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Liszt, Ferenc

Franz (Ferenc) Liszt (Doborján [now Raiding, Austria], October 22, 1811 - Bayreuth, July 31, 1886), celebrated concert pianist, composer and conductor, originator of the symphonic poem genre.

He began to play the piano at the age of six (taught by his father); his skills developed so fast that when at the age of nine at a public concert in Sopron he played the difficult E flat major piano concerto by Ries with notable artistic success, his father made plans for a concert in Pozsony as well. As a result of the latter performance a group of Hungarian magnates offered a scholarship of 600 forints a year for six years to finance Liszt's musical education. This was gratefully accepted, and in 1822 the family moved to Vienna. For 18 months Liszt took piano lessons from Czerny and studied music theory with Salieri; both teachers gave him an introduction to composition. Czerny may also have introduced him to Beethoven.

Liszt's public performances in Vienna in 1822-23 were so successful that his father decided to embark on a tour of western Europe with his son and then to enrol him in the Paris Conservatoire. On the way to the French capital Liszt performed in Munich and Stuttgart, among other places, and his audiences hailed him as the reincarnation of Mozart. Because of his foreign origin, however, he was unable to gain admission to the Conservatoire. From then on, Liszt took no more piano lessons, but as an autodidact developed his own talent. For a short time he studied composition with Paër and Reicha, and wrote a little one-act opera entitled Don Sanche, ou le Château d'Amour, which was performed five times in 1825 at the Académie Royale de Musique.

Liszt continued to tour until his father's death in August 1827, then settled in Paris, where he supported himself and his mother by teaching. He was jolted out of his seclusion by the July revolution of 1830. He moved in the highest literary and artistic circles; he was influenced by the works of Chateaubriand, Lamartine and Victor Hugo, the music of Chopin and Berlioz, and the socialist views of the Saint-Simonists and the Abbé Lamennais; he felt a vocation for the priesthood, but finally chose music. The brilliant violin playing of Paganini aroused in him a desire for instrumental virtuosity and a dramatic performing style, and Berlioz reinforced his musical aspirations.

With his first mistress, Countess Marie d'Agoult (who became known as a writer under the pen-name Daniel Stern), he travelled in Switzerland in 1835-36 and in Italy in 1837-39. They had three children: Blandine, Daniel and then Cosima, who was later to become Richard Wagner's wife. In 1939 Liszt offered to give concerts in order to raise the missing amount required to erect the planned statue of Beethoven in Bonn. In the course of the ensuing concert tours he conquered Europe. In 1847 he met Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, who became his second mistress. It was partly owing to Carolyne that Liszt gave up his career as a performer and in 1848 settled in Weimar, where he accepted the position of court conductor. As Goethe had once done, he made Weimar the cultural capital of Germany, and a centre of modern music.

He unselfishly supported his gifted contemporaries; as a conductor he did a great deal to promote appreciation of the works of Wagner and Berlioz, and as a teacher he honed the skills of the younger generation of pianists, including Hans von Bülow and Tausig (and later, István Thoman and Árpád Szendy). As a composer, in his Weimar years he produced his most influential works, including his Hungarian rhapsodies Nos.1-15, volumes 1 and 2 of the Years of Pilgrimage, his B minor sonata, the 12 symphonic poems, the Faust and Dante symphonies, the Esztergom Mass, the two piano concertos and the Totentanz.

Having left Weimar, from 1860 to 1869 he lived in Rome, where in 1865 he took minor orders. In the 1860s and 1870s he composed the Christus oratorio, the Coronation Mass, the Via Crucis and several smaller religious works. Every year from 1869 until his death he travelled to Budapest and to Weimar for several months.  In 1875 he was appointed president and professor at the newly established Academy of Music in Budapest. In the official apartment he was given in that institution's first independent building (today the Old Academy, the Ferenc Liszt Memorial Museum), every winter Liszt gave piano master courses. In the summer of 1886, although he was ill, he travelled to the Wagner festival and there, in Bayreuth, he met his death.

The New Liszt Edition

Parts of Ferenc Liszt's complete œuvre are to this day unexplored. Preparation of a scholarly edition of his musical works, writings and correspondence and the arrangement in a thematic catalogue of his entire output as a composer have begun, but are still far from completion.

In 1970 Editio Musica Budapest, aiming to modernize and finish the old complete edition begun in 1907 by the Franz Liszt Stiftung in Weimar, launched the New Liszt Complete Edition, the 50th volume of which is being published at the beginning of this, Liszt's jubilee year.

