I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer on this, and I’m curious to know if any of the teeming millions is sitting on a great Franz Liszt biography or other source that addresses the issue.
Liszt was Hungarian by birth, but he lived most of his life in France, Germany and Austria, and only began to spend much time in Hungary later in life. I have found suggestions that he attempted to learn the language, but so far no one has addressed his level of fluency.
My reason for asking is that I’m editing a piece of writing on Liszt that asserts that he “did not speak a word” of Hungarian. This statement is certainly too strong, no matter what the real answer is, but I would like to know whatever specifics I can find before attempting a rewrite.
Any help would be appreciated.
(BTW-I have already checked all of the standard musical biographical and reference sources)
Nothing specific here, but if his dad worked at the Esterhazy court in Budapest and the family moved to Vienna when he was 10 or so, then it’s possible that given the official dominance of the Austrian side of politics in the empire that he really might have not been taught/exposed to much Hungarian when he was young.
Don’t know if this will help much, but my great-grandmother was born in 1890 or thereabouts in Serbia, which was then part of “Austria-Hungary”. She had to learn Hungarian in grammar school although she spoke German at home. She still knew some words of Hungarian when I knew her.
I think it’s safe to say the statement that Franz Liszt knew NO Hungarian is false, especially if he lived in Budapest until age 10. My great-grandmother lived in a rural village with only a grade-school education, and if SHE was required to learn it, I’m sure he was exposed to it in Budapest.
Thanks both for your replies–this was kind of an esoteric question, so I was pleased to get even two responses. So far I haven’t run across a definitive answer, but I think I’ve gathered enough information to write an acceptably fudged revision.
Ken Russell’s Lisztomania. The most egregiously obscenely bloated surrealistic over-the-top rock-‘n’-roll excess for the sake of excess. Defies description.
The film shows Richard Wagner beginning as a mild-mannered young man, protégé of Liszt, who marries Cosima and then turns evil. At the end of the film, Wagner morphs into a combination of Hitler and Frankenstein’s Monster. He lays waste to the world, stalking the smoking ruins of Western Civilization blasting away with an electric guitar that is a machine gun. Liszt (Roger Daltry) is forced out of retirement to defeat him. He powers up a rocketship whose seven engines are women–six of his former lovers plus Cosima–and he flies low and annihilates Wagner/Hitler/Frankenstein with a sonic bomb. Then off he flies into Heaven–the controls of his spaceship are a keyboard which he plays while singing “Liebesträum”. You didn’t know “Liebesträum” had words? It does now. You will never look at classical music the same way again. I saw this film when I was sixteen and it permanently warped my mind.
Except that high-prestige languages were usually spoken more in larger (capital) cities, while the language of the common folk (in this case, Hungarian) was spoken more in smaller towns and rural areas. This might explain the discrepancy.
And he lived in the family of a political attache in the capital in the 18-noughts, while grandmother was raised in the 1890s in the middle class.
When was it that the Empire made Hungary a pseudo-co-power for the east after some. . . troubles-- I feel like it was in the nineteenth century (hence the “Autro-Hungarian” bit)? I wonder if the language had more, uh, legitimacy after that point, politically?
Other things to consider about the Esterházy connection:
Joseph Haydn served the family as court Kappelmeister for most of his career, and is in no way associated with Hungarian language or culture. German was clearly the prevailing language in his time (which, granted, was a generation earlier than that of Liszt).
The members of the Esterházy family used the Germanic forms of their names (eg. Nikolaus instead of the Hungarian Miklós).
Rusalka, before somebody begins World War One again over it, we should clarify something:
Serbia, as a country, was never incorporated into Austria-Hungary or either part of it. It revolted against the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s, and fought several wars against them to expand southward into Serbian- and Macedonian-speaking areas.
This is not to say your grandmother was incorrect, however: After World War I, the Serbian kings became kings of Yugoslavia, which most Serbs regarded as a sort of greater Serbia. The area called the Banat, north of Belgrade and the Sava River, which until then had been the north edge of Serbia, was incorporated into the Yugoslav province of Serbia. (The Banat had been part of Hungary up until then, and was made up ethnically of a mixture of Serbs, Croats, Hungarians (Magyars), Transylvanian Romanians, Gypsies, ethnic Jews, a few Turks, and for all I know an Eskimo or two!) I suspect it was of the Banat that your grandmother was talking, and she considered herself a Serb living under Hungarian rule.
It was in 1867, after the Austrian Empire was trounced by Prussia in the Six Weeks War the preceding year. The Austrians realized they had to allow some power sharing with the Magyars if the Empire was to survive.
They set up the Dual Monarchy- Empire of Austria and Kingdom of Hungary. And the Magyars were not “psuedo” partners. They had almost complete control over domestic policy in the Kingdom of Hungary after that point. Thus the attempts to force all the minorities in Hungary to learn Magyar. Before 1867 it would not have been inconceivable for a child growing up in the househild of a government official to never learn Magyar.
Most probably he did speak Hungarian - but he was too proud to speak in public as his Hungarian was not perfect . He had a lots of critics who were looking for his weak sides to make fun of .
What proves that he spoke some Hungarian ?
spent much time in Hungary during
the last third of his life
he taught at the Academy of Music
-he had Hungarian friends
Jokai the Hungarian writer was his friend . once they were chatting about an article then Jokai realized that article in question was published only in Hungarian
_ he spent much time at Jokai family - he and Mrs Jokai presented duets though the lady only spoke Hungarian
-his valet , Miksa in Weimar spoke only Hungarian - Liszt must have spoken to him in Hungarian as well
Liszt was a genius , difficult to imagine that he did not try to learn the Hungarian
at the same time he had very high expectations to himself - that is why his repeated claim that he did not possess the knowledge of the Hungarian language does not necessarily mean that he did not speak at all
it is difficult to tell at what level he understood or spoke it - only one thing is sure : he was not confident enough to speak in public
and seeing some Hungarians reaction to foreigners trying to speak their language - I can say that it might have been a discouraging facto ras well - they feel they must correct at once every mistake …
it is not like the English nowadays - it is spoken in many ways and native speakers mostly tolerate the flaws of non-native speakers
I hope that this note will help you after so many years … I am a Hungarian who loves music ,Liszt and debates …
It is also possible that he knew some words that were Hungarian but didn’t realize it. I don’t speak Basque, but many of the words that I grew up think of as “dialectal”, many words that are common in the Spanish of my area and areas nearby but which sound foreign to ears from other regions, happen to be from Basque.
When I was a little kid, I didn’t think of aita, ama, aitona, amona… as Basque words: to me, it was what my friends from apartment 3A happened to call their relatives, same as my paternal grandmother was abuelita (never abuela or yaya) by my maternal grandmother was my yaya.
This reminds me of a bus tour (the one of 2 I’ve ever been on) that left from Budapest and went to some castle and a cathedral. The tour started with the older lady who was our guide, shouting at us that it was time that we learned Hungarian, and preceded to try to get us to correctly repeat a greeting. She seemed quite angry and you could tell this was a sore spot for her.
Also, Hungarian may as well be Martian. That language is some crazy babble to an English speaker.