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Franz Liszt, Life of Chopin

Translated by Martha Walker Cook
(Boston: Oliver Ditson, [1863?])

Mudd Library

Franz Liszt Life of Chopin

  Franz Liszt (1811–1886) and Chopin both lived in Paris in the 1830s, so they knew each other well, although they were not close friends. The two composer-pianists differed sharply in their personalities, musical styles, and career paths, but Liszt deeply admired Chopin’s music, and its influence appears from time to time in his own compositions. Immediately after Chopin’s death in 1849, Liszt decided to write a book about his lost colleague. He began the project by sending a biographical questionnaire to Chopin’s sister, but she chose not to answer it, apparently offended either by its haste (her brother had been dead for only a few weeks) or by its nosiness. Working with the assistance of his mistress, Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein (who was Polish herself), Liszt managed to complete the book nonetheless, although it contains more personal ruminations than biographical details. The extent of the Princess’s contribution has been much debated; some scholars attribute the book chiefly to her, but Liszt’s principal biographer, Alan Walker, holds that the first edition, which was serialized in 1851 and published in 1852, was mainly Liszt’s work, while the second (1879) was chiefly hers. Walker criticizes the Princess for the long-winded and pseudo-intellectual style of the second edition. Regardless of who is to blame, those faults can also be found in the English translation of the first edition by Martha Walker Cook (1806–1874), published in 1863, which is displayed here.

Liszt was born the year after Chopin, so the Gilmore Music Library will celebrate his bicentenary with an exhibit in 2011.