Franz Liszt’s Pupils and his Associations

The 1850 and 1860s saw an emergence of Liszt atelier. Pianists would primarily go to other teacher first and clamor to get to the old master as soon as they completed their foundational preparation. The most popular preparatory teachers were Theodor Kullak and Carl Reinecke. Kullak was a pupil of Czerny. Kullak wrote many theoretical works and the most important one was his Octave School, which is still in use to this day.

Carl Reneicke

Every pupil had to be in place before Kullak entered the classroom and no one was allowed to leave before him. Pupils were not allowed to talk and there was an unwritten rule that prohibited students from even asking questions. Kullak insisted on ‘microscopic accuracy’.

Reinecke taught at the Leipzig Conservatory and is considered a fine Mozart player. He advocated on a fixed and quiet hand position and would even have his pupils practice with the coin at the back of the hand. His Cadenzas to Mozart and Beethoven’s concertos are still used by pianists. But it was Liszt who established the finishing touches on a good number of pianists all across Europe. He never claimed to be a professor but rather an illustrator or an advisor. What a pianist got out of him depends on their own talents and background.

Von Büllow was one of the most important early students of Liszt’s. However, pianistically speaking, the greatest student of his was Carl Tausig. He was phenomenal and was considered Liszt’s peer. He was regarded as ‘infallible’ by Anton Rubinstein, another great pianist of the nineteenth century. Liszt disagreed with such a claim and gave an account of the boy:

‘A little piano-playing prodigy from Warsaw named Tausig, age fourteen came to see me…he probably spent a year or two at Weimar. He’s an amazingly gifted boy whom you’ll enjoy listening to. He plays everything by heart, composes fairly well, and seems to be destined to make a brilliant reputation for himself very quickly.’

Initially, Liszt refused to hear Tausig, but he was presented a report from Peter Cornelius, who was a member of the Liszt-Wagner circle, Liszt was taken aback.


Von Lenz called Tausig the living impersonation of Chopin. He was well acquainted with Chopin. Most people had disagreed with this perception as for one, Tausig was a much more heroic pianist than Chopin and for another, he was an interpreter who played other people’s music. Most pianists and critics of the day agreed that Tausig carried pure virtuosity, and he executed it opposite to his master. While Liszt was flamboyant, Tausig achieve his stupendous effect without making the physical fuss.

Liszt sent Tausig to Wagner and the composer was impressed as he found Tausig had a high level of intelligence. As the boy grew up, he practiced compulsively all daylong except for four hours twice a week when he devoted himself to teaching where he had established an Academy for Advanced Pianists in Berlin. Tausig even found time to pursue studies in philosophy and the natural sciences.

He arranged a transcription of Bach’s organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor which was against the ‘law’ for any concert not to begin with this repertoire. He also arranged a charmingly and effective Strauss’s Waltzes.

When he died of typhus at thirty-one-years-old, many could not reconcile his passing. At the last part of his life, he lived with nervousness and playing public concerts was unbearable for him. Wagner and his wife, Cosima were both shattered by Tausig’s death. Brahms was awe-struck by Tausig’s death and wrote to Clara Schumann that he would play his two-piano sonata but later turned it to the D minor Concerto. Until his death, Tausig had no equal. He was a combination of Liszt (link to The Hysterical Liszt) and von Büllow’s (the passionate Intellect) intellectuality. Eugen d’Albert, one of Liszt’s greatest pupils associated Tausig very closely with Liszt. He said if Liszt was great, Tausig had a more wonderful, more accurate technique coupled with good poetry. He had all the virtuosity in the world and one of his innovations that is no longer with us was to play prestissimo unisons at the end of Chopin E Minor Concerto in broken octaves.

Tausig was Liszt’s favourite male pupil, his favorite among the female pupils was the Munich-born Sophie Menter whom was called the l’incarnation de Liszt. She came to Liszt after worked with Tausig and von Büllow’s. She was admired by Liszt for her ‘singing hand’. Critics described her style as a blend of virtuosity and elegance, a great, round and full Lisztian kind of tone; fiery temperament; a masculine weight on the keys; plasticity; spirit and technique are fused in harmony and union’.

Another, more talented, female student of Liszt was Adele aus der Ohe, who came to Liszt at the age of twelve as one of the few prodigies he accepted and studied with him for seven years between 1877-1884. She previously studied with Kullak, and Liszt liked her touch and said that it was soft as velvet and as strong as a man. She toured America for seventeen consecutive seasons and played the Tchaikovsky B Flat Minor Concerto under the composer’s direction at the opening week of ceremony at the Carnegie Hall in 1891. Her repertoire was huge and was she was one of the first pianists to feather both Brahms’ Concertos. She liked to engage large-scale works.

Julie Rivé-King

Julie Rivé-King was the first American woman pianist who made a fine public career. She was born in Cincinnati in 1857 and was playing at the age of eight and then brought to New York. In 1872, she went to Europe to study with Reneicke, finishing with Liszt and returning to America in 1875. She immediately made contributions to the America’s musical scene. Her repertoires were endlessly inexhaustible. In eighteen years after her return to the America, she gave more than four thousand solo recitals and appeared in orchestra over five hundred times. She established a new standard of repertoire and performance.

Amy Fay

Amy Fay, the sharp eyed intelligent American pianist lived her charming account of musical life from Germany in the 1870s. She went to Europe in 1869 to study with Tausig, Kullak, Liszt and Deppe. She wrote long letters while home in Europe and they were published under the title ‘Music Study in Germany’ through the influence of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It is a brightly written minor classic, with shrewd observations about the great and near great, with prime source material for anybody interested in pianists of that period. It had twenty published editions. Amy was probably not the greatest pianist herself, but she settled in Chicago and gave lecture recitals or as she called them ‘piano conversations’. She came to life as a pert attractive mind, and she looked on life with a breezy, unaffected American manner.

The one important Italian Pianist who emerged during the nineteenth century was Giovanni Sgambati whose career started at the age of five, when he began to give private recitals. At six, he gave public concerts and had studied with Liszt in Rome. Liszt detected Tausig’s style in him. This surprised Liszt as Italians usually had nothing Germanic about their approach. He told Franz Bendel, a reputable pupil of Liszt that Sgambati played German composers – Bach, Beethoven, Schumann with perfect independence and mastery of style. Sgambati was German orientatedbut was reintroducing to Italy the instrumental tradition lost since the days of Scarlatti.

Two other able Liszt pupils, Hans von Bronsart and Dionys Pruckner came to the public around the mid-century, followed by Alexander Winterberger and Josef Wieniawski. Count Geza Zichy lost his right arm in a hunting accident at the age of fifteen. He refused to allow the catastrophe to deter his talent. He became the first pianist with one arm to show the world that a cripple was not necessarily handicapped. He slaved for six years to perfect his left-hand technique and prepare a repertoire of arrangements for concert. In 1873, he met Liszt and worked with him until 1878. After he ventured into a solo career and became extremely wealthy. Critics were dazzled and ran out of adjective and superlatives to describe him. This was not a conventional polite words to describe a handicapped musicians.

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