Franz Liszt, the most eminent pianist of his time, who also obtained worldwide celebrity as a composer and orchestral conductor, was born at Raiding, Hungary, October 22, 1811.
His father was an accomplished amateur, and played the piano and violoncello with more than ordinary skill. He was so impressed with the promise of his son that he not only gave him lessons in music, but also devoted himself to his artistic progress with the utmost assiduity. In his ninth year
Liszt played for the first time in public at Oedenburg. His performances aroused such enthusiasm that several Hungarian noblemen encouraged him to continue his studies, and guaranteed him sufficient to defray the expenses of six years' tuition.
He went to Vienna at once and studied the piano with Czerny, besides taking lessons in composition from Salieri and Randhartinger. It was while in that city that his first composition, a variation on a waltz of Diabelli, appeared.
In 1823 he went to Paris, hoping to secure admission to the Conservatory but Cherubini refused it on account of his foreign origin, though Cherubini himself was a foreigner. Nothing daunted, young Liszt continued his studies with Reicha and Paer, and two years afterwards brought out a one-act opera entitled "Don Sancho," which met with a very cordial reception. The slight he had received from Cherubini aroused popular sympathy for him. His wonderful playing attracted universal attention and gained him admission into the most brilliant Parisian salons. He soon became known as the "wonder-child," and was a favorite with every one, especially with the ladies.
For two or three years he made artistic tours through France, Switzerland, and England, accompanied by his father, and everywhere met with the most brilliant success. In 1827 the father died, Ieaving him alone in the world; but good fortune was on his side. During his stay in Paris he had made the friendship of Victor Hugo, George Sand, Lamartine, and other great lights in literature and music, and their influence prepared the way for his permanent success.
Notwithstanding that he was in many senses a Bohemian and a man of the world, he had a strong religious tendency. For a time he became deeply interested in the doctrines of Saint-Simon; but his adherence to that system did not last long. He speedily returned to the Roman Church, and some years afterwards went to Rome, at the suggestion of the Pontiff took orders, and set himself about the work of reforming the church music, -- a task, however, which he soon abandoned; too many obstacles stood in his way.
He expected to become Capellmeister at the Sistine Chapel; but, as he himself said: "I was thwarted by the lack of culture among the cardinals; and besides, most of the princes of the Church were Italian."
The Abbé was soon in Germany again, where he resided until the close of his life. From 1839 to 1847 he travelled from one city to an other, arousing the most extraordinary enthusiasm; his progress was one continued ovation.
In 1849 he went to Weimar and accepted the post of conductor at the Court Theatre. He made Weimar the musical centre of Europe. It was there that his greatest compositions were written, that the school of the music of the future was founded, and that Wagner's operas first gained an unprejudiced. hearing; and it is from Weimar that his distinguished pupils, like Von Bülow, Tausig, Bendel, Bronsart, Klindworth, Winterberger, Reubke, and many others date their success.
In 1859 he re-signed his position, and after that time resided at Rome, Pesth, and Weimar, working for the best interests of his beloved art, and encouraging young musicians to reach the highest standards.
Few men of his century have had such a powerful influence upon music, or have done so much to elevate and purify it. His most important works were the "Divina Commedia" and "Faust" symphonies, the twelve symphonic poems, the six Hungarian rhapsodies, the " Grauer Mass," the " Hungarian Coronation Mass," and the oratorios " Christus " and "The Legend of the Holy Elizabeth." Besides these he wrote a large number of orchestral pieces, songs, and cantatas, and a rich and varied collection of pianoforte solos, transcriptions, and arrangements. He died July 31, 1886.