Franz Liszt (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886) was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher.
Liszt became renowned throughout Europe for his great skill as a performer; during the 1800s, many considered him to be the greatest pianist in history. He was also an important and influential composer, a notable piano teacher, a conductor who contributed significantly to the modern development of the art, and a benefactor to other composers and performers, notably Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz.
As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the "Neudeutche Schule" ("New German School"). He left behind a huge and diverse oeuvre, in which he influenced his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and trends. Some of his most notable contributions were the invention of the Symphonic poem, developing the concept of thematic transformation as part of his experiments in musical form and making radical departures in harmony.
Liszt has most frequently been credited to have been the first pianist who gave concerts with programmes consisting only of solo pieces. An example is a concert he gave on March 9, 1839, at the Palazzo Poli in Rome. Since Liszt could not find singers who — following the usual habit of the time — should have completed the programme, he played four numbers all alone. Also famous is a concert on June 9, 1840, in London. For this occasion, the publisher Frederic Beale suggested the term "recital" which is still in use today.
Liszt gave concerts of different types. He gave solo concerts as well as concerts at which other artists joined him. In parts of his tours he was accompanied by the singer Rubini, later by the singer Ciabatta, with whom he shared the stage. At occasions, also other singers or instrumentalists took part in Liszt's concerts. For the case that an orchestra was available, Liszt had made accompanied versions of some of his pieces.
Liszt was one of the most noted teachers of the 19th century. This part of his career commenced after in August 1827 his father had died. For the purpose of earning his own and his mother's living, Liszt gave lessons in composition and piano playing. According to a letter to Monsieur de Mancy of December 23, 1829, he was so full of lessons that each day, from half-past eight in the morning till 10 at night, he had scarcely breathing time. Since Liszt had settled in Weimar, the number of those who received lessons from him was steadily increasing. Until his death in 1886 there will have been several hundreds of persons who in this or that sense may have been regarded as his students.
A Symphony to Dante's Divine Commedia, S 109, or simply the "Dante Symphony", is a program symphony. Written in the high romantic style, it is based on Dante Alighieri's journey through Hell and Purgatory, as depicted in The Divine Comedy. It was premiered in Dresden in November 1857, with Liszt himself conducting, and was unofficially dedicated to the composer's friend and future son-in-law Richard Wagner.
Liszt's intention was to compose the work in three movements—one each for the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. However, Wagner persuaded Liszt that no earthly composer could faithfully express the joys of Paradise. Liszt dropped the third movement but added a choral Magnificat at the end of the second. This action, some critics claim, effectively destroyed the work's balance, leaving the listener, like Dante, gazing upward at the heights of Heaven and hearing its music from afar. Moreover, Liszt scholar Humphrey Searle argues, while Liszt may have felt more at home portraying the infernal regions than the celestial ones, the task of portraying Paradise in music would likely have not been beyond his powers.
First Movement: Inferno
According to the score, which is in many places inscribed with passages from Dante, this is a musical rendition of the words inscribed over the gates of Hell: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here; the music is accordingly bleak, dark, and turbulent.
The middle section of the movement is devoted to portraying the sad tale of the lovers Paolo and Francesca -- later, the inspiration for Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia Franceska da Rimini(1876).
Second Movement: Purgatorio - Magnificat
This section primarily manifests the liturgial armosphere of Dante's Purgatorio. The first movement had contained numerous descriptive passages, but here only the opening Andante section (which is also marked Tranquillo) functions as descriptive music.
As the souls move through Purgatory, the music proceeds to a solemn fugue based on a subject that owes much to the descending melodic motion so prevalent in the first movement. After the myriad imitative voices have accumulated to produce an impassioned climax, the gentle tones of the women's voices usher in the final Magnificat. The Symphony ends quietly and reflectively. Although Liszt was later persuaded to replace this ending with a more traditional fortissimo statement, this second conclusion is less frequently performed and should not in any case be considered definitive.
James Conclon, conductor
Choeur de Concert de Helmond
Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orchest