Beethoven through Liszt: myth, performance, edition



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The relationship between Franz Liszt and Ludwig van Beethoven has always held a special position in the biographical tradition of Liszt. Liszt claimed that he received a consecration kiss (the Weihekuss) from Beethoven when he was eleven. However, the story probably was fabricated: in other words, the personal relationship between Liszt and Beethoven was never realized and never existed. Even though Beethoven and Liszt probably have never met, the Weihekuss still served as, in Liszt's words, "the palladium of my whole career as an artist." Liszt constructed a rather complicated relationship with Beethoven around this myth. In this study, I shall examine how the Weihekuss influenced both Liszt's life and his professional development as a performer and editor. In chapter one, I will analyze Liszt's psychological state through the anecdote and further examine the impact that Beethoven had inserted on both Liszt's life and career. On becoming a concert pianist, Liszt was the first person who performed Beethoven's piano sonatas in public and eventually elevated the genre of the sonata into the concert repertory. In chapter two, through eyewitness testimonies, Liszt will be viewed in a broader cultural and historical perspective. Meanwhile, Liszt's relationship with his audiences and his marketing strategies will also be included in this discussion. Liszt's "authority" on Beethoven led him to complete an edition of Beethoven's thirty-two piano sonatas in 1857. By examining Liszt's edition, particularly those sonatas that he performed, one can get a sense of how Liszt himself may have interpreted the music. According to Liszt himself, he performed ten Beethoven piano sonatas in public. These ten sonatas will be the primary focus in chapter three. Liszt both added and omitted articulation and pedal markings, creating different emphases and lines from those present in Beethoven's original manuscripts. The edition, in a sense, is Liszt's final tribute to Beethoven, but also reveals his constant disappointment in never having met the composer. To edit the sonatas was, for Liszt, a way to communicate with Beethoven spiritually, if not personally.