October 22, 1811, Raiding, Austria − July 31, 1886, Bayreuth, Germany

On this day, the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, one of the most notable pianists of Romanticism, was born in the Austrian city of Raiding. His versatility and transformation from a romantic virtuoso, a scandalous lover from high Parisian society, through a Kapellmeister at the court of the Duke of Weimar, a Franciscan monk in the Vatican, all the way to a deeply religious man, attract attention and describe him as a complex man with many faces. He spent a good part of his life in Paris, where he met Frédéric Chopin, later a very close friend. This poet of the piano had a great influence on Liszt, especially when it comes to refined expressiveness and bravura on the piano. Performing concerts throughout Europe, he met many great artistic names, among whom Paganini stands out, whose behavior at concerts served as a role model for Liszt. Inspired by Chopin and Paganini, he developed a technique that could be compared to Paganini’s, but with “Chopinian colors” and poetics. When it comes to his physical appearance, he was described as a tall, fair-haired man of aristocratic demeanor, extremely handsome. So it’s no surprise that young ladies swoon when he takes the stage and starts playing. There is a recorded quote from Ignatius Moscheles, which was created when he first heard the seventeen-year-old Liszt: “As for his playing, he surpasses all pianists I have heard, in terms of strength and ease with which he solves technically difficult places.” Liszt was the first to introduce the practice of solo concert, as he jokingly called it “musical monologue”, because until then it was customary for concerts to feature several performers. With his concert in Rome in 1839, Liszt broke this practice. He also performed piano transcriptions of symphonic, operatic, and chamber works by many composers, thus bringing them closer to the listeners. However, much more important is his original work: cycles of miniatures (especially the Years of Pilgrimage, published in three volumes and created throughout his life), etudes (a collection of Transcendental Etudes), Hungarian Rhapsodies and numerous other compositions. A special place among those works belongs to the Sonata in B minor. He did not deal with the theory of piano technique, but, nevertheless, musicologists state that he used the technique of hand weight, as well as that he played with relaxed shoulders, with hands and fingers raised quite high. Liszt’s biggest rival was Sigismund Thalberg, and in 1837 Liszt rented the hall of the Paris Opera and challenged Thalberg to a “pianistic duel”. On March 26, the magazine Gazzete muziale published the program with the announcement: “Without a doubt, the greatest interest will be aroused by the simultaneous performance of two talented pianists, whose rivalry excites the music world and reminds us of the balance of power between Rome and Carthage.” Messrs Liszt and Thalberg will play alternately”. At the end of the concert, the result was: Thalberg is the best pianist in the world, and Liszt is the only one. After 1848, he worked in the service of the Weimar court, where he was strongly influenced by German musicians, especially Richard Wagner, whose sincere friend he was. As a conductor, he was a great fan of Wagner’s art and one of the best interpreters of his works. When Liszt conducted Tannhäuser, Wagner wrote: “I felt with astonishment that my other self was standing there. What I felt while composing this music, Liszt felt conducting it”. Over the years, Liszt became a mixture of genius, vanity, generosity, greed, religiosity, snobbery, literary desires and imagination. In a continuous search, torn between the need for his art, religion and worldly life, he became a priest in 1865 in Rome. Out of a possible seven, he reached the fourth degree of his priestly order, which means he did not have to celebrate mass or confess. At first he lived in the Vatican, and then moved to the Villa “d’este”, where he stayed four months a year, and spent the rest of his time in Rome, Weimar and Budapest.

