And today, I start a short series of posts over the man pianists have idolized for the last hundred years or so–Franz Liszt. The hungarian composer and virtuoso who lived from 1811 to 1886 was, without a doubt, the only true and complete master that the piano has ever known.
I’m not kidding.
Rather than bore you with a history lesson that you could easily garner from Wikipedia, I present to you a great example of just how masterful and virtuosic this man actually was.
Any musician will tell you that one of the most difficult skills to develop is the ability to read a piece of music directly at sight. Lizst was not only the greatest pianist to ever play the instrument, but also undoubtedly the greatest sight reader that ever lived. An example of his prowress? Well, in 1870, Liszt met fellow composer and pianist Edvard Greig in Rome. Remember Grieg? He’s the “In the Hall of the Mountain King” guy. Well, when Grieg met Liszt, he presented Liszt with his then manuscript for his piano concerto in A minor for Liszt’s appraisal. Lizst then proceeded to sit at the piano and sight read the entire concerto with no mistakes.
Grieg’s reaction to this?
“He was literally over the whole keyboard at once, without missing a note. And how he did play, with grandeur, beauty, genius, and unique comprehension. I think I laughed, laughed like an idiot.”
Friends would later say how Grieg confided in them that after this session, he began to fall into a vicious cycle of serious self doubt, proclaiming that certainly his concerto was “too easy” if someone was able to read it at sight. He would never complete another piano concerto afterwards.
Was it too easy though? Or was Liszt just a “super human?”
Well, I leave it to your appraisal. Here’s the gratuitous YouTube clip of Grieg’s concerto. It certainly doesn’t sound “easy” to my ear.