This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
On the 22d day of October, 1811, Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist of the last half century, was born at Raiding, in Hungary, and the entire musical world was united in celebrating his seventieth birthday, which took place this year.
What can be more appropriate than to take a look at the past and recall some of the important events of Liszt's so very interesting life? To recall his first appearance as a "wonder" child in his native town, the blessing and kiss he received a few years later from the immortal Beethoven, his great triumphs in the Paris salons and the defeat of his rival Thalberg. After the appearance of the violin virtuoso Paganini, he resolved to attain the highest development of his musical genius and to become so world-renowned as none has been before him, and in this was successful. He has not only maintained his standing as the greatest master of modern piano virtuosos, but has had the greatest influence on his followers and scholars, Taussig, v. Bulow, Mr. and Mme. Bronsart, Menter, and other younger and older pianists who have had the benefits of his instruction for a greater or less length of time, so that it can be justly claimed that the majority of our present virtuosos owe their success and fame directly or indirectly to the abilities of Liszt.
Liszt is endowed with that great gift of treating every individual in the manner most favorable to the development of its traces of artistic ability and desires, and this accounts for his wonderful results as instructor and master.
But no picture of Liszt would be perfect without a résumé or recapitulation of his compositions.
After a most perfect transposition and preparation of numerous works of Beethoven, Schubert, and Berlioz, and after making their compositions popular and introducing numerous valuable novelties in the art of playing piano, he produced his "Symphonische Dichtungen" (Symphonic Poems).
These highly dramatic compositions, in which he follows Berlioz and often produces the most astonishing effects of sounds, however, did not find entire approbation with the public, and did not succeed in popularizing themselves. But that fact can be recorded in his favor that every programme containing Liszt's "Dante," or Faust Symphony, or "Mazeppa," receives more than ordinary attention from the public. The same is the case with his solo songs with piano accompaniment, in which, however, ingenious details often tend to drown the original melody. Of his quartets, some have become highly popular with singing societies and form part of their repertoire. The crowning point of Liszt's compositions is to be found in sacred music, for instance in his mass known as the "Grauer Messe," composed for the dedication of the Cathedral at Grau, in Hungary; the Crowning mass, and his two oratorios, "Die heilige Elisabeth" and "Christus." But even they caused a decided difference of opinion; and if some knew no bounds for their enthusiasm, others could not find an end for their condemnation. Such works should not be treated too lightly, and a thorough and impartial examination will show that a place of honor must be accorded to them in the history of music. Since the "Heilige Elisabeth" has been produced in several cities of Germany it has been viewed more favorably and disarmed many of the opponents.
But Liszt also belongs to the literary fraternity, and his works, published by Breitkopf & Hartel, contain some of the best ever written in regard to art and artists. They were mostly written in elegant French originally, and relate to the social position of artists and the state of the art of music in certain cities or even an entire country. A part of his works is devoted to the music of gypsies, and to a true and honest history of the life of his friend Chopin.
Then again we find him preparing the path to the hearts of the public for Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner, Robert Franz, and Meyerbeer. Liszt has certainly collected enormous sums of money in his successful career, but as fast as he reaps his earnings he gives them to those needing assistance, and it is almost entirely to him that the inhabitants of Bonn, on the Rhine, owe their beautiful Beethoven Monument, and during the last years Liszt has been untiring in giving concerts and collecting money for a monument for the greatest of the great, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Liszt is an artist in every sense of the word, and we should all wish that he will remain among us for many years more.