Liszt bicentenary begs question: was his music any good?

Posted on: October 24, 2011

In Sunday’s (10/23) New York Times, Kenneth Hamilton writes, “On Oct. 22, 1811, Franz Liszt was born in the Hungarian (now Austrian) village of Raiding. His bicentenary follows hard on the heels of Chopin’s, last year, and anticipates Wagner’s and Verdi’s, in 2013. But whereas no one really doubts the greatness of Wagner or Verdi, and Chopin seems universally beloved, things are not so straightforward with Liszt. He was, to be sure, an unrivaled performer (“A god for pianists” in Berlioz’s words), a man of unusually catholic artistic interests and the 19th century’s nearest approach to a Hollywood superstar. But although he is surely significant enough to celebrate, the question whether his music is actually any good has never really gone away. It probably never will. Liszt, like his music, was constructed of paradoxes, as he well knew. … Liszt was his own keenest critic, often making multiple versions of even modest pieces in a constant search for an elusive perfection. He was not always able to improve things, yet he almost always knew where the weaknesses lay. Through the various versions of Liszt’s numerous works we can hear his learning process. For the listener the journey can become the goal.”

Posted October 24, 2011