Liszt’s message presumably failed to stem the flow, because on 31 October 1884 he delivered a second appeal to the publication: “I cannot grant the request of autograph collectors and also beseech everyone not to send me unwanted compositions and autographs. Fr. Liszt”. By the time he died aged 74 in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1886, Liszt had accumulated the considerable amount of nearly 2500 books and scores, which he bequeathed to Budapest’s Music Academy.

Some of the nicest of these are on display in the year-long exhibition, which continues until May 2019 and carries the subtitle “The Most Beautifully Decorated Scores of Liszt’s Private Collection”.

Every score and book in the large collection has a round blue stamp with the text “The estate of Liszt Ferenc”. But only a very small fraction of them has been made public before, because many of the composers whose works are in the collection have little or no connection to Liszt at all. On the other hand, as the museum points out, these compositions were created during Liszt’s time and thus reflect important trends of the 19th century, helping us determine what people liked in those days.

The sheer number of the scores is testament to the composer’s generosity, another proof of the well-known fact that he supported young composers and was a mentor for many, even if this activity did eventually become a burden.

The decorative, beautifully illustrated covers of the scores offer a perfect idea of the aesthetics and taste of people in the 19th century. Appealing as they are, it is certain that Liszt wasn’t fascinated by all of them. A significant number were sent to him by his admirers in the hope of receiving a letter of appreciation in return, despite the composer’s repeated open letters asking people to desist because he was unable to concentrate on his own work.

As well as the works of composers, Liszt was given scores by publishers and students. He saved them all regardless of quality. The exhibition concentrates on those sent by Liszt contemporaries only. There is a large selection of works by musicians he was actually in contact with, he knew them personally or through correspondence, and some were his students or protégés at one point. Just a few examples: Bedřich Smetana, William Mason, César Cui, Robert Franz, Antal Siposs, Kornél Ábrányi, Mihály Mosonyi, Joseph d’Ortigue, Camille Saint-Saëns, Felix Draeseke.

In the beginning of the 19th century cover pages were very simple with practically no decoration (maybe a little flower or a basic drawing) but as graphic design techniques developed – especially lithography – richly illustrated, decorative cover pages were published.

By the 1860s it became general that the scores of salon music and dance music were attractively decorated, while in Hungary the scores of folk-like art songs and czardas music had ornaments on the cover. This was of course a business decision as publishers were aware that beautifully decorated scores were easier to sell, especially if the composer’s name was not a known selling point.

Such extra attention wasn’t needed for Liszt, a piano virtuoso and composer of many notable compositions, including his 12 symphonic poems, two (completed) piano concerti, several sacred choral works and a great variety of solo piano pieces. But Liszt sometimes ordered illustrations when he thought it was important to connect the illustration to the composition, as in the case of “Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe” (From the Cradle to the Grave), which is actually a symphonic poem based on an engraving by Mihály Zichy, or “Sposalizio” (based on the Rafael painting), or “Il Penseroso” (based on the Michelangelo sculpture).

It is worth mentioning that high-quality illustrations on scores were very rare in those times because neither Hungarian nor foreign publishers entrusted famous artists to decorate music scores. That is why Zichy’s masterpiece should be treasured.

Another unique series of illustrations is that of Jenő Hubay’s “18 Hungarian Original Songs”, for voice and piano, words by Petőfi where each song is accompanied by an original drawing by a famous Hungarian artist. Among these notables are Károly Lotz, Mihály Munkácsy, Árpád Feszty and Mihály Zichy who all contributed with a drawing just like their lesser- known but talented contemporaries János Jankó, Béla Spányi and Mihály Szemlér.

The situation outside Hungary was just about the same concerning the illustration of scores: names such as Antoine Barbizet or Yan’ Dargent are completely unknown today and there are several more mysterious artists whose signatures can be seen on some of the Budapest collection: we will probably never find out who Prina, Sperati, Ed. Hébert, Römer, P. Borie, Gaspar, T. Laval were. There are many illustrations without signatures.

The illustration itself was more important than its creator, and most of them probably didn’t even consider the lithographs as works of art, just a task they were given. Artists who were proud of their illustrations signed the works, thus preserving their names.

The lively illustrations on the cover pages not only contributed to the selling of the scores but usually carried essential information about the compositions: the figures and motifs relate to the character and style of the music inside. They can refer to the orchestration, to its religious, secular or national character, or it might contain information about the composer and the composition itself.

A great number of drawings have a direct reference to sound, for example birds, instruments (also angels, putti (nude chubby child figures) or other allegories) or a dance scene. The scores are displayed in thematic groups, so in one area they are decorated with flowers, birds, ornaments, portraits (woman portraits, composer portraits or royal majesties), Hungarian landscapes and genre scenes, towns or landscapes and flags.

Other display cases highlight scores with exotic scenes, putti, children, angels, instruments, fairytale figures and heroes. The exhibition also has a few applied art pieces that have a similar atmosphere as the motifs on the scores: stamps from the Stamp Museum and objects from the Kiscelli Museum – Budapest History Museum.

Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum itself is a reconstruction of Liszt’s last Budapest flat on the first floor of the old Academy of Music, where the composer lived between 1881 and 1886. The collection contains his original instruments, furniture, books, scores and some personal objects and memorabilia.

Lending institutions for the exhibition: Stamp Museum, Budapest History Museum – Kiscelli Museum, Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music Research Library, National Széchényi Library Manuscript Collection.

Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum and Research Centre
Vörösmarty utca. 35, District VI
Open: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 9am-5pm
Tel.: (061) 322-9804

Loading Conversation

The news that made headlines

The Brief History of the Week

Geschrieben von BT

Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories,…

ComiX Coffee in District V

Inmates running the asylum?

Geschrieben von Attila Leitner

Briton Ben Innes became the very definition of cool on Tuesday. In case you missed this, the…

Protests, no apologies as government-teachers dispute widens

Fight of the roundtables

Geschrieben von BT

The civil public education platform representing the teachers’ movement, which calls itself an…