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Great Masters: Liszt-His Life and Music

Discover why Franz Liszt was known to be "a continual alternation between scandal and apotheosis."
Great Masters: Liszt-His Life and Music is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 64.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Five Star Plus Presentation What a great story of the life of Franz Lizt. Dr. Greenberg brings passion and detailed knowledge to the life of Franz List. BRAVO!! ... BRAVO!!
Date published: 2024-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another insightful and entertaining course This is a great course from the king of music courses - engaging, entertaining, opinionated and always insightful. the lecturer combines Liszts amazing life with his music, and cultural and musical history more widely. A great introduction to this fantastic pianist and composer.
Date published: 2023-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring, compelling and impeccably researched! Dr, Greenberg is a brilliant researcher and teacher. He is enthralling to listen to, much like Liszt himself! Completely enjoyable course with excerpts and highlights that entertain the listener while expanding the mind.
Date published: 2023-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "New Wine in New Bottles" Greenberg's energy and enthusiasm and his ability to combine story telling with perfectly timed musical selections, make Liszt's life "come alive". The 2002 course has only 8 chapters but each is 45 minutes long - the equivalent to more recent 12 chapter-30 minute courses. There is an enormous amount of information, but a few glimpses may be useful: As someone who has often had music swirling in my head (but no gift to write it), I've thoroughly enjoyed meeting those so gifted. But Lecture 2 (=L2) illustrates how gifting alone is not enough for greatness: Liszt's insatiable drive to make the various iterations of the "new piano" equivalent to an orchestra was paramount. L4 also describes practicing 11 hours a day until he could play anything with any finger combination. L3/L4 are perhaps the best of the musical selections that Greenberg provides where he contrasts Paganini's astounding violin work with Liszt's adaptations of it to the piano! L3 also discuss his shepherding of other poor but brilliant artists such as Berlioz as well as the marvelous piano composition duel between Liszt and Thalberg cleverly contrived by Princess Cristina Belgiojoso-Trivulzio. She also wisely summed it up: "Thalberg is the first pianist of the world - and Liszt is the only pianist of the world." The musical selections amaze. This reviews' title above is how Liszt (L7) described certain of his works and describes many of his life's musical feats. Yet, most of his works were NOT masterpieces: "For every great piece…he wrote 10 pieces that were not great." Another astute observation Greenberg credits Liszt with in L7 is applicable to nearly every situation in which we allow someone else to judge our efforts: "from where does a critic derive his or her authority?" CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLE: physicians' work is subject to the critics who inhabit professional societies. They promulgate "standards of care" such as: nearly universal COVID vaccines for children. Yet, according to the official Ohio Dept of Health "Covid-19 Dashboard", cumulative COVID deaths ages 0-19 were 49 as of this month! Do such surprising "critic" standards vs real world data validate Liszt's enduring observation? It might be useful to read L7/L8 in the Guidebook first to better track Liszt's various self-destructive relationships in those lectures. His daughter Cosima (married to his Kapellmeister in Munich) began an affair with his "former protégé and now enemy": composer Richard Wagner. This eventually caused him enter the minor monastic orders including: "doorkeeper, lector, exorcist, and acolyte". [For more of the atheist and romantic irrationalist Wagner's vicissitudes, including his alliance with Pius IX (of “Papal Infallibility" fame) against liberal capitalism, see the Great Course: European History and Lives by Steinberg L26/27).] From his 12x15 foot cell (though it offered a panoramic view of Rome and allowed him to come and go at will), Liszt would compose "St. Francis of Assissi Preaching to the Birds" while trying to make sense of his life. His 1869 involvement with an early feminist Olga Janina (who facetiously staged a "murder") ended with both Olga and a former wife (Countess Marie d' Argout (L3) writing novels designed to humiliate Liszt. Meanwhile the woman he finally had a solid relationship with, lost her mind and pined away in a unventilated room because a pope called off their wedding 1/2-hour before it started. Her family (for monetary considerations) purportedly had bribed the pope. CONCLUSION: "Near the end as fearful of the devil as he was trusting in God", he said: "I carry a deep sadness…which must now and then break out in sound". He wrote "Christus…considered…the greatest oration of the 19th century" in 1872, "Hungarian Rhapsody #19" in 1885 and he died in 1886. To avoid any judgment on his life, I end with Liszt's own words: "In life one has to decide whether to conjugate the verb 'to have' or the verb 'to be'." The combination of Liszt's gifts for "New Wine in New Bottles" and his limitations are here combined with Greenberg's storytelling/musical selections/incisive quotations to produce a truly unforgettable masterpiece.
Date published: 2022-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely enlightening The story behind Franz Liszt is almost unbelievable. I really am amazed at the accomplishments and life story.
Date published: 2022-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very interesting and informative Very good. I haven't finished viewing it yet, but so far I really like it. I didn't really know about Liszt's live and influences, so I have learned a lot.
Date published: 2022-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Liszt Alive! I came to purchase this course not as a historian but as a performer. Many years ago, when I was 13-14 and living in Germany, I had the good fortune to take piano lessons from the student of the student of Franz Liszt. With duets and fingering notations, my teacher took me in a little over a year from being a near drop-out to playing Brahms' First Symphony for piano. As an adult, my piano playing is nowhere near where it used to be, but I do have a Liszt bust sitting on my piano. This all said, I was intensely curious when I saw this Liszt program on sale and had to get it. I must say, despite or because of all of Professor Greenberg's ever-present hand and arm gestures, I don't recall a more energetic and enthusiastic course leader! I certainly learned a lot and especially appreciated the snippets of music (e.g., Campanella) that demonstrated Liszt's prodigious genius. Unfortunately from Professor Greenberg's account, it would appear that Liszt had hundreds of students. So while I know the name of my teacher (Frau Maria Konkowski, RIP), I now doubt I'll ever know the name of her teacher, one of Liszt's many students. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the program. Thanks for having made it one of your offerings!
Date published: 2022-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Greenberg brings so much to Liszt! You will listen to the music differently after hearing this. We have had all of the Great Masters lectures and enjoyed listening to them again while doing jigsaw puzzles during the pandemic. All are excellent! We learned so much & enjoy the music more. Highly recommend for anyone wanting a historical & biographical take on this composer.
Date published: 2022-02-24
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Musically, Franz Liszt is one of the most written about but least understood composers of the 19th century. Join award-winning Professor Robert Greenberg on a fascinating journey to learn the truth about this enduring composer in Great Masters: Liszt&;amp;-His Life and Music. More than anyone before him, it was Liszt who created one of the most enduring archetypes of the Romantic era: the artist "who walks with God and brings down fire from heaven in order to kindle the hearts of humankind." After experiencing Professor Greenberg's lectures, you'll have developed a thorough understanding of the life and legacy of this masterful composer.


Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.


San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

You can find more music content from Robert Greenberg on Patreon:

By This Professor

The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works
Music as a Mirror of History
Great Music of the 20th Century
Symphonies of Beethoven
The 30 Greatest Orchestral Works
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition
Le Concert, C'est Moi-The Concert is Me

01: Le Concert, C'est Moi-The Concert is Me

Franz Liszt was an outrageous showman and a performer of musical "firsts." He was a legend before he turned 30, the embodiment of the Romantic era's vision of the artist as god. To understand Liszt, we must first learn a little history of the piano, the instrument he uniquely exploited....

49 min
A Born Pianist

02: A Born Pianist

Liszt was surrounded by music from infancy and began to reveal his musical gifts at about age five. He stunned his teachers and, at his first performance at age 11, astonished reviewers and his audience. When Liszt was 15, his father died, sending Franz into depression and apathy for three years. He was finally blasted out of his lethargy by the July Revolution of 1830....

47 min

03: Revelation

Writers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals flocked to Paris after the July Revolution of 1830. Liszt was a stellar attraction in the Paris salons. In 1833, Liszt met and fell in love with the beautiful, married, and neurotic Countess Marie d'Agoult; they had three children together. A devastating flood in Hungary prompted Liszt to go to Vienna and give a series of benefit concerts. The experie...

46 min

04: Transcendence

Liszt had been immersed in practicing and composing. His approach to composition created a technique of interchangeable fingerings, interlocking hands, and crossed hands that revolutionized piano playing in the 19th century. He had attained a level of virtuosity at the piano that would soon take Europe by storm when he went on tour. His concerts became major events, and he proved himself to be the...

47 min

05: Weimar

Marie believed that Liszt had abandoned her, and she spent the rest of her life trying to blacken his reputation. Liszt retired as a touring concert pianist in 1847, after he met Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. He took over the orchestra in Weimar and aimed to recreate the city as the hub of European culture. Liszt and Carolyne lived in a spacious house in Weimar and hosted a circle of fr...

46 min
The Music at Weimar

06: The Music at Weimar

Although Liszt was conducting and learning to compose for the orchestra, his heart still belonged to the piano. During this time, he composed one of the greatest keyboard works of the 19th century, the B Minor Sonata for Piano. Liszt's orchestral masterwork of these years is the Faust Symphony, which has modern themes to depict the story of Faust's struggle for his soul. With its completion in 185...

46 min

07: Rome

By the 1850s, Liszt became the focal point of a debate concerning program music versus absolute music and expression versus structure. Twenty years before, Liszt and his fellow young Romantic musicians had a common goal: to create a new music based on individual expression. As they grew older, many became conservative, but Liszt never lost his revolutionary spirit. But brokenhearted by the death o...

46 min
A Life Well Lived

08: A Life Well Lived

Liszt's last 12 years were filled with music, traveling, honors, and a few disappointments. He was hailed as a genius in Hungary and divided his living arrangements among Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. He spent much time teaching and helped to found the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music. His health and energy began to fail him in 1881 and he died in Bayreuth, Bavaria, on July 31, 1886....

45 min