Hit Liszt


The extraordinary thing about Franz Liszt is that he remains one of the most famous composers of the 19th century despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of his music is forgotten — and likely to stay forgotten. He wrote enough of it, that’s for sure. If you were to listen to his works one after another without interruption, it would take about a week. I’m basing that estimate on the fact that Leslie Howard’s 98 CDs of Liszt’s complete piano music, which are just about to be reissued by Hyperion, last for just over five days. That’s nine million notes spread over 12 miles of printed pages, in case you were wondering. Add the orchestral and sacred music and you’d have about 120 CDs. But, even though 2011 is Liszt’s bicentenary year, there was never any danger of Radio 3 giving us ‘Liszt Week’. Even his fervent champions — who are always telling us that he beat Wagner to the Tristan chord, reinvented symphonic form, anticipated Schoenberg in his frighteningly spare last piano style, etc. — might blanch at the prospect of wall-to-wall Liszt. (Radio 3 announcer: ‘And that was the Marche pour le Sultan Abdul Medjid-Khan. Next, the Tarantella d’après la Tarantelle de “la Muette de Portici” d’Auber.’)

more from Damian Thompson at The Spectator here.