Lisztomania Tuesday – A Taste of the Classical

28 Jul


A good century before Beatlemania took over the world and saw scores of individuals rip and tear at the four British boys as they travelled throughout England, the states, and beyond, Franz Liszt, the Hungarian-born pulchritudinous (to many) composer, engendered a mania of his own, one that rivaled (perhaps even beat out) the Beatlemania of the mid 20th century.

Yes, Franz Liszt, a musical prodigy, who, after receiving musical lessons from his father (a talented musician in his own right) at 7, went on to start composing and playing music at 11 and honing his skill on piano, sparked a frenzy that is still commemorated today (Remember that Phoenix song “Lisztomania”?). Liszt, who shares a birthday with my brother (thought I’d tell you), was born in 1811, and, when he was 28, he embarked on an extensive European tour, where he demonstrated his tremendous talents to listeners; by 1842 many of the listeners went full on insane.

How bad could mid 19th century folk be, right? Come on, right? Right? Well … Liszt admirers would crowd around him and fight over any detritus that fell from his body, tearing at gloves and handkerchiefs. Have you ever seen crazed teens wearing buttons on their clothing of their favorite musician; fans would wear his portrait on brooches. That’s dedication. Fighting over a guitar pick was replaced by skirmishes over broken piano strings (for bracelets of course). Heck, fans went so far as capturing his coffee dregs in glass containers. Why the spell? What caused this infatuation? The answer has two parts. First, he was good-looking, and this generally helps musicians of any kind. Secondly, he was just so unbelievably talented that a mystical ecstatic aura formed over his performances and fans were entranced by his music. And, you know, I can’t blame them.

Here is the Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Volker Hartung performing an orchestral version of my favorite Liszt piece (in my opinion his best work), “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” The piece, which is often considered for piano, is performed even better by an orchestra (also my opinion), and the potency of its sound is intoxicating. Everything from the lassan (the rousing, short introduction to the piece) to the friska, the piece’s second part, which bounces with an effervescent playfulness captures a jubilance that reflects Liszt’s Hungarian folk music inspiration. The piece, which features nationalistic fervor, is breathtaking and remarkable in its power. If I had to pick any classical piece as my favorite, this would be it. It just has that draw, and although it was composed after the Lisztomania craze, it can surely spark those feelings in any listener!

For those more unfamiliar with the piece who know you have heard it somewhere before, let me quench your consternation.

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