5. Contacts With Parisian Society
5. Contacts with Parisian society.

Liszt became acquainted with a number of musical contemporaries at this time, including Berlioz, Chopin, Alkan, Hiller and others. His first encounter with Berlioz took place a few months after the July Revolution. He attended the first performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique in the company of the composer (5 December 1830), and shortly afterwards produced his piano transcription of the unpublished score. (Liszt’s transcription was published in 1834, while Berlioz’s orchestral score did not appear until 1845; Schumann’s famous review of the work in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik was based on Liszt’s piano score.) A warm friendship developed between the pair which lasted for more than 20 years before entering a long decline. While Berlioz speaks of Liszt with affection in his Mémoires, and regarded him as unrivalled as a pianist, he was more cautious of his compositions; with the passing years his lukewarm attitude to Liszt’s orchestral works, together with the latter’s growing support of Wagner, caused the friendship to languish.

Another meeting was with Chopin, who arrived in Paris as a refugee from Warsaw in the autumn of 1831. Liszt attended Chopin’s début at the Salle Pleyel on 26 February 1832, and even appeared on the same platform as Chopin on 3 April and 15 December. Chopin cemented these early connections by dedicating his set of 12 Etudes op.10 to Liszt. Nevertheless, the idea of a great friendship between Liszt and Chopin is unsubstantiated. Chopin soon came to dislike what he perceived to be Liszt’s theatricality and his striving after effect. After 1835 Liszt lived mainly abroad and the two composers barely saw one another. Since Chopin died in 1849, he never lived to appreciate the more mature Liszt of later years.

Paganini made his Paris début in March 1831, but Liszt was on a prolonged visit to Switzerland and did not hear him until his next appearance there in April 1832. In a famous letter to his pupil Pierre-Etienne Wolff, Liszt recorded some of his impressions: ‘What a man, what a violin, what an artist! Heavens! What sufferings, what misery, what tortures in those four strings!’ (Briefe, C1893–1905, i, 6–8). The letter is especially interesting because of the music examples Liszt includes to indicate those violinistic devices which had particularly caught his ear. The musical influence of Paganini cannot be overstated. One immediate outcome was the fantasy on La clochette (1833), the theme of which was used by Paganini in the finale of his B minor Concerto, and which bristles with difficulties. The six Etudes d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini followed (1838–40), based on the Italian master’s formidable caprices for solo violin, and containing pianistic textures of terrifying complexity.

Alan Walker