Other Liszt Giants

Eugene d’Albert

For all of the brilliant talents that flocked to Liszt’s last classes at Weimar, he was particularly proud of Eugene (or Eugen) d’Albert. Liszt called him ‘our young lion’ or ‘Albertus Magnus’ was another pet name that Liszt gave him. He was the son of a French father and German mother.

In 1876 he went to London to study under Ernst Pauer and Sir Arthur Sullivan who was his harmony and counterpoint teacher. He would bring rims and rims of his composition to Sir Arthur, and he would say ‘Good lord my boy, are you expecting me to go through all of this?’ This had put a sour taste in Eugene and perhaps ended the study at Weimer and went to Vienna.

He was half German to begin with and after a few years in Germany, he considered himself a full German. He wrote to a German paper as early as 1884 when he was only twenty years old correcting a biographical note:


‘…permit me to correct a few errors I find there. Above all things I scorn the title ‘’English Pianist.’’ Unfortunately, I studied for a considerable period of time in that land of fog, but I learned absolutely nothing. Indeed, had I remained there much longer, I should have gone to utter ruin…Only since I left that barbarous land have I begun to live. And I live now for the unique, true, glorious, German art.’

The great days of d’Albert as a pianist lasted roughly from Liszt’s death to the early years of the twentieth century, which is some twenty years. He had become too busy composing to keep his virtuoso technique in shape. In his day, he was considered not only the greatest Beethoven pianist, and the best all-rounded pianist after Liszt’s death, but his Beethoven was considered definitive. The crown of piano playing rested on d’Albert. Bruno Walter has written an impression of d’Albert:

‘I shall never forget the titanic force in his rendition of Beethoven’s concert in E flat Major. I am almost tempted to say that he did not play it; he personified it. In his intimate contact with his instrument, he appeared to me like a new centaur, half piano, half man.’ He was described as ‘magnificent, strong, reverent, profound, with fingers of steel’

D’Albert made many extremely rare recordings. He made them at a time when his technique was in deplorable condition; his playing was eccentric, sloppy, and undisciplined. Inexplicable, full of wrong notes, memory lapses and distorted rhythms. One can only conject that he went to the recording studio with an attitude that nobody would hear his recording and they would be non-existent in a few years.

No other pupils of Liszt made such an immediate impact with their playing as d’Albert had, but they endured a much longer career. One of the most discussed pianists – Moriz Rosenthal, who continued playing until the 1940s  was considered as one of the most stupendous technicians, had a wide dynamic palette including delicate sound that could compared with Vlamidir de Pachman’s pianissimos. Rosenthal was Polish and had studied under Mikuli, Chopin’s student before coming to Liszt. Josef Hoffman would have been thirteen at the time and wrote ‘He was terrific. I started pounding the piano at our Berlin home for six hours daily, trying to imitate Rosenthal’.

Moriz Rosenthal

Rosenthal played Liszt’s E flat Concerto, one of his specialties like a thunderbolt. It was uncontrollable and he belaboured the piano. Hanslick commented that he had forgotten what it is to be astonished, but he found young Rosenthal’s achievement indeed astonishing but also violent. He was a master in the mechanical side of playing but lacking in poetry. As Rosenthal grew older, he could no longer play with great virtuosity and thunder. Instead he concentrated on beauty of tone and liquid phrasing.  He achieved elegance, charm, control, and a staggering technique. In his last years, he lost his strength to pound, so he substituted his fortissimo with triple pianissimo to mezzo forte.

Emil von Sauer who was born in Hamburg, was another pianist who made a different impression than Rosenthal. He studied with Nicholas Rubinstein at the Moscow Conservatory from 1879 to 1881 before he went to Liszt. He corrected a statement in an interview that he was not regarded as Liszt’s pupil as he only studied with him for a few months and Liszt was too old to teach him anything.  His chief teacher was undoubtedly Nicholas Rubinstein.

Emil von Sauer

Sauer, left about thirty recordings before his death in 1942. At the age of seventy-seven, he performed Liszt’s piano concertos. He was a smooth pianist who was inclined towards  relaxed tempos and meticulous detail instead of explosive burst of temperament. He was sensitive, stylistic and had taste.

