In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Franz Liszt

  • Introduction
  • Contemporary Biographies
  • Posthumous Biographies
  • Collections
  • Scholarly Editions of Music
  • Catalogues of Works
  • Contemporary and Posthumous Reception

Music Franz Liszt
Jonathan Kregor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0022


Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was a central, though controversial, musical figure in the 19th century. Distinguished as a pianist, admired for his support of promising musicians and other artists, and criticized as a composer and author, Liszt personified many of the diverse pursuits of the age. As one of the preeminent virtuosos in the generation following Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, he left behind several hundred compositions for solo keyboard, many of which are still featured in modern concert programs. Although his reputation as a composer of symphonic and vocal music has been more erratic, his virtuosic profile and theories of programmatic composition were extremely influential on contemporaries and following generations. Because of his long life and widespread geographic reach, Liszt has figured prominently in musicological scholarship that seeks to elucidate aesthetic, historical, sociological, or philosophical currents in the 19th century.

Contemporary Biographies

Although contemporary biographers can hardly be characterized as objective toward their subject, their writings remain important. Recent scholarship has tended to mine them for the ways in which Liszt controlled his historical image (d’Ortigue 2006 and Rehding 2005), how he fit into his milieu (Hupfer 2001 and Keiler 2006), and how his life encouraged a particular type of biographical method (Deaville 2002). By far the most comprehensive biography to appear during his life is Ramann 1880–1894 (ideally read alongside Ramann 1983), although d’Ortigue 2006 and Rellstab (Keiler 2006) provide important insight into Liszt’s so-called Virtuoso Years. Although Liszt never produced an autobiography, he did assist these biographers to varying degrees.

  • Deaville, James. “Writing Liszt: Lina Ramann, Marie Lipsius, and Early Musicology.” Journal of Musicological Research 21.1–2 (2002): 73–97.

    An important study of Ramann and La Mara (Marie Lipsius), who through their publications of Liszt’s biography and correspondence, respectively, did much to create his modern image. Deaville’s article not only provides important biographical information about these women, it also clarifies their unique musicological approach to their subject in an era when women were almost entirely forbidden from the discipline.

  • d’Ortigue, Joseph. “The First Biography: Joseph d’Ortigue on Franz Liszt at Age Twenty-Three.” Edited by Benjamin Walton. Translated by Vincent Giroud. In Franz Liszt and His World. Edited by Christopher H. Gibbs and Dana Gooley, 303–334. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

    One of the earliest biographies of Liszt (1835), and still useful. D’Ortigue, a colleague of Liszt and fellow Beethoven enthusiast, identifies in his subject a perennial tension between sensuality and spirituality that still inspires and plagues biographers to this day. Walton’s introduction and commentary provide ample context for d’Ortigue’s creation of such a contradictory artist.

  • Hupfer, Thomi. Franz Liszt als junger Mann: Eine Leserei. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2001.

    An eclectic, exciting selection of primary-source documents accompanied by Hupfer’s penetrating analyses. Examines Keiler 2006 and d’Ortigue 2006, among other early documents, and offers legitimate parallels to modern aesthetics of rock and film. An appendix of selected articles about Liszt is parsed thematically. Not recommended for casual consultation.

  • Keiler, Allan, trans. “Ludwig Rellstab’s Biographical Sketch of Liszt.” In Franz Liszt and His World. Edited by Christopher H. Gibbs and Dana Gooley, 335–360. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

    Rellstab’s biography appeared in 1842, and when read alongside d’Ortigue 2006, it is clear how invented story could quickly become historical fact. Rellstab vividly covers Liszt’s Berlin concerts and his early years and includes the first allusion to the famous Weihekuss (consecrating kiss) incident between the young Liszt and Beethoven. Rehding 2005 nicely complements this selection; excellent introduction by Keiler.

  • Ramann, Lina. Franz Liszt als Künstler und Mensch. 3 vols. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1880–1894.

    Because the author worked closely with her subject over a number of years, this is the most important contemporary biography on Liszt. With three volumes covering the whole of Liszt’s life and works, it has served as a model for modern biographers. Although it has also been an easy target for critics, Deaville 2002 has gone a long way in explaining the reasons for its eccentricities.

  • Ramann, Lina. Lisztiana: Erinnerungen an Franz Liszt in Tagebuchblättern, Briefen und Dokumenten aus den Jahren 1873–1886/87. Edited by Arthur Seidl. Revised by Friedrich Schnapp. Mainz, Germany: Schott, 1983.

    Containing notes, questionnaires, letters, and other documents related to her research on Liszt’s life and works, this should be used as a supplement to Ramann 1880–1894.

  • Rehding, Alexander. “Inventing Liszt’s Life: Early Biography and Autobiography.” In The Cambridge Companion to Liszt. Edited by Kenneth Hamilton, 14–27. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    Along with Deaville 2002, one of the few studies to consider the historiography of biography. Rehding argues that for Liszt, composition and performance are integral—at times, even primary—components of Liszt’s biography. Thus Rehding uncovers the truest autobiographical moments in Liszt’s “Beethoven” Cantata of 1845, which makes use of a quotation from Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio.

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