Series I and II of the new complete edition, published between 1970 and 2005, contain the final version of all the composer's solo piano works and also, in appendices, earlier versions that differ considerably from the final form of the works. In every volume the musical scores are accompanied by a detailed foreword in English and German, critical notes in English, and several facsimile pages of certain sources. Series I, consisting of 18 volumes, contains the original compositions, while the 24 volumes of Series II contain free arrangements and transcriptions of works by other composers. From the outset every single volume has been published in two forms: the bound version designed for practical purposes differs from the linen-bound volumes only in that it does not include the critical notes.

In the 35 years that have elapsed while the 42 volumes of Series I and II were being published, with the change in requirements caused by the demand for critical editions the publishers' basic principles have also altered significantly: whereas Dr Zoltán Gardonyi and István Szelényi, who launched this complete edition, kept in mind mainly the needs of performers, those who in 1973 inherited from them the senior publishers' positions, Imre Sulyok and Imre Mező, from the outset placed the emphasis on the genesis of each work, and on obtaining and comparing all the accessible contemporary manuscript and printed sources. Thus through increased refinement of the methods of source research and especially of the preparation of the critical notes, the complete edition could become of greater value to musical scholarship.     

The supplementary volumes launched in 2005 and edited by Adrienne Kaczmarczyk and Imre Mező complement the first two series: the contents include early versions of the solo piano works, hitherto unpublished compositions that have recently come to light, album leaves and unfinished works. The 8 volumes so far completed have made available to a wide circle of musicians such exciting complete pieces as the early versions of some works in the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and in the Années de Pèlerinage I-II (including two versions of the Dante sonata), the transcriptions of the 5-7. symphonies by Beethoven and the symphony Harold in Italy by Berlioz, moreover the Freischütz fantasia - the latter is appearing now in print for the first time.

Supplement volumes for series 1-2

The New Liszt Edition (NLE) was launched in 1970 in order to provide a reliable edition of the complete works of Ferenc Liszt (1811-1886). Of the planned ten series of the complete edition, grouped by genre and performing apparatus, between 1970 and 2005 Series 1 and 2, containing the definitive version of all the works for solo piano, were completed.

During these 35 years, in accordance with changes in the requirements relating to critical complete editions, the principles followed by the NLE publishers also underwent modification. Zoltán Gárdonyi and István Szelényi, who initiated the complete edition, bore in mind principally the needs of performers when they concentrated exclusively on the final version of each of Liszt's works ("Fassung letzter Hand").

In 1973 their positions as editors-in-chief were inherited by Imre Mező and Imre Sulyok, who from the outset devoted more attention to the genesis of the works and the preparatory phase of the editorial tasks in the strict sense, research into the sources. This activity, and the preparation of a critical apparatus documenting in the case of every composition the description of the collected contemporary sources and justifying the editorial additions, has made the NLE valuable to musicology as well. The research into the sources has not only resulted in a more reliable edition of the score but also provided insight into Liszt's compositional method. The most important feature of this from the point of view of a complete edition of his oeuvre is that the emergence of the final form of a work is often preceded by the composition of one or sometimes more than one clearly divergent version.

Though the primary purpose of the NLE is still the publication of the final form of each work, an earlier version of many of the works, where this differed significantly from the final form, has been included in the appendices to the volumes, especially in the second series.

The NLE Supplement volumes which have been published from 2005 are the successors of those appendices; in making available the earlier versions, their function is to enable the reader to look into Liszt's compositional workshop and to provide an opportunity for pianists and musicologists alike to form a closer acquaintance with Liszt the creative artist. Publication of the Supplement volumes is also justified and supported by the quantitatively and qualitatively significant achievements of Liszt philology in recent decades in the field of research into sources. These findings are, as always, fully taken into account and utilized by the NLE editors in preparing the Supplement volumes for publication.

The main aim of the editors, Adrienne Kaczmarczyk and Imre Mező in compiling the Supplement volumes has been - as befits the complete edition of an oeuvre - to make accessible here, in the case of every solo piano work, the earlier versions published at the time by the composer or others. In addition, they have included in them complete, fully worked out compositions and earlier versions surviving in manuscript form which are of indubitable musical value and thus may find a place in the concert repertoire.

Finally, the appendices to the planned volumes will also contain some fragments of interest chiefly to musicologists. Since some of these have been issued on recordings (e.g. Leslie Howard's complete set of recordings of Liszt's piano oeuvre), respect for the composer and the interest shown by pianists justify publication of Liszt's original. Though the magnitude of Liszt's piano oeuvre is such that it is impossible to publish every sketch and draft of each individual work, by publishing the compositions that have survived in manuscript the Supplement volumes make it easier for researchers also to survey and study his oeuvre.

Highlighted Publications for the 200th Anniversary