Great Masters: Liszt-His Life and Music

Course No. 758
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 758
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Course Overview

Musically, Franz Liszt (1811–1886) is one of the most written about but least understood composers of the 19th century. As for his life—Felix Mendelssohn observed that Liszt's character was "a continual alternation between scandal and apotheosis." "Scandal and apotheosis"? What could that possibly mean? Join music professor Robert Greenberg for these lectures, and go on a fascinating journey in search of the truth about both. "Franz Liszt, Both Sides Now," you might call it.

Lisztomania! or A Portrait of the Artist as Hero

More than anyone before him—more than Beethoven, Byron, even the preternatural Paganini—it was Liszt who created one of the most enduring archetypes of the Romantic era: that of the artist "who walks with God and brings down fire from heaven in order to kindle the hearts of humankind."

After experiencing Professor Greenberg's lectures, you will know—really know—what "Lisztomania" is all about. That word is not just the title of a quirky 1975 Ken Russell movie, but a term invented by Liszt's contemporaries.

You'll learn why it made sense to so many at the time, and why it drove others, Brahms and his friend Clara Schumann among them, up the proverbial wall.

Liszt was without a doubt the greatest pianist of his time. He may well be the greatest of all time. Traveling arduously all over Europe on mail coaches, playing whatever instrument was available in whatever hall he could find, he stunned even the most jaded critics and listeners everywhere he went with his sheer virtuosity and almost unbelievable musical gifts.

Two Sides of a Virtuoso

Liszt was an innovative composer both for his own instrument and on an orchestral scale, a visionary about the future of art, a big-hearted developer of young talent who frequently taught for no pay, and a sincere lover of gypsy freedom as well as Franciscan faith and charity.

Liszt also had many sides to his personal life. He was a lover of adulation and women, sleeping with everyone from countesses and princesses to wild-eyed young groupies; a well-meaning but absent and rather indifferent father to three out-of-wedlock children; and a Hungarian patriot who spent most of his time in Paris, Germany, and Rome.

Additionally, Liszt was a self-conscious artiste, damaging his own reputation by insisting on publishing just about every piece of music that came from his pen and a proud meritocrat from peasant stock who nonetheless had a weakness for what struck some observers as pseudo-aristocratic posturing.

The Gypsy Franciscan

On stage—he was the first pianist ever to play a solo concert—he was a shameless showoff. But he had the talent to display, and this attention-loving side of Liszt was inseparable from his apotheosis as a veritable deity of the keyboard who could sight-read even the most difficult and illegible score with the pages turned upside down—all the while playing the piece flawlessly and commenting on it as he played!

As Professor Greenberg observes, Liszt would hardly have reached "legend" status if his chosen instrument had been the oboe.

As Liszt himself said of his zest for living, "In life one must decide whether to conjugate the verb to have or the verb to be."

For all his reputation (much of it very well earned) as a lady-killer, a high-society bon vivant, and something of a 19th-century rock star, Liszt was also a man of warm, heartfelt Catholic piety and moving personal generosity.

He held many benefit concerts—among his causes were construction of a monument to Beethoven and flood relief in Hungary—and the stories of his acts of kindness are legion.

Liszt: A Brief Biography

Liszt was born into a musical family in 1811. His father, Adam, recognized his musical gifts when Franz was about 5 and gave him piano lessons. The family moved to Vienna when Franz was 11 to continue his musical education. In a subsequent tour of Europe, nobles, stunned by the prodigy's abilities, offered letters of introduction to the next stop on the tour.

Finally, the Liszt family landed in Paris, where Franz performed almost nonstop. The aristocrats of the city loved Franz, and he absorbed their language, culture, and sophistication. During these years, Liszt wrote his Etudes en douze exercices, which he would rewrite as the Grand Etudes in 1838 and as the Transcendental Etudes in 1851.

After his father died in 1827, and he had a breakdown over the ending of a love affair, he stopped practicing the piano and did not write any music. For three years he was depressed, ill, and apathetic. Finally, the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris blasted Liszt out of his lethargy and reignited his creative energies.

After the revolution, Liszt became a popular figure at Parisian salons and met Nicolo Paganini and Hector Berlioz, two men who would help shape his vision of himself as a composer and pianist.

In 1847, Liszt met Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, who would become his soulmate and mistress. Liszt took up conducting and composing for the orchestra in Weimar, ultimately turning out his "symphonic poems," and Faust and Dante symphonies.

