Franz Liszt, in his day the king of
pianists, a composer whose compositions
still glow and burn with the fire he breathed into them; Liszt the
diplomat, courtier, man of the world—always a conqueror! How difficult
tell, in a few pages, the story of a life so complex and absorbing!
A storm outside: but all was warmth and
simple comfort in the large
sitting-room of a steward's cottage belonging to the small estate of
Raiding, in Hungary.
It was evening and father Liszt, after
the labors of the day were over,
could call these precious hours his own. He was now at the old piano,
with him music was a passion. He used all his leisure time for study
had some knowledge of most instruments. He had taught himself the
indeed under the circumstances had become quite proficient on it.
he was playing something of Haydn, for he greatly venerated that
Adam Liszt made a striking figure as he sat there, his fine head, with
mass of light hair, thrown back, his stern features softened by the
he was making.
At a table near sat his wife, her dark
head with its glossy braids bent
over her sewing. Hers was a sweet, kindly face, and she endeared
every one by her simple, unassuming manners.
Quite near the old piano stood little
Franz, not yet six. He was
absorbed in the music. The fair curls fell about his childish face and
deep blue eyes were raised to his father, as though the latter were
sort of magician, creating all this beauty.
When the music paused, little Franz
awoke as from a trance.
"Did you like that, Franzerl?" asked his
father, looking down at him.
child bent his curly head, hardly able to speak.
"And do you want to be a musician when
you grow up?" Franzerl nodded,
pointing to a picture of Beethoven hanging on the wall, exclaimed with
beaming eyes: "I want to be such a musician as he is!"
Adam Liszt had already begun to teach
his baby son the elements of
at the child's earnest and oft-repeated request. He had no real method,
being self-taught himself, but in spite of this fact Franz made
progress. He could read the notes and find the keys with as much ease
though he had practised for years. He had a wonderful ear, and his
was astonishing. The father hoped his boy would become a great
and carry out the dream which he had failed to realize in himself.
Little Franz was born in the eventful
year of 1811,—the "year of the
comet." The night of October 21, the night of his birth, the tail of
meteor seemed to light up the roof of the Liszt home and was regarded
an omen of destiny. His mother used to say he was always cheerful,
never naughty but most obedient. The child seemed religious by nature,
which feeling was fostered by his good mother. He loved to go to church
Sundays and fast days. The midnight mass on Christmas eve, when Adam
carrying a lantern, led the way to church along the country road,
the silent night, filled the child's thoughts with mystic awe.
Those early impressions have doubtless
influenced the creations of
especially that part of his "Christus" entitled "Christmas Oratorio."
Before Franz was six, as we have seen,
he had already begun his musical
studies. If not sitting at the piano, he would scribble notes—for he
had learned without instruction how to write them long before he knew
letters of the alphabet, or rudiments of writing. His small hands were
a source of trouble to him, and he resorted to all kinds of comical
expedients, such as sometimes playing extra notes with the tip of his
Indeed his ingenuity knew no bounds, when it came to mastering some
Franz was an open minded, frank,
truth-loving child, always ready to
confess his faults, though he seemed to have but few. Strangely enough,
though born an Hungarian, he was never taught to speak his native
which indeed was only used by the peasants. German, the polite language
the country, was alone used in the Liszt home.
The pronounced musical talent of his boy
was a source of pride to Adam
Liszt, who spoke of it to all his friends, so that the little fellow
to be called "the artist." The result was that when a concert was to be
given at the neighboring Oldenburg, Adam was requested to allow his
child to play.
When Franz, now a handsome boy of nine,
heard of the concert, he was
overjoyed at the prospect of playing in public. It was a happy day for
him when he started out with his father for Oldenburg. He was to play a
Concerto by Reis, and a Fantaisie of his own, accompanied by the
In this his first public attempt Franz proved he possessed two
necessary for success—talent and will. All who heard him on this
were so delighted, that Adam then and there made arrangements to give a
second concert on his own account, which was attended with as great
as the first.
