It has been said about Franz Liszt that his was 'the best life ever lived'.
Endowed with talent energy and charisma -- "a pair of green eyes full of fire" wrote his lover Marie d'Agoult - Liszt became a living legend as a dazzling piano virtuoso. Perhaps a curse in disguise. We know his name but not most of his music.
Much more than a virtuoso, Liszt shot musical fireworks as composer, conductor, teacher, writer of books, essays and thousands of letters. He was also an important champion of new music, most significantly for Berlioz and Wagner..
What was the perception of Liszt in his own time? Here from the pen of friend, poet and critic Henrich Heine after a Liszt concert: "First Satan galloped on a milk-white steed. Death rode slowly behind on the pale horse, Christ appeared in golden armour...and finally the wild, lightning-flashing, volcanic, heaven-storming Liszt...I saw the beasts of the apocalypse".
How is Liszt remembered today beyond the Second Rhapsody of Tom and Jerry's cat and mouse? or Victor Borge's hilarious rendition of two rollicking pianists (of same rhapsody!)? quite recently one could still read the following line in the New Yorker magazine by its chief editor: "Lang Lang....a most gifted pianist prone to red silk tuxedos and Lisztian histrionics at the keyboard..."
The film "Liszt's Dance with the Devil" delves into Liszt's own conflicts with celebrity vs. spirituality, through his compositions: no less than five Mephisto Waltzes, A Faust Symphony, the faustian B minor Sonata, as well as choices made in his personal life.
I myself have been surprised in my search for Liszt and his Devil. Is he Faust or Mephisto? Juxtaposing the different views and interpretations given by dedicated, brilliant Lisztians may prove to be provoking rather than comforting but it will certainly illuminate an exciting, unique and pivotal personality in the anals of music, and one who inadvertantly ushered in modernity.
You are invited to view two clips from "Liszt's Dance with the Devil" on YouTube:
"A Teaser", and "A Day in Paris". Your comments and questions are welcome!