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As the second child of Georg Adam List and Katharina née Baumann he was born in Edelstal (Nemesvölgy), a village close to the Austrian border in the Kingdom of Hungary. His family was partly of Danube Swabian German descent. See Life of Franz Liszt. There are Germanic, Slavic and Magyar claims of the Liszt family. They lived in Marcz, (Burgenland, Kingdom of Hungary, today in Austria), Mattersburg (Nagymarton) and also Malacka (now Malacky, Slovakia).
Georg was in service for the Hungarian Nikolaus II, Prince Esterházy and both he and his son, Adam, were Hungarian citizens. The family lived mostly in the German speaking parts of Hungary, which is why they had only rudimentary knowledge of Hungarian. Franz tried to learn the common tongue of his kingdom only when it became compulsory in the 1870s, but in spite of his great language skills he couldn't reach a fluent level.
In his youth Adam changed his surname "List" to the spelling "Liszt", according to Hungarian pronunciation. In his lifetime, Latin, not Hungarian, was the administrative language of the multi-ethnic Kingdom of Hungary, hence the recorded Latinised name "Adamus". After the great success of his son Franz, the father Georg also started to use the surname Liszt in the 1820s. Other family members also adapted this form, e.g. Adam's brother, Eduard, father of Franz von Liszt.
Youth with musical career
As a teenager, he played cello in the House of Eszterházy summer orchestra under the direction of Joseph Haydn. He was also an amateur pianist, and played the organ and violin and sang in a choir. His brother Eduard and one sister Barbara also showed great musical talents, as did their father Georg, who worked as an organist and played the piano and violin, but they had few resources for musical education other than within the family. After graduating from the Archigymnasium Regium Posoniense (today Gamča) in Pressburg (Bratislava), Adam entered the Franciscan Order, but two years later, by his petition in 1797, was released from the order. Adam still kept a close relationship with the order, which probably gave him the inspiration to name his son Franz.
Adult work life
An attempt by Adam to continue as a student of philosophy at the University of Pressburg ended in the first year due to financial reasons. He had to look for a job, and in 1798 became a clerk at the Esterhazy estate in Forchtenau (today's Forchtenstein). After two years, Adam was transferred to Kapuvár (Kobrunn) where he was missing the musical atmosphere at Eisenstadt (Kismarton). He started to compose music and dedicate it to the Prince in order to be transferred back to the Western part of Sopron county. Only in 1805 did he finally succeed in getting a job at the court in Eisenstadt. The years in Eisenstadt were his happy years. In his spare time he played cello in the orchestra led by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, the successor of Haydn, and had the opportunity to work with many musicians who came to Eisenstadt to perform, including Cherubini and Beethoven. This happy time ended when in 1809 Adam was transferred to the Esterházy estate of Raiding as an overseer of the herd of about 50,000 sheep (Rentmeister der Fürstlich Esterházyschen Schäferei). Raiding, only 30 miles from Eisenstadt, was a rather provincial place.
While visiting his father in Mattersburg in the summer of 1810, Adam met Anna Lager who had recently moved from Vienna to Mattersburg. Their marriage took place in the parish of Unterfrauenhaid on 11 January 1811.
The only child of the couple, Franz Liszt, was born on 22 October 1811. Adam's father Georg wrote to prince Esterházy in 1812 that Adam had 3 more children, but there is no other documentation about this, and it seems unlikely.
Raising Franz Liszt
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At his house in Raiding, Adam staged chamber concerts. When Franz was 5 and his musical genius revealed itself, when following his father's musical work, Adam started to teach him music. When his fame grew, sponsors could finance private education in Vienna for the young Franz. Franz's father stayed close to his son throughout his travels to Vienna and Paris, where they settled in 1823. The purpose was to let Franz study at the famous Conservatoire de Paris, but Cherubini told them that foreigners weren't admitted. (Long after this piece of unintentional satire, Liszt would always scorn the conservatoires and their products). So Adam continued to teach his son, with a rigid schedule of practising Bach and other composers on the piano, with transposition of fugues and other daily technique improving exercises. After resigning from the Esterhazys' service Adam spent most of his time as the manager of his son's career, with tours in many European countries. Franz found his father's supervision quite demanding. (He may also have become the main breadwinner through giving lessons and concerts). Adam was a skilful business manager. It is possible that the father wanted the opportunities for his son that service with the Esterhazys had blocked for him. Adam secured him lessons with Paer (composition), Salieri (singing) and, mainly, Czerny (piano). Adam had known Czerny and Beethoven from his own musical days. Through Czerny Adam secured his son a meeting with Beethoven and Czerny seems to have persuaded his master to go to a concert where the young man was playing. Liszt was devastated by Adam's death and withdrew to a monastery for a time. His mother, Anna Lager came to look after him in Paris where she remained until her death in the 1860s. He soon became an established performer and teacher who was able to introduce Chopin to the musical world on his arrival in Paris in 1830.
Adam was the main influence on Franz in his early years, as both teacher and manager. Liszt's full musical maturity was reached after his father died, when he heard the works of such composers as Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumacher. The big influence on his performing style once Adam was gone came from his meetings with the forty year old Paganini. Though he always honoured the memory of Adam, who had been accused by the French gutter press of exploiting the child prodigy, he never visited Adam's grave at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The last time
Ádám died in 1827 in Boulogne-sur-Mer at the age of 50 when Franz was just 15 years old. The two were staying at a retreat centre for Franz to rest after a physician's order; however, the father became fatally ill with typhoid fever, died and was buried there. Franz composed a funeral piece for his father's funeral service.
The house in Raiding, birthplace of Franz Liszt.
- The official language of the multi-ethnic Kingdom of Hungary remained Latin until 1844 and had subsequently been replaced by Hungarian.
- Michael Lorenz: "An Unknown Grandmother of Liszt", Vienna 2012.
- Marriage of Maria Anna Lager and Adam Liszt: pfarre-paudorf.com
- Walker, Alan (1988): Franz Liszt: The virtuoso years, 1811–1847, Ithaka, NY: Cornell University Press
- Complete genealogy of the Liszt family (flawed and plagiarized from the literature): pfarre-paudorf.com
- Michael Lorenz: "An Unknown Grandmother of Liszt", Vienna 2012.
- Notes On the genealogy of Franz Liszt (based on the flawed secondary literature used in Professor Walker's biography of Liszt cited as reference 4 below): part 1 part 2
- Franz Liszt Timeline