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The investigations of our guest Luís Lopes about the passage in Lisbon, in 1845, of the famous composer Franz Liszt, resulted in the article Liszt in Lisbon, in the Middle of Lisztomania. The venues where he played, the places he attended, the honour with which he was received, the pieces he performed and even the legacy of his presence, are in this magnificent text that the author very kindly shares in our series getLISBON invites.
Born in 1811, in a small town in Hungary (now Austrian territory), Ferenc (or Franz) Liszt soon began his relationship with Music and piano, an instrument he started playing at the age of 7 years old.
At 11, he was already giving his first public concert and in the same year he began taking composition lessons with Salieri.
At the age of 21, he met the celebrated Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini during a concert he gave in Paris and, from that time on, he decided to become a virtuoso instrumentalist himself. As such, he was the first to undertake a tour in the Iberian Peninsula, taking the opportunity to also raise funds to build a monument to Beethoven, in the city of Bonn.
The Arrival of Liszt in Lisbon
On January 15, 1845, in the midst of “Lisztomania” (1840-1848) that was spreading through Europe, the steamship “Montrose” arrived in Lisbon from Gibraltar (and with a stopover in Cadiz), with 19 passengers on board.
Among them was, none other than, Franz Liszt, accompanied by his secretary and confidant; the Italian baritone Giovanni Battista Ciabatti who would also sing in some concerts and Louis Boisselot, son of the famous piano manufacturer sponsoring this Iberian tour.
The virtuoso pianist came from a highly acclaimed tour in Spain (Madrid, Cordoba and Seville) and had the great desire to perform in Portugal and be awarded with the Order of Christ by Queen Maria II.
In his luggage, in addition to his reputation as the “greatest pianist of all times”, he brought a Boisselot & Fils grand piano, made in Marseille and the first that Portugal had seen and heard. And also two significant sheet music of his own, with a dedication, to offer to Portuguese sovereigns: a transcription for piano, with variations, of the “Marche Funèbre” of the opera “Dom Sébastien, roi de Portugal”, by Donizetti, for the queen; and the “Heroischer Marsch in ungarischem Styl” for the king consort, Fernando II (which was recently shown at the “Queen Maria II” Exhibition, at the Ajuda National Palace).Moreover, the offer to the queen could not have been more appropriate, as it is related with a “cult hero” from the History of Portugal, and opportune given that the premiere of that opera in São Carlos National Theatre was already scheduled for 3 months later!
Liszt at São Carlos Theatre
On the day of his arrival, and after checking in at the then luxurious Hotel de France, in Cais do Sodré, he went up Rua do Alecrim and went to São Carlos Theatre to watch the opera “Lucrezia Borgia”, also by Donizetti, with the Italo-Catalan prima-donna Giovanna Rossi-Caccia in the cast.
And it was in São Carlos Theatre that Liszt gave most of his recitals (eight out of the nine scheduled). Five of which were for personal benefit, two for Italian tenor Enrico Tamberlick and soprano Rossi-Caccia, both in the service of that theatre, and one charity recital for Asylo de Mendicidade (installed in the extinct Santo António dos Capuchos Convent). Benefit concerts were a current practice at the time among philanthropic artists and Liszt was one of them.
In one of these concerts, Liszt played, at his invitation, with the Portuguese pianist (of Anglo-Italian origin), born in Porto and 3 years younger, João Guilherme Daddi, presenting “Réminiscenses de Norma”, a fantasy for two pianos on Bellini’s opera.
At the concerts in São Carlos Theatre, both parts (in which they were divided) began with the resident orchestra playing opera openings, mostly Italian, and closed with exercises in “pyrotechnic” virtuosity by Liszt on the piano, in soloist fantasies on arias and other musical parts of operas, also mostly, but not only, Italian.
At the end of the day, the famous pianist matched the predominant taste of the Lisbon public when choosing his repertoire. Then, to the great surprise and delight of the audience, in one of these concerts, Liszt played the Hymno da Carta, a piece composed by King Pedro IV and which was the second anthem of Portugal, between 1834 and the end of the monarchy!
Other Liszt Recitals in Lisbon
The ninth recital, however, originally scheduled for São Carlos Theatre, took place at Sociedade de Instrução Primária (established in the extinct Carmo Convent), in benefit of Asylo da Criança Desvalida (founded by King Pedro IV).
He played, of course, in a private recital, for Queen Maria II and King Fernando II, at Ajuda National Palace, where he was awarded something that he confessedly longed for: the title of Knight of the Order of Christ.
He also received, from the hands of the Portuguese sovereigns, a tobacco box in gold and studded with diamonds that Liszt always considered the most beautiful royal gift that was ever offered to him.
In return, and before leaving the country, Liszt may have gifted (or sold?) his piano to the queen who, in turn, offered it to Liberato dos Santos, Master of the Royal Chapel and music teacher of the infants Pedro and Luiz. (This piano is now on display at the Music Museum, after being donated by the current descendants of this illustrious teacher and composer).
The next day, he went to play at the residence of the Minister of the Kingdom (prime minister) Costa Cabral, in Calçada da Estrela.
Finally, Liszt in Lisbon also gave an improvised recital during a party at the house of the future Viscount of Cartaxo, to which he was invited, and at the request of some of the younger ladies present there. Later, he confided to one of his best friends that, despite being disconcerted when these ladies asked him to play music for dancing, he ended up playing some popular waltzes and polkas there… Noblesse oblige!
Chiado, Intellectual and Mundane Centre
Besides that, Liszt spent most of his time in Chiado – the then, and still and in the years to come, “Italian Lisbon” – the intellectual and also mundane district of the capital.
In the same way, Santa Cecília Brotherhood, headquartered in the Church of Mártires, had the privilege of receiving (against payment of the respective fee) the inscription of Liszt as its member, on the penultimate day he was with us.
As an additional curious fact, it should be noted that Liszt in Lisbon, during his short stay (6 weeks), had time to compose or complete “Le Forgeron”, for piano and male choir, and “Grosse Konzertfantasie” (so titled and published posthumously).
He left Lisbon, on February, 25, in the same way as he had arrived, by boat to Gibraltar to tour the Mediterranean coast of Spain with recitals in Malaga, Valencia and Barcelona, thus completing his tour in the neighbouring country. On that day, he couldn’t imagine that 40 years later, back home, he would give piano lessons to our great José Vianna da Motta!
The visit to Lisbon of Franz Liszt, the instrumentalist-arranger-composer who revolutionised the way of playing the Piano was, therefore, an event of the most extraordinary cultural importance at a time when liberalism and the winds of modernisation in Portuguese Music, blown by Bomtempo (also a pianist), hadn’t yet managed to overcome the musical legacy of the Ancien Régime.