Franz Liszt


Perhaps there was no more complicated a relationship in Fryderyk Chopin's brief life than with Franz Liszt. At various times Liszt served as Chopin's agent, collaborator, personal friend, bitter rival, and ultimately, his first biographer.

Both are indeliably linked with the piano; they were born within a year of each other, and both achieved their greatest fame in Paris. And it was Liszt who claimed to have been the one to introduce Chopin to his eventual lover George Sand.

When Chopin first arrived in Paris, he dismissed Liszt as being "zero beside [Parisian virtuoso Ferdinand] Kalkbrenner," and remarked that "the themes of his compositions will repose with the newspapers." On the other hand, when in the spring of 1841 Chopin was to give a rare public performance in Paris, Liszt manuevered himself into the reviewer's chair for the influential Gazette musicale newspaper, where, in the words of Chopin biographer Derek Melville, he was "singularly unpleasant and vindictive."

Their testy relationship perhaps explains Liszt's description of his fellow composer in his biography Life of Chopin:

His character was indeed not easily understood. A thousand subtle shades, mingling, crossing, contradicting and disguising each other, rendered it almost undecipherable at a first view. As is usually the case with the Slavs, it was difficult to read the recesses of his mind. With them, loyalty and candor, familiarity and the most captivating ease of manner, by no means imply confidence, or impulsive frankness. Like the twisted folds of a serpent rolled upon itself, their feelings are half hidden, half revealed. It requires a most attentive examination to follow the coiled linking of the glittering rings.

But even about that we cannot be sure. Accoring to Melville, "It has a curious history. The work appeared serially [in French] in 1851, and then, slightly expanded in book form in 1852. The first English translation, by Martha W Cook,, was published in Philadelphia in 1863. In 1879, another French edition came out, with substantial additions and changes which seem to have been largely the work of Liszt's mistress Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, who had no personal knowledge of Chopin.....The book reads like a sort of romantic commentary.....[with a] rambling and high-flown style."

Perhaps, it could be argued, like many of Liszt's compositions?

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