After considering the priesthood following the deaths of two of his children, Liszt's final years were filled with music, traveling, honors, and a few disappointments. He divided his living arrangements among Rome; Weimar, where he taught extensively; and Budapest, where he was honored as a national hero. He died of a heart attack on July 31, 1886.

"A Talented Humbug"?

Some critics, then and now, have felt that Liszt, while incomparable at the keyboard, was derivative and seriously uneven as a composer. The conductor Hermann Levi even called him "a talented humbug."

Professor Greenberg weighs this charge, explains its grounds (as we have seen, Liszt, unlike Brahms, did tend to publish indiscriminately), and then shows you—concretely and with specific examples from Liszt's works—the grounds for his own belief about the merits of this claim.

What is the truth about Liszt as a composer? Does he belong in the first flight with Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart? How should his avant-garde risk-taking—his invention of the "symphonic poem," for instance—affect his reputation?

And how should Liszt's truly extraordinary performance innovations affect our answer?

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Etude in 12 Exercises, no. 10 in F Minor (1826)
Grande Fantasie de Bravoure sur La Clochette, variations (1832)
Transcendental Etude no. 10 in F Minor (1851)
Totentanz (1849, revised 1853–1859)
Sonata in B Minor for Piano (1853)
Piano Concerto no. 2 in A Major (1849, revised 1861)
Faust Symphony (1854)
Mephisto Waltz no. 1 (1860)
Christus (1866)
Hungarian Rhapsody no. 19 in D Minor (1885)
Transcendental Etude no. 8, Wilde Jagd (Wild Chase) (1838/1851)
Variation on a Theme by Diabelli (1822)
Arrangement of "Scaffold March" from Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique (1833)
Divertissement on the cavatina, "I tuoi frequenti palpiti" from Puccini's La Niobe (1833)
From Six Grand Etudes after Paganini: no. 5, "The Chase," and no. 3, "La Campanella" (1838/1851)
Funerailles (1849)
Piano Concerto no. 1 in E-flat Major (1849, revised 1856)
Franciscan Legend no. 1 from St. Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Birds from Franciscan Legend (1863)

