Tamás Ittzés:
Franz Liszt's Influence
On The Ragtime And Swing Era
- historical and musical parallelisms -

Liszt's pupils and contemporaries in America

Gottschalk was not the only one to continue the traditions of Liszt and spread them in America. As Lisztian traditions (or rather heritage), I am thinking of technique, manner, giving recitals(27) and the music itself. Contemporary European music, as a result of several successful tours, was not only accepted but loved by the American audience. Even though I have found no evidence that Gottschalk played Liszt works in America, I suppose he did since Liszt's art was such an essential part of European romantic music, especially for a pianist. But if he did not do so, others did. Liszt taught much during his earlier years, and later, especially during his periods in Weimar and Budapest, he almost became an institution as a teacher.

Many of his students went to America, many of them even settled down there. Maybe the most important of all is the American William Mason (1829-1908), a humble admirer and propagator of Liszt. Mason studied with him in Leipzig from 1849 then in Weimar in 1853-54. Then he returned to the United States where he played an important role in bringing recitals and chamber music concerts into fashion. He published his article ‘Liszt and the Modern Music of Germany’ in The Musical Gazette in New York already in 1854. His ‘Memories of a Musical Life’, which came out in New York in 1901, includes many important data about Liszt.(28)

The Hungarian Ede Szerdahelyi(29) studied with Liszt in Weimar in 1851 and then moved to the United States. I have no further information about him but, since he was imprisoned for a while in Olmütz because of his role in the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution, it might be possible that he went to the Midwest like many other Hungarian immigrants of 1848-49 did. Liszt’s First Hungarian Rhapsody was dedicated to him.

The Hungarian Etelka Willheim(30) also studied with Liszt. Later she settled down in California through marriage.

Otto Singer (1833-1894) was a pupil of Liszt in Weimar. He taught in Dresden from 1860 then moved to the United States in 1867.

Arthur Friedheim (1860-1932), born in Russia, was even Liszt’s secretary in Weimar. He adopted many habits of Liszt, his hands rose high above the keyboard, his hair was slung backwards with a strong toss of the head which made his critics laugh at him sometimes. Despite all these external features (or together with them) Friedheim was one of the most excellent Liszt players. Later he went to New York and was active as a teacher.

An admired pupil of Liszt was Alexander Siloti(31) (1863-1945) who was the cousin and teacher of Rachmaninov. He gave concerts, taught and conducted in Weimar, Moscow, Leipzig and St. Petersburg, then moved to London in 1919 and finally immigrated to the United States where he, between 1925 and 1942 thus during the swing era, was professor of the Julliard School of Music in New York. His playing, which is not documented by recordings other than piano rolls, was said to be fluent and natural as in the case of all Liszt pupils. This naturality was achieved by Liszt as he reformed piano technique, and it is this feature that undoubtedly fascinates one whn listening to many later jazz pianists.

The Hungarian Raphael Joseffy (1852-1915) studied with Liszt in Weimar in the summers of 1869-1871. He had studied with Moscheles and also the Liszt pupil Tausig before. He settled down in the United States in 1879 where he had a successful career as a concert pianist. He was a professor of the National Conservatory of Music in New York between 1888 and 1906.(32)

The Italian Guiseppe Ferrata (1867-1928) was Liszt's pupil in Rome in 1884-85. Later he became director of the Music Department of Newcombe College in New Orleans and was the publisher of Modern Music and Musicians as well.

Liszt had other American students besides the above-mentioned Mason. They were 37 in number, according to a list on page 249 of the third volume(33) of the excellent Liszt book by Alan Walker. Liszt more than once organized festivities, common music-making and picnic to honor the fourth of July. On some of these occasions, Rahmaninov's monumental variations on the melody of Yankee Doddle was played by Liszt himself.

From among the American pupils, Hugo Mansfeldt (1844-1932) of San Francisco also stands out. He studied with Liszt from 1884 and premiered Liszt's Bagatelle Without Tonality.(34) Even before studying with Liszt, Mansfeldt gave a concert in San Francisco every year on Liszt's birthday! According to one of his letters from 1880, he played compositions exclusively by Liszt in these concerts.

Amy Fay (1844-1928) studied in Germany from 1869, from 1873 with Liszt. She returned to Weimar many times, also in the last years of Liszt when she already was an acknowledged piano teacher in the United States, partly due to her book, Music Study In Germany, published in 1881.(35) Her letters from 1869-73 were published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1874 and Liszt is one of the most important persons in these writings as most of the letters are from the time when Amy Fay was already the member of Liszt’s ‘company’.

Another American Liszt pupil, Albert Morris Bagby (1859-1941) later was active not as a pianist but as an impresario in New York. His memories, entitled A Summer With Liszt In Weimar, were published in September 1886 in the New York Century Magazine.

