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Ференц Лист /


This is a story of great and tragic love, which began in Ukraine and ended on Italian soil. The composer Franz Liszt, idolized by the whole of Europe, met Countess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein in Kyiv. This meeting gifted us with a number of musical masterpieces, forever making Liszt a part of the Ukrainian cultural myth.




Franz Liszt claimed to be a member of an aristocratic family. Looking at the musician, who possessed high social manners, it was hard to believe that this was not true. And yet… His great-grandfather was a simple peasant. The Hungarian word «liszt» means «flour». The irony is that there were indeed bakers in his family tree but on his mother’s side.

The first member of the intelligentsia was his grandfather, Georg. He was the source of Franz’s amorousness, religiosity, and musical talent. Georg worked as a teacher, notary, and cantor in the church. He mastered the violin, organ, and spinet. No less than music, grandfather loved women.

His habit of marrying gave him as many as 25 children, one of whom, Adam, became the father of the future composer. Apparently, the «right» genes somehow gradually accumulated in the family. Adam Liszt began by playing the cello in the «Hungarian Versailles» — the luxurious estate of the Austro-Hungarian prince Esterházy.

After graduating from the gymnasium, Adam became a novice in a monastery, where he became friends with Karl Friedrich — the future father of composer Richard Wagner. Incredible but true, the sons of Franciscan friends, Richard and Franz, would also become friends.


Портрет Ференца Листа, литография, 1824
Portrait of Franz Liszt, lithograph, 1824 /




However, Adam never became a monk — he was kicked out of the monastery because of his bad character. However, being selflessly in love with music, Adam did not become a musician either. He made a good career at the Esterhaza — clerk, senior clerk, and chief overseer of the sheep business. But that’s not what Adam wanted — to play! And this drove him into a severe depression.

Finding in his son a musical talent, Adam Liszt decided to fulfill his dream of a musical career with his help. It must be said that the father even exceeded the plan: his only son became not only an outstanding composer but also a monk.

Genetically inheriting female influence, religiosity, and musical talent, Franz dreamed of being a nobleman no less than his father dreamed of being a musician. And he succeeded in that, too.

In 1859, Emperor Franz Joseph I knighted the composer. Alas, he was unable to inherit the prefix «von» to his son’s surname — he suddenly died. He had to pass on the title to his uncle Eduard, who then passed it on to his son. The latter lived until 1961.

With his death, the history of the Knights von List was cut short.




Franz started earning his first money at the age of 9. After hearing him perform, 5 Hungarian aristocrats gave him an annual scholarship. Franz’s formation as a musician was neither easy nor cloudless. Especially for his father, who was in humiliating dependence on the princely power.

But the little genius was lucky — one of his teachers was the great Salieri himself, who, as we know, did not poison the great Mozart at all. Young Liszt was also inspired by his acquaintance with Beethoven, who blessed him with a kiss on the forehead. Further, the «new Mozart», as Franz began to be called, awaited the Paris Conservatory and the triumphant conquest of Europe.

At the age of 16, Liszt experienced his first spiritual crisis. The notes are replaced by «The New Testament» and Thomas à Kempis’ treatise «The Imitation of Christ». He decides to go into a monastery. From this step, the young man was persuaded by his father, who convinced him that his vocation was music, not religion.

Thank God Franz obeyed his father! In 1947, Liszt’s star shone over the territory of Ukraine. His tour included Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Nemyriv, Berdichev, Kremenchuk, Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Elisavetgrad (now Kropyvnytskyi).


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In Kyiv, the public literally carried the pianist in their arms, together with his chair. It was impossible to ignore the fanatical love of the Ukrainians. That is why Liszt, who at first planned to give only 3 concerts in Kyiv, gave 18.

In the capital of Ukraine, he had three surprises waiting for him. First, he received a decent fee. Secondly, he lost it in cards to a local hustler. After all, it was necessary to somehow maintain the reputation of the star — a ladies’ man, gambler, and gourmand! Thirdly, he met the love of his life in Kyiv.

The last concert, lost in the dust and ashes, Liszt gave for free — in favor of Ukrainian orphans. The entrance cost 1 ruble. But one of the visitors, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, paid 100 and left an invitation to Liszt’s impresario to visit her estate in Vinnichyna. In the morning, the composer, who had forgotten about the invitation, was woken up — a carriage from Mrs. Wittgenstein came to pick him up.


Портрет Каролины Сайн-Витгенштайн, 1847
Portrait of Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, 1847 /




Why not accept such a tempting offer? The composer had hardly a penny in his pocket and a lot of experience with the women. Slim, tall, pale, with beautiful hair, Liszt was charismatic and liked by women.

Hans Christian Andersen recalled that «when Liszt entered the salon, it was as if an electric charge ran through the room: almost all the ladies rose to their feet, and a ray of light illuminated their faces». Before the concert, he always took off and threw on the floor gloves, which fans tore into small pieces to take away at least «a part of Liszt».

In the ’30s, Liszt began a stormy affair with a friend of George Sand, Countess Marie d’Agoult. She was married, 6 years older than Liszt, and had 2 children. But this did not prevent her from giving a daughter, Cosima, to Liszt in 1837, the very one who would later marry his friend Richard Wagner. And in 1839 — the only son, Daniel.

Marie was terribly jealous, though not without reason. And she wasn’t the only jealous. Countess Olga Janina, for example, threatened the composer with a poisoned dagger and a revolver. And Chopin quarreled with Liszt after discovering that he was using his apartment for dates. But in a long line of lovers and affairs, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein had a special role to play…




At the gates of the estate, Carolyne welcomed Franz with special honors — literally with bread and salt. The first day of their visit was spent talking about Hugo (in French) and Dante (in Italian). On the second day of their acquaintance, the 28-year-old beauty became Liszt’s mistress.

She was born in what is now the Cherkasy region in the family of a large landowner, Ivanovsky, who gave his daughter a brilliant education. In 1836, he forced her to marry Nicholas Wittgenstein, son of the famous field marshal and hero of the War of 1812. Despite the birth of his daughter Maria, the marriage was unhappy, and from a certain time the couple lived apart.

The composer’s meeting with Carolyne gave the world not only a fantastic love story but also Liszt’s true «Ukrainian» masterpieces. One of them is a cycle of piano pieces entitled «Harvest at Woronińce», dedicated to the little Maria Wittgenstein.

The pieces feature the themes of Ukrainian songs «Oh, don’t go, Grits» and «Winds are blowing». The world-famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 was also composed in Ukraine, in the Khmelnytskyi region. The peak of the development of the Ukrainian theme in Liszt’s work was the symphonic poem «Mazeppa».


Ференц Лист, поздние годы жизни
Franz Liszt, late life /




The composer confessed that he found everything in his beloved — «fatherland, home, and altar».

After leaving the country, Franz and Carolyne settled in Weimar. Despite the intercession of patrons and numerous attempts to conclude the marriage, they were never able to do so: due to the intrigues of the Russian imperial house, the Pope himself was forced to withdraw his permission.

Desperate to find marital happiness, Franz Liszt became a priest in 1865 and moved to the Vatican. Carolyne settled nearby, but at the center of her spiritual quest was not Christianity but Buddhism. They almost stopped seeing each other but had a touching correspondence.

Until the end of his life, there was a portrait of Carolyne on his desk and in her apartment — a bust of Franz. The great composer died on July 31, 1886. Shortly before his death, he performed his favorite piece — the very one he had once written in the Ukrainian estate of the Wittgensteins. And seven months later, the one he loved was gone.


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