Alfred Reisenauer

Alfred Reisenauer was also another pianist who was out of the ordinary. His approach to the keyboard was quite different from Sauer. In the 1890s, most critics thought that he resembled Liszt. Liszt himself if of the same opinion that Alfred did very closely resemble his style ‘yet without imitation’. He accepted Alfred as a student in 1875 when the boy was only seven and saw him through his first public debut in 1879.Alfred was a fat man and Liszt put it delicately ‘he was big, and his playing was big’. He loves playing colossal repertoire like Hammerklavier. ). He had an urge to travel and was the first pianist to tour Siberia, Persia, and Asia. His forte was  Romantic music. Johann Magendanz, a pupil of Kindlworth wrote an interesting little sketch of Alfred:

‘When the bulky man seated himself at the piano and sat there like a rock. He never moved, whether he played pianissimo or fortissimo, even when evoking the sonority of an orchestra; his hand and fingers moved quietly over the keyboard. Never any thrashing; mellowness and fullness prevailed all the time. He must have possessed enormous muscular strength which he could control at will.’

He died tragically in LeBeau, a Russian City in his hotel room after a fabulous recital.

Another Liszt’s favourite pupil, Rafel Joseffy was one of the greatest pianists of the nineteenth century. A Hungarian born pianist who studied with Mocheles, Reneicke and Tausig and finally with Liszt in 1870 and 1871. Of all Liszt’s pupils, Joseffy presented the essence of delicacy and poetry, the master of singing tone and pianissimo shadings. There was steel in his playing too but a well-tempered steel with sharp cutting edge. His touch was original, and his manipulation of the instrument was unapproachable. His tone has a velvety touch, aristocratic quality and so free from any suspicion of harshness or brutality it gave him a unique position in the music-loving world. There was a moonlike magic in his Chopin’s Nocturnes, a-meteor-like brilliancy in his performance of a Liszt Concerto. This rare quality placed Joseffy outside of the ‘popular pianism’.

Huneker was Joseffy’s assistant for a period of time. He was an elegant pianist and had great finesse with control and a find musical mind.  After concertizing in Europe for several years, he made his American debut in New York on October 13, 1879, at Chickering Hall. After, he went to Boston and critics  stated ‘We have never heard in any artist (Rubinstein, von Bülow, Essipoff) a closer approach to absolute perfection in every element of technique and of execution. The evenness and ease of all the runs and arpeggios; the commanding, penetrating power, always expressively graduated and shaded; the positive intensity (not the same as pounding) with which significant single tones were struck and made to vibrate through the listener…’  This man has united all with his flawless playing.

Scottish born Federic Lamond, was considered a Beethoven specialist who did a large collection of discography before he died in 1948. He was one of the last but one of the most important pupils of Liszt. He was not a great technician but a brilliant stylist.

Gustav Mahler and Alma Mahler was a great admirer of Josef Weiss. He was too eccentric to play in public. One time, Mahler engaged Weiss in a Mozart Concerto, but he ended up throwing the music at Mahler’s feet during the rehearsal. The orchestra members thought that Mahler was being attached. The newspaper exaggerated the news as ‘WEISS HIT MAHER ON THE HEAD’.

Arthur Friedheim, a Russian born pianist  who Liszt was not fond of. After he had played for Liszt several times, eventually Liszt accepted him as a pupil and made him his personal secretary. Friedman had an exceptionally broad style in the so-called grand manner. Busoni who heard him played stated:

Pose is the order of the day. There is a pianist here called Friedheim, a pupil of Liszt, with long hair and a face that looks half sever, half bored. When he plays, he comes forward and bows in such a way that his hair covers his face’ then he throws his head back to tidy his mane. Then he sits down with a great deal of fuss and looks around waiting until the audience is quiet; then he seizes the keys “as a wild best seizes his prey.”

Two other Liszt’s pupils of great reputation who settled in America were Alexander Siloti and Constantin von Stenberg. Siloti graduated at the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Nicholas Rubinstein and composition with Tchaikovsky. He studied with Liszt between 1883 to 1886. He returned to Moscow and became a professor at the conservatory. Sergei Rachmaninoff, his cousin became one of his pupils. A year before his death, he taught at the Julliard School of music in New York. He had  enormous hands, and he was described as a combination of vitality and refinement with big technique.

The last of the major Liszt’s pupils to pass away was José Vienna da Motta, a Portuguese pianist who died in Lisbon on June 1, 1948. He was a scholar, critic and a accomplished writer on musical subjects, a composer who had made a few recordings towards the end of his life, and in them are traces of noble style.Liszt founded no school and as a teacher was mainly an inspirational force. Most of his pupils did have one thing in common ‘big line and tone’ and freedom in phrase and rhythm although uncontrollable by some pupils but brilliantly executed by Rosenthal, Sauer and Joseffy. Each student had a  philosophy of their own.

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