The Hungarian-born musician, Franz Liszt, was one of the great piano virtuosos and composers of the 19th century. Liszt’s musical legacy is substantial, and he would be well-remembered even just for his musical compositions. But what makes Liszt interesting is the extraordinary life he lived. As Oliver Hilmes puts it in his recent Liszt biography, Liszt was a “superstar, a genius and a European celebrity – he was utterly exceptional.” During his long life, Liszt reinvented himself several times, yet each time he seemed to enhance his stature as one of the great characters of his age, or indeed of any age.
Continue Reading Sunday Arts: Liszt’s B Minor Piano Sonata

I have always felt an aversion to the works of Richard Wagner; his massive and melodramatic style, his well-known antisemitism, and the association of many of his operas with Nazi culture, have always seemed reasons enough to avoid his music. It was with some surprise then that, after hearing a fascinating radio interview of The New Yorker’s music critic Alex Ross, I found myself reading with interest and even enthusiasm Ross’s thought-provoking recent book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music. In his book, Ross makes the convincing case that Wagner was and is one of the most important and influential artists of the modern Western era, even if many of his legacies and the use to which his art has been put are malignant. In this vast, intelligent book, Ross demonstrates that the works of a wide array of artists and writers reflect Wagner’s influence. Ross also makes the case that, regardless of how your feel about Wagner, he cannot simply be ignored.
Continue Reading Sunday Arts: Wagnerism