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Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt

Born in 1811 in Raiding, Kingdom of Hungary, now Austria, died 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany.

Franz Liszt, eagerly supported by his father, was from his early childhood on celebrated as a prodigy on the piano. When in 1823 the family moved to Vienna, the promotion of his musical education was the main purpose. Study trips to Paris as well as concert tours through France, Switzerland and England followed. The sudden death of Liszt’s father in 1827 forced him to provide for his mother and himself, which he tried by giving music lessons. After a personal crisis he withdrew from society and dedicated his time to literature and religious studies. He seemed to have gained more interest in life and art again in 1830, probably motivated by the revolutionary activities in Paris.

Now, Liszt closed acquaintances with the spokesmen of the literary Romantic Movement and soon became the darling of the Parisian society. Among the musicians he befriended were Berlioz, Paganini and Chopin, who all exercised a great influence on the young artist. Paganini, for example, became a role model for his own ambitions as a virtuoso he aspired to, with Chopin he even shared various performances.

In 1833 Liszt met his later companion Countess Marie d’ Agoult, with whom he was to have three children, amongst them Cosima, the wife-to-be of Richard Wagner.

The start of an extensive tour of Europe in 1838 must be regarded as prelude for an unprecedented virtuoso career. The enormous enthusiasm and the almost fanatical celebrations of his talent soon lead to a „Lisztomania“. On the other hand, the intensity of relationship with Marie d’Agoult faded remarkably, ultimately resulting in their break up in 1844.

Liszt’s appointment as “Kappellmeister Extraordinaire” (special bandmaster) to the court of Weimar in 1842 brought with it the obligation to work in Weimar on a regular schedule. In February 1848 Liszt finally decided to settle in Weimar with his new companion, Princess Carolyne of Sayn-Wittgenstein. As court bandmaster he eagerly promoted and extended the contemporary repertoire, above all the compositions of Schumann, Berlioz and Richard Wagner, who was living in Swiss exile. With Franz Liszt Weimar became an important centre of musical developments in Germany. The Altenburg, Liszt’s residence in Weimar, attracted young artists and authors from all over Europe.

In 1859 Liszt resigned from his office in Weimar, finally leaving the town for Rome two years later. The Roman time is determined by Liszt’s increasing devotion to Catholicism and the composition of ecclesiastical music, evoked by private difficulties, in 1865 he even was ordained and became an abbé.

From 1869 onwards, Liszt lived several months of the year alternately in Weimar, Budapest and Rome. He educated and trained generations of young pianists of all nationalities in his master classes and participated at the same time in the construction of an authentic Hungarian music culture. He had made a clear move away from the musical mainstream, his late work is determined by an increasing isolation and experimental expressiveness.

On July 31, 1886 Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth at the house of his daughter Cosima Wagner, officially as a result of pneumonia, but more probable of a heart condition.