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8 lectures
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 1
    Le Concert, C'est Moi—The Concert is Me
    Franz Liszt was an outrageous showman and a performer of musical "firsts." He was a legend before he turned 30, the embodiment of the Romantic era's vision of the artist as god. To understand Liszt, we must first learn a little history of the piano, the instrument he uniquely exploited. x
  • 2
    A Born Pianist
    Liszt was surrounded by music from infancy and began to reveal his musical gifts at about age five. He stunned his teachers and, at his first performance at age 11, astonished reviewers and his audience. When Liszt was 15, his father died, sending Franz into depression and apathy for three years. He was finally blasted out of his lethargy by the July Revolution of 1830. x
  • 3
    Writers, musicians, artists, and intellectuals flocked to Paris after the July Revolution of 1830. Liszt was a stellar attraction in the Paris salons. In 1833, Liszt met and fell in love with the beautiful, married, and neurotic Countess Marie d'Agoult; they had three children together. A devastating flood in Hungary prompted Liszt to go to Vienna and give a series of benefit concerts. The experience reminded him of what his life had been like before Marie and released him from the trap that he felt his domestic life had become. x
  • 4
    Liszt had been immersed in practicing and composing. His approach to composition created a technique of interchangeable fingerings, interlocking hands, and crossed hands that revolutionized piano playing in the 19th century. He had attained a level of virtuosity at the piano that would soon take Europe by storm when he went on tour. His concerts became major events, and he proved himself to be the consummate showman. x
  • 5
    Marie believed that Liszt had abandoned her, and she spent the rest of her life trying to blacken his reputation. Liszt retired as a touring concert pianist in 1847, after he met Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein. He took over the orchestra in Weimar and aimed to recreate the city as the hub of European culture. Liszt and Carolyne lived in a spacious house in Weimar and hosted a circle of friends in the arts. Among this "Music of the Future" group was Richard Wagner, whom Liszt assisted personally and professionally. x
  • 6
    The Music at Weimar
    Although Liszt was conducting and learning to compose for the orchestra, his heart still belonged to the piano. During this time, he composed one of the greatest keyboard works of the 19th century, the B Minor Sonata for Piano. Liszt's orchestral masterwork of these years is the Faust Symphony, which has modern themes to depict the story of Faust's struggle for his soul. With its completion in 1857, Liszt became the patriarch of the new music. x
  • 7
    By the 1850s, Liszt became the focal point of a debate concerning program music versus absolute music and expression versus structure. Twenty years before, Liszt and his fellow young Romantic musicians had a common goal: to create a new music based on individual expression. As they grew older, many became conservative, but Liszt never lost his revolutionary spirit. But brokenhearted by the death of his daughter, he turned to the Catholic Church to find solace. x
  • 8
    A Life Well Lived
    Liszt's last 12 years were filled with music, traveling, honors, and a few disappointments. He was hailed as a genius in Hungary and divided his living arrangements among Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. He spent much time teaching and helped to found the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music. His health and energy began to fail him in 1881 and he died in Bayreuth, Bavaria, on July 31, 1886. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Great Masters: Liszt-His Life and Music is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 51.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Early Rock Star Revealed This is about my 10th course from Professor Greenberg, so by now I’m running out of things to write. His presentation in this particular course is perhaps less over-the-top than is usual and certainly is humor is slightly more subdued (not necessarily a good thing). About the only critique I’d make of his presentation is the very long list of cities and towns that we made a part of his tours. It went on for far too long, and as I realized that he was reciting the list in alphabetical order, I could only wonder how long it was going to take him to get to Zurich. As always Dr. Greenburg is full of enthusiasm and detail about his subject and clearly wants to convey his love of music and musicians to us. Liszt led a life that I had only known a little about and that mostly was his affair that produced Cosima, who later ran off with Wagner. And as I fall into the camp that does not care much for his music, I also thought that while he was no doubt that great pianist, he was not so hot as a composer. Trust Professor Greenburg to set me straight. In these eight lectures, I found out about his early life (I was surprised to learn that Liszt was a treasured child, as opposed to abused), his prodigy, his loves and friends, his instruction, his generosity and more. It is a great credit to Dr. Greenburg that he manages to impart so much information in such a short time, as well as having time for musical selections. Once again my musical horizons have been expanded and I plan to give some of Liszt’s compositions serious consideration. My preconceptions have been adjusted. Thank you, Dr. Greenburg.