Franz Liszt, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns

October 9, 1835 – December 16, 1921

Camille Saint-Saëns, French organist, conductor, pedagogue and composer, was born on this day. He is described as one of the most wonderful musicians, an immortal, due to his musical versatility and natural endowment. Witnesses of his upbringing claim that his abilities were at the level of Mozart and Mendelssohn. Already at the age of two, he showed that he had absolute hearing, which helped him play the piano part in one of Beethoven’s violin sonatas at the age of five, to write his first work, the song Le Soir, at the age of six, and to play Mozart’s and Beethoven’s concertos by heart at the age of seven; concerto, one Hummel sonata, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue and several pieces by Handel and Kalkbrenner. Therefore, it is not surprising that already at the age of eleven he became famous throughout Europe; an article published on August 3, 1846 in the Boston Musical Gazette describes it best: “There is a boy in Paris, Saint-Saëns, who is only ten and a half years old, and plays the works of Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and some modern masters, and he does not hold notes in front of him”. When playing, he possessed a brilliant technique, with considerable ease, limited dynamics and a tendency to play quickly. Nevertheless, he was seen first and foremost as a composer, and only then afterwards as a pianist. Although he wrote a large number of compositions in various musical forms, his favorite form was the symphonic poem. Among the twelve operas, Samson and Delilah stand out, performed on all major opera stages. In addition to numerous chamber works, oratorios, pascaglia, symphonies, vocal-instrumental forms, he composed five piano concertos, a concerto for violin, cello and orchestra. Special attention is drawn to the fact that he was the first to write music for a film – in 1909 for The Assassination of the Duke of Guise. However, Saint-Saëns was not only interested in music. He was engaged in criticism, literature, poetry, astronomy (he was a member of the French Astronomical Society), archeology and science in general. With all that, he was not an insignificant musicologist, but one of the first to study the way of playing the piano in the pre-Beethoven era. He was the president of the newly founded society “Ars Gallica” (Gallic, French art), an institution whose aim was to protect young French composers and to propagate their works. Romain Rolland made a remarkable observation about this society: “It is the cradle and sanctuary of French art. Everything great that was written in France from 1770 onwards passed through him”. His versatility is evidenced by the fact that he was the organist at the Church of St. Madeleine from 1858 to 1877. During that period, he also became a professor of composition. Richard Wagner highly appreciated this artist’s abilities, describing him with the words: “He plays with incredible confidence and manages to take in everything at a glance, even when it comes to the most complicated score.” In addition, this young man possesses an extraordinary memory. He played my scores, including Tristan, by heart, and he managed to single out not only the more important, but also the less important themes…”.

Camille Saint-Saëns, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Horowitz

October 1, 1903 –November 5, 1989

On this day, Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, was born in Kiev (Russian Empire at that time). Although that century is considered a non-romantic era, Horowitz is said to have proudly “held the flag” of romanticism. His first piano lessons were given by his mother, who was a pianist herself. At first, he wanted to be a composer, but the October Revolution, and immediately after, the loss of his family’s fortune, directed him towards piano. Soon after, in 1912, he was admitted to the Kyiv Conservatory, where he was taught by Vladimir Puchalsky, Sergei Tarnovsky and Felix Blumenfeld. He gave his first solo concert as a twenty-year-old in Kharkiv in 1920, and then he gave over twenty concerts without ever playing the same piece twice. Five years later he was already a recognized pianist. He went to Berlin the same year, then to Paris, and in 1928 he performed for the first time in America. On that occasion he played Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in B minor with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, for whom it was his American debut. He performed with the conductor Arturo Toscanini for the first time in 1933, performing Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 5 of Ludwig van Beethoven, and later continued to collaborate with him both on concert podiums and in sound studios. Horowitz received American citizenship in 1944 and thanks to that he remains in that country and marries the daughter of the great conductor, Wanda Toscanini. His concerts were attended in large numbers by professional pianists, especially young ones, who wanted to copy his repertoire, technique and way of playing music. It could be said that even today many pianists are happy to listen to the performance of this great man, wanting to appropriate the aesthetics and way of playing. During concerts, his movements were rational, his body almost motionless, so his piano performance was described as very virtuosic, and at the same time calm. As a pianist, he was complimented for possessing “the fairest technique”, achieving great sound effects solely with his fingers, barely using a pedal. In contrast to his calmness and precision, it is surprising that he liked to change the musical text. This is evidenced by his performances with “reworked” notes of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, added cadences in Liszt’s rhapsodies; he believed that Liszt would have nothing against such extraordinary additions. Of course, he was far more considerate of the works of Beethoven and Schumann. Many professionals would agree that he played Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Scriabin and Prokofiev with more sense and understanding than any pianist of his era. He had an exceptional affinity for miniatures, which is why Horowitz’s interpretations of Scarlatti’s compositions, Chopin’s mazurkas and waltzes and some of Schumann’s works stand out, which he played with grace, charm and incredible simplicity. Those who knew his work said that in the larger works of Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin, he was sometimes able to dwell so much on the details that he lost sight of the whole. According to music critics, Horowitz, although he was a somewhat introverted personality, caused great enthusiasm in concert halls. Many remember him as a modest, calm pianist, whose calm, composed playing gives the impression of ease, simplicity and playing on stage. Despite the receptions at the concerts, Horowitz became more and more insecure about his abilities as a pianist, so he withdrew from public performances several times. After his return in 1965, he rarely held solo concerts, and his first public appearance was on television, in the documentary film Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic; he gave his televised concert on September 22, 1968 at Carnegie Hall.

