Ferenc Liszt was born on October 22, 1811 in the family of Adam Liszt - the caretaker of a sheep yard in the estate of Prince Esterházy. He was an amateur musician. Father directed the first piano lessons of his son Ferencz. At the age of 9, the young musician began to perform publicly, and in 1821-1922 in Vienna, he took lessons from Karl Czerny (piano) and Antonio Salieri (composition). After successful concerts in Vienna and Pest (1823), Adam Liszt took his son to Paris, but the foreign origin of the boy was an obstacle to admission to the conservatory. Liszt's musical education was complemented by private compositional lessons under Ferdinando Paer and Anton Reicha. The young virtuoso conquered Paris and London with his performances, composed a lot (one-act opera “Don Sancho, or Castle of Love”, piano plays).
The death of his father in 1827 forced young Ferenc himself to earn a living. The worldview of the young man was formed under the influence of the ideas of utopian socialism of Henri Saint-Simon, Christian socialism, Abbot Félicité de Lamennais and French philosophers of the 18th century. The July Revolution of 1830 in Paris gives rise to the concept of the “Revolutionary Symphony” (remained unfinished), the uprising of the weavers in Lyon (1834) - the piano play “Lyon” (with the epigraph of the rebels' motto, “To live working, or to die fighting”). Liszt's artistic ideals were formed in line with French romanticism, in communication with Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Heinrich Heine, under the influence of art by N. Paganini, F. Chopin, and H. Berlioz.
They are formulated in a series of articles on the situation of people of art and on the conditions of their existence in society (1835) and in the Letters of the Bachelor of Music (1837-1839), written in collaboration with Marie d'Agoult, a French writer that worked under the pseudonym Daniel Stern. Together with her, Liszt took a long journey to Switzerland (1835-1837), where he taught at the Geneva Conservatory, and to Italy (1837-1839).
Beginning from 1835, the “period of wanderings” was prolonged by regular tours to numerous European cities (1839-1847). Liszt’s visit to his native Hungary was a real triumph. He was honored as a national hero (concert fees were sent to help flood victims). Three times (1842, 1843, 1847) Liszt arrived to Russia, where he stroke up friendship with the Russian musicians, made transcriptions of “Chernomor march” (necromancer) from the opera “Ruslan and Lyudmila” by M. Glinka, romance “Nightingale” by A. Alyabyev. Numerous transcriptions, fantasies, paraphrases that Liszt created in those years, reflected not only the tastes of the public, but evidenced of his musical and educational activities as well. Liszt performed symphonies by Beethoven and “Fantastic Symphony” by H. Berlioz, overtures to “William Tell” by G. Rossini and “The Freeshooter” by C.M. von Weber, songs by F. Schubert, organ preludes and fugues by I. S Bach, as well as opera paraphrases and fantasies (on the themes from “Don Juan” by V. A. Mozart, the operas by V. Bellini, G. Donizetti, G. Meyerbeer and later the operas by G. Verdi), transcriptions of fragments from the operas by Wagner. A piano in the Liszt’s hands became the universal instrument that could reproduce all richness of operas and symphonies’ musical score sounding, the vigor of organ and human voice melody.
Meanwhile, the triumphal performances of the great pianist, who conquered all of Europe by the spontaneous force of his wild artistic temperament, brought him less and less genuine satisfaction. It was getting harder and harder for Liszt to indulge the tastes of the public, for whom his phenomenal virtuosity and outward spectacular performance often overshadowed the serious intentions of the enlightener, who strove to "carve the fire out of people's hearts." After giving a farewell concert in 1847 in Elizavetgrad in Ukraine, Liszt moved to Germany, to quiet Weimar, saturated with the traditions of Bach, Schiller and Goethe, where he got the position of bandmaster at the prince's court, directed the orchestra and opera theater.
The Weimar period (1848-1861) - the time of "thought concentration" as the composer himself called it – was primarily a period of vibrant and ebullient creativity. Liszt completed and developed many of previously created works and implements new ideas. Thus from the "Traveler's Album" created in the 1830s “The Years of Wanderings" emerged - the cycles of piano pieces: the first year - Switzerland (1835-1854); the second year - Italy (1838-1849), with the addition of "Venice and Naples" (1840-1859); the studies of brilliant performing skills got final finishing ("The studied of transcendental performance", 1851); “Large Studies themed on the Caprices by Paganini” (1851); “Poetic and religious harmonies” (10 pieces for piano, 1852). Continuing work on the Hungarian tunes (Hungarian national melodies for the piano, 1840-1843; Hungarian Rhapsodies, 1846), Liszt created 15 Hungarian Rhapsodies (1847-1853). The implementation of new ideas led to the creation of the major works by Liszt, embodying his ideas in new forms - Sonata in B Minor (1852-1853), twelve Symphonic Poems (1847-1857), Faust Symphony themed on Goethe (1854-1857) and Symphony to The Divine Comedy by Dante (1856). Two concerts adjoin them (1849-1856 and 1839-1861), "Dance of Death" for piano and orchestra (1838-1849), "Mephisto-Waltz" (after “Faust” by Nikolaus Lenau, 1860).