Even though not a pianist but an enthusiastic supporter of the music of Liszt and Wagner, we can't miss mentioning Leopold Damrosch (1832-1885). He was a violinist and conductor at the orchestra in Weimar from 1857 thus he spent four years with Liszt there. Later he went to Breslau (today Wroclaw, Poland) then he worked as a conductor in New York from 1871. So he had 14 years to make Americans get more closely acquainted with the music of Liszt. He did not miss his opportunity, as he conducted the first American performance of several Liszt works and was an active propagator of German music. In an 1876 letter Liszt thanked Damrosch for premiering his works in America: ‘How could I thank you for the helpful devotion that you have for my works? The appreciative and enthusiastic conducting of my scores does not allow the imperfection of the written material come out.’ Damrosch admired Richard Wagner (1813-1881) and Liszt so much that he named his first son, who died as a baby, Richard, and the second was Franz. Franz was known as Frank Damrosch in America where the Damrosch family became one of the most important dynasties in the music business and they dominated the musical life of New York for more than half a century. Leopold Damrosch founded the Oratorio Society in 1873, the New York Symphony Society in 1878 and he directed the first season of the German Opera in the Metropolitan in 1884-85. His son, Frank founded the People's Choral Union in 1892 and from 1893 to 1920 he was the conductor of the Musical Art Society that was founded to establish a cappella choral singing. The third son of Leopold Damrosch, Walter (1862-1937) took over the direction of both the Oratorio Society and Symphony Society after their father's death. He had his own Damrosch Opera Company between 1894 and 1899 and was counsellor of the NBC (National Broadcasting Company) from 1927.(36) He encouraged George Gershwin (1898-1937) to write his Concerto in f and An American in Paris.

There were some who brought the fame of Liszt and European musical art to the New World even before the Liszt pupils. Using the word ‘art’ here may be a little out of place. I am not denying the quality of the music played but it is a fact that the concerts many times seemed to be more show-programmes than concerts as we mean it today. It is well-known that Franz Clement (leader of the orchestra of the Theater an der Wien) sight-read Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827) Violin Concerto on the very first performance in 1806. This was a show-off on purpose, so was that after the first movement he played his own fantasy on his violin upside-down. The second and third movements followed after an intermission. This and similar tricks were everyday practice in the 19th century. Serving and entertaining the audience was achieved in every possible way from including showy elements to compromising in programming. It was not by chance that Liszt played so many opera paraphrases, improvised on given themes or wrote virtuoso character pieces at the beginning. The elegant salons that supported the artists, partly because of social traditions, wished to be served by the artists. Even though this relationship seemed to be turned in the other way with the appearance of Liszt, salon pieces, composed primarily for the audience of the salons, were extremely popular. The great Liszt pupil Carl Tausig (1841-1871) arranged many works, including Strauss Waltzes, as salon pieces for piano. Serving and entertaining the audience was an even more important factor in America but, because of the lack of such salons, the audience of the circus tents and huge concert halls had to be dazzled and for this, salon pieces seemed to be the best.

Under such compromising circumstances America was ‘conquered’ by Liszt's one-time ‘opponent’,(37) the German Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871) on his tour in 1855-56 and much later by Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) who influenced his female audience similarly to Liszt and Gottschalk. Paderewski earned more than 10 million dollars with his playing during his life and is known as one of the best and most famous pianists of all time. His programmes (like the programmes of all romantic piano virtuosi) regularly included works by Liszt and Chopin. His teacher was the Polish-born Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915) who, like Liszt, studied with Czerny in Vienna.

The also Polish Josef Hofmann (1876-1957) belonged to the group of child prodigies but his achievement was absolutely outstanding: he appeared in America at the age of ten where he gave 50 incredibly successful concerts in 10 weeks. Later he became a professor at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Shura Cherkassky was among his students who became world famous as a performer of the works of Liszt and Rahmaninov.

Teresa Carreno (1853-1917) from Venezuela must also be mentioned. She was not a pupil of Liszt but studied in Europe and grew up with the romantic virtuoso repertoire. And one of her five (!) husbands was Liszt's favourite pupil, the great Beethoven interpreter, the Scottish Eugen d'Albert (1864-1932) who lived in Germany. Carreno spent a long time in the United States, played in the White House for President Lincoln as a teenager and was a good friend of American romantic composer Edward Alexander MacDowell (1861-1908).

