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.
An Upright Erard with a history behind Franz Liszt.
Erard Upright piano serial number 14388 was sold on the 23rd April of 1839 to Madame Rosario de Los Hierros, student of Franz Liszt. Upright piano being made of Mahogany with bands of Citrus wood inlaid rare model of early Erard Uprights being what they called Tulip Leg Model. This is the first of this model I have come by...
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Before the time of television and the internet, live music performances were a primary form of entertainment. Performances were held in private homes, as well as concert halls. Many rivalries formed among pianists and composers. This created a unique angle for entertainment as individuals could then debate the merits of each musician and choose sides. One of the more famous piano duels was held between Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalberg.
The rivalry first began in 1836 when Liszt had written a critical review of Thalberg’s most recent concert held in Paris. Though the rivalry was a friendly one, a few scathing remarks were made to the press from time to time, most often by Liszt. Meetings of the two were frequent and were always cordial. Liszt even spent time as a guest in Thalberg’s family home near Vienna in the spring of 1838.
The Gazette musicale announced the program on March 26. “The greatest interest will be without question the simultaneous appearance of two talents whose rivalry at this time agitates the musical world, and is like the indecisive balance between Rome and Carthage.” On the evening of March 31, 1837, Princess Cristina Belgiojoso held a benefit concert for Italian refugees in her Paris salon. Though many musicians performed, the rivalry between Liszt and Thalberg took center stage that evening. So, which pieces were played? Here opinions and sources differ. Some say Liszt began his portion of the concert with his “Grand Gallop Chromatique” and that Thalberg countered with his fantasy variations on Bellini’s “Norma.” Harold C Schonberg mentions Liszt playing his Niobe Fantasia and Thalberg his Moses Fantasia. American pianist Steven Mayer´s re-creation of the duel on the ASV label (1993) suggests the following works.
Divertimento on favourite themes by Rossini, Op. 18 “Les Soirées Musica”
Fantasia on “God Save the Queen”, Op. 27
Divertissement sur la cavatine “I tuoi frequenti palpiti” by Pacini, S. 419
Transcription of Konzertstück in F minor by Weber
Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, S. 173 no 3, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Unbeknownst to the other pianist, each one had prepared a new composition to play as their final piece of the night. Liszt’s “Reminiscences de Roberts le Diable” by Meyerbeer is the more well known of the two compositions played that evening. Thalberg’s new piece was “Fantasy” Op. 33, based on Rossini’s “Moise.” The evening was regarded as a draw. ...
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Franz Liszt (German: [fʁant͡s lɪst]); Hungarian: Liszt Ferencz, in modern use Liszt Ferenc), (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886) was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.