The Life and Loves of a Genius
by Zsolt Harsanyi
Hungarian author Zsolt Harsanyi published Immortal Franz (titled Hungarian Rhapsody in the U.K.), a biographical novel about the Hungarian-born pianist and composer Franz Liszt, in the 1930s. Liszt grew from a child prodigy, hugged and kissed after his concerts by dotingly maternal fans, into the romantic sensation of nineteenth century Europe. He let his hair grow long. Women swooned over him. Naturally, his personal life was a mess.
He carried on numerous affairs, some brief, others of long duration; some with his young piano students, others with married women. Harsanyi closes the bedroom door on anything more explicit than a kiss, but Liszt's scandalous affairs are the focus of the story. "When they got up the next morning he noticed that Marie's pillow was wet. So she had been crying all night.… He felt a pang of conscience when he reflected how much kinder Fate was to him than to Marie. He had a profession which kept him occupied, and he was a man to whom everything was permitted. Whereas Marie was a great deal alone and Geneva ostracized her."
An interesting subtext is the pervasive anti-Semitism of nineteenth century Europe. Lizst's second mistress, Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, despised his friend and protégé Richard Wagner because she suspected him of Jewish ancestry. Meanwhile, Liszt's daughter Cosima, who became Wagner's mistress, despised Carolyne because she believed Carolyne's mother had been Jewish. Harsanyi wrote Immortal Franz during the rise of Hitler, who admired Wagner's music and was also rumored to have had Jewish blood. (American edition 1937, 486 pages)
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Other novels about Franz Liszt:
Liszt's Kiss by Susanne Dunlap; a story about a young woman who falls under Liszt's spell. More info
The Galley Slaves of Love: The Story of Marie d'Agoult and Franz Liszt by Charlotte Haldane; published in 1957, about Liszt and his first mistress
Nonfiction about Franz Liszt:
Ernst Burger, Franz Liszt: A Chronicle of His Life in Pictures and Documents.
Alan Walker's three-volume biography:
Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-1847 (volume 1). More info
Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years, 1848-1861 (volume 2). More info
Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861-1886 (volume 3). More info
Love letters of artists and musicians of Liszt's era:
Love Letters of Great Men and Women: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day by C.H. Charles (1924), includes the love letters of novelist George Sand, a friend of Liszt's mistress. More info
The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time by David H. Lowenherz (2005), includes a letter from George Sand to Gustave Flaubert, one from Mozart to his wife and one from Beethoven to "The Immortal Beloved." More info
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