata “An Robert Schumann,” sundry “Études,” fifteen “Rhapsodies Hongroises,” twelve orchestral “Poèmes symphoniques,” “Eine Faust Symphonie,” and “Eine Symphonie zu Dante’s ‘Divina Commedia,’ ” the “13th Psalm” for tenor solo, chorus and orchestra, the choruses to Herder’s dramatic scenes “Prometheus,” and the “Missa solennis” known as the “Graner Fest Messe.” Liszt retired to Rome in 1861, and joined the Franciscan order in 1865.[1] From 1869 onwards Abbé Liszt divided his time between Rome and Weimar, where during the summer months he received pupils—gratis as formerly—and, from 1876 up to his death at Bayreuth on the 31st of July 1886, he also taught for several months every year at the Hungarian Conservatoire of Budapest.

About Liszt’s pianoforte technique in general it may be said that it derives its efficiency from the teaching of Czerny, who brought up his pupil on Mozart, a little Bach and Beethoven, a good deal of Clementi and Hummel, and a good deal of his (Czerny’s) own work. Classicism in the shape of solid, respectable Hummel on the one hand, and Carl Czerny, a trifle flippant, perhaps, and inclined to appeal to the gallery, on the other, these gave the musical parentage of young Liszt. Then appears the Parisian Incroyable and grand seigneur—“Monsieur Lits,” as the Parisians called him. Later, we find him imitating Paganini and Chopin, and at the same time making a really passionate and deep study of Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Berlioz. Thus gradually was formed the master of style—whose command of the instrument was supreme, and who played like an inspired poet. Liszt’s strange musical nature was long in maturing its fruits. At the pianoforte his achievements culminate in the two books of studies, twice rewritten, and finally published in 1852 as Études d’exécution transcendante, the Études de concert and the Paganini Studies; the two concertos and the Todtentanz, the Sonata in B minor, the Hungarian Rhapsodies and the fine transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies (the 9th for two pianofortes as well as solo), and of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, and the symphony, Harold en Italie. In his orchestral pieces of Liszt appears—next to Berlioz—as the most conspicuous and most thorough-going representative of programme music, i.e. instrumental music expressly contrived to illustrate in detail some poem or some succession of ideas or pictures. It was Liszt’s aim to bring about a direct alliance or amalgamation of instrumental music with poetry. To effect this he made use of the means of musical expression for purposes of illustration, and relied on points of support outside the pale of music proper. There is always danger of failure when an attempt is thus made to connect instrumental music with conceptions not in themselves musical, for the order of the ideas that serve as a programme is apt to interfere with the order which the musical exposition naturally assumes—and the result in most cases is but an amalgam of irreconcilable materials. In pieces such as Liszt’s “Poèmes symphoniques,” Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (1848–1856), after a poem by Victor Hugo, and Die Ideale (1853–1857), after a poem by Schiller, the hearer is bewildered by a series of startling orchestral effects which succeed one another apparently without rhyme or reason. The music does not conform to any sufficiently definite musical plan—it is hardly intelligible as music without reference to the programme. Liszt’s masterpiece in orchestral music is the Dante Symphony (1847–1855), the subject of which was particularly well suited to his temperament, and offered good chances for the display of his peculiar powers as a master of instrumental effect. By the side of it ranks the Faust Symphony (1854–1857), in which the moods of Goethe’s characters—Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles—are depicted in three instrumental movements, with a chorus of male voices, supplying a kind of comment, by way of close. The method of presentation in both symphonies is by means of representative themes (Leitmotif), and their combination and interaction. Incidents of the poem or the play are illustrated or alluded to as may be convenient, and the exigencies of musical form are not unfrequently disregarded for the sake of special effects. Of the twelve Poèmes symphoniques, Orphée is the most consistent from a musical point of view, and is exquisitely scored. Melodious, effective, readily intelligible, with a dash of the commonplace, Les Préludes, Tasso, Mazeppa and Fest-Klänge bid for popularity. In these pieces, as in almost every production of his, in lieu of melody Liszt offers fragments of melody—touching and beautiful, it may be, or passionate, or tinged with triviality; in lieu of a rational distribution of centres of harmony in accordance with some definite plan, he presents clever combinations of chords and ingenious modulations from point to point; in lieu of musical logic and consistency of design, he is content with rhapsodical improvisation. The power of persistence seems wanting. The musical growth is spoilt, the development of the themes is stopped, or prevented, by some reference to extraneous ideas. Everywhere the programme stands in the way. In much of Liszt’s vocal music, particularly in the songs and choral pieces written to German words, an annoying discrepancy is felt to exist between the true sound of the words and the musical accents. The music is generally emotional, the expression direct and passionate; there is no lack of melodic charm and originality, yet the total effect is frequently disappointing. In the choral numbers of the five masses, and in the oratorios Die Heilige Elisabeth and Christus, the rarity of fugal polyphony acts as a drawback. Its almost complete absence in some of these works makes for monotony and produces a sense of dullness, which may not be inherent in all the details of the music, but is none the less distinctly present.

