franz liszt foto um 1858 © LMB/Hanfstaengl
As a pianist and composer, Franz Liszt broke all conventions of the time, often drawing on one or more themes from familiar operas and using them as the basis for brilliant piano fantasies.
On top of his piano compositions, Liszt is also considered a pioneer of the symphonic poem, a term that refers to an orchestral work in which the content of a non-musical source, such as a story, poem or painting, is described in musical terms. Examples of Liszt’s symphonic poems include his Faust Symphony and the famous Dante Symphony, which, however, Johannes Brahms declared to be “non-music” that “belongs on the rubbish heap”.
Liszt also composed a great deal of religiously inspired music. Among his major sacred works are the Hungarian Coronation Mass, the oratorio “Christus”, and the Missa Solemnis, regarded as one of the greatest church-music works of the nineteenth century.
“If one remains faithful to the true genius of music, even the newest of music, with all its refined instrumental qualities, has no other purpose than did the flute of Tuba Cain, the bagpipe of the first Chinese, the yodelling of the mountain-dwellers, the psalm of the monk, the drumming of the Africans, the playing of Cecilia’s little organ, Paganini’s violin, Mozart’s operas, or Hugo Wolf’s lieder. They all have the task of speaking a different language than the literal one, different than the language of painting or architecture. Their language is the language of sound, and it is spoken from one soul to another.” (Franz Liszt)