Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano
Painting by Josef Danhauser
Today’s featured box set is from 19th-century Hungarian composer and rock star, Franz Liszt. In line with my affinity for ze Germans, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the “Neudeutsche Schule” (“New German School”). Liszt invented the symphonic poem, work closely with Wagner, popularized a wide array of music by transcribing it for piano, and was perhaps the biggest rock star of his era. (I’m not even kidding; the man had an illness named after him which swept through Europe – “Lisztomania.”
At his performances, fans would swarm around him, clamoring for trophies ranging from his gloves to broken piano strings. In one account from Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years by Alan Walker:
Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.
Liszt was the Michael Jackson of his day.
Except… without the children.
Or… the monkey.
Oh wait… there was a monkey.
The northwest Colombian cotton-top tamarin is readily identified by a long white sagittal crest extending from its forehead to its shoulders. In German-speaking areas, the cotton-top tamarin is commonly known as “Lisztaffe” (literally “Liszt monkey”) as the monkey’s crest is clearly-inspired by the great composer and is likely an expression of the primate’s fandom.
But oh yes… back to Liszt.
Hailed as a musical triumph; the greatest collection of the complete works of Franz Liszt is an impressive 99-disc box set containing the finest performances of Liszt’s music for solo piano, brilliantly performed by Leslie Howard between 1985 and 2009. All 99 discs were released as a handsome box set with accompanying book in 2010 by the Hyperion label. It took Howard 24 years to complete the monumental task, including every one of his compositions, tone poems and transcriptions as well as newly-discovered manuscripts to create one ultimate and unparalleled collection. Clocking in at 7,256 minutes (almost 121 hours) – this is every note that Ferenc (Franz) Liszt wrote and interpreted for the piano.
I didn’t waste a moment once I had the set, and spent the first day ripping the disc images to FLAC. After an evening of experimentation I arrived at the appropriate template -
\%artist% – %album%.cue”
This properly segmented the disc images and volumes into a nested series of subfolders to maintain the set’s original order. (Archival standards MUST be maintained at all times!)
Unfortunately, particularly with classical series, there was no uniformity to the tags for these discs, which were originally issued independently of one another. I tried retrieving data from both MusicBrainz and from FreeDB, but some discs credited the artist as “Leslie Howard (piano)” others as “Liszt Vol.XX” and others simply as “Franz Liszt.” The album titles were no better – some citing the volume number in the series, others only the disc number, and still others the title of the volume only.
And so 7 hours Friday evening were dedicated to manually configuring the tags to have a uniform structure as one commercial release. (If Howard can spend 24 YEARS performing these pieces, then 7 hours is a small price to pay to enjoy it.) Thankfully MP3tag and MediaMonkey both offer batch-tagging commands which facilitated the project, but I’m beginning to understand and appreciate the challenge that is tagging and storing classical recordings!
Franz Liszt, oil on canvas by Henri Lehmann, 1840
Other than the Top 100 Baroque LPs collage I picked up earlier in the year, and excepting a few Debussy LPs (namely Isao Tomita’s Snowflakes are Dancing and La Mer), I have never ventured far beyond the shores of classical music. My girlfriend swears by Liszt, proclaiming him the most influential composer of the 19th century, so it seemed an appropriate place to start.
With the ripping task complete, I’ve added the box set to the library on my server and will be enjoying them each day at work in the order they are presented in the collection. By my calculations, this will take precisely 3 weeks to complete. I’m looking forward to it!
A brief summary of the collection:
Discs 1-6: Etudes and early works
Discs 7-19: Major original compositions
Discs 20-29: Dances, marches, & transcriptions of Liszt’s own works
Discs 30-36: Pieces on national themes
Discs 37-49: Operatic fantasies, transcriptions, and paraphrases
Discs 50-61: Concert transcriptions
Discs 62-69: The Beethoven transcriptions
Discs 70-79: The Schubert transcriptions
Discs 80-94: Rare works and new discoveries
Discs 95-99: Music for piano and orchestra
I do so love a proper archive.