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Mr Standford's next allegation is that Liszt was 'so obsessed by his own genius'; not only does he not tell us how much Liszt was allegedly thus obsessed but, more importantly, he omits to describe, let alone support, this belief. He observes, rightly, that Liszt 'managed to acquire ... phenomenal technical prowess as a pianist' but opines that 'his place as a "great" composer in the histories has been assumed rather than justified'; he does not show how Liszt's virtuosity alone supposedly hoodwinked generations of music historians into believing that such an astonishing pianist must, by definition and by the laws of musical nature, automatically also be a 'great composer'. To my mind, the fact that Liszt was undoubtedly one of the most significant composers of his age is by no means indelibly and inextricably connected with his pianistic powers, although his keyboard genius obviously played some part in his compositional development; to assume that the two factors must go hand in hand is to conclude that one need only develop a pianistic technique like Liszt's in order to accomplish all that Liszt achieved as a composer -- an assertion that surely borders on the fatuous.
The years 1809-1813 were a 'golden era', encompassing the birth of a clutch of great figures in music -- Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner and Alkan. From the mid-1830s onwards, Liszt became almost universally acknowledged as one of the greatest pianists of his day and, as Mr Standford correctly observes, his playing ability 'made him a performer in huge demand and both stimulated and challenged the ingenuity of piano makers'; indeed, Liszt's pianism eventually helped to propel 19th century piano manufacture to the point at which the instrument's design came almost to resemble the concert grand that we know today. However, the flamboyance of Liszt's public persona in his performing heyday stood in stark contrast to the shyness and reticence of the one pianist/composer before whom even he is said to have been nervous of playing -- Alkan; in remembering this, we might try to imagine his response to Alkan's world première of his own 25 Préludes for piano before an audience in which Liszt is said to have sat next to Chopin. (The thought of premièring one's piano works in such uniquely illustrious company causes this writer's mind to boggle most uncomfortably!)
Copyright © 5 July 2007
Alistair Hinton, Bath UK