Franz Liszt Florilegium

An anthology of quotations about Liszt and his world
with caricatures by William D. Bramhall, Jr.
c. used with permission

    From the over thirty books I have read about the life and work of Franz Liszt (see below) I have gathered numerous quotes about the man, his playing, his loves and associates throughout his long career spanning most of the 19th century. Here are a few from an ever-expanding list:

    On Liszt's playing.

    Chopin: "I should like to rob him of his way of rendering my own Etudes."

    Mendelssohn: "I have heard no performer whose musical feelings, like Liszt's, extended to the very tips of his fingers."

    Saint-Saëns:  on his hearing Liszt play Saint Francis of Paula Walking on the Waters:
    "Never again will there be seen or heard anything equal to it."

    Anton Rubenstein at the height of his career:  "In comparison with Liszt, all other pianists are children."

    Charles Hallé: "Chopin carried you away with him into a dreamland, in which you would have liked to dwell for ever.  Liszt was all sunshine and dazzling splendour, subjugating his hearers with a power that none could withstand... never harsh, never suggesting thumping."

    Ernest Legouvé the Revue et gazette musicale: "Liszt performed marvels of power,  of precision, and of soul! The translation was as beautiful as the poem.. We have heard nothing greater."

    Princess Cristina Belgiojoso (contrasting Liszt with his rival, Sigmund Thalberg): "There is only one Thalberg in Paris, but there is only one Liszt in the world."

    Countess Marie d'Agoult, Liszt's mistress and mother of his three children:  "Thalberg is the first pianist in the world.  Liszt the only one."

    Mendelssohn:  "I spend almost all my time with Liszt.  How marvelous is his playing! Now daring and wild, and again so delicate and ethereal that it surpasses anything I ever heard...Every day Liszt appears greater to me. Today he played again in such a way that we all trembled with emotion and delight."

    Clara Schumann:  "We have heard Liszt. He can be compared to no other virtuoso.  He is the only one of his kind."
"When I heard Liszt for the first time...I was overwhelmed and sobbed aloud, it so shook me... how  heavenly it is when he plays tenderly."

    Clara Schumann in 1851, after hearing Liszt play some of his Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses:  "He masters the piano like a demon (I can't put it any other way...) but oh, his compositions, they were simply too dreadful." (Adrien Williams, op.cit. notes that "For obtuse, almost willful, incomprehension of music which lay outside a strictly limited range, the narrow, carping Madame Schumann can have been surpassed by few."  The same lady called Berlioz Romeo and Juliette symphony "infernal, devilish music" and Wagner's Tristan and Isolde "the most repulsive thing I ever saw or heard."

    William Mason, American pianist and composer: "He was the greatest pianist of the nineteenth epoch-making genius."

    Brahms:  "He who has not heard Liszt play really cannot speak on the subject. He leads the way, and then, a long way behind, there is no one else." (Even so, Brahms is said to have fallen asleep while Liszt played his mighty sonata- hard to imagine. Liszt was not pleased.)

    Geroge Sand: "When Franz plays the piano ...I am soothed. All my pains are translated into poetry.  All my instincts are elevated. It is above all the chord of generosity that must be made to vibrate."


(Johannes Brahms)

    Pauer on Liszt: "The King of Pianists is looked upon and honored by all players as the unsurpassable ideal of an artist."

    Clara Schumann:  "My own playing seems so boring and haphazard to me now. I've almost lost the inclination to go on tour again. After hearing and seeing Liszt's bravura, I feel like a student."  "Sometimes you think it's a spirit sitting there at the piano."

    Robert Schumann (1840); "I have never found any artist, except Paganini, to possess, in so high a degree as Liszt, this power of subjugating, elevating, and leading the public...We are overwhelmed by a flood of tones and feelings.  It is an instantaneous variety of wildness, tenderness, boldness, and airy grace;  the instrument glows under the hands of its master.... But he must be heard - and also seen;  for if Liszt played behind the scenes, a great deal of the poetry of his playing would be lost."


(Robert Schumann)

Wagner to Liszt:  "I am now convinced that you are the greatest musician of all times."

(Richard Wagner)

    Arthur Hedley: "Liszt had what Chopin lacked: electric energy and unlimited physical resources."

On Liszt's Character.

