FRANZ LISZT by Alan Walker


Vol. III, The Final Years, 1861-1886
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 Third and final hefty volume on the larger-than-life Romantic composer/pianist (preceded by Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, 18111848, 1983, and Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 18481861, 1989). Anyone looking for a nonpartisan view of Liszt should check their hat at the door; this is a celebration of a man and his work, as thorough and complete as one could hope. It covers Liszt's declining years, so there are fewer achievements and more tragedy, including his thwarted marriage plans to the eccentric Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein; his decision to become a priest (much to the shock and amusement of those who recalled his younger years); and his steady decline into illness and blindness. Most upsetting was his daughter Cosima's decision to abandon her husband (the noted conductor Hans von BÅlow) and run off with the composer Richard Wagner. Liszt had been a mentor to both men in their early years and felt personally responsible for the tragedy. Liszt led a footloose existence, dividing his time between Italy (where he practiced his religious life), Weimar (where he continued to teach music), and his native Hungary. Walker is a die-hard Lisztomaniac, often apologizing for the composer's behavior and never encountering a piece of music he doesn't like. Was Liszt an alcoholic? Perhaps, Walker thinks, but alcohol seemed to impair ``neither his piano-playing nor his conversation.'' Did Liszt serve as a proper role model for his many students? Walker admits he may have introduced a few to the vices of cognac and cigars, and may even have been a little too friendly with the younger females. Was he an anti-Semite, as the scandalous 1881 revision of his work on Bohemian music seemed to imply? Walker blames this on the meddling hands of Princess Carolyne, freeing Liszt of this stain. Thorough, engaging, if slightly rose-colored account of the composer's later years. (15 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: April 24th, 1996
ISBN: 0-394-52542-6
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996


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