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A-Liszt at Hotchkiss

Franz Liszt occupies an odd niche in music history. A charismatic, dazzlingly virtuosic pianist, at his peak, and a daring, inventive composer, he is probably less well-known today than all of his Romantic contemporaries and near-contemporaries, from Beethoven through Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, and Brahms. I bet that a search of concert programs would find him firmly in last place compared with his overworked peers. Yet the Hungarian-born Liszt probably had as much or more influence on music than any one of them. For one thing, there was his legendary performing style. Think Beatles. Really. Beatles. Liszt set women to swooning and concertgoers into paroxysms of praise. A handsome man with a chiseled face and shoulder-length locks, he may have been the greatest pianist ever, and certainly of his times. As a composer, Liszt broke ground with new forms, including the Romantic standard, the tone poem. His harmonies were innovative, his subject matter often intensely poetic, spiritual and visual. Like his friend Berlioz, he expressed tortured thoughts in some of his works. Buffeted by tragedy in his later life, Liszt took refuge in a Roman monastery, earning himself the nickname “Abbé Liszt.” Finally, Liszt directly contributed to the musical development and success of many like-minded composers, including Berlioz, Wagner, Saint Saëns and Grieg, with both financial support (through his performance earnings) and through his own compositions. (His daughter Cosima would famously go on to marry Wagner.) Marking the 200th year of Liszt’s birth, The Hotchkiss School is putting on a splendid concert of piano music next Friday, Nov. 18. Six pianists — Luiz de Moura Castro, Fabio Witkowski, Thomas Mastroianni, Gisele Nacif Witkowski, Alexandre Dossin and Jonathan Moyer — will perform, Hotchkiss faculty together with some of the foremost Liszt specialists in the world. Let’s just call it the A-Liszt. The Abbé would be proud. “Hotchkiss Celebrates Franz Liszt” takes place at Elfers Hall at Hotchkiss in Lakeville on Friday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m., with a prelude concert by students beginning at 6:30 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information, call Sarah Lock at 860-435-4423, or go to www.hotchkiss.org/arts. A wonderful introduction to Liszt’s superb piano music can be found on YouTube at www.youtube.com.

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