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Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music by Alan…
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Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music (1970)

by Alan Walker

Other authors: Arthur Hedley (Contributor), Christopher Headington (Contributor), David Wilde (Contributor), Humphrey Searle (Contributor), John Ogdon (Contributor)4 more, Louis Kentner (Contributor), Robert Collet (Contributor), Sacheverell Sitwell (Contributor), Sacheverell Sitwell (Contributor)

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Franz Liszt:
The Man and His Music

Edited by Alan Walker

Barrie & Jenkins, Hardback, 1970.

8vo. xvi+471 pp. First Edition. Preface by the editor, 6 May 1968 [xiii-xiv].

First published, 1970.

Contents

Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Editorial Note
Notes on Contributors
Preface

Sacheverell Sitwell:
Liszt: A Character Study

Arthur Hedley:
Liszt the Pianist and Teacher

Alan Walker:
Liszt's Musical Background

Louis Kentner:
Solo Piano Music (1827-61)

John Ogdon:
Solo Piano Music (1861-86)

David Wilde:
Transcriptions for Piano

Louis Kentner:
The Interpretation of Liszt's Piano Music

Christopher Headington:
The Songs

Robert Collet:
Works for Piano and Orchestra

Humphrey Searle:
The Orchestral Works

Robert Collet:
Choral and Organ Music

Alan Walker:
Liszt and the Twentieth Century

A Biographical Summary
Register of Persons
Bibliography
Complete Catalogue of Liszt's Works
Index to Music Examples
General Index

==================================================​

What a great surprise this book has turned out to be! Considering all that has happened in Lisztian scholarship during the last four decades or so, the volume is surprisingly little dated.

Indeed, a great deal has happened. One may even call it a complete re-evaluation of Liszt's position among the great composers from the nineteenth century. Two events stand out: Alan Walker's magisterial biography Franz Liszt (3 vols., 1983-1996), a product of brilliant writing style, powerful mind and quarter of a century scrupulous research that has managed in mere 1500 pages or so demolish tons of legendary myths about Liszt's personality; and the second fabulous achievement in the field is, of course, Leslie Howard's monumental recording of Liszt's complete piano music, a gargantuan mission which took him more than two decades of his life and nearly 100 well-filed compact discs, to say nothing of the fact that he himself has done all the research as well. So today we have a much better idea of Liszt's complex personality and his vast output; Leslie's recordings, for instance, include a number of world premieres prepared from unpublished manuscripts, whereas in recent years such totally forgotten parts of Liszt's oeuvre such as his songs or choral works have been recorded and assiduously studied. It is worth noting that Liszt's symphonic works, too, have enjoyed fecundity of recordings unknown before.

Mr Walker has been accused of partisanship and Mr Howard's artistry has been criticised, but no one has ever doubted the scholarship of either. Considering all that, Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music still makes a surprisingly rewarding read.

The major reason for my acquiring this book was the fact that it is edited by Alan Walker. As it turned out, the man is just as brilliant an editor as he is an author. Apart from two fine chapters that will be discussed below, Alan Walker has written a short but extremely meaningful preface and has supplied the writings of his contributors with abundant footnotes indicating cross-references and adding important additional nuances. The final success of the book is no doubt due also to Mr Walker's choice of contributors: all of them are experienced Lisztian scholars, and almost each one of them is also a musician who has carried ''Liszt's music in his ears and fingers, and who has lived on terms of intimacy with it for a long time - in some cases, for a lifetime.'' I should like to start reviewing the contents of the volume in more detail with Mr Walker's primary contributions to it, particularly his astonishing preface which I quote here in full save for the last paragraph:

Of all great nineteenth-century composers, Liszt alone still remains to be fully explored. His contemporaries - Chopin, Schumann, Wagner - have long since come into their own. But Liszt's true posterity still lies in the future. Why?

In the first place, there is his vast output. Nobody knew better than Liszt himself the tremendous struggle it cost him, while in his thirties, to shake off his brilliantly successful career as a pianist in order to devote himself to composing. The outcome of that struggle was a body of music - 1300 or more works - which, in sheer quantity, is unequalled by any other major composer, with the possible exception of Bach. Not even the experts know it all. Liszt, in fact, is a standing indictment against musicians and musicology alike, and it is nothing short of scandalous that almost a century after his death there are works by him still awaiting their publication - let alone their first performances.

Then there are the critics. In some quarters, the very name of Liszt has always provoked hostility, and it probably always will. He has been variously accused of vulgarity, showmanship, charlatanry even. In puritan England, especially, Liszt has had a rough time, and it is still considered to show 'lack of taste' to admire his more extrovert pieces such as the Hungarian rhapsodies and the operatic paraphrases. I have a theory which may reveal my own attitude towards such criticism, and that there is no emotional attribute in music, of any kind, which we ourselves do not put there. If we take music to be 'vulgar', that can only be because it reminds us of a side of our own artistic personalities which we do not like, and which would sooner forget about. Music not only tells us something about the composer; it tells us something about ourselves, too. A great deal of the criticism projected on to Liszt is of this patently autobiographical type. But perhaps it is not up to me to try and explain why Liszt's detractors do not like him. Perhaps it is up to those detractors to explain why his admirers do, and to draw the conclusion. It has always seemed to me to be infinitely more rewarding to give up one's dislikes rather than one's likes, and I take it to be musically more fruitful as well.

