Musical Times

a re-reading of the evidence

Franz Liszt and the development of 19th-century pianism: a re-reading of the evidence

Davison, Alan

WHILE FRANZ LISZT’S remarkable pianistic skills have been the subject of much published scholarship, the precise nature of both his own technical development and his contribution to the evolution of piano playing warrants scrutiny within the context of a flourishing interest in 19th-century performance practice. Such scrutiny is especially justified in relation to piano playing for, as Robert Winter observed adroitly in the recent New Grove entry on piano playing, ‘[m]uch of the lore surrounding the history of piano playing belongs more properly to the realm of anecdote or even myth than to scholarship; much work in this area remains to be done.” In this article I shall revisit some of the well-known materials and preconceptions relating to Liszt’s pianism and suggest an alternative to some long-held views.

An accurate assessment of the development of Liszt’s keyboard technique within the context of 19th-century pianism may well have been obscured by two influential and widespread misconceptions or oversimplifications: firstly, that Liszt was inspired to ‘re-learn’ the piano after hearing Nicoló Paganini; and secondly, that he was the first pianist to systematically use armweight, making him one the first truly ‘modern’ pianists.2 These significant elements of Liszt lore have established themselves without ever receiving the scrutiny of many other aspects of his life.3 Indeed, it would appear that a confluence of several biographical factors and 20th-century preconceptions about the development of piano playing have worked together to obstruct a more historically-informed understanding of Liszt’s pianism.

Liszt left no comprehensive account in his own words of his technical approach to piano playing, and therein lies much of the difficulty of determining some important aspects of his piano technique. To account for the paucity of references to technique in his later years Liszt’s approach to piano playing has sometimes been characterised as ‘intuitive’, thus removing the necessity to ponder other explanations for the lack of material.4 Despite this, there is unequivocal evidence of his systematic interest in technique during his early years of ‘transcendental execution’ (1835-47).5

Whatever the state of 19th-century sources, there is no shortage of 20th-century studies of Liszt’s teaching and playing,6 and yet it is worth pondering the context of the earlier material a little more closely. Nineteenth-century accounts of, and reflection upon, Liszt’s playing and technique are significant not only for their contemporary or near-contemporary status: a clear distinction between this material and 20th-century sources can be drawn because they span the important paradigmatic divide marked by the development of a zealous arm-weight pedagogy at the beginning of the 20th century. Inevitably, Liszt’s assumed role in the development of pianism was to become an important part of this new pedagogy, for he provided a historical figure in which to ground the theoretical dogmatics of the piano method.

Most of the material on Liszt’s teaching written by his students dates from later in his life, when he gathered a considerable number of students and/or disciples around him.7 These recollections were usually in the form of journals. Surprisingly, despite the considerable volume of references to Liszt’s playing, only a small percentage is of any real value in relation to his specific technical approach. This material consisted in the main of quaint anecdotes on Liszt’s behaviour, and general interpretative comments. The one significant exception is the Boissier lesson-diaries from the early 1830s, discussed below.

A CRUCIAL FACTOR in the development of piano-playing technique was the symbiotic relationship between playing, advances in the construction of the instrument itself and the changing role of the piano in 19th-century musical life. The piano dominated the amateur music scene in the 19th century; it was a symbol of both success and sensibility.8 By the end of the 18th century the piano had became the only solo instrument to be played regularly in public concerts. While its popularity as an amateur instrument is important, the many changes in the development of the piano are related more to the demands of notable artists and composers upon the instrument. The first half of the 19th century saw considerable changes to closely symbiotic areas of the construction of the piano, the role of the pianist and the content of the programmes. Janet Ritterman has contextualised the changing role of the pianist:

Between 1800 and 1850, it was the shift of emphasis from the pianist as composer to the pianist as interpreter that did most to alter attitudes of performers and audiences to piano music presented in public concerts. Various factors – social and economic as well as musical – contributed to this change. Most were connected in some way with the rapid rise in the popularity of the piano, a phenomenon which left its imprint on many aspects of early nineteenth-century life. Public concert life of the period was transformed by the growth of interest in the piano. By the 18503 the piano recital had come into being; programming conventions that still influence judgments made by present-day performers were beginning to emerge.9

