Some fascinating glimpses of Franz Liszt, the virtuoso pianist and composer. Biographer Alan Walker writes:
“The young Liszt developed into a voracious reader. A genuine thirst for knowledge drove him to such diverse authors as Sainte-Beuve, Ballanche, Rousseau, and Chateaubriand. His reading was, as yet, quite chaotic and lacked the intellectual purpose of his later years. His bookshelves embraced both the sacred and the secular. He filled his head not only with the ‘Defence of Catholicism’ by Lamennais, but also with the skeptical writings of Montaigne; prose of Voltaire. He often sat up half the night with such literature, looking for some key with which to unlock the world. D’Ortigue once saw Liszt remain motionless for four hours, sitting beside the chimneypiece, a volume of Lamartine in his hands” (p. 138).
That’s from Volume I of Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years. The Virtuoso Years, 1811-1847.
Liszt himself, at age 21, wrote a letter to Pierre Wolff about his intensive reading and thinking habits:
“Paris, May 2, 1832
“For a whole fortnight my mind and my fingers have been working like two lost souls. Homer, the Bible, Plato, Locke, Byron, Hugo, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Beethoven, Bach, Hummel, Mozart, Weber are all around me. I study them, meditate on them, devour them with fury; besides this, I practice four to five hours of exercises (thirds, sixths, octaves, tremolos, repetition of notes, cadenzas, etc.). Ah! Provided I don’t go mad you will find in me an artist! Yes, an artist … such as is required today” (pp. 173-174).
Liszt’s path to greatness reminds me of an earlier post on Beethoven and Michelangelo: How great artists become great.
Also interesting is Liszt’s comment, after a trip to Florence and Rome to study the painters and sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, that “the various arts were really unified, that ‘Raphael and Michelangelo make Mozart and Beethoven more easy for me to understand’” (p. 266).