Franz Liszt – Music’s First Rock Star?

Day 85 of Colourisation Project – July 31

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

On this day July 31, in 1886 Franz Liszt, Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor and teacher passed away. Viewed by his contemporaries as the greatest virtuoso of his time, Liszt was a composer of enormous influence and originality.

Liszt was a child prodigy, who started touring as a concert pianist by the age of 9. He went on to gain renown throughout Europe during the early part of the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. By the 1840s he was considered by some to be perhaps the greatest and most technically advanced pianist of all time.

Franz Liszt

Photo: Félix Nadar – Franz Liszt 1886 – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

He is credited with the invention of the symphonic poem as well as the modern solo piano recital. Liszt was the archetypal Romantic composer. Prolific  in his craft, he composed some of the most difficult piano music ever written. He also played a critical role in popularizing a wide array of music by transcribing it for piano.

After 1842, “Lisztomania” swept across Europe. Liszt’s performances were renowned for being theatrical and showy. The reception he enjoyed as a result can be described perhaps as something akin to a 1970’s Tom Jones performance inducing hysterical women into throwing their underwear at him.  In Liszt’s case women would fight over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, ripping them to shreds as souvenirs.

Sometimes mocked by the press for his facial expressions and gestures at the piano, he was noted for the extravagant liberties he would take with musical scores. Berlioz writes about how Liszt would add cadenzas, tremolos and trills when playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and how he would create a dramatic scene by changing the tempo between Largo and Presto.[1]

Liszt had made so much money by his mid-forties that virtually all his performing fees after 1857 were given to charity and humanitarian causes. He was also a benefactor to other composers, including Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg and Alexander Borodin.

Liszt somehow found time to write. In addition to the many essays he wrote on varied subjects,  Liszt wrote a biography of his fellow composer and later rival, Frédéric Chopin, Life of Chopin, as well as a book about the Romanis Gypsies, The Gypsy in Music, and their music in Hungary. His letters and musical essays are published in 6 volumes.

He remained active as a teacher and performer to the end of his life. By the time of his death in 1886 from pneumonia, he had written more than 700 compositions. Though he left behind an extensive and diverse body of work, his legacy is immeasurable.


“Liszt’s playing contains abandonment, a liberated feeling, but even when it becomes impetuous and energetic in his fortissimo, it is still without harshness and dryness. […] [He] draws from the piano tones that are purer, mellower and stronger than anyone has been able to do; his touch has an indescribable charm. […] He is the enemy of affected, stilted, contorted expressions. Most of all, he wants truth in musical sentiment, and so he makes a psychological study of his emotions to convey them as they are. Thus, a strong expression is often followed by a sense of fatigue and dejection, a kind of coldness, because this is the way nature works.”  Caroline Boissier (Diary of Mother of Liszt’s student, Valerie)

1. Musikalische Streifzüge, transl. Ely Ellès, Leipzig 1912
This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, Composers, History, Hungary, Music, Opus Loredana, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Franz Liszt – Music’s First Rock Star?

  1. Pingback: Félix Nadar – Pioneering Visual Biographer | Random Phoughts

  2. Pingback: Johannes Brahms ~ Classical Traditionalist | Random Phoughts

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