The construction of pianos, and the style in which they were played, had an understandably close connection. Unlike the relatively standardised sound of modern-day pianos, 19th-century pianos varied from each other in tonal colour considerably, and this variety was valued. In the 19th century there were many types of piano; well into the century two main divisions existed with the light-actioned Viennese pianos contrasting with the heavier English pianos.10 The Viennese pianos had a clear, brilliant sound, and through the playing of the likes of Johann Hummel, Friedrich Kalkbrenner and Ignaz Moscheles these pianos became inextricably linked to the ‘brilliant style’.11 None the less, the fuller sound of the English pianos remained desirable, and piano manufacturers aimed at combining both qualities, so that a sonorous but responsive piano could be developed for playing in a large hall.12 Ritterman notes that ‘[a]lthough the concept of keyboard brilliance retained its allure, during the 1830s pianists began to cultivate a more expressive playing style. By the close of the decade the favoured style of playing was one that drew from the piano tonal resources which, by their richness and variety, invited orchestral analogies.’13 The recognition of the new style of ‘orchestral’ playing has important consequences for later developments, and Liszt’s place within them. The generation of pianists of Liszt’s time can be considered part of the overall, and ongoing, developments in pianism in the 19th century. Neither Liszt nor his contemporaries should be isolated from this historical context.

The late 18th and early 19th century saw a widespread move away from the non-legato touch of the classical era, with several pianists independently aiming for a full and pure cantabile touch. This was achieved by, and largely through, a close touch with the keyboard, as opposed to a non-legato and high-fingered approach characteristic of earlier schools. Notable exponents were Kalkbrenner and John Field. Kalkbrenner was important enough in his day for the young Chopin to consider having lessons with him. Kalkbrenner’s quality of touch had a considerable impact on those who heard it, such as the Englishman Charles Halle, who wrote that ‘he has a special mode of handling the piano, particularly in melodious passages, which made a great impression, but which I cannot describe to you; the reason of it lies mostly in that he keeps his fingers so closely over the keys.’14

Sigismond Thalberg, Liszt’s main pianistic rival in the mid-1830s, epitomised refinement and reserve at the piano, while none the less possessing an extraordinary technique. He was famous for his ‘three-handed’ technique, where he would play a melody with his thumbs and surround it on both sides with rapid arpeggios. Thalberg was not merely a man of special effects, however, for he was noted for his clear singing tone and skilful pedalling.15 History has not been kind to Thalberg; his compositions are forgotten and he is chiefly remembered as the pianist that dared to rival Liszt.16

The innovations of Liszt and his contemporaries in the evolution of keyboard playing must be set against the ‘quiet arm, fingers only’ school of playing appropriate for the fortepiano. Method books of the early 19th century indicate that the arm still served basically as a stable platform for the fingers. For example, Carl Czerny, Liszt’s teacher from 1822-23 and one of the most influential pedagogues of the early 19th century, stated that from the forearm to the knuckles must be absolutely straight with the wrist ‘neither bent […] downwards nor upwards’.17 To facilitate the quiet hand he stipulated that ‘the height of the stool must be so exactly proportioned […] that the ends of the elbows may be about an inch higher than the […] keys.’ This ‘finger-based’ technique, established in the Viennese tradition of pianism, was of course entirely appropriate for the fortepiano of the time which possessed relatively lightly-weighted keys and shallow depth of action.18

The English style of pianism, which favoured the fuller sound of the instrument, was especially influential in Paris and aided in the development of a more ‘singing style ‘.19; Pianists such as Kalkbrenner were quick to notice the stylistic differences associated with the English instrument.20 Even when faced with playing an English instrument some pianists of the Viennese tradition, such as Hummel, still advocated playing with the ‘natural strength and elasticity of the fingers’.21

Liszt, in Paris during the late 1820s and early 1830s, at a time of great changes in the development of the piano, relished the rapid advances made by the piano makers Erard in particular, and doubtless wrote his music with a keen eye on the latest developments with the instrument. Robert Winter notes that Liszt’s music required an instrument of both power and clarity, attributes the Erard supplied better than any other mid-century instrument.21

