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Anyone looking for a nonpartisan view of Liszt should check their hat at the door; this is a celebration of a man and his work, as thorough and complete as one could hope. It covers Liszt's declining years, so there are fewer achievements and more tragedy, including his thwarted marriage plans to the eccentric Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein; his decision to become a priest (much to the shock and amusement of those who recalled his younger years); and his steady decline into illness and blindness. Most upsetting was his daughter Cosima's decision to abandon her husband (the noted conductor Hans von Bülow) and run off with the composer Richard Wagner. Liszt had been a mentor to both men in their early years and felt personally responsible for the tragedy. Liszt led a footloose existence, dividing his time between Italy (where he practiced his religious life), Weimar (where he continued to teach music), and his native Hungary. Walker is a die-hard Lisztomaniac, often apologizing for the composer's behavior and never encountering a piece of music he doesn't like. Was Liszt an alcoholic? Perhaps, Walker thinks, but alcohol seemed to impair "neither his piano-playing nor his conversation." Did Liszt serve as a proper role model for his many students? Walker admits he may have introduced a few to the vices of cognac and cigars, and may even have been a little too friendly with the younger females. Was he an anti-Semite, as the scandalous 1881 revision of his work on Bohemian music seemed to imply? Walker blames this on the meddling hands of Princess Carolyne, freeing Liszt of this stain.
Thorough, engaging, if slightly rose-colored account of the composer's later years.
"A conscientious scholar passionate about his subject. Mr. Walker makes the man and his age come to life. These three volumes will be the definitive work to which all subsequent Liszt biographies will aspire."—Harold C. Schonberg, Wall Street Journal
"What distinguishes Walker from Liszt's dozens of earlier biographers is that he is equally strong on the music and the life. A formidable musicologist with a lively polemical style, he discusses the composer's works with greater understanding and clarity than any previous biographer. And whereas many have recycled the same erroneous, often damaging information, Walker has relied on his own prodigious, globe-trotting research, a project spanning twenty-five years. The result is a textured portrait of Liszt and his times without rival."—Elliot Ravetz, Time
"You can't help but keep turning the pages, wondering how it will all turn out: and Walker's accumulated readings of Liszt's music have to be taken seriously indeed."—D. Kern Holoman, New York Review of Books
"The prose is so lively that the reader is often swept along by the narrative. . . . This three-part work . . . is now the definitive work on Liszt in English and belongs in all music collections."—Library Journal
Posted August 17, 2009
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