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Altenburg, Detlef (Hrsg.) (1997) Liszt und die Weimarer Klassik (Laaber: Laaber). Liszt und die Weimarer Klassik 1997

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The life and works of Mozart are central to a due understanding of Liszt’s development as pianist, composer, and conductor. Yet, this fact receives inadequate attention in scholarly studies. Liszt readily acknowledged that he ‘owed the greater part of what he was as a musician to Mozart’ and found identity and goal as he sought, as pianist and composer, to emulate the endeavors of the Viennese master. Like Mozart, he was a ‘pioneer of progress’ who refused ‘to be bound by accepted modes of expression.’ Like Mozart, ‘he pushed virtuosity to utmost limits.’ Like Mozart, he was seen by many as an iconic figure of German nationalism. In later life, Liszt took comfort from the fact that Mozart, his illustrious role-model, was not spared bitter experiences. ‘As with every great genius,’ both endured ‘pain and suffering’ in order to accomplish their task. In so many areas of musical activity and experience, Liszt mirrored his great Viennese master. Throughout Liszt’s life, he remained devoted to the scrupulous study and execution of Mozart’s music and played an important part in promoting a better understanding of both man and music via podium and press before, during, and after the Mozart Centenary Celebrations in Vienna in January 1856.

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This documentary contains 16 Liszt-letters preserved at the Goethe-Schiller- Archiv (GSA) in Weimar and further 14 items from the Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (SLUB) in Dresden. The Weimar letters include those in which Liszt addressed (in French) Ignaz Moscheles and Julius Benedict, both German musicians living in London, about his 1840 concert tour in England. Also, he wrote in French to singer Pauline Viardot-Garcìa, Madame Érard, and his Neapolitan pupil Luisa Cognetti. His letters in German to Hermann Levi deal with Richard Wagner. In another letter Liszt is asking the Vienna Home Secretary Baron Alexander von Bach, to have his Gran Mass published at the state administration’s expense. His letters to Count Sándor Teleki and Ede Reményi concern Hungarian musical life. Liszt is giving instructions for the publishing of his work Hymne de l’enfant à son réveil to his Hungarian publisher Nándor Táborszky and writing a dry refusal to his former Hungarian pupil Sándor Bertha. The envelope of a letter to Madame Munkácsy has a mistake in the orthography of the family name. The documents from Dresden include an Albumblatt Liszt wrote for Clara Schumann, a recommendation for Heinrich Ehrlich, the composer of the first Lento-theme of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no 2. Further letters were written to Laura Kahrer (one of them having been published in a slightly altered manner by La Mara) and a series of eight letters to Liszt’s Swiss disciple Bertrand Roth.

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The salvation role of Gretchen, embodying the “Ewig-Weibliche,” has already been mentioned by several scholars analyzing Liszt’s “Faust” Symphony. According to them, Liszt found the most direct models to the characterization of the female protagonist of his work in Wagner’s operas. This interpretation can be made more differentiated in the view of another musical quotation of the “Gretchen” movement of the Symphony. I would like to go further on the basis of some concrete musical analogies, following the genesis of the composition and Liszt’s writings. I seek to answer the following questions: How much is Goethe’s Gretchen preserved in Liszt’s work? What are the influences of Gretchen’s contemporary musical characterizations known by Liszt, related to his own work? Last but not least, what kind of connections do exist between the Gretchen of the “Faust” Symphony and the other female characters in Liszt’s works?

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Everyone will probably agree that no great musician has been as frequently accused of bad taste as Liszt. And everyone will probably also agree that these accusations have had no effect on his stature as a great musician, even among the accusers. So what is bad taste, then, if it is so easily separable from artistic stature? It is a concept that has been poorly historicized or contextualized, if at all. This paper is an attempt to start the process, using Liszt as bellwether.

