Franz Liszt, known in Hungarian as Liszt Ferenc, and in German also as Franz von Liszt, was a Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor and organist.
He studied and played in Vienna and Paris, traveled throughout Europe holding concerts almost everywhere. He was one of the great virtuosi of the piano of the nineteenth century, revolutionized the piano technique and the relationship between audience and performer. He was linked to Fryderyk Chopin and Robert Schumann from friendship and esteem. In 1865 he became acolyte in the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church. He was the father-in-law of Richard Wagner, having married his daughter Cosima. He was also abbot in the Cathedral of Albano Laziale (Rome).
Like many musicians of his time, he already showed remarkable musical skills before the age of ten. Liszt is also remembered for his bigger hands than normal that made envy to the other musicians of that time. After beginning early piano studies with his father Adam, a Hungarian descendant of German peasants in the service of Prince Esterházy, at eleven he moved with his family to Vienna where he studied composition with Salieri and piano with Czerny. In 1822, in Paris, he studied theory and composition with Paer, but was not admitted to the Conservatory of the capital by Cherubini. But it was thought to exploit his talent as a young prodigy making him compose an opera, Don Sanche. But the work, also because of the young man's inexperience, was unsuccessful and, despite being very interesting, it was forgotten. In 1825, when he was already known as a pianist, he played in London in the presence of King George IV. In 1826 he was on tour in France and Switzerland while continuing his studies with Reicha.
From 1828 he settled in Paris where he lived teaching music. In 1830 he attended the first performance of Hector Berlioz's Symphony Fantastica; he met Felix Mendelssohn and Fryderyk Chopin. In 1833 he met the Countess Marie d'Agoult; the following year George Sand.
Between 1835 and 1839 Liszt undertook a long voyage-flight with Marie d'Agoult, who abandons her husband and two daughters. Initially they arrive in Switzerland, which will inspire the musician for the Album d'un voyageur and the First book of the Années de pèlerinage. In December 1835 their first daughter Blandine was born. In the meantime Liszt does not neglect his pianist activity (going to build the archetype of the modern recital by attempts) and returns to Paris to defend his notoriety, especially against Thalberg with whom he engages a musical challenge organized by the princess of Belgiojoso.
It is now in 1837 when Liszt and Marie d'Agoult arrive in Italy, where Cosima and Daniel will be born. They stay in particular on Lake Como, in Venice and in Milan (where there will be a heavy controversy with the Italian public, absolutely fasting with instrumental music), Florence, Rome and San Rossore. The encounters and friendships that are intertwined are many and fruitful (Rossini, Bartolini, Ingres, Sainte-Beuve). This experience is based on many musical pages, including the Second book of the Années de pèlerinage. Many are also the writings that Liszt published in relation to this journey and the musical condition of the time (especially the Lettres d 'un Bachelier ès Musique). However, it is now clear that the articles, while expressing the musician's thoughts, are due to Marie d'Agoult's pen.
In 1840 he met two people who proved to be fundamental for him and for the history of music: Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner. With the latter, the association, in the name of the project of a music for the future, was immediate and transformed the pianist Liszt, now an idol of crowds in a fully modern sense, into one of the most ardent advocates of Wagner's total art. The correspondence left to us is a document of rare intensity and poetic depth.
The concerts around the world followed one another frantically. In 1844 he interrupted the relationship with Marie d'Agoult and, in 1847, he met Princess Caroline Von Sayn-Wittgenstein in Kiev, with whom he moved to Poland. Settled in Weimar, in 1848, he began the composition of the symphonic poem Les Préludes and the Sinfonia Berg.
During the Dresden uprising of 1849, Liszt helped the revolutionary Wagner to flee to Switzerland. They were years of feverish creativity (despite the death of his thirteen year old son Daniel), among the many masterpieces to which he gave life: the symphonic poem Mazeppa, the Sonata, the two concerts for piano and orchestra, the Totentanz, and hundreds of piano pieces. In 1861, during a trip to Paris, he played for Napoleon III and met Georges Bizet. The same year in Rome he could not marry Von Sayn-Wittgenstein because the latter failed to obtain the annulment of the previous marriage. In this period Liszt manifested a strong religious impulse.
In 1862 he composed the Cantico del sol of Saint Francis of Assisi; in the same year the firstborn Blandine died. He decided to enter the monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary of Rome, certain that only faith could have been true comfort. The relationship between his daughter Cosima and Wagner (in 1865 they had a daughter Isolde, followed by Eve in 1867, and Siegfried Wagner in 1869) undermined relations with the latter. In 1864, in memory of Blandine, he wrote La Notte.
In 1865 he received tonsure and minor orders in the Vatican. It is often referred to as Abbé Liszt from now on, but obviously the title is merely honorary, given the personality of the man who wore that cassock, since the minor orders do not give the abbot the right of their own. His compositional vein turned more and more towards sacred music: he composed the Missa Choralis and the Christus (1867). In the last period of his life, Franz Liszt worked incessantly as a composer and organizer of musical events in Weimar and Leipzig together with the Russian pianist Alexander Ilyich Siloti, the true heir of Lisztian pianism. He greatly appreciated Russian music, admired the Group of Five and met Aleksandr Borodin personally, who went to see him twice in Weimar. In Germany, during the Bayreuth festival of 1886, also called "Wagnerian festival" (festival created by Wagner), Liszt became seriously ill with pneumonia and died on July 31 of the same year.