One hundred and seventy-seven years ago, on March 31, 1837, an unusual concert took place in Paris, pitting the pianistic skills of the two leading virtuosos of the time, Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg. The contest was adjudged a draw.
Thalberg was a fine pianist according to contemporaries Mendelssohn, Hallé and Clara Schumann; even Chopin said that he ‘played excellently.’ There were inflammatory remarks in the press, rival concerts in the Conservatoire (Thalberg) and the Opéra (Liszt) in March 1837 and this pianistic duel was the culmination.
Posterity has however heavily favored Liszt, with Thalberg a mere footnote in Romantic piano literature. If you’ll forgive the pun, it was a “Battle of the HANDS,” a digital confrontation of the two leading virtuoso pianists of the day, Thalberg and Liszt.
The concert took place at the Salon of the Princess Cristina Belgiojoso-Trivulzio, an Italian noblewoman who played a prominent part in Italy’s struggle for independence. She is also notable as a writer and journalist. She scored the social coup of the season at her Parisian salon close to the Madeleine. Ostensibly, it was the culmination of a three-day charity fundraiser in aid of Italian political refugees, but it REALLY was the artistic equivalent of a prize fight—the fists in question pummelling the piano keyboard. Belgiojoso’s judgment was, “Thalberg is the greatest pianist, but there is only one Liszt.”...
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