Omitting trifles and all publications that have been cancelled, the following list of compositions may be taken as fairly comprehensive:—

Pianoforte Pieces.—Études d’exécution transcendante; Études de concert; Zwei Etuden, Waldesrauschen, Gnomentanz; Ab Irato; Paganini Studies; Années de Pélerinage, 3 sets; Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, 1-10; Consolations, 1-6; Ave Maria in E; Sonata in B minor; Konzert-Solo in E minor; Scherzo und Marsch; Ballades, I. II.; Polonaises, I. II.; Apparitions, 1-3; Berceuse; Valse impromptu; Mazurka brillant; 3 Caprices Valses; Galop chromatique; Mephisto-Walzer, I., II., III. and Polka; Zwei Legenden, “Die Vogelpredigt,” “Der heilige Franciscus auf den Wogen schreitend”; “Der Weihnachtsbaum,” 1-12; Sarabande und Chaconne (“Almira”); Elegies, I., II. and III.; La lugubre Gondola; Dem Andenken Petöfi’s; Mosonyi’s Grabgeleit; Romance oubliée; Valses oubliées, 1-3; Liebesträume, 1-3 (originally songs); Hexameron; Rhapsodies Hongroises, 1-18.

Pieces for Two Pianos.—Concerto pathétique (identical with the Konzert-Solo in E minor); Dante symphony; Faust symphony; Poèmes symphoniques, 1-12; Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Pianoforte with Orchestra.—Concertos I. in E flat, II. in A; Todtentanz; Fantasie ueber Motif aus Beethoven’s “Ruinen von Athen”; Fantasie ueber Ungarische National Melodien; Schubert’s Fantasia in C; Weber’s Polacca in E.

Fantaisies de Concert for Piano Solo.—Don Juan; Norma; Sonnambula; I Puritani; Lucia, I., II.; Lucrezia, I., II.; La Juive; Robert le Diable; Les Huguenots; Le Prophète, 1-4. Paraphrases, Auber, Tarantella di bravura (Masaniello); Verdi, Rigoletto, Ernani, Il Trovatore; Mendelssohn, “Hochzeitsmarsch und Elfenreigen”; Gounod, Valse de Faust, Les Adieux de Roméo et Juliette; Tschaikowsky, Polonaise; Dargomiyski, Tarantelle; Cui, Tarantella; Saint-Saëns, Danse macabre; Schubert, Soirées de Vienne, Valses caprices, 1-9.