As if it were not enough to have to survive one's critics, one has to survive one's interpreters too. It is difficult to think of another nineteenth-century composer who has been so brutally manhandled by his performers as Liszt has. This is especially true of the piano music which, for two generations or more, has taken a beating at the hands of large numbers of punch-drunk virtuosos, many of whom regard Liszt's music simply as a physical challenge - a sort of high-powered obstacle course over which to tone up their muscles in public. It is not often that a great composer suffers this double fate: that most of his music is never heard, and that when it is, it is wrongly heard. But it has been suffered by Liszt, and it seems to me high time matters were put right by a more intelligent interest in this wonderful and original musician.


These fascinating paragraphs are so frightfully relevant to our own time that it beggars belief they were actually written well over forty years ago. Yes, Liszt's standing has improved considerably with musicians and audience alike, but there are still many people - both performers and listeners - who entertain notions that admiration for the music of Liszt, especially his more extrovert compositions such as the Hungarian rhapsodies and the operatic paraphrases, shows a lamentable ''lack of taste''. And, boy, have you heard mindless bangers who think that Liszt's music is nothing but piano-smashing physical exercise! Sadly, Liszt's true recognition as a great composer, certainly among the greatest to come from the nineteenth century, still lies in the future. So does a mature evaluation of his piano, orchestral, vocal and choral compositions.

It is only fair to mention right away the major, and expected, caveat of the book which is made explicit by Alan Walker in the last paragraph of his preface. The editor makes no bones that the volume is primarily addressed to professional musicians. So one must expect tons of musical examples - and the layman must make allowances for ''sixths'', ''thirds'', ''augmented triads'', tons of tonalities and numerous other cryptic terms. The professional musician, or at least the amateur one who is able to read music fluently, will certainly profit from the book infinitely more than the musically illiterate layman. That said, being a prominent member of the latter group, I do guarantee that none of the chapters here is entirely without interest for those unfortunate enough to have no idea what C major is and how on earth it differs from C minor. Indeed, most of the chapters are rich in fascinating insights that may be understood by all who can read. The only other condition that a reader should fulfill is that he or she really should have a lively interest in the mind and music of Franz Liszt. Finally, I want to make it clear that the severe technical analyses are not a reason to degrade the book. For one thing, they are there by design; for another, one should be ready for them after reading the preface.

Now that I have mentioned it, I might as well say a few words about the drawbacks of the book. There are two major ones and they are both minor ones: 1) though the chapters have dated surprisingly little, all of them are dated to some degree; and 2) the treatment of Liszt's music is often rather perfunctory. Now, both of these drawbacks are to be expected considering, as already remarked, 1) the year of the first edition; and 2) the volume, to say nothing of the variety, of Liszt's output. Yet neither of them is negligible. All the same, the book makes a thoroughly compelling read for anybody to whom Franz Liszt is not just another composer. Apart from the editor's contributions, those by Messrs Sitwell, Hedley, Kentner and Searle - altogether seven chapters - are all minor masterpieces. The rest four chapters are considerably less accomplished but do contain a number of illuminating points, even for the layman.

In addition to his profound preface, Alan Walker has contributed two full-scale chapters, a number of very useful footnotes with cross references or alternative hypotheses, and a wonderful Register of Persons in which he has explored the relationships between Liszt and many of his contemporaries he came into contact with – in other words, who's who of the musical nineteenth century.

[Somewhere at this point my natural prolixity got the better of me and the ''review'' of this immensely fascinating book swelled to some thirty pages or so, about half of them quotations. This is well beyond LibraryThing's quite reasonable limits. Therefore what follows is but the last paragraph. The rest, if anybody cares, can be found here.]

In conclusion, magnificent book for all committed Lisztians, musicians or laymen. It is certainly badly dated and it must be read only after one is intimately familiar with Alan Walker's magisterial biography. But it does contain infinitely greater amount of insight and wisdom about Liszt's personality and music than the much more modern Liszt Companions - the Cambridge one edited by Kenneth Hamilton, and the one edited by Ben Arnold - both of which are far less dated, but far less compelling and a great deal more prejudiced as well. It is a pity that there is no new and updated edition of this volume - especially considering the fact that the editor is still alive and active - but second-hand copies of any of the old editions from the 1970s are easy to obtain and very cheap. The book is worth every cent and every minute you spend on it. I promise. ( )
3 vote Waldstein | Jun 13, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alan Walkerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Arthur HedleyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Christopher HeadingtonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
David WildeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Humphrey SearleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
John OgdonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Louis KentnerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robert ColletContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sacheverell SitwellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sitwell, SacheverellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Please do not combine this title with any of the three volumes of Alan Walker's biography of Liszt: 1. The Virtuoso Years; 2. The Weimar Years; and 3. The Final Years. These are completely different books.

''Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music'' is a one-volume collection of articles about the composer which Alan Walker edited, and contributed to, long before the first volume of his biography appeared.
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