Home Historical The French duo – Chopin and Liszt

The French duo – Chopin and Liszt

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Frédéric François Chopin was born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin on 22 February or 1 March 1810 and was a Polish composer and a virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era, who wrote primarily for the solo piano. He was born and finished his education in Warsaw and also wrote his earlier works there, before moving to Paris at the age of 20, less than a week before the November 1830 Uprising. Call that a lucky strike.

He needed 5 years go gain French citizenship, but finally in 1835 he did become a French citizen. For 18 years he lived in Paris, but gave only around 30 public performances – he preferred to play in the intimacy of the salon. His financial support at that time came from selling his compositions and teaching piano – and my oh my if he wasn’t in high demand for that – even Robert Schumann was one of his admirers.


chopinlizst1Chopin at 25, by his fiancée Maria Wodzińska, 1835
While living in France still he had a love affair with the artist Maria Wodzinska, who funny enough was also with a Polish origin. He wrote her waltzes and she painted him, creating one of the best portraits of the composer. They were to be married, but her father objected due to Chopin’s bad health. He died 12 years after their engagement was dismissed, but don’t ever think he was alone during that time. In the same year of the failed engagement, Chopin started a relationship with the French writer George Sand (real name Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), who was known to be in an “intimate friendship” with her fellow actress Marie Dorval. Their “Winter in Majorca” as it was later known by her book with the same name, was very brief and unhappy, but it led to the composer’s most productive periods of composition. By this time he was already sick with tuberculosis and the rainy cold weather in Majorca did not help him. They split up two years before his death and, since he was left penniless and ill, he was taken care of by his admirer Jane Stirling.


shopinliszt2George Sand at 60. Photo by Nadar, 1864
Through the last days of his life he tried to maintain a friendly relationship with Sand’s daughter – Solange, much to her mother’s dismay. Sand even claimed that Chopin actually has always “loved” Solange. Needless to say their split up was not clean and nice and Sand did not attend Chopin’s funeral, unlike Eugene Delacroix, Franz Liszt, Victor Hugo and many of his other friends.
One of his closest friends was perhaps Franz Liszt, even though they might have had a love-hate relationship, because it is believed that Chopin displayed “tinge of jealousy and spite” towards Liszt’s virtuosity on the piano. Nevertheless, he has written to a friend and some say this friend was Liszt himself, that he “curses the moment of his departure”, regarding to the fact that Chopin lost a few friends in the Polish Uprising. Some say that Liszt’s growing relationship with George Sand concerned Chopin and might have led to an end of their friendship, but this is not confirmed. No matter what exactly their relationship was, until the late 1848, he still referred to him as “my friend Liszt”.

Franz Liszt, born Liszt Ferencz in Hungary in late 1811was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, teacher and Franciscan tertiary. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age, and in the 1840s he was considered to be the greatest pianist of all time. He moved to Paris with his mother in 1827 after his father died. Much like his friend Chopin in order to earn money, Liszt gave lessons in piano playing and composition, often from early morning until late at night. His students were scattered across the city and he often had to cover long distances. Because of this, he kept uncertain hours and also took up smoking and drinking—all habits he would continue throughout his life.

After attending an April 20, 1832, charity concert, for the victims of a Parisian cholera epidemic, by Niccolò Paganini, Liszt became determined to become as great a virtuoso on the piano as Paganini was on the violin.


shopinliszt3Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano (1840), by Danhauser, commissioned by Conrad Graf
In 1833, Liszt began his relationship with the Countess Marie d’Agoult. In addition to this, at the end of April 1834 he made the acquaintance of Felicité de Lamennais. Under the influence of both, Liszt’s creative output exploded. In 1835 the countess left her husband and family to join Liszt in Geneva; their daughter Blandine was born there on December 18. Together they had three kids – two daughters and one son.

For the next 8 years, Liszt toured Europe and met with his family on the island of Nonnenwerth, which was not to the liking of his wife. Finally in 1844 they separated. This was Liszt’s most brilliant period as a concert pianist. Honors were showered on him and he met with adulation wherever he went. Since he often appeared three or four times a week in concert, it could be safe to assume that he appeared in public well over a thousand times during this eight-year period. Moreover, his great fame as a pianist, which he would continue to enjoy long after he had officially retired from the concert stage, was based mainly on his accomplishments during this time.

After 1842, “Lisztomania” swept across Europe. The reception that Liszt enjoyed as a result can be described only as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds as souvenirs. This atmosphere was fueled in great part by the artist’s mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt’s playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. Something that added to the mania about him was that he was extremely generous – he played for charity and gave his earnings to whoever needed it – hospitals, schools, charity organizations, etc.


lisztLiszt in 1843, at the height of his career
Liszt was invited back to Weimar in 1869 to give master classes in piano playing. Two years later he was asked to do the same in Budapest at the Hungarian Music Academy. From then until the end of his life he made regular journeys between Rome, Weimar and Budapest, continuing what he called his “vie trifurquée” or threefold existence. It is estimated that Liszt travelled at least 4,000 miles a year during this period in his life—an exceptional figure given his advancing age and the rigors of road and rail in the 1870s.

Liszt fell down the stairs of a hotel in Weimar on July 2, 1881. Though friends and colleagues had noticed swelling in his feet and legs when he had arrived in Weimar the previous month (an indication of possible congestive heart failure), he had been in good health up to that point and was still fit and active. He was left immobilized for eight weeks after the accident and never fully recovered from it. He died in Bayreuth, Germany, on July 31, 1886, at the age of 74, officially as a result of pneumonia, which he may have contracted during the Bayreuth Festival hosted by his daughter Cosima. He was buried on August 3, 1886, in the municipal cemetery of Bayreuth in accordance with his wishes.