Ferenc Liszt

Ferenc Liszt


Ferenc Liszt (1811–1886)

Jean-Jacques-Marie-Achille Devéria, lithograph, 1832

Collection: Photographic collection of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Warsaw, digital copy.


Ferenc Liszt—Hungarian pianist, composer and conductor. Liszt (a pupil of Czerny and Salieri in Vienna) very quickly earned a reputation across Europe as a pianist with brilliant technique, a powerful sound and bravura; Chopin had heard of him while still in Warsaw. The heartfelt friendship between Liszt and Chopin was based rather on their mutual admiration as musicians: Liszt was entranced by Chopin’s work, comprehending its innovation and originality more than anyone else. He was particularly impressed by the Etudes, Op. 10 (Chopin dedicated them to Liszt), about which he wrote in a letter (of 20 June 1833) to Ferdinand Hiller: ‘Do you know Chopin’s etudes?… They are wonderful!’ [Sydow, i, 227]. Chopin esteemed Liszt for the virtuosity of his playing. In that same joint letter to Hiller, he wrote: ‘I write, not knowing what my pen will scribble, as at this very moment Liszt is playing my Etudes and transporting me beyond the realm of rational thought. I would like to steal from him the way he performs my own works.’

The musician Józef Brzowski, a friend of Chopin’s, who was a frequent guest of the composer during his time in Paris (1836–1837), wrote about Liszt in his diary: ‘Liszt was quite tall, slim, and his pale face, stamped with genius, was encircled by long, thick, blond, straight-cut hair. His movements were bold, full of life, his lips gushed with wit, and in his overall manner there was something quite singular. […] The guests looked with great anticipation […] as Liszt approached the piano… When he raised his hands to take possession of the piano, ennobled beneath his fingers, Chopin sat nearby, and then listened to his C minor Etude, which beneath Liszt’s left hand was like a great tempest, while the right most emphatically expressed pain and despair […]. Liszt’s face was covered with the burning flame of fervour, and Chopin’s countenance grew pale in the face of such a mighty rendition. Liszt’s talent conspired on this occasion to make the most powerful impression, as he played us the most eloquent works’ [Czartkowski and Jeżewska, pp. 213, 222]. Chopin and Liszt played together in salons and also performed together in public; they took part, along with other musicians, in concerts organised in aid of their artist friends. These concerts were held in various concert halls in Paris. Liszt lived thirty-seven years longer than Chopin, and after the latter’s death, he performed and transcribed his works; in 1852, Liszt’s biography of Chopin was published in Paris—the first book about the Polish composer. Eugène Delacroix quotes excerpts from Liszt’s article which constituted the first version of his book on Chopin in his journal: ‘Paying no heed to the clamour of the orchestra, Chopin sufficed himself with expressing the entirety of his thoughts on the keyboard of the piano. He always achieved his aim, which was to enclose all the energy within the musical idea; but he never sought to achieve ensemble effects, nor considered that he possessed the talent of a decorator. The value of the line of his delicate brush was not pondered sufficiently seriously or carefully; […] It is impossible to carry out an intelligent analysis of Chopin’s works without discovering within them beauty of the highest order, completely new expression and harmonic patterns that are equally as original as they are excellent. […] Thanks to the feeling that pervades all these works, they spread and became popular; these feelings are highly Romantic, individual, proper to their author, and pleasing not only for the country which owes him one more celebrity, but for all those who have ever experienced the misery of exile or tender love’ [Delacroix 2003, i, 301–306].