Transcriptions.—Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies; Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique,” “Harold en Italie”; Bénédiction et Serment (Benvenuto Cellini); Danse des Sylphes (Damnation de Faust); Weber’s overtures, Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, Oberon, Jubilee; Beethoven’s and Hummel’s Septets; Schubert’s Divertissement à la Hongroise; Beethoven’s Concertos in C minor, G and E flat (orchestra for a second piano); Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture, march, romance, chorus of pilgrims; Lohengrin, Festzug und Brautlied, Elsa’s Brautgang, Elsa’s Traum, Lohengrin’s Verweiss an Elsa; Fliegender Holländer, Spinnlied; Rienzi, Gebet; Rheingold, Walhall; Meistersinger, “Am stillen Herd”; Tristan, Isolde’s Liebestod; Chopin’s six Chants Polonais; Meyerbeer’s Schillermarsch; Bach’s six organ Preludes and Fugues; Prelude and Fugue in G minor; Beethoven, Adelaide; 6 miscellaneous and 6 Geistliche Lieder; Liederkreis; Rossini’s Les Soirées musicales; Schubert, 59 songs; Schumann, 13 songs; Mendelssohn, 8 songs; Robert Franz, 13 songs.

Organ Pieces.—Missa pro organo; Fantasia and Fugue, “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”; B-A-C-H Fugue; Variations on Bach’s Basso continuo, “Weinen, Klagen”; Bach’s Introduction and Fugue, “Ich hatte viel Bekümmerniss”; Bach’s Choral Fugue, “Lob und Ehre”; Nicolai’s Kirchliche Festouvertüre, “Ein feste Burg”; Allegri’s Miserere; Mozart’s Ave Verum; Arcadelt’s Ave Maria; Lasso’s Regina Coeli.

Orchestral Pieces.—Eine Symphonie zu Dante’s “Divina Commedia”; Eine Faust Symphonie; Poèmes symphoniques: 1. “Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne”; 2. Tasso; 3. Les Préludes; 4. Orphée; 5. Prométhée; 6. Mazeppa; 7. Fest-Klänge; 8. Héroïde funèbre; 9. Hungaria; 10. Hamlet; 11. Hunnenschlacht; 12. Die Ideale; Zwei Episoden aus Lenau’s Faust: I. Der nächtliche Zug, II. Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke; Marches, Rakoczy, Goethe, Huldigung, “Vom Fels zum Meer” (for a military band); Ungarischer, Heroischer and Sturmmarsch; Le Triomphe funèbre du Tasse; “Von der Wiege bis zum Grab”; six Hungarian rhapsodies; four marches; four songs, and Die Allmacht, by Schubert.

Vocal Music.—Oratorios: “Die Legende von der Heiligen Elisabeth,” “Christus,” “Stanislaus” (unfinished). Masses: Missa solennis for the inauguration of the cathedral at Gran; Ungarische Krönungs-messe; Missa choralis (with organ); Missa and Requiem for male voices (with organ); Psalms, 13, 137, 23 and 18; 12 Kirchen-Chor-Gesänge (with organ). Cantatas: Prometheus-chöre; “Beethoven Cantata”; “An die Künstler”; Die Glocken des Strassburger Münsters; 12 Chöre für Männergesang; Songs, 8 books; Scena, Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher.

Melodramatic Pieces for Declamation, with Pianoforte Accompaniment.—Leonore (Bürger); Der traurige Mönch (Lenau); Des todten Dichter’s Liebe (Jokai); Der blinde Sänger (Tolstoy).

Editions, Text and Variants.—Beethoven’s Sonatas; Weber’s Concertstück and Sonatas; Schubert Fantasia, 4 Sonatas, Impromptus, Valses and Moments musicaux.

See also L. Ramaun, Fr. Liszt als Künstler und Mensch (1880–1894); E. Dannreuther, Oxford Hist. of Music, vol. vi. (1905).  (E. Da.) 

  1. It is understood that, in point of fact, the Princess Wittgenstein was determined to marry Liszt; and as neither he nor her family wished their connexion to take this form, Cardinal Hohenlohe quietly had him ordained.—[Ed. E.B.].