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The sting of this slight stayed with Liszt, fostering an antiestablishment streak that would inform his liberal politics and disdain of the class system. Tellingly, Liszt seemed to favor affairs with noblewomen, no doubt a product of the circles in which he traveled, but also perhaps borne of a desire for acceptance within those circles. At the same time, Liszt’s reputation as a lothario is exaggerated, especially considering the throngs of women who flung themselves at him during his concerts. In reality, his liaisons were relatively few in number and centered around two lengthy relationships that were marriages in


“He increasingly focused on ... a musical language both rooted in the past and looking to the future. His masses, oratorios, and other vocal works are rarely performed but convey an intensity and immediacy borne out of his powerful desire for, and love of, Christ.”

all but name. This is not to condone what was undeniably a failing on Liszt’s part, but merely to suggest that he seemed to be seeking something more meaningful than physical pleasure or the thrill of the chase. It seems that these relationships brought Liszt more grief than anything else, and it is likely that he viewed his concert tours both as a means of escape and as another possible source of adulation. From 1838 to 1847, Liszt embarked upon an unprecedented concert tour across Europe, performing before adoring crowds and earning unheard-of sums of money. By all accounts, his recitals were riotous events, resulting in pandemonium among audi-


ences (especially the female contingent) and yet earning the approval of even the stodgiest critics. As a performer, Liszt clearly had the goods and knew how to market them to connoisseur and casual listener alike. His transcriptions, concert paraphrases, and original works from this period revolutionized piano technique, pushing the instrument to new expressive realms scarcely dreamt of before. Despite the universal acknowledgement of Liszt’s superiority as a performer, critics refused to take him seriously as a composer. After retiring from the concert stage, he took up residence as the court composer in Weimar,

The Williams Telos


where he revised earlier works and wrote many new ones. It is largely as a result of these efforts that his reputation as a major composer is secure today, but critics at the time remained unmoved and even audiences started to question Liszt’s competence as a musician. In many respects, the last decades of Liszt’s life were marked by decline, with his most experimental works dismissed as the products of an inept, even feeble, mind. As is so often the case with great artists, true recognition of Liszt’s genius would only come long after his death. However, these later years also saw a resurgence of Liszt’s faith that, if never exactly dormant, certainly had

Telos Fall 2012 Issue  
Telos Fall 2012 Issue  

Fall 2012 issue of The Williams College Telos. Theme: Hunger.