Goth Classical Music: Franz Liszt

Some of the main successful Symphonic Metal bands of later years are deeply influenced by classical music, and besides the undeniable technical quality and complexity of it; there are some compositions that are darkly fascinating, and I don't mean those from some Horror movie soundtrack.

For this reason, this is the first of a series of articles on classical music composers, who have influenced many Goth Metal bands.

So let's start with the Hungarian genius Franz Liszt, who was a prodigy child, the first showbiz international star, a controversial and admirable personality. Born in 1811, in Hungary, dead in 1886, in Bayreuth, Franz Liszt lived a long and productive life. With both his grandfather and his father as musicians, he started playing for the Esterhazy family, owner of the land in which his family lived, when he was 9 years old.

At age 12, Liszt was already composing and playing concerts, and from that he progressed in a vertiginous speed, through becoming a virtuose concert pianist, a much requested tutor, a versatile and daring composer, and a captivating conductor.

He was considered by his contemporaries as the most technically advanced pianist of his time (and maybe of all time), which his compositions of the period known as Years of Pilgrimage can confirm. The Marche Funebre is particularly interesting for us, Metal fans, as it has both the raw power and the introspective melody we like.

His playing was described as having "abandonment, a liberated feeling, but even when it becomes impetuous and energetic in his fortissimo, it is still without harshness and dryness. [...]

"[He] draws from the piano tones that are purer, mellower and stronger than anyone has been able to do; his touch has an indescribable charm. [...] He is the enemy of affected, stilted, contorted expressions.

"Most of all, he wants truth in musical sentiment, and so he makes a psychological study of his emotions to convey them as they are. Thus, a strong expression is often followed by a sense of fatigue and dejection, a kind of coldness, because this is the way nature works."

His performances were particularly known for being intense and emotional. Franz Liszt not simply played but expressed the emotions he was trying to convey through it in his face, which showed anger, sadness, joy, according to the melody and in the intensity of his playing, which could become quite energic.

His main influences were Beethoven, the idol of his childhood, Paganini, the eccentric violin master, who had a Jimi Hendrix-like impact on the musicians of his time, Berlioz, who pushed the limits of orchestra concerts, once playing with 1000 musicians and Chopin, whose moody and seemingly simple compositions fascinated Liszt.

Though some purists may cringe at my comparing classical composers with a Rock stars, this is inevitable. Liszt was probably the first international celebrity, who had a rabid fanbase of screaming, fainting, hysterical women chasing him, collecting his cigar stubs, tearing at his clothes, wearing locks of his hair in bracelets.

Interesting that Liszt would have female adulation even in his late years, regardless of him being in his 70's.

This period, which began in 1842, was nicknamed Lisztomania, and affected not only Paris, where he lived at the time or even France, but most of the countries where he toured in Europe.

But Liszt's musical prowess and fame are far from being his only qualifications. His generosity towards fellow musicians and his dedication to charity were other important traits.

Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Gried and Alexander Borodin were only a few of the many composers he helped in all ways, including financially. And if you think that charity concerts are a recent trend, know that Liszt was one of the most dedicated musicians to humanitarian causes.

He played numerous concerts to raise money for charities, contributed to the fund that helped the victims of the Hamburg fire of 1842, to the raising of the Beethoven statue at Bonn, the building of the Cologne Cathedral, and others.

Always unpredictable, he took minor orders in 1865, becoming Abbot. In the next few years, he would compose many sacred choral works, but would never lose his nerve in challenging the status quo. Though a Catholic and abbot, he experimented with some “devil’s chords” or some sounds that the Catholic Church had forbidden to be used, in his compositions Dante Sonata, Csardas Macabres, among others.

After his years traveling the Northern Hemisphere, he finally settled down in Weimar, with his unofficial wife Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who he never could formally marry, then years later, as an abbot, he spent periods of the year among Rome, Weimar and Budapest, despite his old age.

Probably because of several losses and worries he had in his later years, as the death of his son and daughter, and of many friends, the problems caused by his daughter Cosima betraying her husband with Richard Wagner, the struggle he faced to promote his innovative music and that of others, he became increasingly introspective and even depressive, and his thoughts on death and despair can often be found in his later works. He told his biographer, Lina Ramann that he carried “a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound.”

A couple of interesting quotes by Franz Liszt:

“Life is only a long and bitter suicide, and faith alone can transform this suicide into a sacrifice.”

“Real men are sadly lacking in this world, for when they are put to the test they prove worthless.”

Now that you know about the man, here are some of his music. For more information, visit the links at the bottom of the post.



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