Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Franz Liszt

As a pianist, Liszt was, from all reliable accounts, among the greatest, if not the greatest, there has ever been. His compositions have taken longer to win a rightful place, but they are now recognized as occupying a high place for their own virtues as well as for their undoubted influence on Wagner, R. Strauss, and subsequent composers. The piano works are in a category of their own, the symphonic poems developed a new art form, the symphonies are compelling and imaginative, the religious works are moving and visionary, and the songs hold their own in high company. He remains a romantic enigma of a musician, a genius with the touch of the charlatan, a virtuoso with the flair of an actor- manager, a man generous to colleagues and to the young. His championship of Wagner (unlike Mendelssohn) in the Weimar years, with its subsequent effect on Brahms and Schumann, thereby causing the great schism in 19th century music, had incalculable results on the art. (From The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Michael Kennedy).

Liszt’s hands were long and narrow, and lack of webbing between the fingers allowed him to take wide stretches with comparative ease. Because his fingertips were blunted rather than tapered, they gave maximum traction across the surface of the keyboard. Another physical advantage for Liszt was that his fourth fingers were unusually flexible, and this made it easier for him to play shimmering textures with several things going on inside the same hand simultaneously. His keyboard textures often assume that the player can stretch a 10th without difficulty. Liszt’s fingerings are of absorbing interest. They arise naturally from the keyboard and from the anatomy of the human hand. The layout of the double-3rds scale in the Sixth ‘Paganini’ Study seems perverse, until we consider the alternatives. Liszt forms the hand into a two-pronged fork (second and fourth fingers only), an unusual shape which permits him to move across the keyboard at high velocity.

In autumn and winter 1834–35, Liszt made the acquaintance of George Sand (the same George Sand who also had a relationship with Chopin). And rumours soon began that Liszt and George Sand having an intimate affair with each other. Later that same month, in order to defend herself George Sand tried to get Liszt to vouch for her innocence, but he had disappeared and two letters to him were not answered. In letters to the Abbé de Lamennais and to Marie d'Agoult of January 14 1835, Liszt had announced that he would leave Paris for a voyage the following day. Afterwards, for the whole period of January 15 until the end of February 1835, he seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. 

By North Utsire

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