A Portrait of Franz Listz (1811-1886)

On Tuesday 19 June 2011, to mark the bicentenary of Franz Liszt’s birth (he was actually born on 22 October, in Raiding, Hungary) I gave a lecture-recital at the BRLSI. Association with Liszt’s music goes back to my early teenage years, and I was fortunate in being introduced to his greatest piano works in the years that followed. He was, of course, one of the major and most widely influential cultural figures of the nineteenth century, a performer of staggering technical brilliance and charisma from his earliest years, and a man whose output as a composer numbered some 1300 items, 700 original works and 600 transcriptions, paraphrases or arrangements of works by other composers. His international fame during his relatively long lifetime (Liszt died in his 75th year) meant that young musicians of several succeeding generations sought him out, wherever he was, to seek inspiration, advice and encouragement at the master’s feet. He was always generous with his time and money, helping to support good causes-for example, paying most of the cost of the Beethoven monument in Bonn in 1845, and giving the proceeds of a number of his public recitals to flood relief in Pest (the Hungarian capital) in 1838. The older he grew, the greater was his sense of Hungarian patriotism, even though he never really learned to speak Hungarian properly, having been brought up bilingually in German and French. Most of his voluminous correspondence, to the end of his life, was written in French.

In talking about Liszt, and playing his music on the BRLSI’s own upright piano, I was keen to show aspects of his musical styles from a number of angles. I quoted from two transcriptions (Schubert and Verdi), from the Petrarch Sonnets (one, No.104, in its entirety), the Piano Concerto No. 2 and substantial extracts from the B minor Sonata. The audience had a short selective work list to take away, together with a 3-page chronology of Liszt’s life. Also provided to take away was an A3 sheet containing themes from the beginnings of some 15 different works by Liszt. I felt this was the right thing to offer, even though I am well aware that many people today are not familiar with music notation.
Dr Robert Blackburn