The father had now fully made up his
mind Franz was to be a musician.
decided to resign his post of steward at Raiding and take the boy to
for further study.
On the way to Pressburg, the first stop,
they halted to call at
on Prince Esterhazy. The boy played for his delighted host, who gave
him every encouragement, even to placing his castle at Pressburg at his
disposal for a concert. The Princess, too, was most cordial, and gave
boy costly presents when they left.
At Pressburg Adam Liszt succeeded in
arranging a concert which
all the Hungarian aristocracy of the city. It was given in the spacious
drawing-rooms of the Prince's palace, and a notable audience was
Little Franz achieved a triumph that night, because of the fire and
originality of his playing. Elegant women showered caresses upon the
and the men were unanimous that such gifts deserved to be cultivated to
utmost without delay.
When it was learned that father Liszt
had not an ample purse, and there
would be but little for Franz's further musical education, six
noblemen agreed to raise a subscription which would provide a yearly
for six years. With this happy prospect in view, which relieved him of
further anxiety, the father wrote to Hummel, now in employ of the Court
Weimar, asking him to undertake Franz's musical education. Hummel,
famous pianist, was of a grasping nature; he wrote back that he was
to accept the talented boy as a pupil, but would charge a louis d'or
As soon as the father and his boy
arrived in Vienna, the best teachers
secured for Franz. Carl Czerny was considered head of the piano
Czerny had been a pupil of Beethoven, and was so overrun with pupils
himself, that he at first declined to accept another. But when he heard
Franz play, he was so impressed that he at once promised to teach him.
nature was the opposite of Hummel's, for he was most generous to
talent. At the end of twelve lessons, when Adam Liszt wished to pay
the debt, Czerny would accept nothing, and for the whole period of
instruction—a year and a half—he continued to teach Franz gratuitously.
At first the work with such a strict
master of technic as Czerny, was
irksome to the boy, who had been brought up on no method at all, but
allowed free and unrestrained rein. He really had no technical
but since he could read rapidly at sight and could glide over the keys
such astonishing ease, he imagined himself already a great artist.
soon showed him his deficiencies; proving to him that an artist must
clear touch, smoothness of execution and variety of tone. The boy
at first, but finally settled down to hard study, and the result soon
astonished his teacher. For Franz began to acquire a richness of
and beauty of tone wonderful for such a child. Salieri became his
of theory. He was now made to analyze and play scores, also compose
pieces and short hymns. In all these the boy made fine progress.
He now began to realize he needed to
know something besides music, and
to work by himself to read, study and write. He also had great
through his noble Hungarian patrons, to meet the aristocracy of Vienna.
talents, vivacity and grace, his attractive personality, all helped to
the notice of ladies—even in those early days of his career.
After eighteen busy months in Vienna,
father Liszt decided to bring his
boy out in a public concert. The Town Hall was placed at his disposal
number of fine artists assisted. With beaming face and sparkling eyes,
the boy played with more skill, fire and confidence than he had ever
before. The concert took place December 1, 1822. On January 12, 1823,
repeated his success in another concert, again at the Town Hall.
It was after this second concert that
Franz's reputation reached the
of Beethoven, always the object of the boy's warmest admiration.
times Franz and his father had tried to see the great master, but
success. Schindler was appealed to and promised to do his best. He
Beethoven's diary, as the master was quite deaf:
"Little Liszt has entreated me to beg
you to write him a theme for
to-morrow's concert. He will not break the seal till the concert
Czerny is his teacher—the boy is only eleven years old. Do come to his
concert, it will encourage the child. Promise me you will come."
It was the thirteenth of April, 1823. A
very large audience filled the
Redouten Saal. When Franz stepped upon the platform, he perceived the
Beethoven seated near. A great joy filled him. Now he was to play for
great man, whom all his young life he had worshiped from afar. He put
every effort to be worthy of such an honor. Never had he played with
fire; his whole being seemed thrilled—never had he achieved such
In the admiration which followed, Beethoven rose, came upon the
clasped the boy in his arms and kissed him repeatedly, to the frantic
cheers of the audience.