Clara Wieck Schumann

September 13, 1819 – May 20, 1896

Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the most prominent German pianists of the 18th century, was born on this day in Leipzig. She is described as a very dedicated, responsible artist, guardian of traditional values. Her musical giftedness was recognized and nurtured by Clara’s father Friedrich Wieck, who had a great influence on her with his arrogance and authority until she met Robert Schumann, whom she married on December 12, 1840, with fierce opposition of her father, from whom she never got a blessing for that marriage. After the wedding, old Wieck leaves Clara’s life forever, which then begins to be filled by Robert, and later by their children: Marie, Elise, Julie and Emil (who died at fourteen months), Ludwig, Eugenie, Ferdinand and Felix. Whilst taking care of her family, she didn’t have much time to perfect her piano technique. She missed public performances, but she felt that she should remain a firm supporter of her husband, who had a great influence on her when it comes to musical taste, aesthetics and the selection of musical works, thus contributing to the fact that the traditional approach will be present forever in Clara’s life. During her marriage she had several tours throughout Europe; in those years, the Schumann family met Johannes Brahms, with whom they became friends and developed long-term mutual trust. Later in 1854, Robert Schumann became mentally ill, was hospitalized, and Clara, at the age of thirty-five, was forced to return to playing concerts in order to feed her family. She performed difficult works, including the Hammerklavier Sonata. At the concerts, she performed in a black dress – as a sign of memory of Robert, she played completely bent over, her head almost touching the keyboard. In her piano performance, she never changed the technique she acquired from her father; while playing, she avoided any intensity or excitement, as well as excessive physical movements. She kept her fingers very close to the keyboard, and more so pressed the keys than hit them. She played chords from her wrist, not with her whole hand and elbow; she had a large hand and could easily cover a decima. She conquered Europe very quickly, and after Schumann’s death, the audience completely accepted romanticism and his works, which Clara performed regularly and had in her concert repertoire. Although she preferred Robert’s compositions, she also often performed the works of Johannes Brahms, with whom she remained a close friend. In her youth, like everyone else, she admired Franz Liszt, however, over the years she changed that opinion to such an extent that her intolerance towards Liszt reached pathological proportions. She was the first pianist to publicly perform works by heart, without sheet music. In 1878, she began teaching as head of the piano department at the “Dr. Hoch” Conservatory in Frankfurt, where she remained until 1892. In the meantime, her hearing began to fail her so that in 1890 she played her last concert. She died in Frankfurt in 1896, a year before Brahms. Her most famous pupils were: Fanny Davies, Adela Verne, Leonard Borwick, Natalie Janotha and Clement Harris. Music critics of the time rewarded Clara’s performances and performances with very positive reviews, starting with George Bernard Shaw who wrote: “… a pianist of poetic sensibility and noble beauty… an artist of this kind is a true refreshment for critics”, and all the way to the Austrian critic Eduard Hanslick: “She always tried to perform each piece in her own unique musical style.” It could certainly be said that she is the greatest contemporary pianist, that her physical strength is not limited by the fact that she is a woman. Everything in her playing is determined, clear, sharp like a drawing”. The non-musical public may remember her from the 100 German mark banknote, which featured her image.

Robert Schumann

8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856

Robert Schumann, a romantic pianist, composer, music critic and the founder of the New Journal of Music (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik– a journail that is still published today) was born on this day in the German city of Zwickau. He is considered one of the most important representatives of romanticism. Unfortunately, during one experiment with a finger strengthening mechanism on his right hand, he suffered permanent injuries that prevented him from continuing his pianist career, but he focused his work on composing. His rich opus is filled with piano and church works, which have been preserved thanks to his great support, his wife Clara Schumann. In 1843, Felix Mendelssohn hired him as a piano and composition teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory, and Schumann later moved with his family to Düsseldorf, where he worked as the city’s music director from 1850 to 1853. There, Schumann meets Johannes Brahms, notices his musical talent and skills, after which their acquaintance grows into a long-term friendship. In his last years of life, he had mental problems, and he spent that time in a mental hospital, where he died in 1856. From his compositional oeuvre works for piano stand out: Album for the young, which contains 43 pieces for piano – the most famous is The Wild Horseman, then Scenes from Childhood with 13 piano pieces, the most famous of which is the seventh Dreaming, and there are Flower Pieces and Album Leaves. Also, pianists like to perform the Concerto for piano and orchestra in A minor, the cycle of solo songs of the A Poet’s Love is well known, as well as Symphony no. 4. During the years he spent in Düsseldorf, he wrote the Cello Concerto, the Violin Concerto, Mass No. 147 and Requiem.

