Of all the virtuosi on the piano that there have ever been, perhaps the very greatest was the hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt. He might be considered to have been the first superstar of music. During the eighteen forties women used to fight each other for possession of his gloves, which he would leave “carelessly” on the piano stool after he had given a performance. At least, the women that were not carried out in a swoon, would fight each other. Star mania started long before The Beatles, or Elvis Presley.
Franz Liszt, with his flowing locks and his romantic affectations, was every impressionable lady’s dream in the mid nineteenth century, and during his concert career he milked it for all it was worth. He was so much in demand for appearances that he became the most highly paid artiste of his day. He earned so much that he was enabled to give up public performance early, and devote the rest of his life to composing the immortal music, that for ever will be associated with his name, and to teaching a range of very talented pupils, who were eager to learn the secrets of godlike piano playing from the hands of The Master.
In February 1847, Liszt played in Kiev. There he met the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, who dominated most of the rest of his life.
She persuaded him to give up touring, and he gave his last paid concert in September of the same year. By retiring from performance at such an early age, just 35, Liszt added to his legend, and his great fame continued to grow. He settled down as Kapellmeister at the small german court of Weimar. The princess came to live with him there.
Around 1860 Liszt and the princess decided to get married, but there was a snag. The princess, who was roman catholic, was already married to a prominent russian nobleman, and she needed to persuade the church authorities that her marriage was invalid. For a time she seemed to be succeeding, and the wedding was arranged, to take place in Rome on 22nd October 1861, Liszt’s 50th birthday. But when the composer arrived in The Eternal City, eager to plight his troth, he got a rather horrible birthday present. The love of his life refused to marry him.
The Tsar of Russia had put pressure on The Pope to rescind permission to marry. She would also have lost all her property in Russia, and the scandal would have seriously blighted the marital prospects of her daughter.
From then on their relationship developed into a platonic friendship, and Franz Liszt permanently turned away from the love of women, in favour of the love of God.
He took minor orders in the Franciscan order, although he never actually became a priest. In later life he was known as The Abbe Liszt. This was quite a turnaround for one who once had all the women of Europe falling at his feet.
(via this excellent blog – be sure to read more of his posts, they tell amazing stories about music and musicians in a distinctly un-Wiki way)