The boy Franz Liszt had now demonstrated
that already at eleven years
he was one of the leading virtuosi of the time; indeed his great
as a pianist dates from this third Vienna concert. The press praised
highly, and many compared him to the wonderful genius, Mozart. Adam
wished him now to see more of the world, and make known his great
also to study further. He decided to take the boy to Paris, for there
the celebrated composer, Cherubini, at that time Director of the Paris
On the way to Paris, concerts were given
in various cities. In Munich
was acclaimed "a second Mozart." In Strassburg and Stuttgart he had
Arrived in Paris, father and son visited
the Conservatoire at once, for
would have been a fine thing for the boy to study there for a time, as
it was the best known school for counterpoint and composition.
however, refused to even read the letters of recommendation, saying no
foreigner, however talented, could be admitted to the French National
School of Music. Franz was deeply hurt by this refusal, and begged with
tears to be allowed to come, but Cherubini was immovable.
However they soon made the acquaintance
of Ferdinand Paër, who
give the child lessons in composition.
Franz made wonderful progress, both in
this new line of study, and in
becoming known as a piano virtuoso. Having played in a few of the great
houses, he soon found himself the fashion; everybody was anxious for
petit Litz" as he was called, to attend and play at their
thus met the most distinguished musicians of the day. When he played in
public the press indulged in extravagant praise, calling him "the
wonder of the world," "another Mozart," and the like. Of course the
was overjoyed that his fondest hopes were being realized. Franz stood
the head of the virtuosi, and in composition he was making rapid
He even attempted an operetta, "Don Sancho," which later had several
The eminent piano maker, Erard, who had
a branch business in London and
was about to start for that city, invited Liszt to accompany him and
bring Franz. They accepted this plan, but in order to save expense, it
decided that mother Liszt, who had joined them in Paris, should return
Austria and stay with a sister till the projected tours were over.
Franz was saddened by this decision, but
his entreaties were useless;
father was stern. The separation was a cruel one for the boy. For a
time thereafter the mere mention of his mother's name would bring
In May, 1824, father and son, with
Erard, started for England, and on
21 Franz gave his first public concert in London. He had already played
the aristocracy in private homes, and had appeared at Court by command
King George IV. The concert won him great success, though the English
were more reserved in their demonstrations, and not like the impulsive,
open-hearted French people. He was happy to return to Paris, after the
London season, and to resume his playing in the French salons.
The next spring, accompanied by his
father, he made a tour of the
provinces, and then set out for a second trip to England. He was now
fourteen; a mere boy in years, but called the greatest pianist of the
He had developed so quickly and was so precocious that already he
being called "le petit Litz," for he felt himself full grown. He wished
be free to act as he wished. Adam, however, kept a strict watch on all
movements, and this became irksome to the boy, who felt he was already
But father Liszt's health became
somewhat precarious; constant
had undermined it. They remained in Paris quietly, till the year 1826,
they started on a second tour of French cities till Marseilles was
where the young pianist's success was overwhelming.
Returning to Paris, Franz devoted much
of his time to ardent study of
counterpoint, under Anton Reicha. In six months' study he had mastered
difficulties of this intricate art.
Adam Liszt and Franz spent the winter of
1826-7 in Switzerland, the boy
playing in all important cities. They returned to Paris in the spring,
in May, set out again for England on a third visit. Franz gave his
concert in London on June ninth and proved how much he had gained in
and brilliancy. Moscheles, who was present, wrote: "Franz Liszt's
surpasses in power and the overcoming of difficulties anything that has
The strain of constant travel and
concert playing was seriously telling
on the boy's sensitive, excitable nature. He lost his sunny gaiety,
quiet, sometimes almost morose. He went much to church, and wanted to
take orders, but his father prevented this step. Indeed the father
alarmed at the boy's pale face and changed condition, and took him to
French watering place of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Here both father and son
benefited by the sea baths and absolute rest. Franz recovered his
spirits and constantly gained in health and strength.