THE ICONOGRAPHY of Liszt confirms what contemporary written sources indicate was his clear break with some key elements of the previous general approach to piano playing. Firstly, the iconography shows that he sat high in relation to the keyboard, which was a significant change from the previous norm. Frequently reproduced depictions that indicate this include Josef Dannhauser’s famous oil painting of 1840, George Healy’s portrait of 1868, and the drawing by Charles Renouard from 1886.23 (None the less, there are several depictions that show Liszt sitting lower, such as the majority of photographs; the reason is that nearly all of them were taken in the photographer’s studio, with long exposures and using a chair or stool that belonged to the set of props.) The net result of this new position was to raise the forearms and elbows well above the level of the keyboard, with the forearms sloping down towards the hands. This position allows for considerably more amounts of force to be used, particularly with the upper body, but it does not imply arm weight per se.

Another important Liszt innovation was a pliable hand shape and flexible position. The dairies of Madame Auguste Boissier, whose daughter Valerie studied with Liszt in 1831-32, provide detailed accounts of his playing and teaching. Boissier records that Liszt did not keep his hands ‘in a rounded position’ nor were they ‘altogether flat’, but rather his fingers were ‘so flexible as to possess no fixed position’.24 Liszt’s unusual positioning of the hand caused disquiet amongst reviewers from as early as the 18405. A German critic reproached him in 1844, for holding ‘his fingers about the keys in an unnatural or affected manner’.25

The Boissier lesson-diaries make repeated mention of Liszt’s recommended training of the wrists and fingers for tone production. For example, Mme Boissier writes that Liszt’s ‘hand is never unwieldy, for he moves it with grace according to his fancy’, then she stresses that ‘he does not play with his arms or shoulders’.26 In a later lesson, Liszt instructed Valerie to play ‘without exception, entirely with a wrist action’, that is, playing with ‘what is called a “dead hand”, without any interference by the arm; with each note he wants the hand to fall from the wrist on the key in a rebounding fashion.’27

Crucially, Liszt emphasised the role of the wrist, not the arm, in producing a full tone for individual notes, and did so not just in relation to octaves or chords. Boissier records the following instructions that make this clear:

All notes must be round, full, equal-sounding and never abrupt or uneven, betraying the thumb or some other finger […]. One must listen to them [for unevenness] and correct them carefully. For this purpose, it is important to practice slowly, regularly, by attacking and by striking each tone with a wrist action in order to give it its fullness and completeness.2

This use of the wrist was not unique to Liszt at the time: Kalkbrenner, most notably, used just such a technique. When Charles Hallé met with the colourful Kalkbrenner in 1836, the latter impressed upon the Englishman the importance of the wrist, with Hallé recalling: ‘He was sure, if the Almighty played the piano, He would play from the wrist!’29 To aid the development of this wrist technique, Kalkbrenner advocated the notorious guide-mains.30

OF COURSE, the Boissier material dates from before Liszt heard Paganini play in early 1832. Common knowledge has it that Liszt was inspired to ‘re-learn’ the piano after hearing the great violinist, and in doing so developed his mature virtuoso technique.31 Because of this assumption Boissier’s material has been undervalued, and it has also been assumed that Liszt significantly altered his style of playing from that date. Yet, it is entirely probable that Liszt had revolutionised his playing before then. In 1831 he told the Boissiers that he had:

played the piano for years, and was brilliant in concert, and so believed that he was quite marvellous. Then one day, being unable to express with his fingers all the feelings which weighed upon him, he re-examined himself point by point and found that he could not perform trills nor octaves very well, nor even certain chords. Since then he studied his scales again, and little by little completely changed his touch. Formerly, when attempting to express certain tone energetically, his hands stiffened, but now he has banished all stiffness from his playing; from the wrist, he tosses his fingers upon the keys, at times with force and at times with softness, but always complete suppleness.32

In other words, Liszt had developed his own solution to the challenges he set himself. The resulting approach to piano technique was neither a given skill nor an intuitive response, but a conscious rebuilding of an already impressive facility.