    Reisenauer (a pupil of Liszt): "I consider Liszt the greatest man I have ever met- a man with mental grasp, splendid disposition and glorious genius.  Liszt`s personality can only be expressed by one word:  colossal."

    Sitwell: "The unselfishness and the true humility of his life are without parallel."

    Wilhelm Kukh, Czech pianist:  "His personality was an extraordinary one. On all subjects an excellent conversationalist, he was extremely witty, possessing a keen sense of humour; his manners were, as all who knew him can testify, most fascinating;  while his literary ability was indeed remarkable.  And when I come to speak of his generosity, words altogether fail me to indicate that striking phase of his genial and kindly nature. Not only did Liszt give concerts and recitals promiscuously in the cause of suffering and distress, benefiting institutions in whatever town he found himself, but out of his pocket he assisted all who appealed to him to the fullest extent of the means at his disposal."

    Mendelssohn: Liszt is "fundamentally a good, warm-hearted man and an admirable artist."

    Burnand: "I truly believe that there never was a human being more revered and loved by those who knew him than Franz Liszt was... a perfect gentleman and a kind-hearted Christian."

    Caroline Bozier (1835) on Liszt's care  for his brilliant protégé, Hermann Cohen, for whom Liszt had assumed responsibility for his "talents and morality":  "Then a little fellow of thirteen arrived in search of Liszt - the pupil of whom he is so fond. How kind and fatherly he is toward this child; it is touching to see how he behaves with him.  The child idolizes him, hardly taking his eyes off him."  (cf. my essay on Hermann Cohen elsewhere on this web site.)

    Alan Walker: "His lifelong habit of repaying his artistic debts, and in public too, places him in a category of composers in which he is almost unique"

    Fanny Lewald: "When he looked about him, he seemed to appear as a man to whom the world belonged;  and who was born to this role, so that it suited him naturally. His head possessed so much nobility that he ..had as much influence upon sculpture as did the classical beauty of the Countess d'Agoult."

    Adam Liszt in his diary: "From a child Franz had a strong religious bias and his intense artistic feeling was blended with a sincere and child-like piety."

    George Sand: "a powerful artist, sublime in the great things, always superior in the small ones, yet sad, and troubled by a secret wound."

    Heinrich Heine: "His insatiable longing for Light and the Deity is ever praiseworthy; it is a sign of a religious nature and a love of holiness."

    Nadine Helbig:  "Liszt was devout through and through, devout to the point of ecstasy.  I was often granted the privilege of seeing him pray, either in the old, venerable, and silent church of San Cosimo e Damiano, or in the Chiesa dell' Anima, either in the perfect stillness of a deserted sanctuary or during a wonderful performance of Palestrina masses.  He was no longer aware of earthly matters, but seems transfigured."

    Karl Linzen, who had been an altar boy in Weimar: "From his seat Liszt would recite the words of the Latin liturgy in such a loud voice that it seemed to be he who was celebrating mass."

    Janos Dunkl, music publisher: In Hungary, "when we went for a stroll, we came to a tiny chapel in front of which some peasants were praying.  To my no small astonishment, the elegant Liszt went down on his knees among them in the open, dirty street, not rising until he had offered a fervent prayer.  I repeatedly experienced this sort of thing with him..."  Another time upon entering St. Paul's church in Hungary... "It was a dreadfully rainy day and the floor of the church had become extremely wet and dirty from the mud that had been brought in.  None the less, when we entered Liszt immediately sank to his knees, thinking neither of his smart clothes nor of anything else."  (1846)

Personages in Liszt's life.

  The Countess Marie d'Agoult: Liszt's mistress and mother of his three children:   pen name: Daniel Stern;
nickname:Arabella.  She later turned against Liszt and trashed him in one of her novels. He described her as "a beautiful woman with masses of fair hair, but in disposition, six feet of snow on twenty feet of lava."

    George Sand  1804-1872 (maiden name: Amadine Aurore Lucile Dupin; married name: Madame Casimir Dudevant; nickname: Lélia, after a character in one of her novels) mistress of Chopin and others.

    Descriptions of George Sand:

        Sand's own description of herself:: "You would drink the blood of your children from the skull of your best friend, and not feel so much as a stomach ache."

