Arguably the greatest player of the piano ever to have lived, a celebrity of iconic proportions and one of the most radical composers during the Romantic era, Franz Liszt is seen by many as a true musical romantic hero.
Liszt met Beethoven in 1823, at a concert in which he impressed the master with his virtuosity to the extent that he kissed him on the forehead in praise. It was not until he witnessed a concert by Paganini that Liszt decided he too, wanted to become a true instrumental virtuoso. He practically invented the notion of a touring performer, and with it, the solo piano recital. His activities led to a genuine European euphoria, which became known as "Lisztomania". Concert halls were desperately seeking to be included on his touring schedules, admirers appeared in crowds for a glimpse of the genius and women fought each other for the right to take home Liszt’s discarded handkerchiefs and gloves.
But Liszt was far from an ostentatious fame-seeker. Besides reinventing piano technique, particularly with his Transcendental Etudes, he also paved the way for the symphonic poem with Les Preludes - a character or landscape study for orchestra (usually from a literary source), and arguably predated Debussy’s impressionism with such piano works as Les Jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este. His later works even herald the music of the early twentieth century.
Liszt’s music spans the full gamut of the Romantic period, from Beethoven’s death to progressive romanticism and the seeds of modern music. During his life, he met, socialized, influenced and was influenced by almost every key figure in nineteenth century music, including Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Paganini, Chopin and Wagner. The latter became his son-in-law, further cementing Liszt’s pivotal position between the Romantic tradition and the 'Music of the Future'.