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Franz Liszt - Biography
From the passion of his Liebesträume to the fireworks of Hungarian Rhapsodies, Franz Liszt was the supreme visionary composer of the Early Romantic Period. A piano virtuoso, Liszt performed music that was ahead of his time with a showmanship that has never been matched. While he is remembered for his musical wizardry and dramatic performances, his greatest contribution was the creation of the symphonic poem, a work that tells a story or sets a scene.

Ferencz Liszt was born in Raiding, Hungary, on 22 October, 1811. His father, who once harboured musical aspirations of his own, recognised his son's amazing gifts early on. When Liszt was nine years old he arranged a series of public exhibitions for young Liszt, hoping to interest backers in paying for his musical education. The gambit worked: a consortium of Hungarian noblemen set up a fund to allow the family to move to Vienna in search of teachers. There, Liszt studied with Salieri and Karl Czerny (protégé of Beethoven) was so impressed with his innate abilities that he offered to teach him for free. Later, Liszt would perform similar acts of kindness, acting as mentor and teacher to many young artists (including Berlioz and Wagner).

At the age of 16 Liszt took up long-term residence in Paris. Following the death of his father, his mother came to live with him and he became the sole source of support. During this time in Paris, the Liszt home was the frequent gathering place for some of the greatest intellectuals of the 19th century. Chopin, Mendelssohn, painters like Delacroix and writers like Victor Hugo all found their way to his parlour for discussion, music and artistic support. These years were full of travel and romance (followed by the gossip columnists of the day much as our movie stars and rock musicians are now), and ended when he and Countess Marie d'Agoult by eloped to Switzerland in 1835.

Liszt and Marie went on to have two daughters and a son, and her wealth provided him with the financial security that allowed him to devote his time to composing. In 1837 Liszt returned to the concert stage - first to raise money for Hungarian victims of the 1838 Danube flood, then to underwrite the Beethoven memorial statue in 1839. Over the next five years, he played to wildly enthusiastic audiences throughout Europe where thousands would attend his concerts to hear him play from memory for hours at a time (the phenomena was termed 'Lisztomania'). But in 1847, he finally gave up the concert stage to devote himself to composition.

In 1848 he took up a full-time conducting post at the Weimar court, where, living with the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein (a wealthy somewhat eccentric woman he would stay with for 12 years), he wrote or revised most of the major works for which he is known. During these Weimar years, as the teacher of Hans von Bülow and others in the German avant-garde, Liszt became the figurehead of the 'New German School' represented by Berlioz, Brahms and Wagner (who married his daughter Cosima).

In 1863, after suffering a number of personal tragedies (the death of his son and oldest daughter and the steadily declining mental state of his daughter Carolyne), Liszt turned to the priesthood, entering a Dominican monastery. He was conferred the religious title of Abbé in 1866 by Pope Pius IX. From 1867 on, he divided his time between living and working in Budapest from January to March, teaching in Weimer from April to June, and seeking the sanctuary of a villa near Rome for the rest of the year. He remained active as a teacher and performer to the end of his life. In the summer of 1886, while attending the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, he came down with pneumonia and died on the 31st of July.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya


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