Date published: 2018-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another fist rate biography As in all of his other biographical courses (of which I have heard almost all), Professor Greenberg provides a wonderful understanding of Liszt's music and the world in which he created. I have been familiar with Liszt’s music for decades and have always found it very exciting and extravagant, but really designed primarily for stressing and showcasing the virtuosity and technique of the performing pianist (in Liszt’s lifetime this would have been primarily him). As Professor Greenberg demonstrates exhaustively, most of his contemporaries considered him first of all a virtuoso pianist and only secondly as a composer – with most not taking him too seriously at this skill. I have to admit that although I now have a better understanding of him, his work and the context in which he created, I still consider his work to be somewhat limited in its expressive dimensions contrary to Professor G’s wonderful and impressive efforts. Still, the course was fascinating and worthwhile even if Liszt’s music is not at the top of favorite music Lis(z)t.
Date published: 2018-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deeply interesting and quite joyous I love Prof Greenberg's courses for the TC, and have taken at least a dozen. I recently bought this one as I knew just a bit about Liszt and his music. The course is wonderful, told with Greenberg's standard profound enthusiasm, passion, and humor. (There are some laugh-out-loud lines in each lecture.) The course covers Liszt, the man and his music, and his many important interactions with Paganini, Wagner, the conductor von Bulow, and more. Liszt was perhaps the greatest pianist to date, was the first real showman, invented the modern recital, invented modern master classes, and was by all accounts a kind and decent and generous person to boot. All of this comes to life thanks to Prof Greenberg.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Catch the Lisztomania! I was shocked to read several negative reviews for this course after having enjoyed it so tremendously! Professor Greenberg is far and away one of my favorite Teaching Company lecturers, and this course did not disappoint. He begins this series pondering why our modern age is so fascinated with biographies, and I would propose that much of the benefit in embarking on a study such as this one is to get to know as personally as possible one who has made a footprint in history. In living concurrently with a dazzling figure such as Liszt, we may have the unique benefit of experiencing in person the attributes that seized notoriety, but we don't have the advantage of examining a complete picture of a whole life lived, nor of the intimate thought processes as recorded in personal letters and diaries. Professor Greenberg brings to his audience all of the assets a hindsight vantage point affords in a captivating package that keeps the listener on the edge of his/her seat. The best compliment I can give this course is this: I caught the Lisztomania. This course left me fascinated with this man, devouring many renditions of his works, hungry to find any additional details of this enthralling life. I can better enjoy hearing his works performed and can appreciate flamboyant interpretations of Liszt's compositions in a completely new light having "met" the artist behind them. I assert that I now know Liszt as a person, in a way I never could have known him had I merely been a fanatic concertgoer throwing roses and scrambling to snatch broken piano strings and relics. Would I trade this course for an front row opportunity at one of Liszt's concerts in his touring days? That's a fun question to consider. Well done Professor Greenberg. Always looking forward to more from you!
Date published: 2017-08-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Merely satisfactory I must have a dozen of Greenberg's TC courses. This one is merely decent. The problem is simple: Greenberg spends too much time telling tabloid stories about Liszt. He even jokes about how much he does this. Too little time is spent surveying and explaining Liszt's music. I like Greenberg best when he uses personal stories to add color and context to the music, not vice-versa.
Date published: 2016-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Entertaining! This is such an interesting course! Professor Greenberg is awesome!!!!! He makes the course so funny and amusing! I want to buy all the courses he teaches!
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from enjoyed it but glad I only bought audio I agree with all the positive comments on this board. I thoroughly enjoyed this series. My one disappointment was that Professor Greenberg mispronounced so many names and place names. For someone who has studied and traveled widely I would have thought he knew enough German to pronounce it correctly, and I wondered if he had read any of his sources in the original or just in translation. As a person of Scottish descent I was also disappointed that he doesn't know how to pronounce Edinburgh!
Date published: 2016-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from .Liszt Greenberg does his usual great job. He has his own style of delivery which is different, but I think is one of his strong points. Each lesson is profound, and often deserves a second or third listening Also, learning Liszt biography gives a clearer insight to his music.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What a Strange Life Indeed! Liszt certainly led an interesting life with some really strange twists and turns. This course was a great introduction to his life and times. You learn not only about Liszt, but also about the states of both composition and performance during his lifetime and how both of these changed during his lifetime. This course consists of three, intertwined parts. The first is the biography of Liszt. Greenberg really brings Liszt to life. For me, this is the most important aspect of the course. The second part consists of discussions about his music. Why he wrote a certain piece, what was unique about it, and various other nuggets which greatly help one understand the music. The final, and in my mind, least important part, are the long samplings of the music. While I did enjoy most of the music, this music is available via many venues and can be played on much better equipment than my television. I would have gladly listened to more biographical information or more musical analysis. Greenberg is educational and entertaining. He makes learning fun. I definitely recommend his courses. I have the DVD version of this course and found them worth the extra expense compared to an audio version.