Selected Letters

Selected Letters

Selected Letters

Selected Letters

Synopsis

The greatest pianist there has ever been, an innovative, forward-looking composer, and an outstanding conductor and teacher, Franz Liszt was one of the most charismatic and sought-after figures of the nineteenth century. Amongst much else, his letters record his creative work, his travels and concerts throughout Europe, his relations with his family, and his liaisons with several remarkable women, above all the French countess and bluestocking who bore his children, and the Polish princess--described by one contemporary as `phenomenon without equal'--who strove to become his wife. His astonishingly wide and varied acquaintances included not only popes, cardinals, kings, queens, and emperors, but also Beethoven, Alexander von Humboldt, Victor Hugo, Hector Berlioz, George Sand, Chopin, Robert and Clara Schumann, Bedrich Smetana, and most notably, Richard Wagner. Outstanding figures all, their names recur repeatedly in these fascinating and important letters, the majority of which are here made available in English for the first time.

Excerpt

'In Weimar I made the acquaintance of Franz Liszt . . . and each further meeting has increased the high esteem and admiration I feel for him. To be the greatest performer on an instrument, and with one's playing to have thrilled and captivated the whole of Europe, is already no slight glory. To this glory, however, Liszt has added the higher one of disregarding the plaudits bestowed upon him for his virtuosity and, earnestly seeking the sublimest goals of art, of creating works, such as his Saint Elisabeth, which will secure him a place of honour among our composers. At the same time, he has for more than half a century ceaselessly, and in the most self-sacrificing way, striven to promote every talent, to seek recognition for what was unrecognized, and to bring neglected musical treasures back into the light.'

Those words by Adolf von Schack, in his memoirs Ein halbes Jahrhundert, neatly encapsulate Liszt's outstanding contributions to both the art of music and to humanity at large: the playing which moved and enraptured thousands -- he was not only the nonpareil of pianists but, in all probability, the most wonderful performer there has ever been on any musical instrument; his great, inspired, and enduring musical creations; and the support, moral and material, he extended selflessly and unwearyingly to the many major and minor talents who so often -- 'slow rises worth by poverty depressed' -- found themselves in need of that strong helping hand. When we add to all this his numerous appearances for, and donations to, charitable causes, his unstinting giving of alms, and his refusal -- other than, perhaps, during his early years in Paris -- to accept remuneration from any of the hundreds of pupils who passed through his hands, we have some notion of an outlook wholly lacking in materialism and of a life of unceasing service to others.

no special powers of perception to see that Liszt was one of what have been called the 'dominant 5 per cent of the human race', those with the drive, initiative, and staying power, coupled with sheer talent, who become the leaders and achievers. By no means every member of this élite, however, is as ready as Liszt to help others climb the ladder.... And how often his life interacted with the lives of other persons of prominence whose activities compel the attention of posterity! Among those he knew and associated with were such men and women as Alexander von Humboldt, the Abbé Lamennais, Alphonse de Lamartine, Gioacchino Rossini, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Hector Berlioz, George Sand, Felix Mendelssohn, Fryderyk Chopin, Robert and Clara Schumann, Richard Wagner, George Eliot, César Franck, Bedr + ̆ich Smetana, Camille Saint-Saëns . . .

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