The Austrian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886 was a pianistic
miracle. He could play anything on sight and composed over 400
works centered around "his" instrument. Among his key works are
his Hungarian Rhapsodies, his Transcendental Etudes, his Concert
Etudes, his Etudes based on variations of Paganini's Violin
Caprices and his Sonata, one of the most important of the
nineteenth century. He also wrote thousands of letters, of which
260 are translated into English.
Those who knew him were also struck by his extremely
sophisticated personality. He was surely one of the most
civilized people of the nineteenth century, internalizing within
himself a complex conception of human civility, and attempting to
project it in his music and his communications with people. His
life was centered around people; he knew them, worked with them,
remembered them, thought about them, and wrote about them using
an almost poetic language, while pushing them to reflect the high
ideals he believed in. His personality was the embodiment of a
refined, idealized form of human civility. He was the consummate
musical artist, always looking for ways to communicate a new
civilized idea through music, and to work with other musicians in
organizing concerts and gatherings to perform the music publicly.
He also did as much as he could to promote and compliment those
whose music he believed in.
He was also a superlative musical critic, knowing, with few
mistakes, what music of his day was "artistic" and what was not.
But, although he was clearly a musical genius, he insisted on
projecting a tonal, romantic "beauty" in his music, confining his
music to a narrow range of moral values and ideals. He would have
rejected 20th-century music that entertained cynical notions of
any kind, or notions that obviated the concept of beauty in any
way. There is no Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Cage, Adams
and certainly no Schoenberg in Liszt's music. His music has an
ideological "ceiling," and that ceiling is "beauty." It never
goes beyond that. And perhaps it was never as "beautiful" as the
music of Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, nor quite as rational (Are
all the emotions in Liszt's music truly "controlled?"). But it
certainly was original and instructive, and it certainly will
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