Before there was Beatlemania, there was Lisztomania. The Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt (22 October 1811 – 31 July 1886) was the Trope Codifier for all music stars that came after him. (The violinist Niccolo Paganini was the Ur-Example, for anyone interested.)
As a child prodigy, Liszt was stage-managed by his father Adam (who played cello in the Esterházy family's orchestra under the baton of Joseph Haydn, and through whom the teenage Liszt met Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert at least once each), until he dropped dead in 1827. Liszt entered a self-imposed exile until the 1830s. After coming out of seclusion, he toured for nine years in Europe, and soon accrued a devoted fanbase comparable to that of today's pop stars.
When Liszt got tired of touring, he settled in Weimar, where he first met that young hotshot composer Richard Wagner. They were musical kindred spirits, with a flair for the dramatic. Liszt actually premiered several of Wagner's operas. A number of Liszt's musical themes turned up in Wagner's work (we assume by permission?!). In 1870, Wagner married Liszt's daughter, Cosima. After 15 years in Weimar, Liszt moved to Rome. Though Liszt was known as a womanizer, he was a practicing Roman Catholic; nevertheless, his decision to become a priest (well, a monk, actually — a Franciscan Third Order Secularnote ) shocked everyone.
After he took up the cloth, Liszt spent the remaining years of his life teaching in Rome, Weimar, and Budapest (which must have been quite the commute). Liszt died of pneumonia in 1886, in Bayreuth (where he did not want to be, and said so many times) during the big Wagner Festival; without having his Last Rites, with his request to be buried simply in a monk's robenote ignored.
Liszt is the composer of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, immortalized in the cartoon shorts "The Cat Concerto" and "Rhapsody Rabbit" as the definitive concert piano music in Western animation.
Liszt in fiction:
- He is mentioned as being dead in the song "Decomposing Composers" by Michael Palin sang on Monty Python's Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album.
- The Hark! A Vagrant comic "Chopin and Liszt" focuses on the friendly rivalry Liszt had with Chopin.Chopin: Unrelated, we are both on the cover of Enormous Ego this week.Liszt: Only this week?
- In The SCP Foundation lore Lisztomania was once considered an SCP.
- In Phantom of the Opera (1943), Liszt appears portrayed by Fritz Lieber Sr. He first appears as a music critic being shown's Claudin's concerto and later plays it at the Paris Opera.
- Liszt has been portrayed in several movies, most notably by Roger Daltry in Lisztomania and Julian Sands in Impromptu. His affair with dancer/courtesan Lola Montez is dramatized in Max Ophuls' film Lola Montes.
Tropes Present in Liszt's life and work:
- The Ace: Liszt was considered the best piano player in history by his contemporaries.
- Always Someone Better: Franz Liszt himself considered Charles Valentin Alkan the best pianist of his time.
- Badass Armfold: He loved posing as such in portraits of him as a young◊ man◊.
- Bishōnen: In his younger years◊.
- The Casanova: He was a notorious ladies' man and had the active sex life to prove it.
- Darker and Edgier: His late work anticipated atonal music and was considerably darker in tone.
- Deadpan Snarker: At yet another person's (false) claim to be his illegitimate offspring, Liszt said, "I know his mother only by correspondence, and one cannot arrange that sort of thing by correspondence."
- Deal with the Devil: His contemporaries suspected him to have sold his soul to the devil to demonstrate equal parts virtuosity, originality, and dashing handsomeness.
- Director's Cut: The original ending of his Faust Symphony was a rather abrupt handful of bars celebrating Faust's apotheosis. A replacement ending instead featured a men's chorus supported by an organ, notably more tonal and glorious than the original ending which implied Mephisto to be way more sympathetic than he would be in a classic good ending. Justified Trope since Liszt became a Tertiary Franciscan later in life.
- Elegant Classical Musician: Real Life example.
- Epic Rocking: His Sonata in B minor. Performances finish around 30 minutes. It's considered one of the most badass pieces of Classical Music, as well as an original take on the piano sonata that re-imagines the format as a single movement entity.
- Friendly Rivalry: With Fryderyk Chopin. Each admired the other's work as a composer, although Chopin was said to be jealous of Liszt's virtuosity as a pianist - and also annoyed at the liberties he took with Chopin's own work when he performed it in public. Their jealousy spilled into their personal lives as well; Liszt was suspicious of the friendship between Chopin and his own romantic partner (and the mother of his illegitimate children), Countess Marie d'Agoult, while Chopin thought there was something going on between Liszt and his own on-off girlfriend, author George Sand.
- Grief Song: He wrote dark works after the death of his son-in-law Richard Wagner, dedicating them to him.
- Groupie Brigade: He had one of the first. Contemporary reporters dubbed it "Lisztomania," over 120 years before Beatlemania happened.
- Mad Artist: Was considered as such in old age, when he abandoned tonality, wrote harrowingly bleak music, and thus became the most radical composer at the time.
- Mentor Archetype: Liszt was one of the most supportive and generous musicians in history. He unselfishly championed music by those he admired, even composers who did not (or could not) reciprocate his help — the long list of beneficiaries included: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Fryderyk Chopin, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Camille Saint Saens, Edvard Grieg, Alexandr Borodin, Joachim Raff, and Mikhail Glinka. Liszt did so by performing their music (sometimes in transcriptions he prepared himself) and providing financial backing of publication and performances.
- No Ending: Some of his later works do this, such as "Nuages gris" and the various "La lugubre gondola."
- Rearrange the Song: A good chunk of his work consists of arrangements of other people's work, ranging from transcribing the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven to rebuilding the medieval Dies Irae into a Darker and Edgier piano concerto with lots of Epic Rocking.
- The Rock Star: The Trope Codifier, albeit with Classical Music rather than rock-and-roll.
- Self-Deprecation: On the cover page of his then-unpublished piece Csardas Macabre he wrote, "May one write or listen to such a thing?"
- Standard Snippet: His Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. If someone on screen is shown playing classical piano, odds are good it will be this piece, especially in cartoons.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song:
- Liebestraum No. 3 is far more gentle than his usual work, partially subverted since it still requires virtuoso piano skills.
- Nocturne (En Rêve) is a very strong example of this as well.
- Technician Versus Performer: Liszt was lucky enough to have both, but compared to other pianists of the era, like Chopin, Liszt was a Performer.
- Trope Codifier: He codified the symphonic poem, a piece of music that illustrates a non-musical source on a larger scale than the concert overture, building on the innovations of Hector Berlioz.
- Unbuilt Trope: Totentanz with its dissonant usage of the Dies Irae theme, making it sound like actual post-Stravinsky Modern Classical, when it's "only" Liszt's progressive style coupled with Romantic Irony.
- Ur-Example: The shockingly modern Totentanz and his atonal experiments towards the end of his life predate Modern Classical.