What is the evidence for Paganini’s direct influence upon Liszt’s technique? Liszt’s letter of 2 May 1832 to his friend Pierre Wolf expressing his euphoria over Paganini’s playing, includes the oft-quoted passage: ‘I practice exercises four to five hours a day (thirds, sixths, octaves, tremolos, repeated notes, cadenzas, etc…)’.33 In isolation this could be taken as support for the thesis that Liszt was inspired to re-learn his technique, but it does no such thing – he had been practising and recommending such drills previously. In Mme Boissier’s dairies we find the following:

[Liszt] stressed the great need of flexing and relaxing the fingers in all directions by multiple exercises for at least three hours day; these exercises would included varied scales in octaves, thirds, arpeggios in all their inversions, trills, chords, and, finally, everything that one is capable of doing.34

The Paganini story may well be one of the most enduring myths of the Liszt biography; it is convincing because it explains in one sweep what was no doubt in reality a complex tale.35 Paganini provides a convenient point of articulation in the Liszt biography, full of Romantic notions of inspiration and revolution. While such biographical clichés are attractive, the truth appears to have been rather more mundane. Liszt was certainly inspired by Paganini, particularly in the development of new keyboard figurations, but there is nothing to suggest that he changed his technique of tone production.36 He appears to have developed his mature technique in the years 1828-32, and it remains to be established to what extent, if at all, he changed it after this time.

LISZT’S LETTERS generally provide little evidence relating to his technique. One significant reference to his technique, apparently overlooked in the literature on his playing, exists directly from Liszt himself. In a rather incidental passage within a letter to Louis de Ronchaud dated 20 September 1837, he casually observed: ‘Until now I had enjoyed being totally incognito in Bellagio, although I did bang mightily away on a Viennese piano bereft of almost all its strings. No one bothered to pay the slightest attention to it or to suspect that I was but an amateur endowed with a very strong wrist.’37 Implicit here is the notion of the wrist as the apparatus for ‘banging’, whereas most pianists today would surely cite their arm as the culprit.

In a letter to Marie d’Agoult from the following year, Liszt mentions an interesting incident: ‘I almost sprained my wrist during my improvisation at Rossini’s, and became aware of it only the next day. The whole of yesterday it gave me great pain, and for several hours I found it impossible to use my right hand.’38 This may also suggest the wrist as the fundamental mechanism of his technique, although it is less clear than the previous example.

The best known contemporary account of Liszt’s playing and teaching, post-Paganini, is contained in Amy Fay’s chronicles of her piano studies in Germany.39 Fay not only studied with Liszt, but also with other leading pianists and teachers in Germany from 1869 to 1875. She provides lively accounts of the teaching methods of Carl Tausig, Ludwig Deppe and Theodor Kullack, to name just some. Fay studied with Liszt in 1873, and it is her observations regarding his classes that have made the largest contribution to posterity. Importantly, she compares Liszt’s playing and teaching with that of other pianists and teachers she either heard or studied with, and these comparisons are particularly enlightening. Her observations show utter consistency with Boissier’s lesson-diaries some 40 years earlier.

Among the more important observations, Fay notes that Liszt held his fingers closer to the keyboard than was typical at the time, thus facilitating a legato touch.40 Interestingly she also records how on one occasion, when she was playing with too much hand movement (probably rotation), Liszt reproached her with ‘Keep your hand still, Fraulein, don’t make omelette.’41 This indicates Liszt’s aversions to unnecessary hand movement, despite his own frequently recorded gestural extravagances. When Fay later studied with Deppe, she was prompted to recall that: ‘Liszt has an inconceivable lightness, swiftness and smoothness of execution […] when he was playing scales or passages, his fingers seemed to lie across the keys in a slanting sort of way, and to execute these rapid passages almost without any perceptible motion.’42

Although in his later lessons Liszt generally did not discuss technical matters, he did stress to his students freedom and suppleness of the wrist. For example, Pauline Fichtener, who was a student of Liszt’s in the 1870s, wrote:

Studying with Liszt was mostly concentrated on the spiritual and intellectual element of the music […]. Mastery of technique was taken for granted […]. He did no more than guide us fervently towards a freer, more natural position of the hands, elasticity of the wrist, and the practice of large-scale studies in passage work and octaves – plus the advice to play anything difficult in all keys.43

