2. From Vienna To Paris
2. From Vienna to Paris.

The Liszt family left Vienna on 20 September 1823. En route to Paris, Adam wrote a letter of appreciation to Czerny (dated 2 November) which summed up everything he felt about the great pedagogue: ‘Together with my wife and child I kiss your hands with utmost gratitude for this good work which you have lavished on our boy. Never will you be able to escape our heartfelt thanks’. Adam plotted the journey through Munich, Augsburg, Strasbourg and Stuttgart in order to draw a comparison with the young Mozart who had made a similar tour with his father 60 years earlier. After much acclaim and many gifts along the way, Liszt and his parents arrived in Paris in December 1823. In those days the stagecoach terminated at rue du Mail, near the Erard piano factory. The Liszts and the Erards formed a lifelong friendship and the venerable head of the firm, Sébastien Erard, presented Liszt with a magnificent grand piano of seven octaves, containing his newly invented ‘repetition action’. This device allowed extremely rapid note reiteration and turned the piano into an instrument of virtuosity, with new possibilities that Liszt was among the first to explore.

Liszt applied for admission to the Paris Conservatoire but was refused. Accompanied by his father and Erard, he attended an interview with the director, Luigi Cherubini. The discussion was stiff and formal, the result disappointing: the rules would not permit Cherubini to admit foreigners, even one so famous as Liszt. Since Cherubini himself was a foreigner and there were foreign students already enrolled, Liszt’s vivid explanation (‘Zur Stellung des Künstlers’, 1835) has always seemed incomplete and casts Cherubini in a poor light. In fact the regulation against foreigners was designed to protect the piano department, which had recently been overwhelmed with applicants. It stemmed from a new government decree, sought and approved a few weeks earlier by the piano faculty itself. French citizenship was seen as the key to the problem of maintaining a proper balance across the student body. The setback ultimately worked to Liszt’s advantage. Adam engaged two private teachers for his son, Antoine Reicha for theory and Ferdinando Paer for composition, both of them based in Paris. Under their guidance his natural talent was allowed to develop unfettered. At the Conservatoire it might have been restricted and could have led to the same sort of clash with authority that was shortly to befall Berlioz and, later, Debussy and Ravel. Meanwhile, the boy was free to continue his tours and build a career in his own way.

Alan Walker