Born on this day in 1811 in the Hapsburg Kingdom of Hungary, Franz Liszt would go on to make a name for himself not only as an important composer in the Romantic era, but also as one of the greatest pianists who ever lived. In a career that spanned five eventful decades in classical-music history, his professional accomplishments alone would have made him a figure of historical significance, but his good looks and charisma, his effect on female audiences and his gossip-worthy romantic entanglements made him a figure somewhat larger than life. If it weren’t for the fact that rock and roll was still 140-plus years off in the future, it would be reasonable to call Franz Liszt the biggest rock star of his era.
For decades Liszt’s compositions were disparaged as nothing more than virtuosic concert showpieces and salon bon-bons. However modern scholarship has accepted that Liszt, the composer, was very daring for his period. It is now accepted that his innovations and manner of writing for the piano would influence 20th century composers such as Schoenberg, Bartok and Messiaen, among others.
One of the formal inventions attributed to Liszt is the single movement large form featuring constant thematic variation. Liszt utilized this in his monumental Piano Sonata in B Minor as well as his two symphonies, Dante and Faust. The idea of endless variation of a single or small group of themes was central to the school of Schoenberg and the later Darmstadt serialists, e.g. Boulez, Stockhausen and Nono.