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Liszt’s activities and aesthetic ideas during the Weimar period were comprehensively inspired by the Golden Era of German literature and the parallel musical traditions. Not only the performances of Wagner, Schumann, and Berlioz, but also his literary publications and musical compositions pursued the idea of presenting a new type of synthesis of poetry and music. The key to his new aesthetic concept of instrumental music was his idea to create equivalents to the different types of poetry. Liszt’s ideas would have remained mere speculation without the Weimar traditions of memorial culture and the activities of his “Fortschrittspartei.” As fruitful as Liszt’s regeneration of the spirit of Weimar was, there was no bridge between the mental confrontation of two different worlds: between the European Franz Liszt and the keepers of the holy Grail of the past.

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The closest of friends in the early eighteen-thirties, Berlioz and Liszt shared artistic aspirations (especially around the latter’s reworkings of the former’s Symphonie fantastique and its sequel, Le Retour à la vie) and personal adventures (especially around the former’s irrational passion for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson and the latter’s efforts at counsel and consolation). These matters are discussed in the context of Berlioz’s private (and I believe insensitive) announcement, in a letter to Liszt sent four days after the marriage, that his new wife had been a virgin.

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In the preface to his Septem sacramenta (1878–1884), Franz Liszt acknowledged its stimulus — drawings completed in 1862 by the German painter J. F. Overbeck (1789–1869). This essay explores what Liszt likely meant by his and Overbeck’s “diametrically opposed” approaches and speculates on why the composer nonetheless acknowledged the artist’s work. Each man adopted an individualized treatment of the sacraments, neither in line with the Church’s neo-Thomistic philosophy. Whereas the Church insisted on the sanctifying effects of the sacraments’ graces, Overbeck emphasized the sacraments as a means for moral edification, and Liszt expressed their emotional effects on the receiver. Furthermore, Overbeck embedded within his work an overt polemical message in response to the contested position of the pope in the latter half of the nineteenth century. For many in Catholic circles, he went too far. Both works experienced a problematic reception. Yet, despite their works’ reception, both Overbeck and Liszt believed they had contributed to the sacred art of their time. The very individuality of Overbeck’s treatment seems to have stimulated Liszt. True to his generous nature, Liszt, whose individual voice often went unappreciated, publicly recognized an equally individual voice in the service of the Church.

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The question how visual art absorbs music has been the subject of much investigation. The reverse question, namely how music absorbs visual art, has until now received little attention. Franz Liszt was perhaps the first to be inspired by visual art in his compositions. The starting point was his encounter with the art of Italy (Sposalizio and Il penseroso in book II of Années de pèlerinage), later followed symphonic poems (Hunnenschlacht based on Kaulbach and Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe probably based on Zichy); his Totentanz for piano and orchestra was inspired by Orcagna and Holbein. In Liszt it is a matter of the poetic content of music and the unification of the arts, where in principle music can be connected not just to literature, but to all branches of the arts. Linked with literature, it reflects the forms and structures of literature. The question is, therefore, whether all this is valid for visual art as well. Does Liszt just compose a ”story,“ or does he also take over the structures of art? And what influence did these works have on later composers?

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In his inaugural lecture to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Béla Bartók proposed dividing the works of Liszt into two unequally valued portions: the valuable works that showed Liszt as an artistic innovator, and the undesirable ones that adopted a false “Hungarian” style that pleased unsophisticated listeners but corrupted their taste. In sum, he asserted a radical pseudo-aesthetic dichotomy in the interests of a political agenda. Only a dozen years later, Bartók’s own legacy was dichotomized in a very similar way by musicians and politicians, on both sides of the Cold War divide, who were acting according to a political agenda that no one even tried to disguise as aesthetic. The crypto-political pseudo-aesthetics of the twentieth century, whether practiced in the name of pure national traditions, in the name of social justice, or in the name of aesthetic autonomy, has corrupted both the production and the reception of art music and has played a part in its devaluation, all too evident in twenty-first-century society. The many errors of evaluation enumerated in this essay have contributed to that melancholy history.

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