3. The trips to England, 1824–7.
Notable among those tours were three visits to England where the young Liszt enjoyed some early triumphs. Father and son crossed the English Channel for the first time in May 1824 and stayed in lodgings at 18 Great Marlborough Street, a property that belonged to the firm of Erard. Liszt’s London début took place at the Argyll Rooms on 5 June, under the auspices of the Royal Society of Musicians, ‘surrounded by eminent professors, amateurs and admirers of the fascinating science of music’ (Morning Post, 7 June). On 21 June Liszt returned to the Argyll Rooms where he played Hummel’s B minor Concerto under the direction of Sir George Smart, before a distinguished audience that included Clementi, Ries, Kalkbrenner and Cipriano Potter. Erard provided one of his latest grand pianos for these appearances. At his Drury Lane concert on 29 June the theatre posters informed the public that ‘the incomparable Master Liszt has in the most flattering manner consented to display his inimitable powers on the New Grand Piano Forte invented by Sébastien Erard’. From London the Liszts journeyed to Manchester, where Franz played at the Theatre Royal, again on an Erard grand especially sent there for him. The climax of this first visit to England took place when they were received by George IV at Windsor Castle. Liszt played for more than two hours and caused particular delight with his improvisation on the Minuet from Don Giovanni.
A second, much shorter visit took place in June 1825. Once again Liszt gave concerts in London and Manchester and played before George IV. The Manchester handbills announced that he was ‘only 12 years old’, when he was in fact 13 – not the first time that Adam obscured the true age of his son. At the second Manchester concert, on 20 June, Liszt was featured as a composer and the orchestra began with ‘A New Grand Overture, by Master Liszt’. This was almost certainly the overture to Liszt’s opera Don Sanche, on which he had already started work and which was scheduled for production in Paris later that year. On their way back through London the Liszts visited St Paul’s Cathedral and were deeply impressed by the singing of massed choirs of several thousand children of the Free Schools. Liszt never forgot the spectacle, nor the sea of sound that it made, and drew upon its memory many years later at the climaxes of his oratorio Christus.
When they got back to Paris in July, Adam Liszt was contacted by the Ministry of Arts and informed that the score of Don Sanche was required within eight days for scrutiny by the jury (which included Luigi Cherubini, Adrien Boieldieu and Henri Berton). The opera was performed on four consecutive nights, 17–20 October 1825, and then taken off. For many years the score of Don Sanche was thought to be lost, but the manuscript was rediscovered in 1903 and given its first performance in modern times on 20 October 1977 in London.
As a youth Liszt showed mystical leanings and was attracted to the church. He was familiar with the lives of the saints and had already read the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. He spent many hours in prayer, began to suffer from religious mania and expressed a desire to become a priest. Adam Liszt, who had at first encouraged his son’s devotions, resisted such a radical idea. Liszt later told Lina Ramann that his father had said: ‘You belong to art, not to the Church’ (Ramann, H1880–94, i, 97), a judgment that Liszt revised 40 years later when he took holy orders.
Liszt crossed the English Channel for a third time in May 1827. In London he and his father stayed at lodgings in Frith Street, Soho. Once again he appeared at the Argyll Rooms and this time created a stir with his performance of Hummel’s A minor Concerto. Muzio Clementi was observed at the morning rehearsal sitting at the back of the hall, ‘his brilliant, dark eyes glistening as he followed the marvellous performance’ (Salamon). It was during this visit that Liszt composed a Scherzo in G minor, the manuscript of which bears the date ‘May 27’. The piece indicates an advanced grasp of harmony for one so young, and more than a passing acquaintance with Beethoven’s pieces in the same genre.
According to Adam Liszt, his 15-year-old son was already composing industriously and had in his portfolio a number of compositions, including a sonata for four hands, a trio, a quintet and two piano concertos, all of which have disappeared. In 1826 he published his ‘Etude en douze exercices’, a set of pieces which are important since they later formed the basis of the 12 Etudes d’exécution transcendante. A sufficient number of juvenile works remain to dispel the idea that Liszt was a late starter in the field of composition.