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Splendid Introduction AUDIO: CDs This is a fine introduction to Franz Liszt and his era. I learned a great deal about Liszt as a pianist and also a composer of a surprising variety of works. I had, however, been spoiled by Professor Greenberg’s course ‘Great Master: Brahms – His Life and Music.’ There is still a good deal of Professor Greenberg’s heavy-handed humor here, but it seems somewhat diminished, which may be a plus to some. There are fewer and shorter musical selections than in the Brahms course: over fifty selections here, half of which are played in lectures 4 and 6. While Professor Greenberg does a fine job in conveying the essentials about Liszt’s music, the life and times aspect clearly dominates in this course. That’s not all bad, however, just something one needs to keep in mind in approaching the course. Professor Greenberg greatly added to my knowledge about Liszt, bringing out the many contradictions in this “…outrageous showman” and performer of such “musical firsts” as solo recitals. Most importantly, Liszt was “…the first to fully exploit the new technology of the piano, demanding of it the same breadth and depth of expression as are heard in an orchestra”. In Professor Greenberg’s estimation, Liszt is “…a ‘modernist’ in music and the embodiment of the Romantic era’s conception of the performer as hero, the artist as god” (all quotes from Course Guidebook, Page 1). He not only inspired a widespread public “Lisztomania” (a term coined at the time) through his extensive concert tours early in his career, but also garnered considerable professional and critical disapproval. This disapproval covers his concert showmanship (which “nauseated” many, Page 51) as well his musical compositions. In the latter regard, Professor Greenberg does a great job in bringing to the fore many of Liszt’s critics, notably Felix Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. In this and in other aspects of the course Professor Greenberg relies on biographies and quotes liberally from contemporary letters and memoirs to great effect. Of Liszt’s compositions, Professor Greenberg deals at length with the Transcendental Etudes, the B Minor Sonata, and the Faust Symphony, “masterworks of the first order” (Page 50), but notes that “…for every great piece [Liszt] released to the world, he wrote ten pieces…” that fell far short, adding fuel for critics. But, as Professor Greenberg also notes, even such a fine and innovative work as the B Minor Sonata for Piano drew scathing comments from many of Liszt’s peers, including Clara Schumann (pronouncing it “too awful”, audio lecture 6) and even put the 21 year old Brahms to sleep while Liszt played it from manuscript! One of the pluses of this course for me is how Professor Greenberg puts everything in context, most especially regarding Liszt the pianist. Professor Greenberg begins the course with an absolutely fascinating discussion of the transition from the harpsichord to piano, with a great deal of very interesting detail on piano technology development, taking matters from Bach to Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, and fitting Liszt’s techniques neatly into the trajectory as “…the first complete modern pianist”, revolutionizing piano playing in the 19th century. This is not to say that Liszt was all work and no play. Hardly. There is great deal in this course on Liszt’s tumultuous and sometimes bizarre personal life, including the many love affairs throughout his life, exhibiting “…a knack for attracting controversial women” (Page 63); his three illegitimate children, raised by Liszt’s mother; and his relations with notables of his era, most significantly, Berlioz, Chopin, and Paganini, who influenced his early career. Notable as well is the tale of Liszt’s rupture with Wagner, who eventually married Liszt’s daughter, Cosima, and Liszt’s five year residence in a Roman monastery, leading to, late in life, his entering the “minor orders” of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Despite my quibbles about the limited amount of musical selections and my wanting more of Professor Greenberg’s heavy handed humor (because of which I would rank the course at 4.5 if the TC system allowed), this is a wonderful introduction to Franz Liszt and his era.
Date published: 2014-03-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Rather Short on Music! In this short lecture series, Professor Robert Greenberg describes Franz Liszt’s music, career and life. The usual balance between musical analysis and biographical elements clearly leans in this case towards the latter. Does Professor Greenberg judge that Liszt did not compose enough good music to justify eight 45-minute lectures? Then, the number of lectures should have been reduced rather than impose on the listener countless details on Liszt’s personal life, including the list in alphabetical order of the dozens of European cities that he toured in the early part of his career. Though Professor Greenberg’s energy and talent as a storyteller are enjoyable in this series as in others, this is definitely not his best. Only those with very little knowledge of Liszt and of the Romantic period will find it truly enlightening and worthwhile.
Date published: 2013-08-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Buy the CD only Buy the CD only. The DVDs in this series are just not worth the extra money. Liszt's egocentrism was hard to deal with as the discs went on and on, but the exposure to his music was an interesting listen.