MacDowell, studied music in Paris, Wiesbaden and Frankfurt between 1876 and 1888 and composition in Frankfurt with Raff, the one-time assistant of Liszt.(38) He became principal professor in Darmstadt in 1881 and Liszt showed interest in his compositions at the time. He visited Liszt in Weimar in 1882 and played his own (first) Piano Concerto In A Minor for him with the accompaniment of his friend Eugen d'Albert. Seeing the enthusiasm of Liszt, he dedicated his work to the Maestro. He was a professor of the Columbia University in New York from 1896 to 1904 and one of the most important American composers of the era. He used Indian and Afro-American melodies in his works but the use of these did not make his music typically American. Because of his conventional German style he generally refused to be labelled as an ‘American composer’.

The concert pianist of Hungarian origin, Paul de Márky was the teacher of the great Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson (1925-) in his teens. Peterson, who is the best virtuoso pianist in jazz besides Art Tatum, said his technique was improved so much under the direction of de Márky because he went through many technical drills every day. Many say that this was the reason for the similarities between Liszt and Peterson, since de Márky's teacher was a pupil of Liszt. I have found no proof of this.

At last I must mention the Hungarian Irma Schwartz(39) who studied with Liszt and was the sister of the Budapest-born Jean Schwartz (1878-1956). No evidence has been found but I suspect that the young Schwartz started to learn the piano from his sister thus being indirectly influenced by Liszt.

  • 27. Before Liszt, concerts normally had a number or performers where the featured star shared the stage with other popular musician. Then not only the practice of recitals was initiated by Liszt but he was the one who used the word ‘recital’ for the very first time at one of his concerts in London. (back to the main text)
  • 28. There were many articles published later in America about Liszt. Not because of its topic but for one example maybe it is worth to mention the interview with violinist Ede Reményi (1828-1898) that he gave to the New York Herald in January of 1879 and talked about Brahms, Joachim, Schumann and Liszt. (back to the main text)
  • 29. I have found no data about his birth and death. (back to the main text)
  • 30. No datas known. (back to the main text)
  • 31. Sometimes also written also as (Alexander Iljich) Ziloti. (back to the main text)
  • 32. See more information about the institution in Chapter VII. (back to the main text)
  • 33. Walker, Alan: Franz Liszt 3. - The Final Years, 1861-1886, Cornell University Press, Itacha, NY, USA 1997 (back to the main text)
  • 34. The work was published in print only in 1956. (back to the main text)
  • 35. Most musicologists ignore the memoirs of Amy Fay since they are not without exaggeration and colourful stories. It is a fact, however, that she was a successful teacher and studied with Liszt. (back to the main text)
  • 36. Walter Damrosch suggested NBC to organize educational youth concerts. These concerts were broadcast, too. (back to the main text)
  • 37. The two favourites of Paris, Liszt and Thalberg competed in the salon of duchess Cristina Belgiojoso-Trivulzio on March 31, 1837. Although the audience and the newspapers judged it as a tie, the duchess announced at the end of the ‘battle’: ‘Thalberg is the very first pianist in the world - and Liszt is the only one.’ (back to the main text)
  • 38. Joseph Joachim Raff (1822-1882) German composer. He was copyist for Liszt between 1849 and 1853 but after some time he received more important duties, too. He orchestrated the first symphonic poems of Liszt. He was director of the Frankfurt Conservatory from 1877 until his death. (back to the main text)
  • 39. Dietrich Schulz in his book I Got Rhythm (published in Köln in 1994) mentions Jean’s Liszt-pupil sister as Rosa Schwartz (page 28). In the third volume of Alan Walker’s Liszt book Irma Schwartz is listed (page 252). (back to the main text)

    I: What Is Ragtime?
    II: Ragtime in Liszt's Age
    III: Music of the 19th Century In America
    IV: Liszt: The Virtuoso Musician of the Salons
    V: The American Liszt: Louis Moreau Gottschalk
    VI: Liszt's pupils and contemporaries in America
    VII: Liszt and European romanticism in American music education
    VIII: Liszt and ragtime regarding piano technique and harmonization
    IX: Popularity of Liszt's works in America - piano rolls
    What became a hit?

    X: European masters in ragtime and swing
    XI: The national character of Liszt’s music
    National music in America, exotic features in ragtime and jazz

    XII: Liszt and the opera - ragtime and jazz examples
    XIII: From ragtime to swing - progress in music and society
    XIV: Progressive features in Liszt’s late art
    XV: How Liszt, Chopin, Debussy and Ravel influenced swing
    XVI: Symphonic poems - Philosophy and religion expressed in music
    XVII: Liszt and Bartók
    XVIII: Liszt as a predecessor of modern jazz - building on fourths
    XIX: Did Liszt influence 20th century music through jazz?
    XX: Who if not Liszt?
    XXI: Epilogue

  • Copyright © 2003 Tamás Ittzés.
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