Tuesday, 12 March 2013

M Liszt plays Newcastle December 1840

In an age of the celebrity it is perhaps interesting to reflect when the cult of the “star” performer actually began. One individual who the appellation “rock star” could be applied many years before Elvis Presley was the Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. He was considered to be the greatest musician of the age. By the 1840s the reception Liszt enjoyed as a result can be described only as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds as souvenirs. Helping fuel this atmosphere was the artist's mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt's playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. At the beginning of the decade he underwent a tour of the UK and in December 1840 played at the Roebuck in Newcastle. Liszt’s tours around England were as part of a small troupe of musicians – ‘entertainers’ might be a more accurate word – who travelled by coach and occasionally train (rail was still in its infancy) and took an Erard piano with them. It cannot have been a heavy instrument. Liszt would offer a few, short, flashy pieces as part of the programme often transcribing well-known works for the instrument

In a report of the Staffordshire Advertiser Liszt programme was listed

“Liszt might be considered the Prometheus of the piano forte; he does not merely play on it, but he imparts to the rich melody, tone, feeling, expression, brilliant execution, rapid fingering and unerring judgement. He emits sounds whilst they charm the ear, appeal to the heart. We will not easily forget his rendition of William Tell. It is impossible to describe the electric atmosphere of his performances, which were received with the most enthusiastic admiration”.

The programme included songs by a number of singers including John Parry an artist the article went on well known to audiences in the Potteries and Newcastle. Parry a Welsh born singer and composer left an interesting account of that 1840 tour which chronicled Liszt’s rock and roll life style. In Glasgow he was said to have “brought in some very dashing Scotch girls with him”, in Edinburgh to have sallied forth. The following night, the party left Dunbar at 7pm, arriving in Newcastle at 9.30 the following morning. “We did not sleep much last night,”wrote Parry, though Liszt had 'bunked' off in Alnwick and found himself a bed elsewhere.

The concert tour was not a financial success although by the following decade Liszt had made so much money that many subsequent recitals were fund raising events for charity.