The Fantastic Liszt: Reading Character

Jeremy Tatar


As the sites of reception of an artist change with time, location, class and language, any number of metanarratives emerge within their respective discourse. Franz Liszt is of course no exception, a figure who experienced (and continues to experience) a broad range of receptions, both positive and negative. What sets Liszt apart, however, are the remarkable interrelationships between these resultant metanarratives. Significantly, several are in continual conflict with each other, yet they remain undeniably essential to his character. One only has to look for example at the problems in representing the pianist-Liszt against the composer-Liszt, and their very different trajectories of reception to realise the scope of the issue. This troublesome nature of Liszt still resonates within the literature today, and it poses great difficulty to our understanding of his internal unity. This paper proposes a solution to this issue by reading Liszt through the lens of the fantastic, a literary mode of analysis consisting of a loose collection of tropes centred on hesitation, multiplicity, subversion and liminality. By placing Liszt in the realm of the fantastic, his inconsistency becomes one of the keys to reinterpreting his romantic character, and allows us to reconcile with the discord within him.

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