Liszt's Final Decade

July 2014
24 black and white, 15 line illustrations
384 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS050000, HIS037060, BIO004000

Liszt's Final Decade

Dolores Pesce

eBook for Handhelds
Liszt's Final Decade reveals in the composer's own words to his confidantes Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein and Olga von Meyendorff how he resolved his conflicted self-image as a celebrated performer but underappreciated composer.
Toward the end of his life Franz Liszt maintained extensive correspondence with two women who were at the time his closest confidantes, Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein and Olga von Meyendorff. Liszt wrote to them regularly, expressing his intimate feelings about personal and career events and his conflicted self-image as a celebrated performer but underappreciated composer. Absent a diary, the letters offer the most direct avenue into Liszt's psyche in his final years.
Liszt's Final Decade explores through these letters the mind and music of one of the nineteenth century's most popular musicians, providing insight into Liszt's melancholia in his last years and his struggle to gain recognition for his music yet avoid criticism. The exchange indicates that Liszt ultimately resolved his inner conflict through a personally constructed Christian moral philosophy that embraced positive resignation to suffering, compassionate love, and trust in a just reward to come. The book also examines how Liszt's late sacred compositions affirm the yielding of suffering to joy and hope. Significantly, Liszt viewed these works, commonly overlooked today, as a major part of his compositional legacy. This volume thus challenges the idea of a single "late" Lisztian style and the notion that despair overwhelmed the composer in his final years.

We are pleased to announce that Liszt's Final Decade is the winner of the 2017 Alan Walker Book Award, given by the American Liszt Society. Dolores Pesce is the Avis Blewett Professor of Music in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Table of Contents

Decorated Cleric
Influential Advocate
A Slow and Perilous Road to Vindication
Challenges of Composition and Publication
Imagined Identities
Soul Baring
Compositional Legacy
Final Words


The product of painstaking scholarship. It brings to light unpublished letters and treats this period of Liszt's life in great detail, revealing new information about his attitudes toward composition and his general world-view...Most importantly, it realigns our understanding of Liszt's late output, moving the focus away from a handful of famous pieces. MUSIC & LETTERS (Joanne Cormac)

The Liszt that emerges from the pages of Dolores Pesce's account of his last decade is admirable--no surprise--and likeable as well...If anyone still believes that Liszt's religion was a pose, that he took his minor clerical orders as a kind of publicity stunt, Pesce's book should put that notion to rest. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT (Stephen Brown)

The University of Rochester Press has been publishing significant books about Liszt lately...A highly elaborate scholarly study of the life and works of a composer whose final years had not been described as thoroughly and perceptively before. LISZT BULLETIN (Albert Brussee)

Examines closely Liszt's last period, relying more extensively on Liszt's own words, via his copious correspondence, than has any previous biographer. The volume reveals rather more of the composer's late interior life than emerges in Alan Walker's standard and satisfying biography. CHOICE (B. J. Murray)

Particularly welcome are the close readings of Liszt's late correspondence, the detailed coverage of his late religious music, and the reconstruction of his self-image. This is an important book. --Jonathan Kregor, author of Liszt as Transcriber and editor of the Journal of the American Liszt Society

A series of studies that allow [Pesce] to focus on particular critical issues, rather than get distracted by the endless detail of Liszt's extremely busy life. Her in-depth analysis of Liszt's correspondence from these years is based on the highest critical standards...Pesce questions the nature of Liszt's 'depression' and corrects the simplistic notion that professional disappointment was its main cause. The idea that Liszt's Catholicism 'saved him' is both qualified and substantiated through an examination of particular religious ideas, as well as [his] sacred works. This music is the least well known of Liszt's late oeuvre, and therefore its close consideration constitutes an important scholarly contribution in itself. NINETEENTH-CENTURY MUSIC REVIEW (Shay Loya)

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