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Franz Liszt, Holy and Infernal Genius

The life of Franz Liszt (1811–86) was a musical fantasy in itself.  Born in Hungary, he first studied with his musically gifted father, then with Carl Czerny (piano) and Antonio Salieri (composition). From his teenage years till the end of his long life, he built an outsized reputation as a teacher himself. Then, after earning a fortune as a performer, he spent much of it in support of good causes and fellow artists. It was an era of white-heat public interest in star pianists.  Paris was the seat of his greatest fame, dubbed “Lisztomania” by his writer friend Heinrich Heine.  

Liszt lived many lives. His lack of formal education made him an intense reader of books, listener to music, hungry connoisseur of all the arts. MEF’s concert tribute to him brings together three performers who have applied similar curiosity to Liszt’s work, both as a keyboard champion and as a composer with great literary imagination. On this program we will find Liszt’s piano works explored in both familiar and novel forms, as well as a selection of his songs, less frequently heard.

The variety of musical forms and styles in Liszt’s music show him exceeding the limits that most of his contemporaries set for themselves. In this respect he most resembles his friend Hector Berlioz. As an innovator, Liszt in recent years has emerged as an exponent of what his son-in-law, Richard Wagner, imagined as “the music of the future.” After weaving a fine fabric of keyboard virtuosity and expression, as Chopin did, he went on to take music, as Beethoven had done, beyond its safety zone. Liszt, a paragon of his age, became an adventurer into our own.

—John W. Freeman




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