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Franz Liszt: Franz Liszt (b. Raiding, 22 Oct 1811; d. Bayreuth, 31 July 1886).
Franz Liszt was born at Raiding near Sopron in Hungary. His father Adam (1776-1827) was an official in the service of Prince Nicholas Eszterhazy; his mother Anna Laager (1788-1866) was of south German origin. Many prominent musicians, including Haydn, Cherubini and Hummel, visited the palace of Eszterhaza; Adam Liszt was a talented amateur musician who played the 'cello in the court orchestra- he had also been a Franciscan novice for two years at the age of nineteen. Adam soon perceived his son's talent and gave him piano lessons from the age of seven onwards; the young Franz Liszt appeared in concerts at Sopron and Poszony when he was nine. After this a group of Hungarian magnates set up a fund for the boy's education, and in 1821 the family moved to Vienna, where Franz had piano lessons with Beethoven's pupil Karl Czerny and composition lessons with Salieri, the musical director of the Viennese court. Franz gave successful concerts in Vienna and met Beethoven and Schubert; he also contributed a variation on a waltz by the publisher Diabelli to a symposium in which fifty Austrian composers took part - Beethoven wrote his set of thirty-three variations on the same theme.
In the autumn of 1833 the Liszt family moved to Paris; Franz was refused admission to the Conservatoire by Cherubini as he was a foreigner. Instead he studied theory with Anton Reicha and composition with Ferdinando Paer. He played at many fashionable concerts in Paris and also visited England in 1824 and 1825; he was hailed as a successor to Mozart as an infant prodigy. In October 1825 his one-act opera Don Sanche was performed at the Paris Opera; in the following year he wrote the Etude en Douze Exercices, the original version of the Transcendental Studies. But the continual touring was beginning to affect his health, and he expressed a wish to give up the concert platform and become a priest - he had been deeply religious since his earliest days. He went with his father to Boulogne to recover, and there Adam suddenly died of typhoid fever. Franz Liszt returned to Paris, where he earned his living by teaching the piano. Next year he fell in love with one of his pupils, Caroline de Saint-Cricq, the daughter of the Minister of Commerce; when her father insisted that the attachment be broken off Franz Liszt again became ill and went through a long period of religious doubt and pessimism. He had many discussions with his 'spiritual father', the Abbe de Lamennais, and also became interested in the ideas of the Saint-Simonians.
The revolution of July 1830 shook him out of his lethargy; he sketched out a Revolutionary symphony, began to read widely, to make up for his lack of general education, and met many artists including the three composers who were to influence him most greatly - Berlioz, Paganini and Chopin. From Berlioz he learnt the command of the modern orchestra which he was to show in his later orchestral works, and also a feeling of diabolism which remained with him all his life; he was staggered by Paganini's virtuoso technique and was determined to transfer his extraordinary effects to the piano, while Chopin influenced the lyrical and poetical side of his writing.
In 1834 Franz Liszt met the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, and they began an affair; next year she left her husband and family and joined Franz Liszt in Geneva, where their first daughter Blandine was born on the 18th December. Franz Liszt and the Comtesse lived together for the next four years, mainly in Switzerland and Italy, with occasional visits to Paris. On one of these the celebrated 'pianistic duel' occurred in which Franz Liszt defeated his rival Sigismond Thalberg at Princess Belgiojoso's house. During this period Franz Liszt wrote the first and most difficult version of the Transcendental and Paganini Studies and also the first two books of the Annees de Pelerinage, lyrical evocations of his travels with the Comtesse. Their second daughter Cosima was born near Lake Como on the 25th December, and their son Daniel on the 9th May 1839 in Rome, but in the autumn their relations became strained, and when Franz Liszt heard that the proposal to build a Beethoven monument in Bonn was liable to collapse through lack of funds he decided to raise the money by returning to the life of a travelling virtuoso. The Comtesse went back to Paris with the children while Franz Liszt gave six concerts in Vienna. He also visited Hungary for the first time since his boyhood, and again heard the music of the gypsies, which had fascinated him in his youth. He began a series of compositions based on their music which later became the Hungarian Rhapsodies; he was also presented with a poem of homage by the Hungarian poet Vorosmarty.
