Composer Franz Liszt takes Paris by storm.
Composer Franz Liszt takes Paris by storm.

TONIGHT'S ACADEMY AWARDS CEREMONY will see some of the brightest names in Hollywood under one roof, while the movie-going public watches from home with breath that is bated. Were it 1844, though, and composer Franz Liszt making an appearance? There would be fainting in the aisles, poetry on Twitter, and a general agreement that such a star had never before existed. 

1844 | Paris


He is here, our Franz Liszt, the wandering knight of all possible orders (excepting that of the French cross of the Legion of Honor, which Louis Philippe will not give to any virtuoso); he is here, the Hohenzollern-Hechingen Court Councilor, the Doctor of Philosophy and of double quavers, or of all imaginable crotchets, the miraculous Doctor of Music, the again-arisen rat catcher of Hameln, the new Faust, who is always followed by a poodle in the form of Belloni, the ennobled and yet noble Franz Liszt! He is here, the modern Amphion, who by the sound of his chords set the stones for building the Cathedral of Cologne in motion so that they came together, as did those of the walls of Thebes! He is here, the modern Homer, whom all Germany, Hungary, and France, the three greatest countries, claim as their native child, while only seven small provincial towns contended for the singer of The Iliad! He is here—the Attila, the scourge of God for all the pianos of Erard, which tremble already at the news of his coming, and which now once more are convulsed, bleed, and wail under his hands, so that the Society for the Protection of Animals really ought to look after them! He is here, the mad, handsome, ugly, enigmatic, terrible, and often very childish, child of his time, the gigantic dwarf, the Orlando Furioso with the Hungarian Sword of Honor, the soundly well-today and ill-tomorrow Franz Liszt, whose magic power compels us, whose genius enchants us, the genial Jack Fool (Hans Narr), whose nonsense bewilders our own senses, and to whom we will in any case show the loyal service of making known the great furor which he is here exciting. We confirm candidly the fact of his immense success, but in what manner we interpret this fact according to our own private opinion, or whether we accord to, or withhold our private approbation from the distinguished virtuoso, will probably be to him a matter of the utmost indifference, seeing that our voice is only the voice of a single individual and our authority in the art of music is of no remarkable importance.


Winter 2011

HEINRICH HEINE, from “The Musical Season of 1844.” Composing at the age of nine, Liszt studied composition with Antonío Salieri in Vienna, where he also met Beethoven. The virtuoso went on a sensational eight-year tour beginning in 1839, enjoying gifts and mistresses, while still writing music. Born in Düsseldorf in 1797, Heine established his literary reputation in 1827 with The Book of Songs, poems that have been frequently set to music.

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