    Marie d'Agoult (Daniel Stern) on George Sand: "I have recognized how childish it was of me to have believed (and this thought often filled me with sadness) that she alone could give Liszt's life everything necessary, that I was an unhappy barrier between two destinies made to fuse wiyh, and complete, each other."

    George Sand on Abbé  Lamennais:  "You alone have had the courage, in the midst of such great peril, to articulate the truth."

        Alfred de Musset, dramatist and one of Sand's lovers: one finds a provocative comment in Venice and the Veneto concerning  his romp with Madame Sand in Room 10 of the famous Hotel Danieli: "...when de Musset fell ill after a surfeit of orgies, Sand ran off with his Venetian doctor."

        Jules Sandeau, another of her lovers whose name she used for her nom de plume,commenting on Madame Sand:   "She is a walking graveyard."

        Baudelaire on Madame Sand:  "There is in her moral ideas about as much depth, as much sensibility, as you would find in a concierge or a kept woman...That some people can become infatuated with such a latrine is sufficient proof of the abyss into which humanity in this century has sunk...She has good reasons for wishing to suppress hell."

        Nietzsche on Madame Sand:  Her oevrflowing, undisciplined writing was evidence of her incapacity to reason logically. He likened her to Wagner.  She a a prolific, ink-yielding cow, an example of "lactea ubertas" in Nietzsche's words a Milchkuh (a lactating cow).

        Tutgenev: "What a man shewas, and what a good woman."

        Franz Liszt on George Sand:  "Madame Sand would catch a butterfly, cage it, and feed it with herbs and flowers.  That was the period of love. Then she put a pin through it and it struggled, for it was always she who broke off first.  Afterwards she vivisected it and prepared it for her collection of heroes for her novels. In was trading in souls who had given themselves to her that finally made me sicken of her friendship." Again, "She has warmth soley in the works of her imagination, and an utterly cold heart."

        Sand on marruage:  "Marriage if fine for lovers, and salutaryfor saints.  Aside from saints and lovers, there is a crowd of the ordinary-minded and peaceful-hearted who do not know how to love and who cannot attain sanctity."

        George Sand's last words:  "Adieu, adieu, I am dying.  Leave greenness...."

        Richard Wagner to his wife "Minna" (Christine Wilhelmine Planer 1809-1866): "O my Life, don't forget, don't betray me ever, cling to me faithfully, remain my Minna, and if you ever felt love, so give it all to me and never let me share it with anyone else.  Never forget that my whole heart is yours.  Do you hear? Do you hear? Don't ever betray me."

    Comment: It was actually Wagner who betrayed  poor Minna along with his friends, Liszt and Hans von Bülow.  Here's the scandal of the century: The conductor Hans von Bülow (1830-1894) was married to Liszt`s daughter, Cosima (1837-1930).  While he was still married to Minna Wagner sired a daughter by Cosima. She was named Isolde (born April 1865-1919). Hans, who must be considered the cuckold husband of the century, did not realize Isolde was not his despite her Wagnerian name.  Minna died in January 1866 and by February 1867, lo and behold,  Cosima delivered another daughter to Wagner, Eva (1867-1942) and still poor Von Bülow did not get it. Finally Cosima gave birth in June 1869 to a third child by Wagner and named him Siegfried (1869-1939). One would have thought with such Wagnerian names for the children Hans would have caught on sooner. Eventually Cosima and Hans were divorced- something that broke Liszt's heart. She became a Protestant and married Wagner. It took a long time for there to be reconciliation. Even today the Wagner family is plagued with infighting.

Quotes of personages in Liszt's life.

    Frederick Chopin of his beloved: "What bitterness when the oppressed heart is not able to unburden itself in the heart of another."

(Frédéric Chopin)

   Victor Hugo to Adele: "When I have passed a few moments beside you I feel much better.  There is something in your very glance, so noble and so generous, that seems to exalt me.  When your eyes meet mine, it is as if your soul passed into me.  And then, my beloved Adele, I feel capable of accomplishiong anything."

    George Eliot, novelist, on Liszt:  "Genius, benevolence, and tenderness beam from his whole countenance, and his manners    are  in perfect harmony with it...  For the first time in my life I beheld real inspiration."