Date published: 2013-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An exciting life wonderfully described Dr. Greenberg's enthusiasm and flamboyant delivery is well-appreciated by all. His presentation makes the course fun as well as informative. The depth and breadth of his knowledge is quite obvious and gives him a vast treasure house of jewels to share with us, anecdotes and observations we don't find so easily, and certainly not put together so well. His courses are the best! I have two comments, however: I was truly expecting that when the symphonic poems were discussed, he would explain the kinship between Les Preludes and Wagner's music. Who influenced who? Yet, except for merely naming the work as part of a list, he ignored it entirely, although I would guess it is the most widely known and admired of these symphonic poems. Even if atypical, it deserved some attention. My other comment is: why are not the artists from the excerpts he played named? It would be of interest to many, I am sure.
Date published: 2012-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Liszt - Patron Saint of Rock Stars Liszt's biography makes for a fascinating story of a life dedicated to a single idea: testing the limits of what the piano could be made to do. That Lizst was a theatrical showman, a consummate womanizer and so focused on The Music that he made a rather lousy father and (later) a lackluster priest only guarantees that there's a lot of fun anecdotes in a biography such as this. Rarely do Teaching Company music courses contain bad musical recordings (I can perhaps think of a few choral works where the words were rendered unintelligible by the orchestra, but these are the exception), but likewise the musical samples are not always inspired - the TC is working with what they can get their hands on. However, I was uniformly impressed with the piano playing in this course. Much of Liszt's music is technically very difficult to play, but it all sounded beautiful and unstrained to me. Bravo. Greenberg, when explaining why Liszt isn't as popular as Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, informs us that 1) Liszt never had an idea he didn't publish (Shelley's recent recording of the complete piano works of Liszt fill 99 CDs - and he skips the early versions that received later re-writes - an unfortunate choice, since one would like to see how Liszt's musical ideas changed over his lifetime), and 2) few piano players have the chops to play Liszt's best work convincingly (perhaps not surprising when you learn about Liszt's own practice regimen). So one must sift the truly great compositions from the less-inspired, and do so while tracking down the best pianists possible. I'd have liked Greenberg to provide a Listening Guide of great recordings of great pieces to leverage his expertise in beginning this daunting process. But maybe that's why God created the internet. This is a great course, and it has many points of contact with the Great Masters courses on the Schumanns and Brahms - I recommend listening to all three in sequence.
Date published: 2012-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening Information This review will concern the DVD version, although, in my professional opinion, the material can also be easily absorbed in the Audio formats. First, please let me say that I was college trained as a musician. I have taught music in private and public schools for many years. After having read the previous negative review, I feel that I must clarify some points. I really think that "knit-picking" on such details about Chopin's height is a little over-the-top. So What?? There is still very valuable information to be gleaned from this course. On a personal note, I can say that this is the type of detailed course that I desired from my musical courses in college, but which was never presented. The approach to Liszt's music via way of his biography is very compelling. This is my first of TTC course on the "Great Masters," but I benefitted a great deal from my experience. In order to understand a composer, it is best to examine how they interacted with the culture (and times) that they were a part of. All history and historical people, are inter-twined with the times that they lived in. In the case of composers, as well as artists and authors, this also applies to the other composers that they interacted with. Dr. Greenberg starts out by dscussing the evolution of the modern piano, and how it came down to us. Along the way, he points out the state of piano development that existed during the times of Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. It is important to realize that this process was on-going during their lifetimes, Next, he discusses how his contemporary influences-such as Chopin, Paganini, and Berlioz -helped to shape both his piano style, and his piano composition, All the while, Greenberg fills in the details of his personal life, as it relates to his music and career. The second part of the course deals with the compostitions that Lizst wrote for larger musical mediums. I personally enjoyed this part of the course a bit more, since the first Lizst compositions that I heard were his Hungarian Rhapsodies. However, now that I know about his piano career, it helps me put my understanding in a better perspective. The mixture of music, (not only of his music, but also of influential musicians,) with the amount of background information, was good. As always, Dr. Greenberg is quick to explain musical concepts and terms that are essential to a better comprehension of the music. Regardless of the negative reviews of tiny facts, and mis-pronunciations, this fact, in no way, interfers with the sheer joy of understanding the music of one of the 19th centurys' most beloved composers and musicians. Thank you Dr. Greenberg for continuing to stimulate my musical education!