The importance of the wrist is unequivocally confirmed by August Stradel, who studied with Liszt towards the end of the latter’s life. Stradel wrote that ‘[a]s new theories about arm movement are being advanced nowadays, it must be stressed that, were Liszt still alive, he would eschew them, as after finger technique, his whole technique was a wrist technique.’44

What might have given the impression that Liszt used arm weight is the fact that he often threw his hands into the air during concerts, something that was commented upon several times by his contemporaries. The virtuoso pianist Isaak-Ignaz Moscheles, upon hearing Liszt play in London in the early 18405, wrote that ‘it is only rarely […] that his hands, which he throws high into the air when he is playing, land on a wrong note.’45 This movement appears to have been largely a gestural trait of Liszt’s, along with his animated facial expressions. Indeed, this is precisely what Moscheles intimates in another observation: ‘[s]trangely, I still think of the throwing about of his hands which appear to want to say: this is rapture’.46

The ‘flung into the air’ hand became a trademark of Liszt’s portrayed in many caricatures. Artists apparently used such a gesture to epitomise the flashy side of Liszt and allude to the hysteria that followed him, particularly during his years of touring as a mature virtuoso in the 1840s. But the gesture was certainly authentic, for it was also captured in a private caricature by Maurice Sand that predates the popular depiction by several years.47

This arm gesture is not reproduced in ‘serious’ depictions of Liszt, despite being common in caricatures. This touches on the issue of the varying representational media and genres, and their differing interests and influences. One of the reasons that caricatures show such movement is that they grew out of a tradition influenced by concepts of both physiognomy and pathognomy. Thus caricatures tend to show an overwhelming concern for physical gesture as a means of expressing an emotion or a character, and it is this interest that gives caricatures a particular iconographical value. The ‘high art’ depictions were restrained by the codes of gesture and posture, in which the etiquette for any respectable person, coupled with artistic traditions of posing, would forbid such a movement to be recorded.

The idea of making significant use of the upper arm and forearm appears to have been largely absent from the minds of pianists of the first half of the 19th century, Liszt included.48 The influential American pianist and pedagogue William Mason provides illuminating insights into the state of piano-playing in mid-19th-century Europe. In his Memories of a musical life he wrote:

At the time of which I write (1849-1850) very little seems to have been known of the important influence of the upper-arm muscles and their very efficient agency, when properly employed in the production of tone quality and volume by means of increased relaxation, elasticity, and springiness in their movements.49

Mason mentioned further that the virtuoso pianist Alexander Dreyschock, with whom he had over a hundred lessons, paid no attention to the role of the arm, but instead concentrated upon the importance of the wrist. Interestingly, Mason, who also studied with Liszt, does not attribute an arm-weight technique to the master.

Critically, Mason recounts how Liszt had told one of his students ‘[y]ou are to learn all you can from my playing, relating to conception, style, phrasing, etc., but do not imitate my touch, which I am well aware, is not a good model to follow.’50 Indeed, in an interview late in life, Mason said that very few pianists had a true piano touch, ‘not […] even Liszt completely’, because they all ‘sought for a more orchestral manner of playing’.51 None the less, Mason was emphatic that Liszt was the greatest pianist of the 19th century.

The crucial role of the wrist in virtuosi such as Liszt and Dreyschock was clearly recognised in the article on ‘Pianoforte-playing’ in the 1889 Grove dictionary of music and musicians. The contribution, by Ernst Pauer, describes with faint distaste the rise of a new breed of virtuosi during the 1830s.52 In an enlightening passage, Pauer notes the ‘orchestral’ style of these pianists:

Such increased force and rapidity [in their playing] demanded an alteration of the movement of the arm, hand, and of a swinging movement of the hand – ‘playing from the wrist’, or to a nervous force that arises from a stiff elbow, and leads with some players to a kind of playing commonly called ‘thumping’.53

Mourning the corresponding decrease in tone quality, Pauer states that the ‘greatest heroes of this period of piano-playing were Thalberg, Liszt, Henselt, and Dreyshock’.

