The INTERNATIONAL LISZT ASSOCIATION – foundation inspired by an important jubilee
In 2011 the cultural world celebrates the bicentenary of the great Master, Franz Liszt
(22 October 1811, Raiding/Doborján, Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – 31 July 1886, Bayreuth, Germany)
The extraordinarily rich and by no means uncontroversial life and work of the great composer, pianist and conductor still today provides a serious challenge equally for musicians, musicologists, whether historians or analysts, as well as producers of concerts, festivals, radio programmes and recordings.
Liszt’s music is exceptionally varied, both the programme music - found in the output of very different composers of the Romantic period, and embracing different genres, in instrumental music giving prominence to the ’thematic material’ as in a literary programme - and the strictly understood classical forms, especially those essentially supersed yet preserved in a typically ’Lisztian’ form. The B minor Sonata compared to the piano sonatas of Schubert, Schumann and Chopin, the Faust and Dante Symphonies compared to the symphonies of Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, and particularly the for a long time unknown late works - piano and choral works foreshadowing various definitive styles of the twentieth century – represent the creations of a daring innovator.
Liszt the composer, pianist and conductor foreshadowed not only the main trends of modern music and composition in the twentieth century, but also modern performance habits and certain essential tendencies of classical performance practice at the turn of the century. Liszt – as we know from countless documents, letters and diaries of his contemporaries, pupils and fellow musicians – believed in textually faithful, or authentic, or in the end historical performance. His own qualities as a performer provided a sound basis to set strict standards for his partners and pupils, and to demand from them performances faithful to style and technically perfect.
His transcriptions and paraphrases are well known, but less known is his work as an editor, part of which included the piano sonatas and piano concertos of his greatly admired predecessor Beethoven (shown by his erection of a statue and establishment of a Beethoven Festival in Bonn). Studying his editorial work, we find not doctrinaire theories, but an editor who respects the sources, and whose experience as a composer and pianist lets him interpret them as a creative artist himself.
The German music, literary and theatre critic Joachim Kaiser says of Liszt: Man muss sich vergegenwärtigen, dass Liszt ja mehreren europäischen Nationen, Kulturkreisen gleichsam, angehört … In hisreview ofErnst Burger’s Liszt book we encounter food for thought regarding the message of the whole commemorative year and the aims of the jubilee programme.
Liszt’s contemporaries and scholars who study in detail his life and work, unanimously declare: the great musician was a charismatic personality and with his extraordinary culture, love of truth and senisitivity: “a great man” (V. V. Stassov), “fantastically colourful” and “a phenomenal genius” (J. Kaiser).
There is no need to provide further arguments – beyond the facts of his biography and the statements of contemporaries - in support of Kaiser’s claim thatLisztbelongs equally to severalEuropeannations. It is enough to add that when we hear serious arguments about whether there exists a European cultural policy or if reference should only be made to national (more properly state) competencies, or when a resurgence of nationalism casts its shadow over the present and our future in this period of institutional integration in Europe, when the set up of the arts and culture works on a strategy based inside and outside the boundaries of a centre and periphery and, in the interests of ending differences at both the European and national level according to the widely discussed cultural - social and economic– equal opportunityidea and programme, then the Liszt oeuvre is significant not just as a symbol, but as an example of how to behave and how to think. Professional loyalty and social solidarity, expressions used today with good reason, hardly give an idea of the wealth of Liszt’s approach, the profoundity and breadth of his thinking.
Planning the bicentenary has been a good opportunity to organize the International Liszt Association, since the basis for it – the actively operating Liszt societies in many countries together with important research centers and music academies and the regular meetings of representatives of the various organizations – has existed for decades. ILA has joined the largest and most representative musical umbrella-organisation, the European Music Council within the International Music Council. The UNESCO General Conference in October 2009 took the decision to be associated with the Liszt celebrations in 2011.
Liszt’s wide cultural sympathies - the varied world reflected in his music (Europe), the historic artworks present in his programme music, his pieces inspired by nature and the beauties of architecture, the genres found in his output and in part the rich emotions and range of moods associated with them – provide exciting material for creators and performers in the sister arts. Acting together with the important representatives, historians and critics of the arts concerned, the Liszt bicentenary can be seen as an attractive challenge. Among the factors inspiring action, equal importance should be given to Liszt’s personality, the virtuoso celebrated all over Europe, the master admired and loved by the younger generations of musicians, the attitude of the humanist surveying history and society and of the artist who contributed uniquely to assisting institutions and colleagues, the Romantic hero who became a great man.
The goal of the jubilee events therefore should be to disseminate as widely as possible the life and work of Liszt – both from the point of view of his music and of the ’groups’ of people who hear it - stressing its organic connection with Liszt’s modernity and his relevance for today, in this way presenting overall his exceptional personality. And this is the mission of the International Liszt Association far beyond the jubilee programmes.
Budapest / Weimar / Raiding, May 2010
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