Superstar, ladies' man: Happy 200th Franz Liszt

Wed Feb 9, 2011 10:30am EST
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By Michael Roddy

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - He was the world's first musical superstar, a bigger-than-life personality with a wild mane of hair who seated adoring women around his piano onstage and had his own "mania" cult long before the Beatles.

This year marks the 200th birthday of Franz Liszt, that demon of the keyboard who made women swoon, men gape and rivals jealous. But his music is often deemed second rate, and while his piano works and concertos are played, many casual listeners may know him best from Tom & Jerry television cartoons ("Cat Concerto").

"I think he's criticized too many times considering that he was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century," said pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis, music director of Hungary's National Philharmonic Orchestra and the country's Liszt year "ambassador."

Liszt, the grand man of Hungarian music, who in Hungary goes by the first name Ferenc, was born in the then-Hungarian, now Austrian, village of Doborjan, on Oct 22, 1811.

Kocsis, who has performed Liszt's music for decades and orchestrated some of his piano works, is perfectly aware of Liszt's reputation as a grandmaster flash of the 19th century.

Contemporary caricatures of him, legs akimbo, fingers flashing, have an echo today in the style of the Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The caricatures say "showman," not deep thinker.

"They say he didn't really write masterpieces, he didn't reach the height of Wagner or other composers, but I think a composer's value should be established from the peaks, not the valleys," Kocsis said.

This year, anyone with the remotest interest in Liszt will have every opportunity to test out Kocsis's, and other musicians', opinion that Liszt not only invented the modern piano recital, he also paved the way for Debussy, Bartok and even Wagner -- who, among other things, was Liszt's son in law.   Continued...

<p>A statuette of German composer Ludwig van Beethoven decorating a music-case is seen with a statue of Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt in the background in a museum February 5, 2011. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh</p>