    Countess Marie d'Agoult, mother of Liszt's children, long after they had parted:  "Inexpressible charm:  It is still him and him alone who makes me feel the mystery of life.  With him gone, I sense the emptiness around me and weep."

    Abbé de Lamennais on the two lovers: "We made up, we embraced; since then we have been mortal enemies."
(cf. my essay on the Abbé Lamennais "Stoning the Prophets" elsewhere on this web site)


(Abbé de Lamennais)

    Alain: "Desire is far inferior to love, and, maybe, does not even point the way to it."

    Adam Liszt to his son, Franz: "Je crains pour toi les femmes."  (I fear women in your life)

   George  Sand: "To marry without love is to serve a life sentence in the galleys."

   George Sand to Flaubert: "You should let the wind stir your strings a little."

   George Sand on the prospect of war between France and Prussia:  "Let us love one another, let us not love war.  It is not a question of national honor, but a silly, an odious need to experiment with guns, a game of princes.  I am very sad, and this time my old patriotism - my passion for the drum - will not awaken.... The whole world is going mad."

    André Maurois: "Those who live in the shadows and those who live in the sun have never been able to get along."

    In a biography of violin virtuoso, Joseph Joachim, we read: "Joachim cherishes the memory of Liszt's wonderful playing, particulary the manner in which he accompanied the finale of the (Mendelssohn) concerto, all the time holding a lighted cigar between the first and middle fingers of his right hand."

    Flaubert, French novelist:  "Man will always be of the opinion that the one serious thing in life is sexual enjoyment.  Woman, for all the members of my sex,  is a groined archway opening on the infinite."

    Sand to Flaubert: "An act in which there is neither liberty nor reciprocity is an offense against the sanctity of nature,."

    Rousselot (on Franz and Marie d'Agoult):  "A woman may well tell a man that she will never be his mistress, but she has all but surrendered if she allows him to write her in secret."

    Prince Karl Alexander, one of Liszt's patrons: "He who rests rusts."

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet: In 1869 Longfellow was presented to Liszt by the artist G.P.A. Healy at the monastery where Liszt was staying. As Liszt approached in the darkened room, holding aloft a candle to see his way, Longfellow exclaimed under his breath: "Mr. Healy, you must paint that for me." The artist captured the moment and the painting (see below) now hangs in the Longfellow Museum.

  -------Quotes from Franz Liszt.


(Franz Liszt)

    To Carl Reinecke, composer-conductor, after he had finished playing Chopin's Etude in E major, Op. 10, Liszt said rather sadly, "I would give four years of my life to have written those four pages." (1848)

    To Any Fay, an American pupil:  "Did you ever hear me do a storm? No? Ah, you ought to hear me do a storm. Storms are my métier- storms are my forte."

    To Amy Fay: "Don't imitate anyone.  Keep yourself true to yourself. Cultivate your own individuality."

    "Genius is the agency by which the supernatural is revealed to man."

    To a young composer:  "You must smoke- for every good musician is a smoker...Whoever travels with me must also put up with smoking my bad cigars. (1850)

    On the terrible music in his parish church in Weimar: "The music in our Catholic church, and in particular the organist, jangled my nerves so much on Palm Sunday that I wondered whether to go to church at Easter- feeling quite incapable of turning my thoughts to God during an hour of such discordance." (1851)

    Upon parting from Countess Marie d'Agoult, with a kiss on the forehead and what he termed "the language of peasants:  "God bless you, and may you wish me no harm."

    "I wish to be buried simply, without pomp, and if possible at night.  May light everlasting illumine my soul." And elsewhere (1869) "Let there be no pomp, no music, no procession in my honor, no superfluous illuminations, or any kind of oration.  Let my body be buried, not in a church, but in some cemetery, and let it not be removed from that place to any other."

    Quoting an ancient saying: "Whatever the decision that you reach, whether to marry or remain single, it is certain that you will always regret it."

    "My daily prayer:  O veritas Deus, fac me unum tecum in perpetua caritate."  O God of Truth, make me one with you in endless love.

    "Lorsque je joue c'est toujours pour la gallerie."  When I play it's always for the folks in the gallery.

    "One ought to not weep for the dead, but rejoice with the living."

    "I am sure that for many years I never practiced less than ten hours a day."

