Franz Liszt

Alan Walker concludes his three-volume biography of Franz Liszt with a survey of the years after the composer left his post as music director at the Weimar court. Liszt settled first in Rome and eventually took up minor orders in the Catholic church, but he continued to be a presence in European musical life through his activities as a composer and teacher and his occasional appearances as a performer and conductor. By 1869, he was again traveling extensively and dividing his year between residences in Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. During this time, he gave piano master classes and was involved in organizing music festivals, participating in charity work, and helping to establish cultural and educational institutions—most notably the Hungarian Academy of Music, which was founded in 1875 with Liszt as its first director.

Against the dramatic events of European history, including the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the emergence of Hungarian nationalism, Walker explores the astonishing range of Liszt’s activities, interests, influence, and associations. He was on familiar terms with popes and statesmen, a sought-after acquaintance of an international array of artists, writers, and musicians, the inspiration for a school of piano performance that included the greatest performers of the day, and a composer whose late works anticipate developments well into the twentieth century. His close friendship with two of the towering figures of nineteenth century German music, the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow and the composer Richard Wagner, was complicated by the fact that each in turn was married to Liszt’s daughter Cosima.

Walker’s meticulously researched and engagingly written book is well illustrated and contains numerous musical examples and insightful analyses. It is an impressive conclusion to a biography that should become the standard work on its subject.