Robert Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15, No. 1 “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen”

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović


May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Russian composer of late romanticism Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in the city of Votkinsk on this day. Although he was not a member of the Russian Five, he became famous during that period. His works exuded a national character, containing a melody defined by Russian melody and an archaic overtone. Although he successfully combined international elements with motifs of Russian folk music, some critics believe that his works possessed more Western elements than traditional ones. Despite that, he quickly gained popularity with the audience. According to the letters he exchanged with Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck (Tchaikovsky’s patron), to whom he dedicated his Symphony No. 4, it can be concluded that with a secure stay abroad, as well as material independence, he had the opportunity to compose calmly and devotedly. Also, here we can find out the course of his creative work, as well as aesthetic views on music. From his rich concert opus, it can be concluded that he loved to write Symphonies, of which there are six, and he transferred his love for orchestration to ballet, and towards the end of his life he wrote today’s unavoidable works of many ballet stages: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and for the youngest audience The Nutcracker. Among the ten operas, the most famous are Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades. The orchestral work Slavic March, dedicated to the First Serbian-Turkish War of 1876, when a large number of Russian volunteers fought on the side of the Serbs, was also noticed. He also paid special attention to piano works, retaining the classical approach to composing, and therefore pianists today are especially happy to perform the cycle The Seasons and Piano Concerto No. 1.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović


May 7, 1833 – April 3, 1897

C. Brasch, Berlin (biography), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms, one of the most famous representatives of late romanticism, was born in Hamburg on this day. He developed his career the most in Vienna, and during his life and artistic maturation his popularity and influence became more and more significant. That is why musicologists often classify him together with the names of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. He composed piano, chamber, vocal and symphonic works. As a highly respected pianist, he premiered many of his compositions, collaborating with leading musical names of his time, including pianist Clara Schumann and violinist Joseph Joachim, who were his close friends. Given that his role models were greats such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Josef Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, it is not surprising that his works have a traditional, clean and refined structure, designed on the basis of Baroque and Classicism. He was a master of polyphony, a complex and demanding melodic structure, which he created in a romantic style. He was a master of polyphony, a complex and demanding melodic structure, which he created in a romantic style. He managed to transfer his spiritual, diligent, disciplined and dedicated nature into his compositional works, which became a great inspiration and object of admiration for many later artists such as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. He showed his great talent when he was less than twenty years old, publishing his first works: three sonatas for piano, Scherzo and songs. Later, in 1853 in Düsseldorf, these works caused the admiration of Robert Schumann, followed by their long-standing friendship, which significantly affected Brahms’ entire life. Schumann’s music and its influence were reflected in Brahms’ Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, 2, Variations on a Theme by Schumann and Ballade, Op. 4. 4. His rich opus encompasses many musical genres. In addition to vocal compositions, where the German Requiem stands out, he wrote a large number of smaller pieces for choir and orchestra, and a cappella motets, quartets and duets. He especially presented his talent through four symphonies, piano concertos, Violin Concerto in D major, Haydn’s Variations, Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, opus 102, Sonata for cello in E minor, Op. 38. 38. He had a special fondness for chamber ensembles, so he included 24 chamber works in his oeuvre, several of which were for organ.

Johannes Brahms: Tragische Ouvertüre

hr-Sinfonieorchester, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović

Sergei Prokofiev

April 23, 1891 – March 5, 1953

Soviet composer, pianist and conductor Sergei Prokofiev was born on this day in the village of Sontsovka (today’s Ukraine). Of the 20th-century great composers – Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg – Prokofiev is the most popular, but it is also the most difficult to classify. His creative path was influenced by the cultures of many countries, as well as the turbulent historical events with which he was a contemporary. Given that different styles have been observed in his composing techniques, many theorists and musicologists have discussed the subject, arguing that Prokofiev’s musical language became milder, more relaxed in his later years, primarily due to the political pressures he was exposed to. While others believe that he only followed the idioms of modernism. His works have humor in various shades, from gentle teasing, heartfelt jokes to cruel and grotesque mockery. They also contain sarcasm, which is very present in the composer’s artistic emotional expression, especially in his works from his youth. Later, in the more mature compositional period, he developed another aspect of his music that can be called patriotic style. In these works, the composer often uses sound imitation of bells, which are a frequent attribute of Russian music, especially in works of national character. However, the most important element of music for Prokofiev has always been melody; for him it is the melody which determines the character of the composition. From his rich compositional oeuvre, there are seven completed operas and symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, cello concerto, symphonic concerto for cello and orchestra, as well as nine completed piano sonatas. Work on his Piano Sonata No. 1  began at the age of 15 and was completed during his studies; despite the fact that he called it his “youthful work”, there was still some kind of respect and affection for the reason that it is one of his first serious compositions. Among the piano works of the student period, he wrote Obsession, Toccata, Sonata No. 2, two piano concertos and the Sarcasms cycle. He is also extremely important for ballet music, especially his works Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, from which the Dance of the Knights and the symphonic story Peter and the Wolf for children were later performed. He wrote the epic opera War and Peace based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy, music for the film Lieutenant Kijé and the masterpieces of the “seventh art” directed by Sergei Eisenstein – Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible.

