His Life (1811 – 1886) Born in Hungary, Liszt was the son of wealthy parents whose connections helped him get funding to study music in Paris where he became enamored with its artistic leaders – Victor Hugo, George Sand, Berlioz Paganini – highly talented violinist – made Liszt aware of the power of virtuoso playing, a need which Liszt met as a pianist. He was a great pianist but also a great showman – an actor at the keyboard who made the performance as much about him as it was about the music.
He changed the orientation of the piano onstage – instead of sitting with his back to the audience or facing it, he sat in profile to the audience so that they could see his hands and face. His playing was dramatic – crouching over the keys, excessive movement, etc. Liszt became the first musician to have fans – ladies swooned and wanted to meet him – it was no longer just about the music! Liszt never married but instead worked his way through a revolving door of girlfriends He had three children with Countess Marie dAgoult, who wrote novels under the name Daniel Stern. They broke up in bitterness and she wrote novels satirizing him. In 1848 he withdrew from performing – at the height of his fame – to concentrate on composing.
His Music His music is based on the technique of thematic transformation – a technique in which he varied the melodic outline, harmony, or rhythm of a theme by shifting it from soft to loud, from slow to fast, from low to high, from strings to woodwinds or brass. Through this technique he found it possible to transform its character so that the same theme might suggest different ideas (e.g, romantic love in one section, a pastoral scene in another, tension in another, etc.) Creator of modern piano technique, further pushing the boundaries of technique on the instrument.
He was drawn to the etude in which a composer confronted a single technical problem – but like Chopin, he could make it less of a dull/dry exercise and make it more of a poetic mood piece. Twelve Transcendental Etudes – completed in 1838 – did what the title implies in that the etudes transcend the limitations of the keyboard and even transformed the limitations into sources of beauty.
Transcendental Etude No. 8: The Wild Hunt Like all the pieces in the collection, this piece is hugely demanding technically The piece shows off his reckless virtuosity, imaginative contrast between the low and high registers of the piano, use of massed chords, fondness for irregular rhythmic accentuations. The middle section is meant to suggest distant hunting horns; the image of the hunt was one used in much Romantic poetry and painting.