    Paraphrasing Goethe: "Among all the possessions on earth, a real heart is the rarest, and scarcely two exist among thousands."

    To William Mason in New York: "The news which reaches me from time to time about musical matters in America is generally favorable to the cause of the progress of contemporary Art which I hold it as an honor to serve and sustain.  It seems that among you the caviling and blunders and stupidities of a criticism adulterated by ignorance, envy and venality exercise less influence than in the old continent. I congratulate you on this."

    Regarding his failed efforts at marriage with the Princess von Wittgenstein Liszt faced the situation with "santa indifferenza" holy indifference.

    On the Marseillaise:  "a blood-thirsty hymn." On the contrary he desired a "social upheaval whose basic principle is love and whose single solution is only possible through love."

    Liszt regarded the role of the artist as "the bearer of the beautiful" with an analogy to a kind of priesthood.

    "Religion and music must form an alliance, for the survival of piety and religious life.  This music is not to serve any special creed, but to be founded on human nature- at once dramatic and holy, grand and simple,  fiery and restful."

    To Princess Carolyn and her daughter, Marie: "Thank you, my sweethearts, for having evoked good St. Francis to intercede so much for me this day.  When I arose I went to the nearby Franciscan Church and joined in spirit with you both, at the foot of the Cross."

    In 1858 he writes of "the circle of truth by which our Holy Mother the Church gives us our true liberty in making us God's prisoners and co-inheritors of Jesus Christ."

    A favorite passage from Psalm 39: "With expectation I have awaited upon the Lord, and He was attentive to me."

    To Marie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, Princess Carolyn's daughter, Liszt wrote in 1870:  "So let us not worry, and look instead as it has been taught us to do, as the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, keeping complete faith in Our Father's goodness."

    To Princess Carolyn, Liszt's former mistress whom he had hoped to marry, writing  in 1879: "When I took Minor Orders at the Vatican in 1865, at the age of 54, I was merely following, out of simplicity and uprightness of heart, my youthful penchant for Catholicism.  If my early fervor had not been tempered by my good mother and my confessor, Abbé Bardin, it might have well led me to the seminary in 1830 and later on to the priesthood."

    "Supreme serenity still remains the Ideal of great Art.  The shapes and transitory forms of life are but stages toward this Ideal, which Christ's religion illuminates with His divine light." (1880)

    To his uncle, Edward Liszt: "Remain true to yourself...Don't ever try to be or become something... but work diligently and with perseverance to be and to become someone .... learn not to give ear to any one but your conscience and your God."

    On his Missa Solemnis:  "I  did not compose my work as one might put on a church vestment... rather it sprung from the truly fervent faith of my heart, such as I have felt it since my childhood- Genitum non factum- (begotten, not made) and therefore I can truly say that my mass has been more prayed than composed."

    To Princess Caroline:  "In spite of transgressions and errors  I have committed, and for which I feel sincere repentance and contrition, the holy light of the Cross has never been entirely withdrawn from me." (1860)

    To Jessie Laussot who had just lost her daughter: : "The melancholy familiarity with death  that is perforce  acquired during these latter years does  not in the least weaken the grief which we feel when our dear ones leave this earth.  If at the sight of the open grave I thrust back despair and blasphemy, it is that I may weep more freely, and that neither life nor death shall be able to separate me from the communion of love.  May her soul live forever in the fulness of the light and peace of God." (1863)

(Liszt late in life. Photo by Paul Nadar)

    Regarding his own music:  "I usually dissuade my friends from encumbering concert programs with my compositions.  For the little they have to lose they will not lose in waiting.  Let us then administer them in homeopathic doses- and rarely." (1868) And again (1869): "I have judiciously made up my mind not to trouble myself about my compositions any further than the writing of them.  Supposing that they have any value it will always be found out soon enough either during my life or afterwards... I can wait."

    To Camille Saint-Saëns commenting on his friends new mass: "It is like a magnificent Gothic cathedral in which Bach would conduct his orchestra."  He also admonishes Saint-Saëns to keep the music short so that the celebrant would not have to "remain standing motionless at the altar... Do you not expose him to commit the sin of impatience directly after he has said the Confiteor." i.e. having just finished confessing his sins.


    (Camille  Saint-Saëns)

    "Bach is the Saint Thomas Aquinas of music."

