Before there was Beatlemania, there was Lisztomania. This Hungarian virtuoso pianist was considered the most technically skilled player of his age and, at one point, the greatest pianist who ever lived. His live performances were widely popular in his lifetime, comparable to how popular the Beatles were when they first came to the United States. It helped that he was an over-the-top guy who knew how to put on a good show. Alex Ross called him the Lady Gaga of his time, though I’m sure Gaga can’t play piano as well as Liszt.
This 1885 composition is just one example of Liszt’s crazy hands and taste for flair. Some critics hate his flashiness, but it’s hard to deny the man’s talent. This piece is also famous for being one of the first pieces by a major composer to explore a theme of atonality that Schoenberg would later perfect. Underneath its quick playful tone is a lack of structure that challenges the ideas of concrete organization in classical composition.
And now you know what that Phoenix song is about.