Liszt's Final Decade

Liszt's Final Decade

Dolores Pesce
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 403
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt5vj8d4
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  • Book Info
    Liszt's Final Decade
    Book Description:

    Toward the end of his life Franz Liszt maintained extensive correspondence with two women who were at the time his closest confidantes, Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein and Olga von Meyendorff. Liszt wrote regularly to these women, expressing his intimate feelings about personal and career events and his conflicted self-image as a celebrated performer but underappreciated composer. Absent a diary, the letters offer the most direct avenue into Liszt's psyche in his final years. Liszt's Final Decade explores through these letters the mind and music of one of the nineteenth century's most popular musicians, providing insight into Liszt's melancholia in his last years and his struggle to gain recognition for his music yet avoid negative criticism. The exchange indicates that Liszt ultimately resolved his self-image through a personally constructed Christian moral philosophy that embraced positive resignation to suffering, compassionate love, and trust in a just reward to come. The book also examines how Liszt's late sacred compositions unfold a paradigm of suffering that yields to joy and hope. Significantly, Liszt viewed these works, commonly overlooked today, as a major part of his compositional legacy. This volume thus challenges the idea of a single "late" Lisztian style and the notion that despair overwhelmed the composer in his final years. Dolores Pesce, Avis Blewett Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis, has published books and articles on medieval and Renaissance music theory, the medieval motet, Franz Liszt, and Edward MacDowell.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-848-0
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction: New Beginnings
    (pp. 1-16)

    Although Franz Liszt (1811–86) remains one of the world’s most celebrated performers, he wanted more than anything else to be known and appreciated as a composer. To his abiding consternation and frustration, such recognition eluded him. The public yearned for the pianist Liszt after he relinquished that role in 1847; at the same time, the barbs cast at his music in the 1850s and 1860s festered within him. In confronting his self-image in the final decade before his death in 1886, Liszt crafted different public and private personae: before his public he was a musical luminary with significant artistic...

  7. Part One: Public Actions

    • Chapter One Decorated Cleric
      (pp. 19-48)

      Because Liszt was one of the most painted and photographed Europeans in the second half of the nineteenth century, the varied and widely available images of the man enable us to look closely at the way he presented himself to the public as he grew older.¹ This chapter specifically discusses the late portraits and photographs of Liszt and compares them to those from his earlier life. Liszt appears to have cultivated a public persona as proud musical elder statesman, someone recognized by dignitaries and the public for his significant artistic accomplishments. This image can be compared and contrasted with another...

    • Chapter Two Influential Advocate
      (pp. 49-66)

      Liszt played an active role in the complex business of social networking upon which musicians of his time relied, as they do today. This chapter examines Liszt’s comments and decisions in support of certain individuals in his final decade, specifically those he discussed in his letters to Olga and Carolyne. It begins with his piano students and moves to his musician colleagues of the New German School, connected by a discussion of Liszt’s support for Giovanni Sgambati, a former pupil who went on to reinvigorate the musical scene in Rome, at least in part by introducing some of the same...

    • Chapter Three A Slow and Perilous Road to Vindication
      (pp. 67-85)

      This chapter focuses on Liszt’s deliberations about whether to accept invitations to certain performances of his music. A deep-seated concern formed an important subtext for Liszt’s case-by-case decision: his need for recognition of his contributions as composer as opposed to “mere” performer, particularly with respect to problematic works and locales.

      This dilemma of self-image is brought into clear focus by a brief glance at Liszt’s reaction to an invitation to play the piano for a charity benefit in Vienna in 1881. As will be discussed below, after his performance at a fundraising concert in Vienna four years earlier, Liszt decided...

    • Chapter Four Challenges of Composition and Publication
      (pp. 86-108)

      Liszt’s letters to Carolyne and Olga reveal how he negotiated a number of issues related to composition and publication during his final decade: composing new works of his choice; responding to specific requests by publishers, individuals, or institutions for new pieces as well as arrangements and transcriptions; the copying and proofing demands of publication; and his inveterate habit of revising works. At times he spoke of an overarching concern, that is, his income, which relied on the fees he received for his new works and even more on piano arrangements and transcriptions. As part of its focus on Liszt’s motivations...

  8. Part Two: Private Utterances

    • Chapter Five Imagined Identities
      (pp. 111-129)

      This chapter lays out the theological and literary background for understanding Liszt’s words in the remaining portion of the book. It reveals that the persona which Liszt presented to Carolyne, and in a somewhat lesser degree to Olga, was grounded in his three-fold spiritual identification with Christ, Job, and the Good Thief Saint Dismas, all of whom exemplify the topos of suffering. In his later years Liszt concentrated on a particular aspect of Christological signification, the suffering Christ who submitted himself to his father’s will. Significantly, that very emphasis lies at the core of Saint Francis of Assisi’s life and...

    • Chapter Six Soul Baring
      (pp. 130-168)

      This chapter examines Liszt’s expressed inner struggles in his final decade with an eye to various meanings, interpretations, and theories of melancholia in the nineteenth century. It brings into focus how Liszt’s mental state affected his composing, and vice versa. It also examines Liszt’s internal tensions caused by the demands of responding to the voluminous correspondence that accompanied his public role as musical elder statesman. Such demands encroached on his time needed for composing. Not least, it confronts the degree to which Liszt presented himself differently to Carolyne and Olga, and suggests that his self-presentation to Carolyne involved more overtly...

  9. Part Three: Retrospection and Hope

    • Chapter Seven Compositional Legacy
      (pp. 171-245)

      What can we make of Liszt’s compositional legacy in his final years? How does Liszt’s own objective, as demonstrated by publications between 1877 and 1886, compare with scholars’ common perceptions about his late style—adventurous tonality, unconventional form and genre, pared-down texture, linked to a dark, “disturbed” affect?¹Nuages gris(A305, see ex. 7.1), most often adduced as an example of Liszt’s late style, will provide a reference point for what follows. WhileNuages griscarries a G-minor key signature and G is its implied goal, the final sonority is ambiguous. Its sparse texture consists not of a melody and...

    • Chapter Eight Final Words
      (pp. 246-258)

      The preceding chapters have revealed many facets of the public and private Liszt. In public he cultivated above all else an image of dignified musical elder statesman, manifest in portraiture and in person, and in his advocacy for fellow musicians. But beneath this proud self-presentation was a vulnerability related to his need for public recognition as a composer in the aftermath of negative criticism in Vienna and various German cities in the late 1850s and Paris in 1866. Even as Liszt harbored an aversion to these locales, he craved public vindication of his works in their musical venues. This inner...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 259-344)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-356)
  12. Index
    (pp. 357-370)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 371-371)