But with Adam Liszt the gain was only
temporary. He was attacked with a
fever, succumbed in a few days and was buried at Boulogne. The loss of
father was a great blow to Franz. He was prostrated for days, but youth
last conquered. Aroused to his responsibilities, he began to think for
future. He at once wrote his mother, telling her what had happened,
he would give up his concert tours and make a home for her in Paris, by
giving piano lessons.
Looking closer into his finances, of
which he had no care before, Franz
found the expenses of his father's illness and death had exhausted
little savings, and he was really in debt. He decided to sell his grand
piano, so that he should be in debt to no one. This was done, every one
paid off and on his arrival in Paris his old friend Erard invited him
his own home till the mother came.
It was a sweet and happy meeting of
mother and son, after such a long
separation. The two soon found a modest apartment in the Rue Montholon.
As soon as his intention to give lessons
became known, many
pupils came and found him a remarkable teacher. Among his new pupils
Caroline Saint Cricq, youngest daughter of Count Saint Cricq, then
of the Interior, and Madame his wife.
Caroline, scarcely seventeen, the same
age as her young teacher, was a
beautiful girl, as pure and refined as she was talented. Under the eyes
the Countess, the lessons went on from month to month, and the mother
not fail to see the growing attachment between the young people. But
young dream was of short duration. The Countess fell ill and the
had to be discontinued. Caroline did not see her devoted teacher till
There was now another bond between them,
the sympathy over the loss
of their dear ones. The Count had requested that the lessons should be
resumed. But when the young teacher remained too long in converse with
pupil after the lessons, he was dismissed by the Count, and all their
intercourse came to an abrupt end.
Mme. Liszt did all she could to soothe
the grief and despair of her
For days and weeks he remained at home, neglecting his piano and his
He again thought of the church with renewed ardor and told his mother
now had decided to become a monk. His spirits sank very low; he became
ill, unable to leave the house and it was reported everywhere he had
Again he rallied and his strong
constitution conquered. As strength
returned, so also did his activity and love of life.
During his long convalescence he was
seized with a great desire for
knowledge, and read everything he could lay hands on. He would often
at the piano, busying his fingers with technic while reading a book on
desk before him. He had formerly given all his time to music and
now he must know literature, politics, history and exact sciences. A
casually dropped in conversation, would start him on a new line of
Then came the revolution of 1830. Everybody talked politics, and Franz,
with his excitable spirits, would have rushed into the conflict if his
mother had not restrained him.
With all this awakening he sought to
broaden his art, to make his
instrument speak of higher things. Indeed the spirit must speak through
the form. This he realized the more as he listened to the thrilling
performances of that wizard of the violin, Paganini, who appeared in
in 1831. This style of playing made a deep impression on Liszt. He now
tried to do on the piano what Paganini accomplished on the violin, in
the matter of tone quality and intensity. He procured the newly
Caprices for violin and tried to learn their tonal secrets, also
transcribing the pieces for piano.
Liszt became fast friends with the young
composer, Hector Berlioz, and
much influenced by his compositions, which were along new harmonic
Chopin, the young Polish artist, now appeared in Paris, playing his E
Concerto, his Mazurkas and Nocturnes, revealing new phases of art.
calm composure tranquilized Liszt's excitable nature. From Chopin,
learned to "express in music the poetry of the aristocratic salon."
ever remained a true and admiring friend of the Pole, and wrote the
study sketch of him in 1849.
Liszt was now twenty-three. Broadened
and chastened by all he had
through, he resumed his playing in aristocratic homes. He also appeared
public and was found to be quite a different artist from what the
had previously known. His bold new harmonies in his own compositions,
rich effects, showed a deep knowledge of his art. He had transcribed a
number of Berlioz's most striking compositions to the piano and
them with great effect.