Date published: 2012-04-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Factual errors and mispronunciations galore I'm accustomed to superb quality from The Teaching Company, and so I expected the same from Robert Greenberg's course on the life of Liszt. What an incredible disappointment! I've listened to the first three CDs, and can't force myself to continue to listen to Greenberg's factual errors and unbelievable mispronunciations. (He calls Marie D'Agoult "dazhoo," like a sneeze, and what he does with "Mickiewicz" made my stomach churn.) The others who have reviewed this course here loved it, and it is entertaining, but anyone who knows anything about the history of Romantic music would quickly realize that Greenberg simply didn't bother to check facts. For example, he got something as incredibly simple as Chopin's height wrong. And it would take no more than 30 seconds to look up the pronunciation of a name. Failing to make that effort says that Greenberg doesn't truly care about his subject, his students, or his employer. If I were this slipshod with my patients, I'd have lost my license by now. While Greenberg is a great stand-up comic, that's not what I come to The Great Courses for. And the saddest part is now that I know at least some of these courses contain incorrect information-- sometimes egregiously, amazingly incorrect-- I don't feel like I can trust any of the others. If so much is wrong on a subject I know a good deal about, how far have I been led astray on subjects that were new to me? I may still buy something taught by major figures like John McWhorter or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, whose work I do (so far) trust, but otherwise I'm not sure I'm willing to buy from this company again.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Lectures Not only does this fine series paint a well-rounded picture of that paragon of pianists, Franz Liszt, it gives a nifty history of his noble instrument. Not to be missed by an aficianado of the keyboard.
Date published: 2011-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Entertaining Another wonderful course by Dr. Greenberg! I knew very little about Franz Liszt before listening to this course. Now I almost feel like I knew him personally because of the fantastic way that Dr. Greenberg described his life and music. The professor's presentation style is very entertaining and I looked forward to every lecture. I pictured Liszt as a great entertainer and felt I was present for an early "battle of the bands." Having completed the courses on the Schumanns and on Wagner, this course was especially meaningful, although one can enjoy this course without prerequisites. Dr. Greenberg's lectures are truly masterful.
Date published: 2011-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Put it at the top of your Liszt This course was my introduction to Prof. Greenberg, and I enjoyed his teaching greatly. Of course, he's a ham, and he has his quirks (I don't EVER need to hear him say, "And I quote..." again), but he certainly delivers the material! Greenberg keeps your interest alive with his theatricality but also with his firm mastery of the course content. He strikes a nice balance between strictly musical considerations (musical forms, harmony, etc.) and personal details about the composer. The comments left by students on this site indicate that Greenberg reaches both ends of the spectrum, from classical music novices to those with a wider background. I fall into the second category, with two graduate degrees in music, plus years of listening, studying scores, reading composer biographies, composing, etc. But I can say that I learned a lot from this course. Most college music history courses dwell more on stylistic developments and the compositions themselves, rather than on the lives of the composers, so this audio course (and yes, I did the download version) really helped me put Liszt's life into focus with his compositions. I have downloaded a few more of these Great Masters courses and look forward to listening to them.
Date published: 2011-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Greenberg homers again As a non-musician, I have found Dr. Greenberg's courses to be extremely valuable. The Liszt course is superb and does not disappoint. As a long-time lecturer, I appreciate his enthusiasm and comments. Although he takes a short time to get used to, he has just the right blend of knowledge and "nerdiness" to keep one's attention and make the course entertaining.
Date published: 2011-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helpful for anniversary year Professor Greenberg delivers again, covering Liszt in a concise fashion. 2011 is the 200th anniversary of his birth, so it is helpful to get a picture of the man behind the hype. He developed a performing style after Paganini, and took his act on the road to become a living rock star. He led a colorful life and was a gifted composer and transcriptionist, and all of this is detailed skillfully by Greenberg. His style may be over the top for some, but in a short course he stays on subject. Look forward to making it through more of his masters courses.
Date published: 2011-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Liszt--The Artiste This biography is certainly on par with all other Greenberg courses. I was captivated all the way through, more so because of the lengthy detail chronicling Liszt’s life story rather than the music, which is also good. The full life and the Romantic times of Liszt were over the top to say the least. Never a minute went by where I wasn’t telling myself it was more akin to a Hollywood parody because, really, what fiction writer can dream up this plot? Turns out it was all true though. Liszt had the talent and the showmanship skills, but he also had the uncanny propensity for fatal attraction. As usual, Greenberg delivers an expected 5-star lecture, although this time with fewer jokes and sarcasm than in some of his other courses. For me, this works just the same. Loved it. What is special about this course was that it was not limited to Liszt. We also get up close and personal with other music luminaries such as Paganini, Chopin, Berlioz, Wagner, and others in his circle of friends; there’s a short history of the piano; there’s infidelity and scandal, revolution, political intrigue, jealousy, a piano duel, family discord, death, and a 5-year stint in a monastery. Liszt—His Life and Music is one course I won’t forget. I learned a lot.