Longfellow visits Liszt in Rome (1869)

Church of Ara Coeli in Rome where Liszt conducted his works

Books I have read and sources of the quotes above.  (Outstanding books are marked with an *)

    Liszt, Composer and His Piano Works by Herbert Westerby.  Reeves, 1936.

    Franz Liszt, The Man of Love by De Pourtales.  Butterworth, 1927.

    Lelia: The Life of George Sand by André Maurois.  Harper, 1953.

    Franz Liszt: The Man and the Musician by Ronald Taylor.  Grafton Books, 1986.

    Liszt by Anthony Wilkinson.  MacMillan, 1975.

    * Franz Liszt: The Man and His Music, Alan Walker, editor.  Taplinger, 1970.

    The Letters of Franz Liszt to Marie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Harvard University Press, 1953.

    Cosima Wagner  by Alice Hunt Sokoloff. Dodd, Meade & Co., 1969.

    Letters of Franz Liszt to Olga von Meyendorff 1871-1886. Dumbarton Oaks, 1979.

    Liszt and Life by Arthur Freidheim.  Taplinger, 1961.

    The Music of Liszt by Sir Humphrey Searle.  Dover, 1966.

    Liszt by Sachererell Sitwell.  Dover

    * Liszt: The Virtuoso Years. Vol 1 by Alan Walker.  Knopf, 1983.

    * Liszt: the Weimar Years   Vol. 2 by Alan Walker. Knopf, 1989.

    * Liszt: the Final Years  Vol 3 by Alan Walker. Knopf, 1996.

    * The Death of Franz Liszt: Based of the Unpublished Diary of His Pupil Lina Schmalhausen.
        Introduced, annotated and edited by Alan Walker.  Cornell University Press, 2002.

    Letters of Franz Liszt, Ed. La Mara. Haskell House, 1968.

    Liszt- the Artist as Romantic Hero by Eleanor Perenyi.  Little, Brown, 1974.

    Music Study in Germany by Amy Fay (1885). Dover,1965.

    Liszt: Composer and His Piano Works by Herbert Westerby.  Reeves, 1936.

    The Galley Slaves of Love  by Charlotte Haldane.  Harveill Press, 1957.

    Hungarian Rhapsody by Rousselot.  G.P. Putnam, 1960.

    * Portrait of Franz Liszt by Adrian Williams. Clarendon Press, 1990.

    * Liszt by Derek Watson.  Schirmer, 1989.

    Liszt and His Country by Dezso Legany.  Corvina Kiado, 1986.

    * Franz Liszt: Eine Lebenschronik in Bildern und Dokumenten by Burger (1986).  English version: Princeton U. Press,

    Remembering Franz Liszt. Limelight Editions, 1986.

    My Memories of Liszt by Alexander Siloti

    Life and Liszt by Arthur Friedheim

    Music Thoughts and Afterthoughts by Alfred Brendel.  Farrar, Straus, Girouz, 1990.

    Virtuoso by Harvey Sachs. Thames and Hudson, 1982.

    Franz Liszt by Victor Seroff.  Macmillan, 1966.

    An Artist's Journey by Franz Liszt (1835-1841). University of Chicago, 1989.

    Franz Liszt- Les Ténèbres et la Gloire by Rémy Stricker.  Gallimard, 1993.

    Liszt: My Traveling Circus Life by David Allsobrook. Southern Illinois U. Press, 1991.

    Revolution and Religion in the Music of Franz Liszt by Paul Merrick. Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    * Liszt, Carolyne and the Vatican - the story of a thwarted marriage by Alan Walker.  Pendragon, 1991.

    Cosima Wagner's Diaries. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994

    George Sand: A Woman's Life Writ Large, by Belinda  Jack Alfred A.  Knopf, 2000.

Photo credits:

    The American Organist,  July 1986.

    Courtesy National Park Service, Longfellow National Historic Site.  George Healy painter 1869.

    Drawings by William D. Bramhall, Jr.


An autograph letter of Liszt as well as the envelope in my possession  - both in his hand as well.   Mailed from Weimar to Madame Victor Lynen in Antwerp, Belgium, May 16, 1881.

Liszt often stayed with Monsieur and Madame Lynen when he visited Antwerp.  Mr. Lynen was a banker.