In Weimar, Liszt organized the performance of the best operatic works and symphonic classics and the recent compositions. He was the first to stage “The Lohengrin” by R. Wagner, “Manfred” by Lord Byron and music by R. Schumann, conducted symphonies and operas by H. Berlioz. His musical and critical activity reaches its peak, as well as conducting. His aim was to affirm the new principles of advanced romantic art (the book “F. Chopin”, 1850; articles “Berlioz and his symphony Harold”, “Robert Schumann” and “The Flying Dutchman by R. Wagner"). The same ideas were the base for establishing two innovative organizations - “New Weimar Union” and “General German Musical Union”. While creation of those societies Liszt relied on the support of prominent musicians that grouped around him in Weimar (J. Raff, P. Cornelius, K. Tausig, H. von Bülow and many others).
However, the philistine indolence and intrigues of the Weimar court that increasingly impeded the implementation of Ferencz Liszt grandiose plans, forced him to resign. Since 1861, Liszt had been living in Rome for a long period. There he attempted to reform church music, wrote the oratorio "Christ" (1866), and in 1865 took the abbacy (partly due to the influence of Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein, with whom he became close friends in 1847). Heavy losses also contributed to his mood of disappointment and skepticism - the death of his son Daniel (1860) and daughter Blandine (1862). His feeling of loneliness and misunderstanding was strengthening with years. It was reflected in some of his works - the third "Year of Wanderings" (Rome; pieces "Cypresses of Villa d'Este", 1 and 2, 1867-1877), piano pieces ("Gray Clouds", 1881; "Mourning Gondola", "Chardash of death”, 1882), the second (1881) and third (1883) “Mephisto-Waltzes” and in the last symphonic poem “From the Cradle to the Grave” (1882).
At the same time, in the 1860-1880s, Liszt devoted especially much efforts and energy to reorganization of the Hungarian musical culture. He regularly lived in Pest, performed his compositions there, including those related to the national themes (oratorio “The Legend of St. Elizabeth”, 1862; “Hungarian Coronation Mass”, 1867), contributed to the founding of the Academy of Music in Pest (he was its first president ), wrote the piano cycle “Hungarian Historical Portraits”, 1870-1886), the last “Hungarian Rhapsodies” (16-19). In Weimar, where Liszt returned in 1869, he was engaged in teaching numerous students from different countries free of charge (Alexander Siloti, Vera Timanova, Eugen d'Albert, Emil von Sauer and others). The famous composers visited him there. For example Borodin, who wrote very interesting and vivid memories of the composer.
Liszt always grasped with exceptional sensitivity and supported the novelty and originality in art that contributed to the development of music of the national European schools (Czech, Norwegian and Spanish), especially highlighting Russian music - the works by M. Glinka, A. Dargomyzhsky, composers of “The Mighty Handful”, the art of performing of Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein. For many years, Liszt advocated Wagner's creative work.
Liszt's pianistic genius determined the primacy of piano music, where his artistic ideas were most clearly shaped, guided by the dream of active spiritual influence on listeners. The desire to establish the educational mission of art, to unite all its forms for this goal, to elevate music to the level of philosophy and literature, to synthesize the depth of philosophical and poetic content with the picturesqueness, was embodied in the Liszt's idea of program music. He defined it as updating music via its internal connection with poetry, as the liberation of artistic content from sketchiness that would lead to the emerging of new genres and forms.
Liszt entered the history of music as bold innovator in the field of musical form and harmony, enriched the sound of the piano and symphony orchestra with new colors, gave interesting examples of oratorio genres’ and romantic songs’ development (“Lorelei” to the verses by Heinrich Heine, “Like the spirit of Laura” to the verses Victor Hugo, “Three Gypsies” to the verses of Nikolaus Lenau) and compositions for organ. Perceiving a lot from the cultural traditions of France and Germany, being a national classic of the Hungarian music, he had a huge impact on the development of musical culture throughout Europe.
Source: Ekaterina Tsaryova (Belcanto.ru)