Liszt was a revolutionary figure of romantic music and was acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He made his debut at nine, going thereafter to Vienna to study with Czerny and Salieri. In Paris (1823–25) he knew all the principal artistic figures of the period and was influenced by Berlioz, Chopin, and Paganini. He lived with Mme d'Agoult (better known by her pen name, Daniel Stern) from 1833 to 1844, and they had three children; their daughter Cosima became the wife of Hans von Bülow and later of Wagner. As a piano virtuoso, Liszt enthralled his audiences with his expressive interpretations and grand style of playing, augmented with dramatic gestures.
In 1848 he decided to make a career as a composer, and became musical director to the duke of Weimar. He remained at Weimar until 1859, and two years later went to Rome, where he became an abbé (1865). During the years between 1880 and 1885, in Rome, Weimar, and Budapest, he taught most of the famous pianists of the succeeding generation. In his compositions he favored program music over traditional musical forms.
Liszt originated the symphonic poem, and although he wrote symphonies, such as the Faust Symphony (1857), most of his orchestral pieces, including Les Préludes and Mazeppa (both 1854), are symphonic poems. In his Sonata in B Minor (1853) he developed the technique of transformation of themes, which completely altered the concept of sonata construction. This technique, together with his chromatic harmony, strongly influenced both Wagner and Richard Strauss.
For the piano Liszt composed prolifically in addition to transcribing many works of other composers. His most outstanding works for the piano include Années de pèlerinage (1855–83), Douze Études d'exécution transcendante (final version, 1852), Six Paganini Études (final version, 1851), concertos in E Flat (1855) and A (1848–61), and 20 Hungarian Rhapsodies (of which he published 19). Some of his most popular pieces, including Liebestraüme (c.1850), are characterized by lyrical, romantic sentiment; many of his later compositions are somber in tone, full of dissonance and unusual harmonic effects that foreshadow 20th-century music.
See his correspondence with Wagner, ed. by Francis Hueffer (2 vol., rev. ed. 1969); his letters, ed. by La Mara (2 vol., 1968); biographies by Sacheverell Sitwell (rev. ed. 1966), Ernest Newman (1935, repr. 1970), Derek Watson (1989), and Alan Walker (2 vol., 1983-87); study by Humphrey Searle (2d ed. 1966).
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