Until 1847 Franz Liszt continued to tour the whole of Europe from Ireland and Portugal to Turkey and Russia. He spent the summer holidays with the Comtesse and their children on the island of Nonnenwerth in the Rhine until 1844, when they finally separated and Franz Liszt took the children to live with his mother in Paris. This was the period of his greatest brilliance as a pianist; he was lionised everywhere, was showered with honours, and had numerous mistresses, including the original 'Dame aux Camellias' and the dancer Lola Montes. However he continued to compose, now writing songs and choral music as well as piano works; he wrote his first Beethoven Cantata for the celebrations in Bonn in 1845, his first work for chorus and orchestra. In February 1847 he played in Kiev and there met Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, who was to be associated with him for the rest of his life. She persuaded him to give up his career as a virtuoso and to concentrate on composition. He spent the following winter with the Princess on her estate at Woronince, and in February 1848 he settled in Weimar, where he had been Director of Music Extraordinary since 1842; the Princess joined him there in the following year. Now began the period of his greatest production; during the next twelve years he wrote the first twelve symphonic poems, the Faust and Dante symphonies, the final versions of the two piano concertos and the Totentanz for a piano and orchestra, the piano sonata and other major piano works, including revised versions of the Transcendental and Paganini Studies and the first two books of the Annees de Pelerinage, the Gran Mass and other choral works and songs. He also conducted a number of works by contemporary composers, including Wagner's Tannhauser and the first performance of his Lohengrin, Schumann's Genoveva and Manfred, Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini and operas by Verdi and Donizetti. He also taught numerous pupils, including Hans von Bulow and Carl Tausig. Unfortunately his support of the avant-garde aroused opposition, and when Franz Liszt conducted the premiere of The Barber of Bagdad by his pupil Peter Cornelius in 1858 the audience made a demonstration which he took to be directed against himself; he resigned his post.
Franz Liszt remained in Weimar till 1861; his son Daniel died in 1859 at the age of only twenty, and his elder daughter Blandine died in 1862. Franz Liszt had hoped to marry the Princess in Rome in 1861, but at the last moment the Pope revoked his sanction of her divorce. Franz Liszt remained in Rome and devoted himself mainly to writing religious music; he took the four minor orders of the Catholic Church in 1865, but never became a priest. In 1869 he was invited back to Weimar to give master classes in piano playing, and from 1871 he was asked to do the same in Budapest: from then till the end of his life he made regular journeys between Rome, Weimar and Budapest - his 'vie trifurquee'. His second daughter Cosima, who had married von Biilow in 1857, had now begun an affair with Wagner and bore him two illegitimate children; this led to a quarrel between the two composers which was not patched up till 1872. During this period Franz Liszt received visits from many of the younger generation of composers, including Borodin, Faure, Saint-Saens and Debussy, to all of whom he gave help and advice; among his pupils were Eugen d'Albert, Felix Weingartner, Frederic Lamond, Moriz Rosenthal, Emil von Sauer and Jose Vianna da Motta. In 1886 Franz Liszt made his last tour, visiting Budapest, Liege, Paris and London, where works of his were performed and he was received enthusiastically. In July he visited Bayreuth for the festival, but he was now ill from dropsy which developed into pneumonia, and he died there on the 31st July.
Franz Liszt was the greatest pianist of his age and possibly of all time. His compositions for the piano revolutionised keyboard technique, and he was the first pianist to give a complete 'recital' lasting a whole evening. He also prompted works by Bach, Beethoven and Schubert at a time when they were by no means popular, and he helped his contemporaries such as Berlioz and Wagner by performing their works. His invention of the one-movement symphonic poem created a new musical form, and he expanded the harmonic language of his time - his later works even anticipate the methods of Debussy, Bartok and Schoenberg. His idea of 'transformation of themes', in which all the motifs in one work are derived from a single basic idea also anticipates Schoenberg's twelve-note technique in essence, and was also the foundation of Wagner's system of leitmotivs. And Franz Liszt's music at its best is always original, expressive and colourful: he was certainly one of the major composers of the 19th century.
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