The idea that Liszt founded arm-weight playing appears to have crystallised around the turn of the century with the development of an enthusiastic arm-weight pedagogy. Rudolf Breithaupt, a leading advocate of the arm-weight school, stressed how Liszt exemplified his system of playing, citing him as a historically proven example of his method. In 1911 he outlined Liszt’s supposed technique, including the following crucial point: ‘[Liszt u]sed to the fullest extent the massive weight of the whole arm, and its parts. Unlike all the other players of his day […] he played from the shoulder.’54

Since then, the seeds of the ‘Liszt-as-founder’ lore have grown sturdily. A particularly influential exponent of Liszt as an arm-weight player has been Harold Schonberg in his very popular book The great pianists, first published in 1963. In Schonberg’s view Liszt clearly made use of a weight technique, with ‘loose shoulders and a fairly high position of the hands and fingers’.55 Most recently, Bertrand Ott, in his Lisztian keyboard energy, has further cemented Liszt’s place as the revolutionary founder of a physically comprehensive system of playing. Ott makes the bold claim that ‘Liszt was certainly the first to become aware of the role of the shoulder and arm after the pedagogues who concentrated on playing from the fingers alone.’56

THE TWO ‘COMMON-KNOWLEDGE’ CLAIMS regarding Liszt discussed here, that Liszt founded modern pianism and re-learnt his technique after encountering Paganini, have provided mutual support for each other for several years, and this may partly explain their endurance. The Paganini story provides the convenient biographical point of revelation that allows Liszt to rise above his historical context and re-learn his technique. The Liszt-as-founder belief has imbued the whole issue of Paganini’s influence with a greater significance than it would otherwise have. The durability of this Liszt-lore suggests that even basic questions of performance practice can become embroiled within a web of biographical myth and, for want of a better expression, pedagogical propaganda.

Liszt’s use of the wrist was a significant development upon the quiet arm, stable wrist, method prevalent in the first decades of the 19th century. Those that followed in his footsteps were soon accused of ‘thumping’, for they apparently lacked his musicality. Those who developed and passed on the practice of a combined whole arm, wrist and hand technique were pianists and teachers such as Ludwig Deppe and William Mason. But the advent of arm-weight in piano playing appears to have occurred more or less simultaneously throughout several countries late in the 19th century. For instance, late in his life the great American pianist Godowsky recounted how he had ‘discovered’ arm weight in 1891.57

Liszt’s genius, however, remains undiminished within a revised model of the history of 19th-century pianism in which the development of a lasting and comprehensive physical approach to technique, including arm-weight, is credited to later pianists. As Kenneth Hamilton observes, both Liszt’s technique and music ‘united what had hitherto been specialities of individual pianists’, including the phenomenal octave technique of Dreyschock and the legato of Thalberg.58 Apart from his playing and teaching, one of Liszt’s greatest contributions to the piano lies in the fact that he ‘was the first composer in history to understand fully the musical significance – dramatic and emotional as well as aural -of new techniques of execution.’59 Liszt’s achievements seem all the more astonishing when placed in their historical context.

1. ‘Pianoforte, §11: Piano playing’, in New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie & John Tyrrell, 2nd ed. (London, 2001), vol.19, p.688.

2. While crude, ‘modern technique’ is a useful term in referring to a physically eclectic approach to technique that makes use of the fingers, wrists, upper and lower arms. As, for example, described by William S. Newman in his important The pianist’s problems: a modern approach to efficient practice and musicianly performance, where he writes under the heading ‘The four main playing mechanisms’: ‘It is common knowledge that most playing is done by the finger working from the knuckle at its base, of the hand from the wrist, or the forearm from the elbow, or the upper arm from the shoulder […]. These four mechanisms are sometimes used separately, sometimes in various combinations’ (3rd ed., New York, 1974, p.430).

3. The largely undebated nature of these claims might have more to do with their easily acceptable nature than anything else, for they were safe assumptions regarding Liszt when his status as a composer was being debated. For example, in 1911 the music journal Musica found it necessary to include the following within a set of survey questions sent to distinguished musicians: ‘Do you maintain, with those admirers of his, that the fame and popularity of Liszt’s great works are only beginning, or do you consider that, on the contrary, they are mainly interesting for the new paths they opened up and do not possess the intrinsic perfection of durable works of art?’ (translated in A copy in facsimile of the Musica, October 1911: on the 175th anniversary of birth and the tooth anniversary of death of Franz Liszt (Budapest, 1986), p. 119).

