Born October 22, 1811 in Sopron, Hungary
Died July 31, 1886 in Bayreuth, Germany
FAMOUS WORKSFaust Symphony, Totentanz, Liebesträume, Hungarian Rhapsodies
Franz Liszt was born on October 22, 1811 to Adam Liszt, a talented amateur musician and a court official serving the Prince of Hungary. Adam played cello in the court orchestra, and he often played the piano at home. When Franz was six, he began to listen closely to his father’s piano playing, and began taking lessons from him at seven. Franz began composing and performing in public when he was eight years old.
In 1821, the Liszt family moved to Vienna, where Franz was able to study with well-known musicians such as Czerny and Salieri, the music director at the Viennese court. After a performance in 1823, Liszt met Beethoven, who kissed him on the forehead! Liszt remembered Beethoven and told the story of their meeting for years to come.
Liszt was the first person to give a piano recital—a concert that featured piano music exclusively. In fact, Liszt spent most of his life travelling around Europe giving piano recitals. He often appeared in concert three or four times a week, and it is estimated that he gave over a thousand public concerts in eight years! Liszt was a wonderful pianist and an exciting performer. When he played, he tried to make the piano sound like an entire orchestra. Liszt’s performances were so exciting that they made audiences hysterical—just like the Beatles or Elvis, but many years earlier.
In 1842, Liszt settled down and began to focus on composing and conducting. A true Romantic composer, Liszt bypassed forms from classical music and developed his own instead. Liszt developed the Symphonic Poem, a single-movement piece for orchestra that is based on something outside of music, such as a poem, a painting, history, or mythology. He also developed “transformation of themes”, a method in which a short idea is repeated over and over again for an entire piece. The theme is repeated with different rhythms, harmonies, and ornamentations each time.
Liszt died of pneumonia when he was 74 years old. He is remembered as the greatest piano player of his time, and possibly the greatest piano player ever! Liszt is also remembered as one of the two great Hungarian composers, along with Belá Bártok. Modern audiences recognize Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 from “Rhapsody Rabbit”, a cartoon in which Bugs Bunny conducts Liszt’s masterpiece.