Liszt’s visits to England

Franz Liszt 1824, drawing by Francois de Villain

Franz Liszt 1824, drawing by Francois de Villain

While looking at material to put on display to illustrate the visits Franz Liszt made to England first as a young teenager, then when just about thirty and finally in the last year of his life as a grand old man approaching seventy five, it was impossible not to reflect on how the country, how the piano and indeed how music making and publishing had changed over those sixty years between 1824 and 1886.

‘For one night only Master Liszt has in the most flattering manner consented to display his inimitable powers on the NEW PATENT GRAND PIANO FORTE invented by Sebastian Erard.’ This was on 29 June 1824 at Drury Lane.

A Sébastien Érard Grand Piano

A Sébastien Érard Grand Piano

A feature of the instrument, introduced in 1821 was a new action that allowed rapid repetition of a note; four years later Erard had an English patent to strengthen the wooden braces of his piano with iron bars. But this piano was still a far cry from the powerful iron-framed concert grand that really only appeared in the 1860s thanks to Steinways.

Liszt’s tours around England in 1840 were as part of a small troupe of musicians – ‘entertainers’ might be a more accurate word – who travelled by coach and occasionally train (rail was still in its infancy) and took an Erard with them. It cannot have been a heavy instrument. Liszt would offer a few, short, flashy pieces as part of the programme. Occasionally when an orchestra could be found he seems to have played the Weber Concertstück. It is not at all the sort of music making we might expect from probably the greatest virtuoso of the nineteenth century. (There is more about John Orlando Parry, one of the party, on a previous blog post) And even the programme we see him playing in London is alien to us: Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt could easily comprise an evening on the South Bank, but movements from the Pastoral Symphony, with a couple of transcriptions of Schubert’s songs (although these are back in the repertoire), the Hexameron (a composite set of variations by Liszt, Chopin, Czerny and three others on a theme from Bellini’s I Puritani), Liszt’s Neapolitan Tarentelles and the Galop Chromatique would look like a very odd mix.

In 1886 although Liszt made many appearances in public and consented from time to time to sit at the keyboard and play, his days of giving recitals were long over. He had relinquished full time touring as a virtuoso in the late 1840’s in order to settle in Weimar and give himself over to composition. But we can see the programmes given by his pupils. One, Walter Bache, was from England and after studying with Liszt in the 1860’s returned home to promote him. The UL has a volume of his programmes (Syn.6.86.3) collected and donated by his sister which shows his tireless promotion. These look not so very unfamiliar in shape to modern programmes. One given on Liszt’s birthday in 1887 the year after his death starts with Hungarian Rhapsody no 5 and then gives the entire Second Book of the Années de pèlerinage plus the supplement.

Bache was a close associate of Edward Dannreuther with whom Wagner stayed on his visit to London in 1877, and who also introduced a whole swathe of new piano concertos to London audiences. His name will also be familiar to pianists as the editor of a number of editions of Liszt published by Augener in London from the 1890’s onwards. Their look on the page is entirely modern, and contrasts totally with the printing of the Czerny Polonaise, the Marche Hongroise and the Taubenpost transcription on display.

The exhibition, featuring some accounts of Liszt’s visits and contemporary scores, runs until January 2012.

Clive Simmonds
(Head of Legal Deposit & Periodicals, UL)


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2 Responses to Liszt’s visits to England

  1. Pingback: Walter Bache’s Liszt concerts | MusiCB3 Blog

  2. Pingback: Bygone concert venues 3: Hanover Square Rooms (II) | MusiCB3 Blog

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