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A century before Beatlemania, there was Lisztomania

When the popularity of the British rock band The Beatles started to grow big and fans all over the world gathered around them, a new term was invented to describe this frenzy: Beatlemania. What is more interesting is that the term “mania”, used to describe the popularity of an artist wasn’t invented in the 1960s but appeared hundred years earlier.

Franz Liszt, the famous Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and conductor became famous in Europe during the early 19-th century because of his prodigious virtuosic skill as a pianist. Soon his virtuosity started to attract huge crowds in the concert venues where he performed. In 1839, Franz Liszt began his big tour across Europe, a period of regular performances that lasted for eight years. During this time, Liszt became most renowned as a concert pianist- a skill for which he received many honors and awards. During this tour, people started to notice how intensely crowds reacted to his performances and the term “Lisztomania” was coined.

The first photograph of Liszt taken in 1843, during the peak of his career

“Lisztomania” or “Liszt fever” is described as an intense fan frenzy towards Franz Liszt while on stage. It was reported that”Lisztomania” happened in Berlin in 1841 for the first time. This mania was accompanied by high levels of hysteria, similar to the one that fans of modern-day celebrities display, but not imaginable for musicians at that period.

Before Liszt arrived in Berlin for a concert around Christmas in 1841, news about his arrival started to circulate. The night he arrived a group of around 30 students gathered and serenaded him with his song “Rheinweinlied.” On December 27th, 1841, Liszt played his first concert in Berlin in front of a crowd that went crazy. From this moment on, Lisztomania spread all over Europe.

Liszt in 1858

Wherever he played, Liszt attracted huge crowds and put the audience in a state of ecstasy. Whenever admirers saw him, they would gather around him and struggle to take his handkerchief or one of his gloves. They even wore brooches and cameos with his portrait. Women devised plans to obtain locks of his hair, and if he broke a piano string, everybody would try to get it and make a bracelet out of it. Some women also used to carry glass phials with Liszt’s coffee dregs. Here is one report which describes the level of devotion people had towards Liszt:

“Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram “F.L.” in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odour it gave forth.”

Heinrich Heine-Oppenheim

It has been officially accepted that the term “Lisztomania” was coined by Heinrich Heine the German poet, journalist, and essayist. Heine wanted to discuss and describe the music of his time, and he began writing series of musical feuilletons that lasted for several years. In his review of the musical season of 1844 (written in Paris on April 25th, 1844), he uses the term “Lisztomania” for the first time:

“When formerly I heard of the fainting spells which broke out in Germany and especially in Berlin, when Liszt showed himself there, I shrugged my shoulders pityingly and thought: quiet sabbatarian Germany does not wish to lose the opportunity of getting the little necessary exercise… In their case, thought I, it is a matter of the spectacle for the spectacle’s sake…Thus I explained this Lisztomania, and looked on it as a sign of the politically unfree conditions existing beyond the Rhine. Yet I was mistaken, after all, and I did not notice it until last week, at the Italian Opera House, where Liszt gave his first concert… This was truly no Germanically sentimental, sentimentalizing Berlinate audience, in front of which Liszt had played, quite alone, or rather, accompanied solely by his genius. And yet, how convulsively his mere appearance affected them! How boisterous was the applause which rang to meet him!… What acclaim it was! A veritable insanity, one unheard of in the annals of furore!”

Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano (1840), by Danhauser

From the said above, we can conclude that the amazing Franz Liszt was a genuine music celebrity in his days and one that can compete and overshadow today’s celebrities.

Read another story from us: How The Beatles brought the Soviet Union down and destroyed communism

Having this in mind, take a moment and listen to some of Liszt’s compositions, such as Liebestraum (Love Dream) or La Campanella, and check if he can get you to a state of ecstasy.

Boban Docevski

Boban Docevski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News