Sergei Prokofiev – Toccata, op. 11 (Martha Argerich, 1962)

Martha Argerich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović

Sergei Rachmaninoff

April 1, 1873 – March 28, 1943

Bain News Service, publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On this day in Northwestern Russia, in Semyonov, one of the greatest composers and pianists of the 20th century was born– Sergei Rachmaninoff.He’s been described as a very serious, strict, tall man, with perfect calm perfection, especially emphasizing his long fingers, a large fist that could cover 13 intervals on the keyboard.It is not surprising, therefore, that there are many large ranges in his works, which require good technical dexterity.Rachmaninoff ‘s compositional opus is very significant;he wrote four piano concertos, two piano sonatas, 24 preludes, three operas and symphonies, several choral spiritual works, the Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini, compositions for chamber ensembles.He performed and studied his works both as a pianist and as a composer, trying to emphasize their emotional structure, to turn his ideas into delicate, powerful and impressive melodies.That is why he always said that the culmination point should be found in every part, as he called the point.He was mostly active as a conductor and composer, and in 1904 he received an offer to conduct at the Bolshoi Theater, but due to the political situation he was soon forced to leave Russia and, after a short stay in Italy and Germany, emigrated with his family to the United States.This left a deep and indelible mark on him and he longed for his homeland all his life, to the extent that he was no longer able to compose.In order to feed his family, he started building a pianist career at the age of 45.His playing was described as very clear, precise, with a carefully sculpted melodic line, with extremely careful use of pedals.In his compositional work, he was mostly influenced by two great romantic names – Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, and later he found a role model and inspiration in the works of Peter Tchaikovsky.From his opus, the most famous are the Prelude in C-sharp minor, as well as the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, which contains an enchanting melody, measured and timeless.For pianists, his piano concertos represent a special place in the repertoire because they require exceptional pianistic maturity and technical readiness;they exude noble Russian melodies which, with perfect orchestration, provide the listeners with unobtrusive poetics and quality sound content.Also, the Six moments musicaux Op. 16, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 31, the All-Night Vigil Op. 37, Trio élégiaque Op. 9, Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19, can often be heard on stages all around the world.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Katarina Georgijević

Translation: Jelena Čolović


March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809

Franz Josef Haydn, an Austrian composer and conductor, was born on this day in the Austrian village of Rohrau. Apart from being one of the most important representatives of classicism, whose works are highly esteemed and gladly performed on world stages around the globe, he is very valuable for pianism. Many performers, especially pianists, apply and use his rich opus in pedagogical work. As a role model and the oldest of the three greatest classical names – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, younger than him, 24 and 38 years, respectively, he was also known as “good father Haydn”, the keeper of the classical style and the creator of the sonata form. From Mozart’s musical interest in Haydn’s work, a great friendship was born between them, as well as a great similarity in composition. Haydn’s most prolific creative period was during his service in Eisenstadt, at the court of the Hungarian Count Esterhazy, where he worked as a court composer and conductor for three decades, from 1761 to 1790, after which he went to Vienna. Esterhazy highly respected, appreciated and supported Haydn’s work, so the composer had the opportunity to create new works in very good conditions, and his opus became diverse and enriched with as many as 104 symphonies, 24 piano concertos, 5 cello concertos, many chamber works for various ensembles, 30 operas, oratorios, cantatas, masses, piano sonatas… Therefore, it is not surprising that his opus is one of the greatest in the history of composing. According to musicologists, as he grew older, Haydn increasingly needed to incorporate folklore elements into his works, which is best illustrated by his last Symphony no. 104, better known as the London Symphony. Among other works, Symphony no. 45 is gladly performed and listened to, as well as Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major, oratorio The Seasons. Of the piano compositions famous are his E minor (Hob. XVI/34), C major (Hob. XVI/50) and C minor (Hob. XVI/20) sonatas.

St Matthew’s Choir; Phiroz Dalal, conductor; Dawn Slaughter, director; Ron Keefe, technician, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Translation: Jelena Čolović