Although there were a surprising number of internationally recognised artists even celebrated throughout Europe before the 19th century (it is sufficient to think of the pampered primadonnas and castrati of Baroque opera), the appearance of the first stars in the modern sense can in all likelihood be linked to Romanticism, to the cult of the personality that flourished at that time, to civil openness and the rise of the press. Child prodigies or instrumental virtuosi quickly acquired a fame that spread beyond the borders of their own country, and Franz Liszt was not only one of the most stormily celebrated and admired of these musical stars, but was also the artist with the longest career who lived and created in the spotlight of attention throughout his long life. From the young adolescent prodigy pianist of Parisian salons, he became a representative figure perfectly meeting the requirements of the age - and far from merely in attractive external appearances or in the romantic aspects of his private life. Because, although the blonde hair that later became snow white, the flamboyant appearance and the retinue of lovelorn female admirers that Liszt attracted even in old age were all part of the artist's trademark, his collegial spirit and sense of responsibility, his generosity and sense of artistic mission fully justified the impression made by his outward appearance and at times rather theatrical gestures.
"Did you see Liszt? He is still the same old boy, even more handsome than ever! What power! What emotions! What enchanting charm, what generosity!" - wrote one of his followers in the 1860s, when he was already well beyond his virtuoso years, and we find all of Liszt's attractive qualities in this enthusiastic outburst. Not only the charm but also the generosity, for it would be hard to find another musician in the history of music more selfless and ready to help than Liszt. On countless occasions he placed his popularity in the service of his fellow musicians and various noble causes. Liszt, who was at first incomparably better known and acclaimed than Richard Wagner, not only conducted the compositions of his future son-in-law, but also disseminated the art of his brilliant colleague through a whole series of piano transcriptions. Moreover, his transcriptions and reminiscences also popularised composers with whom he had neither personal relations nor any particular artistic affinity - it is sufficient here to think of his inspired paraphrases of Verdi operas. But such greats of musical history aspiring for patronage - and of greatly differing character - as Anton Bruckner or Bedrich Smetana also enjoyed Liszt's selflessness. And in addition to his host of charity concerts in Hungary, the Beethoven monuments in Bonn and Vienna owe their existence to a considerable degree to the efforts made by Franz Liszt.
Liszt, who retained his reputation and international prestige far beyond the heroic period of Romanticism, remained in the spotlight of attention practically up to the moment of his death, and the city of Pest and the young Academy of Music, as well as Weimar and even Bayreuth could benefit from the interest shown in his person. "His arrival was always a celebration for Budapest," wrote a memoirist, but the elderly Liszt was also feted and given a princely reception elsewhere: in 1872, on the 50th anniversary of his career his admirers organised a three-day celebration for him in our capital and on his 70th birthday he was greeted with a whole series of concerts in Rome. In the year of his death, on his last concert tour, Queen Victoria received him in Windsor Castle so that she could delight in the playing of the elderly master.
Liszt, the celebrity received many honours in his life, while today statues and public spaces throughout Europe preserve his memory. And not only in Europe, indeed not only on our planet: the name of the bright star of the 19th century is preserved in a crater on Mercury and a small planet rotating on a course in the zone between Mars and Jupiter has been named: 3910 Liszt.
In the Liszt Year celebrating the bicentennial of the composer's birth a whole series of events in Hungary and abroad will evoke the still living memory of the musician who impressed the whole of 19th century Europe. The varied programmes are grouped around characteristic aspects of the imposing figure and artistic activity of Franz Liszt. They will present the man who cultivated his Hungarian identity but was at home everywhere as a cultivated citizen of the world, the religious artist who planned the renewal of Catholic church music, the piano virtuoso celebrated throughout the world, the music teacher whose influence is still felt through his establishment of the Academy of Music and his students, and last but not least the great star with his crowds of fans and souvenir hunters.