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Happy Birthday Franz Liszt!

Happy Birthday Liszt!

Franz Liszt (or Liszt Ferenec in his native Hungarian) was born on this day in 1811. He was a pianist and composer from the Romantic period. His father was a highly talented musician, playing the Piano, Violin, cello and Guitar.

Franz was a pianist from an early age, and actually took Piano Lessons as a youngster from the composer Carl Czerny, who in turn had been a student of Beethoven’s.

In 1827 after the death of his father, he moved to Paris with his mother. There, he gave piano lessons and composition lessons in order to earn money. His students were scattered across the entire city and he had to cover long distances each day.

The following year, Liszt fell in love with one of his pupils but her father insisted that the affair be broken off. Afterwards, he became extremely ill – to the extent that his obituary was actually published in the paper!

As well as being an accomplished musician himself, Liszt was a friend to many other distinguished composers. His social circle included the likes of Schumann, Saint-Saens and Grieg. He attended a charity concert in 1832 for victims of the Parisian cholera epidemic, organised by the violinist Niccolo Paganini. After this concert, Liszt became determined to become as great a virtuoso on the piano as Paganini was on the violin. As part of his development as a pianist, Liszt formed a friendship with Frederic Chopin. This friendship helped to develop Liszt’s poetic and romantic side in his compositions.

In later years Liszt toured several cities in Europe as part of a fundraising pledge to raise money for a monument to Beethoven in Bonn, Germany. He appeared three or four times a week in concert and it has been estimated that he probably appeared over a thousand times in an 8-year period. He was showered with honours and met with adulation wherever he went.

What added to Liszt’s great reputation was the fact that he gave away much of his proceeds to charities and humanitarian causes. By his mid-forties, he had made so much money that virtually all his performing fees after 1857 went to charity. He donated to Cologne Cathedral, hospitals, schools, and when he found out about the Great Fire of Hamburg in May 1842, he gave concerts in aid of the thousands of homeless there.

In 1848 he settled in Weimar, in central Germany. During this period he gave lessons to a number of pianists. He had ample time to compose and during the next 12 years he produced and/or revised the pieces upon which his reputation as a composer mainly rested.

The 1860s were a decade of sadness for Liszt, with two of his children dying shortly after one another. Liszt told friends that he wished for a life of solitude. He retreated to a monastery outside Rome, after having already joined the Third Order of St. Francis in 1857.

On some occasions, he took part in Rome’s musical life, directing programmes of sacred music . He also composed the Hungarian coronation ceremony for Franz Joseph and Elisabeth of Bavaria in 1867.

In 1869 Liszt was invited back to Weimar to give master classes in piano-playing. This then led to the same in Budapest. Until the end of his life, Liszt made these regular journeys between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. It’s estimated that he travelled around 4,000 miles a year during this period.

On 2nd July 1881 Liszt fell down the stairs of a hotel in Weimar at which he was staying. Until this time he had been in good health, but he was left immobilised for eight weeks after the accident and never recovered from the resulting injuries. He became plagued by feelings of desolation, despair and a preoccupation with death. These feelings found their way into his work. As he said, “I carry a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound.”

Franz Liszt died in Bayreuth, Germany on 31st July 1886 at the age of 74. Many consider him to be the greatest pianist who ever lived.

Liszt is remembered for his works such as the Hungarian Rhapsodies, Les Preludes and the Faust Symphony.

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