Franz Liszt was a prolific musician in the 19th century, from a virtuoso pianist, to composer, conductor, music teacher, organist, arranger, amongst others, and was a humanitarian, known for his acts of philanthropy. He is also the creator of a new musical genre, called the ‘Symphonic Poem’ or ‘Tone Poem’.
He was taught at a young age the basics of piano from his father, who played piano among other instruments, and Liszt started composing on his own. From there, he self-taught himself to a higher level, which got the attention of Carl Czerny in Vienna, another prolific pianist of that time, who took him in and taught him advanced piano techniques and composition. Then, after being taught by Czerny, he spent a lot of time in solitude, just working on his piano technique. He locked himself away in a few months, during which he practised on the piano from the time he got up until he went to bed. When he came out of this long period of practise, he was perhaps the best pianist that has ever walked Earth. Using all this piano technique, he became famous around Europe for his virtuosity, and used it to compose pieces for piano, and he often sketched other pieces on the piano too, some of which ended up becoming orchestral works instead.
Most of his compositions are just his own ideas, that he sketches out and branches out using the piano, to form a full piece. He would often start with any small idea, and then try to work around it or use it in creative ways to create music, or simply develop on the idea that he has.
Liszt was a teacher for many students, often teaching and giving masterclasses for free, and because of this, I assume that one of the reasons why he loved being a prolific musician is that he could teach people and give away to people. There is also an incident which happened in the 1830, when he was touring around Europe, called ‘Lisztomania’, during which women would faint when he was on stage and would try to get any bits of him, from his hair to his gloves, handkerchiefs, and anything that they could get their hands on after the concert, and generally a very hysterical reaction to his presence, even showing ‘posters’ of him during his concert, and having their own at home. It is not documented how he really felt about this event, but it has brought even more fame to his name, and some people were criticising this event, saying that he was boasting or showing off too much, and Liszt said that it is not true, and it is simply an exaggeration from the crowd, so he was clearly upset about the wrong kind of attention that it brought to him.
Franz was heavily inspired by folk, and a big amount of his music is based on folk tunes from Hungary, Wallachia, and Transylvania, most notably the Hungarian Rhapsodies. He also travelled a lot, and whenever he heard new folk melodies from the countries he was visiting, he would memorise them and use them in his compositions. The most notable example of this is from his first Annees de Pelerinage II: Italie, in which the first movement is based on a Neapolitan folk song that he heard from a gondolier during his time in Venice. The folk song contained lyrics from one of Torquato Tasso’s poems, which inspired him to create 2 new pieces using this folk song, all based on the story and legend of Tasso: the symphonic poem “Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo”, and “Le Triomphe Funebre du Tasso”. He was also inspired by books, as he spent a lot of time reading. His 12 symphonic poems all contain elements from books or other things that he read, such as “Faust”, based on Goethe’s Faust, or “Orpheus”, based primarily on a vase that Liszt saw, which contained Orpheus and his lyre, as well as numerous books. There are also elements of nature present in his music, such as “Jeux d’Eau a la Villa d’Este” (The Fountains of Villa d’Este), very famous for how well it replicates the sound and movement of water. Besides these, he was a big fan of a few other composers, which he studied and formed his own musical language using what he learnt from them: Beethoven, JS Bach, Berlioz, Meyerbeer.
My favourite part about his music is how progressive it was for that time. He pushed the boundaries in every way imaginable, from piano writing and general composition, to even how concerts are laid out and performed. He had a unique harmonic language, which he kept developing until the end, and his ‘late period’ works are very famous for how futuristic they were for that time, and how they almost predicted how music was going to be in the next century. His harmonic language is one of the things that interests me the most about his music. Another thing that inspires me is his creativity. His orchestration is also unique, and I think it is some of the best of that time. Very imaginative and effective orchestration. This also applies to the piano, and how he combined existing techniques, even inventing new ones, to push his creative limits to the most, and to make his piano music sound more than just piano, but rather a combination of instruments. It is said that he had synaesthesia, the kind which relate hearing and vision, meaning he could see colours or images in his head whenever he would hear music, and I believe it is true, due his harmonies and his orchestration, which prove his colouristic imagery of music, and that music is more than just sound, but it can create colours as well as feelings, which resonates a lot with me, because I have synaesthesia and my perception of colour and emotion in music influences my own compositions, as well as my own piano playing, and listening to music. I also appreciate what he stood for as a person and how he was a philanthropist as well as a teacher. It inspires me to follow in his footsteps and become a great person too. His nationalist views are also something that I find myself having, as he was inspired by his home country of Hungary, as well as its culture, and he called Hungary his only home, despite having lived in about 4 different countries throughout his life. I am inspired by my own country’s culture too, and I find it to be the place where I am the happiest.