Chopin and Liszt are two of the greatest romanticists in musical history. But their work also ventures out of the aesthetics of the romantic style of the nineteenth century. Both composers look to the future and the new horizons of musical development. Liszt was born one year later than Chopin, but his artistic life was much longer than that of the Polish „poet of piano“, whose works he admired his whole life. Liszt had a long career and left us with a great artistic treasure of about 1200 works. In following the development of his work it can be noted that it encompasses a large range of styles – following the traditions of the eighteenth century up to the discovery of the new styles which became precursors of the music of the XX century.
Around 1830 Liszt, as well as Chopin created a new style of performance for the piano, it was a revolution at the time and he became the “great master of piano” because of it. He discovered previously unexplored possibilities of piano performance by using new means of expression. Liszt, the composer and pianist presented the virtuosic style of performing which consisted of many different elements – he combined extremely difficult passages, octaves and full chords with the “perles” technique.
Liszt did not hesitate in adding special effects in his transcriptions, paraphrases and fantasies on the themes of other composers. During his life he supported many composers of his time and absorbed their ideas with great curiosity. In his diaries and letters he talks a lot about the people who inspired and affected him, one person in particular being Chopin. Throughout his whole life Liszt performed music by Paganini, Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, Rossini and Wagner to give audiences a chance to hear their music and he made a large amount of transcriptions of these works. By working on these transcriptions for piano Liszt often changed the composer’s ideas according to his own understanding of the music. After some years Liszt realized how important it was to keep the original composers’ intentions and refused to make any alterations to the score. He even reworked many of his earlier transcriptions, for example, Beethoven’s Symphonies, to give the works their original musical sense back, without using any decorations – just following the composer’s wish. The “Tannhäuser” transcription is one the most impressive examples of following Wagner’s score.
The piano works of Liszt’s latter years are completely different to all his other works. These short pieces, often bordering towards the atonal, each with individual names (Lugubre gondola, Nuages gris, Bagatelle sans tonalite, Hungarian Rhapsody No 17) signify the paving of the way to impressionism. More courageous than his colleagues he recognized the musical reality of the twentieth century. Liszt wished that future generations would associate his name specifically with these pieces as only they (in his own words) reflect his true musical views.