4. For example, Harold Schonberg writes: ‘Liszt himself was no theorist of technique and must have played without thinking twice about how he accomplished his effects.’ ( The great pianists from Mozart to the present (New York, 1963), p.180).

5. Letters and documents indicate that Liszt was working on a piano method for the Geneva Conservatoire founded during the mid-1830s. It is not known what became of the method, and Liszt would later deny having ever written such a method. See Alan Walker: Franz List: the virtuoso years, 1811-1843 (rev. ed., New York, 1988), pp.215-17.

6. Amongst the more important are Reginald Gerig’s Famous pianists and their techniques, and his extended article Observations on Franz Liszt’s piano technique’ in the Journal of the American Liszt Society 18 (1985) pp.3-28, and Elsie Machek’s PhD dissertation The pedagogy of Franz Liszt (Northwestern University, 1965). There is the more popularist The great pianists by Harold Schonberg and also Bertrand Ott’s Lisztian keyboard energy/Liszt et la pedagogie du piano: an essay on the pianism of Franz Liszt, trans. Donald H. Windham (Lewiston, 1992).

7. Alan Walker comments briefly, and rather drily, on some of the ‘reminiscences’ of pupils, noting that they ‘earnestly disclose such matters as the warmth of Liszt’s handshake or the penetration of his gaze.’ Walker: Lisp, vol.1, p.18.

8. See Leon Plantinga: ‘The piano and the nineteenth century,’ in Nineteenth century piano music, ed. R. Larry Todd (New York, 1990).

9. Janet Ritterman: ‘Piano music and the public concert, 1800-1850’, in The Cambridge companion to Chopin, ed. Jim Samson (Cambridge, 1992), p. 13.

10. See Bart van Oort: ‘Haydn and the English classical style ‘, in Early Music 28/1 (2000), pp.73-89.

11. Ritterman: ‘Piano music and the public concert’, p.18.

12. ibid, p.20.

13. ibid, p.20.

14. Gerig: Famous pianists, p.131.

15. Walker: Liszt, vol.1, p.233.

16. See Walker: Lisct, vol.1, pp. 2 3 2-4 3, for background on Thalberg and his association with Liszt. A reassessment of Thalberg’s significance is offered by E. Douglas Bomberger: ‘The Thalberg effect: playing the violin on the piano’, in Music Quarterly 75/2 (1991), pp. 198-208.

17. From his Complete theoretical and practical piano forte school, published in 1839.

18. For example, with English and French pianos from 1800 to 1860 the weight of the hammer doubled, the required touch to produce a tone increased from 34 to 80 grams, and the touch depth deepened from 7.5 to 10mm. See ‘Pianoforte, §1: history of the instrument’, in the New Grove.

19. See Bart van Oort’s article ‘Haydn and the English classical piano style’.

20. See van Oort: ‘Haydn and the English classical piano style’, p.78.

21. Taken from Hummel’s Elementary instructions (Weimar, 1827).

22. Robert Winter: ‘Keyboards’, in Performance practice: music after 1600, ed. H. Brown & S. Sadie (Basingstoke, 1989), p.367.

23. These depictions can all be found in Ernst Burger’s Franz Liszt: a chronicle of his life in pictures and documents, trans. S. Spencer (New Jersey, 1989).

24. Auguste Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue: a diary of Franz Liszt as a teacher, 1831-32’, in The Liszt studies: essential selections from the original 12-volume set of technical studies for the piano, selected, ed. and trans. Elyse Mach (New York, 1973), p.xii.

25. From Signale für die musikalische Welt 2 ( 1844), trans. in Michael Saffle: Liszt in Germany, 28400 -1845: a study in sources and documents and the history of reception, Franz Liszt Studies Series no.2 (New York, 1994), p.169.

26. Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue’, p.xii.

27. Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue’,p.xvii.

28. Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue’, p.xvii.

