biography of Franz Liszt
during the years 1832 - 1857
Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) began writing the Concerto No. 1 in Ef Major for Piano and Orchestra during his first years of pilgrimage (1835 - 1839). Sketches for the main theme of this concerto exist from around 1832. Liszt apparently completed the Concerto in 1849, but kept revising it until 1856, even after giving its premiere in Weimar on February 17, 1855, with Liszt at the piano and Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869) conducting. It was published in Vienna by Haslinger in 1857. Liszt dedicated the concerto to the pianist, composer, and publisher Henry Litolff. The work was dismissed by the public as a triangle concerto (from the sparkling Scherzo movement).
(Pencil drawing of Comtesse Marie d'Agoult by Theodore Chasseriau, 1841.)
1835 - 1838 Years of Pilgrimage
Liszts first years of pilgrimage were to Switzerland with his then current mistress, the Comtess Marie dAgoult; his retreat to Switzerland occurred in the hopes of finding the peace and quiet he needed to work. Liszts impressions of Switzerland are apparent in the Swiss volume of Années de pèlerinage. In this volume he captures the sights and sounds of certain areas of Switzerland, such as in Les cloches de Genève and Au bord dune source.
1838 - 1847 Virtuoso Years
His first years of pilgrimage preceded his virtuoso years (1838 - 1847). During this time Liszt partook in the famous ivory duel with Thalberg in which Liszt traveled back to Paris to compete against Thalberg in pyrotechnical improvisations. Legend has it that Liszt won the duel without a doubt, but in truth history states both were equal in the competition but not in their artistic genius. To compare the two, the following is a review of Liszts first concert in Berlin in 1841 by the music critic Ludwig Rellstab (1799 - 1860):
The world has grown weary of drawing witty and sometimes poetic comparisons between Liszt and Thalberg; the latter has been called the ange du piano, the former the diable du piano, and thus they have been coordinated and contrasted. To our own way of thinking, however, these comparisons have not been drawn from the correct point of view; Liszt subsumes the whole of Thalberg. If he does not give the same as the latter, he could none the less do so; he could solve every challenge which Thalberg has been able to solve; whereas the same is not true of Thalberg. Thalbergs art is an harmonically developed, wondrously beautiful corporeality; symmetry, poise, tranquillity, grace, and strength; but he possesses little of that charm which is imparted to the body in exalted states of mind, a quality which Liszts art possesses in such superabundance that we may well describe that art as endued with the very soul which is missing from Thalbergs art. Nor does he lack tranquillity; Thalbergs tranquillity derives from the fact that no inward ferment or growth disturbs it; it is, rather, a negative quality; Liszts tranquillity is that of total mastery over all the stirring violence of passion, the positive force of superior might. Thalberg the horseman rides a quiet steed, Liszt, by contrast, a fiery, winged stallion to whose snorting wildness he can give free rein at will or else tame that wildness to the most docile obedience.1
Liszt vs. Thalberg
In the spring of 1838, the flood disaster in Pest proved to be a turning point
in Liszts life: he began concertizing again (in a very successful effort
to raise money for the victims of the flood) and these recitals marked his official
return to the concert stage. His playing was received with great acclaim. In
the ensuing years, half of his income was given to charity, such as to the Cologne
Cathedral building fund, to the Mozart Foundation, to victims of the Hamburg
fire of 1842, and to the Beethoven Monument in Bonn, just to mention a few.2
Amidst all his successful concertizing, his private life was not very successful.
Due to his strenuous touring schedule and other issues, Marie dAgoult
and Liszt were forced to end their relationship.
During the years 1838 to 1847 Liszt not only toured Europe from the Pyrenees to the Urals, but also established the recital as we now know it in our present-day society. He was the first to play an entire program from memory, the first to open the lid of the piano so that the sound would project out into the audience, and the first to play an entire concert unassisted (i.e., as the sole performer of that recital). He gave well over a thousand such recitals during those years. Moreover, this period was when travel was still difficult; he had to travel over rough land by stage coach, usually at night. How he managed to compose during these years is a wonder, yet he managed to produce much of his well-known pieces, such as the Grandes études de Paganini, Sposalizio and Il Penseroso, Tre Sonetti di Petrarca, and Etudes dexécution transcendante. He also transcribed many Schubert lieder, Rossini opera overtures, and songs by Donizetti.
1847 - 1860 Weimar Years
Liszt ended his virtuoso career in 1847 at the height of his fame. He no longer needed to earn money to support not only himself and his mother, but also his childrens education and maintenance. He took up the appointment as Court Kapellmeister in Weimar, where he earned in one month less than what he got for giving one concert during his virtuoso years. Some of his compositions during these Weimar years (1848 - 1860) include Mazeppa (the symphonic poem), the Hungarian Rhapsodies (1851 - 3), the revisions of Grandes études de Paganini and Etudes dexécution transcendante, and the Sonata in B Minor. After completing the composition of the Concerto in 1849, Liszt gave the premiere of the Concerto No. 1 in Ef Major for Piano and Orchestra in Weimar on February 17, 1855, with Liszt at the piano and Hector Berlioz conducting.
An important fact to take into consideration during the years 1830 -1860 is that Liszt expanded his use of "thematic transformation," and this use is evident in this Concerto. Many critics have remarked that the opening theme of the Concerto is not a theme at all, that it is just an empty phrase; in truth, this piece is built on this first theme and everything depends on it. Robert Collet remarks that "Bartók regarded it as 'the first perfect realization of cyclic sonata form, with common themes treated on the variation principle'--the 'variation principle' being, of course, Liszt's own technique of the 'metamorphosis of themes'."3 We also see the use of his "thematic transformation" in his symphonic poems and in the Sonata in B Minor. This historical fact is an important development of 19th-century composition.
(Sophie Menter, student of Liszt)
In the Concerto No. 1 in Ef Major for Piano and Orchestra Liszt requires the following instruments: solo piano, two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, and strings. The work did not receive a very enthusiastic premiere, due to Hanslicks critical comment that it was a triangle concerto, and for several years the concerto was thought of as impossible to play. Not until 1869, when Sophie Menter, a student of Liszt, told the conductor, If I cant play it, I dont play at all.4 The Concerto has been played ever since to audiences who love to hear it and by pianists who enjoy playing it.
*Note: Most of the biographical source used, in addition to those mentioned
in the footnotes, is from the following:
Walker, Alan. Liszt, Franz [Ferenc]. In Grovemusic.com, ed. Laura Macy. <http://www.grovemusic.com> (October 21, 2001).
1 Ernst Burger, Franz Liszt: A Chronicle of His Life in Pictures and Documents (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 141.
2 Ibid, 66.
3 Robert Collet, Works for Piano and Orchestra, in Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music, ed. Alan Walker (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1970), 260.
4 James Huneker, Franz Liszt (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1911), 171 - 172.
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