Saturday, 22 October 2011

"The concert, it is I"

It is the bicentenary of the birth of the flamboyant composer Franz Liszt. Renowned for his florid style of performance and deliberately complicated compositions, in many ways this dramatic Hungarian, with his silver-topped cane and cloak, was so popular in his day he was the latter-day equivalent of a Liberace or an Elton John.

Among his acolytes (as portrayed by Danhauser) were such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Niccolò Paganini, Gioachino Rossini, Alexander Dumas and George Sand. His work influenced Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Camille Saint-Saëns and Frédéric Chopin.

From the Lisztomania concert programme website:
"Lisztomania" is by no means a modern word creation. Heinrich Heine coined the term in connection with the famous concert series presented by Franz Liszt in 1841/1842 in Berlin. The piano virtuoso’s stage performances were legendary. "Le Concert c’est moi" – "The concert, it is I," wrote Franz Liszt on 4 June 1839 in a letter to Princess Christina Belgiojoso in Paris. His appearances on stage were highly expressive, almost eccentric, rousing his audiences to transports of enthusiasm, especially the ladies, whose adoration soared at times to hysterical heights. He tossed his long mane of hair and struck the piano keys aggressively, sometimes even breaking the hammers and strings. His audiences were so wildly enthralled that Franz Liszt stopped having seats placed in the concert halls where he performed. He even had fan articles distributed. These phenomena made him the first superstar in music history.

As Tom Service says in his Guardian blog:
His discarded cigar butts were worn as relics by adoring fans, the piano strings that would break under the strain of his transcendental pianism were transformed into high-society jewellery. By the early 1840s, around the time of his 30th year, his reputation was such that he was heralded as virtual royalty in the continent's capitals. He left Berlin after a two-week residency in 1842 in a carriage drawn by six white horses, the head of a procession of hundreds of other coaches. As the critic Ludwig Rellstab put it, "Not like a king but as a king did he march out, surrounded by a rejoicing crowd."
Liszt's love-life, too, was the stuff upon which the tabloids thrived. And it was on this aspect that Mr Ken Russell chose to focus much of his extravaganza movie Lisztomania, roughly based on the great man's life:

How to follow that?! Here is my favourite piece of Liszt - his Liebestraum, played beautifully by Evgeny Kissin:

Franz Liszt (22nd October 1811 - 31st July 1886)

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