(K. Brent Tomer),
Franz Liszt: Musician, Celebrity, Superstar. By Oliver Hilmes. Translated by Stewart Spencer. Yale University Press; 353 pages; $38 and £25.
AN INFECTIOUS disease swept through musical Europe in the mid-19th century. It was christened “Lisztomania” by Heinrich Heine, a German poet. Women were its main victims, with fetishism and erotic fantasies the presenting symptoms; the lady who devoutly poured the dregs from Franz Liszt’s tea cup into her scent-bottle was one case. Moreover, clad in black and tossing his shoulder-length locks as he swayed histrionically over the keyboard, Liszt too was addicted to playing his part in this communal rapture.
Oliver Hilmes oddly suggests at the end of his book that the “real Liszt” may never have existed, and that his personality consisted of “irreconcilable opposites”. But lifelong narcissism combined with a deep sense of artistic purpose would seem to furnish a perfectly adequate explanation for his switchback career. At 16, while earning fabulous sums as a recitalist, he later wrote that he felt sick of being “a performing dog” and yearned to join the priesthood; at 20 he gaily dived into salons in Paris while immersing himself in proto-Marxist philosophy; when he was 35 and at the height of his fame, he suddenly abandoned his virtuoso career to devote himself to…Continue reading