29. Cited in Gerig: Famous pianists, p. 131.

30. Kalkbrenner’s reliance on the wrist was astutely criticised by Chopin (see n.48).

31. For example, Reginald Gerig writes that Liszt ‘encountered an important moment of truth when he heard Paganini in Paris in April of 1832. He was never the same again, as he determined to accomplish at the piano no less than Paganini had on the violin’ (Observations on Franz Liszt’s piano technique’, p.7).

32. Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue ‘, p.xix.

33. This portion of the letter has been reproduced many times, such as in Walker: Liszt, vol.1, pp.173-74.

34. Boissier: ‘Liszt pedagogue’, p.xvii.

35. The precise nature of the influence of Paganini upon Liszt is questioned by Eleanor Perényi in her Liszt: the artist as romantic hero (Boston, 1974). She prefaces her discussion of Paganini with the vexed remark: ‘That Liszt was “the Paganini of the piano” is a legend I despair of laying to rest but it is worth a try’ (p.52). Perényi considers that the violinist’s impact has been greatly exaggerated; but here it is only the specific question of Liszt’s technical development that is of concern.

36. For an examination of the influence of Paganini upon Liszt’s piano writing, see Alan Walker’s entry on ‘Liszt and the piano’ in the New Grove, vol. 14, pp.765-67. There is clearly a symbiotic relationship between keyboard figuration and the mechanical technique required to play it, the question is this: did these new figurations require Liszt to relearn what he had already obtained? Many of the figurations he devised make use of interlocking or alternating hands, something his ‘wrist’ technique would have been entirely suited to.

37. From Liszt’s An artist’s journey: lettres d’un bachelier es musique, 1835-1841, trans. and annot. Charles Suttoni (Chicago, 1989), p.67.

38. Letter no.62, from Liszt’s Selected letters, trans. and ed. Adrian Williams (Oxford, 1998), p. 78.

39. Amy Fay: Music-study in Germany (Toronto, 1965).

40. Fay: Music-study in Germany, pp.288-89.

41. Fay: Music-study in Germany, p.223.

42. Fay: Music-study in Germany, p.291.

43. Quoted in Adrian Williams: Portrait of Liszt: by himself and his contemporaries (Oxford, 1990), p.462.

44. Quoted in Ott: Lisztian keyboard energy, p.127.

45. Emil F. Smidak: Isaak-Ignaz Moscheles (Hampshire, 1989), p.124.

46. Smidak, p. 170.

47. Reproduced in Burger’s Franz Liszt, p.96.

48. There is, of course, the question of Fryderyk Chopin. Chopin stands out as a truly revolutionary figure in the development of pianism. His writings show an awareness of the need for a more than just fingers-and-wrist technique. In his sketches for a piano method, he wrote: ‘It is important to make use of the fingers and no less so the employ the rest of the hand, wrist, forearm and arm. To attempt to play entirely from the wrist, as Kalkbrenner advocates, is incorrect.’ Cited in Alfred Cortot’s In search of Chopin, trans. by Cyril & Rena Clarke (London, 1951), p.46.

49. Quoted in Gerig: Famous pianists, p.238.

50. Williams: Portrait of Liszt, p.291. The student Mason heard this from was either Klindworth or Pruckner.

51. Interview with Hariette Brower, recorded in Brewer’s Piano mastery: talks with master pianists and teachers (New York, 1915), pp.258-59.

52. Pauer was a noted pianist with an interest in historical pianos.

53. ‘Pianoforte-playing’, in A dictionary of music and musicians, ed. George Grove (London, 1889), vol.2, p.741.

54. Quoted in Gerig: Famous pianists, pp.333-34.

55. Schonberg: The great pianists, p.180.

56. Lisztian keyboard energy, p.155.

57. From The Musician, 1911 (quoted in Gerig: Famous pianists, p.196).

58. Kenneth Hamilton: ‘The virtuoso tradition’, in The Cambridge companion to the piano, ed. David Rowland (Cambridge, 1998), pp.71-72.

59. Charles Rosen: The romantic generation (Cambridge, 1995), p.496.

Alan Davison lectures in the music department of the University of Otago.

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