Child prodigy, piano virtuoso, heartthrob and enchanter of Europe’s concert halls: Franz Liszt was one of the most dazzling musical personalities of the Romantic era and the composer of a gigantic oeuvre. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Liszt’s birth in Raiding, the commemorative year Lisztomania 2011 is being staged in the province of Burgenland, with a superlative programme: 200 concerts, exhibitions, Veranstaltungenevents and publications.
Even before Franz Liszt’s birth, there were intimations that his life would be exceptional: A gypsy predicted to his mother Maria Anna Liszt – just at the time when the Great Comet of 1811 appeared in the sky – that the son she was to bear would achieve greatness. Franz, the son of an overseer of the Esterházy sheep farm in Raiding, which at that time was part of Hungary, displayed exceptional musical talent at an early age. Soon he was regarded as a child prodigy. His father arranged for him to have his first piano instruction at the age of eleven with Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri in Vienna.
Franz Liszt developed into a European who was at home in Budapest, Paris, London, Weimar, Bayreuth and Rome. He maintained active contacts with artists such as Richard Wagner, Frédéric Chopin, Hector Berlioz and with the intellectuals of his day – a time which saw the rise of the middle-class intelligentsia. But he was also deeply influenced by his religion. He composed 800 works, which are still received with enthusiasm by audiences today.
“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.