The handsome and gifted young artist was
everywhere the object of
admiration. He also met George Sand, and was soon numbered among that
wonderful and dangerous woman's best friends. Later he met the young
beautiful Countess Laprunarède, and a mutual attraction ensued.
Count, her husband, pleased with the dashing young musician, invited
spend the winter at his chateau, in Switzerland, where the witty
virtually kept him prisoner.
The following winter, 1833-34, when the
salons opened again, Liszt
frequented them as before. He was in the bloom of youth and fame, when
met the woman who was to be linked with his destiny for the next ten
We have sketched the childhood and youth
of this wonderful artist up to
this point. We will pass lightly over this decade of his career, merely
stating briefly that the lady—the beautiful Countess d'Agoult,
by the brilliant talents of the Hungarian virtuoso, left her husband
child, and became for ten years the faithful companion of his travels
tours over Europe. Many writers agree that Liszt endeavored to dissuade
her from this attraction, and behaved as honorably as he could under
circumstances. A part of the time they lived in Switzerland, and it was
there that many of Liszt's compositions were written.
Of their three children, the boy died
very young. Of the girls,
became the wife of Émile Ollivier, a French literary man and
sister, Cosima, married first Hans von Bülow and later Richard
In 1843 Liszt intended to take Madame
with him to Russia, but instead,
left her and her children in Paris, with his mother, as the Countess
failing health. His first concert, in St. Petersburg, realized the
sum of fifty thousand francs—ten thousand dollars. Instead of giving
concert in Moscow, he gave six. Later he played in Bavaria, Saxony and
other parts of Germany. He then settled in Weimar for a time, being
Grand Ducal Capellmeister. Then, in 1844-45, longing for more success,
toured Spain and Portugal.
A generous act was his labor in behalf
of the Beethoven monument, to be
erected in the master's birthplace, Bonn. The monument was to be given
subscriptions from the various Princes of Germany. Liszt helped make up
deficit and came to Bonn to organize a Festival in honor of the event.
also composed a Cantata for the opening day of the Festival, and in his
enthusiasm nearly ruined himself by paying the heavy expenses of the
Festival out of his own pocket.
The political events of 1848 brought him
back to Weimar, and he resumed
post of Court Music Director. He now directed his energies toward
Weimar the first musical city of Germany. Greatly admiring Wagner's
he undertook to perform his works in Weimar, and to spread his name
and fame. Indeed it is not too much to say that without Liszt's devoted
efforts, Wagner would never have attained his vogue and fame. Wagner
himself testified to this.
While living in Weimar, Liszt made
frequent journeys to Rome and to
In 1861 there was a rumor that the object of his visits to Rome was to
Papal consent to his marriage with the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein.
a visit to Rome in 1864, the musician was unable to resist longer the
mysticism of the church. He decided to take orders and was made an
Since that time, Abbé Franz Liszt
did much composing. He also
to teach the piano to great numbers of pupils, who flocked to him from
parts of the world. Many of the greatest artists now before the public
numbered among his students, and owe much of their success to his
In 1871, the Hungarian Cabinet created
him a noble, with a yearly
of three thousand dollars. In 1875, he was made Director of the Academy
Budapest. In addition, Liszt was a member of nearly all the European
Franz Liszt passed away August 1, 1886,
in the house of his friend,
Herr Frohlich, near Wagner's Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth, at the age of
seventy-five. As was his custom every summer, Liszt was in Bayreuth,
assisting in the production of Wagner's masterpieces, when he succumbed
pneumonia. Thus passed a great composer, a world famous piano virtuoso,
a noble and kindly spirit.
For the piano, his chosen instrument,
Liszt wrote much that was
and inspiring. He created a new epoch for the virtuoso. His fifteen
Hungarian Rhapsodies, B minor Sonata, Concert Études and many
transcriptions, appear on all modern programs, and there are many
yet to be made known. He is the originator of the Symphonic Poem, for
orchestra; while his sacred music, such as the Oratorio "Christus," and
the beautiful "Saint Elizabeth," a sacred opera, are monuments to his