Liszt was a bad composer

Clara Schumann by Herbert Rose Barraud, 1890

On 31st July 1886, the world lost the extraordinary talent of Franz Liszt, the pioneering Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist. Liszt redefined music with his innovative symphonic poems and transformative piano compositions, pushing the boundaries of technique and reshaping Romantic piano music, and his contributions to music education left an enduring impact. However, not everyone was captivated by Liszt’s brilliance. One notable dissenting voice was that of fellow musician Clara Schumann, who, the day after his death, recorded her mixed feelings in her diary.

The Diary Entry

Again, an anyway rare person carried to his grave! How sad not to be able to grieve over this one out of the fullness of the heart. All the glitter around him obfuscates the image of the artist and the human being. He was an eminent virtuoso, but a dangerous example for the young. Almost all newer pianists have imitated him, though they lacked his esprit, his genius, and his charm, therefore they become only great technicians and freaks….

Apart from this, Liszt was a bad composer—and harmful to many, though not to the same extent, since his compositions lack the virtues he possessed as a performer; they are trivial, boring, and will surely vanish completely from the world after his death. He always beguiled people through his graciousness and brilliance, so that they performed his works. As a young man he was extremely captivating, but later so much coquetry blended with his scintillating charm that I often found him repellent.

Further Reading

As far as I’m aware, Clara Schumann’s diaries have never been published in full—in English, at least. But a number of entries do feature in Concerto, the Glowing Story of Clara Schumann, a book by Bertita Harding that was published in 1961. There is also The Marriage Diaries of Robert & Clara Schumann, in which the Schumanns take turns writing diary entries during the first few years of their marriage. A curious book that I’ll be featuring later on in the year.


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