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Franz Liszt, the most intriguing of the 19th century composers?

January 21, 2011 |  9:00 am

Franz-liszt Pianist Louis Lortie has spent a lot of time immersed the works of Chopin, Wagner, Beethoven and other formidable figures. But he sees Franz Liszt — whose enormous, nearly three-hour-long “Annees de Pelerinage” Lortie will peform Saturday — as “maybe the most intriguing of the 19th century composers.”

Liszt, sometimes dismissed as a mere showman, is so interesting in part, Lortie says, “because he was the least confined by a national school. In the 19th century it was very important to say that you were French or German or whatever.

“And he was brought up in Hungary and spoke an Austrian dialect of the German language. And when he was young he left for Paris, to make it even more confusing. So from the start he does not belong to any culture totally.”

Liszt’s exposure to a variety of musical traditions gave him a broader pianistic language, Lortie says. But it turned other composers and critics against him, especially those who saw him as impure. “German composers especially resented him because they defended the German musical heritage.”

Lortie Ironically, Liszt was to prove a huge influence on one of the defining figures of German music — Richard Wagner. Their connection has rarely been discussed by scholars, Lortie says, because the antagonism from German critics runs deep and because Wagner spread the myth that he was entirely self-created. “And to this day,” the pianist says, “its still very much a black hole.”

Lortie’s performance of the Liszt’s “Années de Pèlerinag” in full takes place Saturday — with a break for dinner — at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa and is presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

Click here to read about Lortie and the unique program.

— Scott Timberg

Above: Liszt. Credit: Philhamonic Society. Below: Lortie: Credit: Elias