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Franz Liszt

Country of origin: Hungary
Birthday: October 22, 1811
Date of death: July 31, 1886

About Franz Liszt

Franz Liszt, Hungarian composer and pianist, one of the most famous piano virtuosos of his time and protagonist of the New German School.

Liszt studied in Vienna with Carl Czerny (piano) and Antonio Salieri (music theory), later in Paris with Ferdinando Paer (harmony) and Anton Reicha (composition), and undertook concert tours in France and to London. In Paris he met the composers Gioacchino Rossini, Fryderyk Chopin, Hector Berlioz, Vincenzo Bellini, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Niccolò Paganini, among others, of whose works he wrote individual arrangements which marked the transition to an extremely virtuoso piano style. In addition, he received literary impressions from writers such as Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine which he processed in his later compositions. From 1835 he lived with Comtesse Marie Cathérine Sophie d'Agoult (*1805, 1876; known as a writer under the pseudonym of Daniel Stern) in Geneva and Italy; best known among their three children is Cosima for being the wife of Richard Wagner from 1870.
Extended concert tours took Liszt to Vienna, Hungary, Berlin and Russia, among other places. In Kiev he met Princess Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein (*1819, 1887) who followed him to Weimar where he had been appointed court music director in 1842 and advocated especially performances of contemporary works (Schumann, Berlioz, Wagner). In Weimar, Liszt was the centre of a circle of students (Peter Cornelius, Joseph Raff, Hans von Bülow, Carl Tausig) whose ideas on music and style found expression in the New German School and became known to a wide public through the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein and the magazine »Neue Zeitschrift für Musik«. After some intrigue about the performance of the »Barber of Baghdad« (1858) by Cornelius he resigned from his post as director of the opera in Weimar and went to Rome where he took minor orders, becoming the Abbé Liszt, when his plans to marry the Princess did not come to fruition. In 1875 he became the first president of the newly founded Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest.

Liszt was the creator of a new kind of piano music which for the first time went far beyond the technique applied in the study works by Czerny and Friedrich Kalkbrenner, using the whole keyboard and playing with chords and octaves (in different registers), ornaments, leaps, parallel chords or octaves and wide arpeggios. Thus, he achieved differentiated possibilities of tonal expression for the piano (following partly the example of the effects achieved by Paganini on the violin). He was also one of the first pianists to perform without an orchestra: The melody of his piano works is characterized by a vocal line. As for the harmony, he started from Chopin, Schubert and the music theoretician François-Joseph Fétis and exerted his influence to Wagner, the Impressionist sound world of Debussy and (through quartal harmony, polytonality) into 20th-century music. With orchestral works he created the symphonic poem, most of them one-movement programme compositions in which a poetic text (sometimes even an illustration) was set to music.
Liszt's sacred and liturgical works show influences of the Caecilian movement and combine characteristic features of his own tonal language with Gregorian elements. As a reformer, he was eventually active in the field of organization of the musical life. For example, he advocated the improvement of the artist's status, music lessons at primary schools and the organization of music festivals. As a co-founder of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein, he created a platform for contemporary music.
Orchestral works: Symphonic poems: Tasso (1849); Prometheus (1850); Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne (1850); Orpheus (1854); Mazeppa (1854); Les Préludes (1854); Hungaria (1856); Die Ideale (1857); Hunnenschlacht (1857); Faust Symphony (1857); Symphony of Dante's Divina commedia (1857); Hamlet (1858); Trois odes funèbres (1860, 1864, 1866); Two Episodes from Lenau's Faust (1861; No.2: »Mephisto Waltz«).
Works for piano and orchestra: Concerto No. 2 in A major (1839, revisions until 1861); Concerto No. 1 in E flat major (1849).
Piano works: Étude pour le pianoforte en quarante-huit exercices (1826, only 12 Études published; new version in 1838; as Études d'exécution transcendante, 1851); Grande fantaisie de bravoure sur la Clochette de Paganini (1832); Apparitions (1834); Années de pèlerinages (between 1835 and 1877, including the Dante Sonata, 1858, and Venezia e Napoli, 1859); Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (184552); Consolations (1849); Sonata in B minor (1853); 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies (published from 1851).
Organ works: Prelude and Fugue on the Name of Bach (1855; 2nd version 1870); Variations based on the chromatically descending bass line of Bach's cantata »Weinen, Klagen« (1863).
Vocal works: Oratorio »Christus« for soprano, alto, baritone, bass, choir, orchestra and organ (185566); oratorio »The Legend of St. Elizabeth« for soprano, alto, baritone, bass, choir, orchestra and organ (185762); Missa choralis for four solo voices, choir and orchestra (1865); Hungarian Coronation Mass for three solo voices, choir and orchestra (1867); Requiem for four solo voices, male choir, organ and brass (1868); Cantico del Sol di S. Francesco Assisi for baritone, male choir, organ and orchestra (1862; revised in 1880); Legend of »Sainte Cécile« for mezzo-soprano, choir and orchestra (1874); 82 songs.