Date published: 2011-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating presentation of a brilliant life There is never a dull moment in this examination of the life and music of Liszt. Although I had previously had some vague conception about Liszt's fame as a piano virtuoso, I really had no concrete appreciation for his wide-ranging accomplishments and his great influence on other musicians. After hearing this course, I am struck by just how central Liszt was to the development of nineteenth-century music, how much he embodies some of its central ideas, and the degree to which he anticipated future musical directions. Greenberg captures the dramatic sweep of Liszt's life, from obscure beginnings to international fame. He has a knack for the telling detail, incorporating, in addition to numerous musical excerpts, quotations from newspaper reviews, letters, and personal diaries. These details depict the various facets of Liszt's life: the magnificent, the tragic, and the tawdry. Greenberg charts a roughly chronological itinerary but is not bound by it. His excursuses on the technological history of the piano, on Paganini, and on other of Liszt's contemporaries greatly enriched the discussion of Liszt himself. This was the first full Greenberg course that I've gone through, so I'll add just a few words about his presentation style. Greenberg the lecturer is as much a performer as the musicians he describes. His cadence, tone, and word choice are carefully calibrated for dramatic effect. He speaks sometimes loudly, sometimes quickly, and sometimes with staccato pauses. This is not a lecture where one would dream of falling asleep! Greenberg's style works for me, but it is idiosyncratic and can verge every so often on the histrionic; it may not be to everyone's taste. And a minor quibble: Greenberg's (mis)pronunciation of Paganini as "pa-ga-ninny" rather than "pa-ga-nee-nee" would have been forgivable if it had not been repeated 50+ times over the whole of the course.
Date published: 2011-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great introduction to Liszt As usual Professor Greenberg delivers an educational and entertaining course. My only criticism is that it is too short. I would happily have listened to a 16 lecture course on the same subject with a more detailed analysis of the music..
Date published: 2011-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I have not been disappointed with any of his teachings. An excellent teacher presents a story that must be heard.
Date published: 2009-12-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Scandal and Apotheosis Great Masters: Liszt- His Life and Music Taught by Robert Greenberg 8 lectures, 45 minutes/lecture Liszt was born into a musical family, recieved lessons early, and like Mozart, was recognized as a prodigy in his youth. In eight lectures, Dr. Greenberg does an excellent job to show how Liszt became the preeminent piano soloist and composer of his time. The listener will become familiar with his relationships with Nicolo Paganini, Hector Berlioz and others and the role played on Liszt as amusician and a man. Dr. Greenberg describes the evolution of the pianoforte from the harpsicord, and the role it played in allowing composers of the romantic period to better express their vision. Liszt was a foremost example of this in terms of romantic piano composition. Dr. Greenberg has selected excellent examples from the musical repertoire both by Liszt and examples that are relavent to his development. Liszt was a charactor of complexity, bringing scandal as well as adoration most likely due to his incomparable tallent as both composer and soloist. Dr. Greenberg is one of the most prolific and popular speakers in the Teaching Company Collection. He is both a renowned scholar of music history and a composer in his own right, having had his own music recorded and performed worldwide. His many music courses with TTC include "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", "The Symphony", "The Concerto" among many many others. This course titled "Beethoven—His Life and Music" is one of ten courses highlighting the life and music of major classical composers from Hayden to Shostakovich. The courses in this series are interesting in that they emphasize the importance of the composers lives and the historical context in which the music was created.
Date published: 2009-05-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course The information on Lizst is extremely interesting, and any amateur musician music lover should get a lot out of this course. One comment: in the course Dr. Greenberg suggests that the reason we read biographies of people like Lizst is that we like to see the warts they have (being human) and that brings them down to our level. As an avid reader of biographies, I would comment that most of us have the same warts that Lizst and other had, and that in reading biographies of those who succeeded far beyond me, the reason could also be that I would like to admire them for outdoing me and perhaps see what I could do to exceed like them. In contrast to Dr. Greenberg's opinion, I would say that my respect for Lizst increases as I see how he was able to overcome some of the problems he brought on himself and succeed in spite of them.
Date published: 2009-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lisztomania That Liszt was the greatest pianist of his time - possibly of all time - is not in doubt. But was he a great composer? Some of his musical contemporaries were not convinced and thought him a vulgar showman. Others disapproved of his private life. The critics hated him. But Prof. Greenberg makes the case that, although much of what Liszt published was second rate, there are some true masterpieces. The story of Liszt's passionate liife is told with the usual Greenberg panache - some great anecdotes (like Brahms falling asleep while Liszt was playing the piano) - and we are treated to a lot of excellent music. The last two lectures - dealing with Liszt's taking holy orders and the scandalous affair between Wagner (who was only two year's Liszt's junior) and Liszt's daughter Cosima - are among the best that I've heard Greenberg deliver. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So What, I'm Still a Rock Star Who was that dashing musician with the flowing hair followed by a crowd screaming swooning female fans throwing themselves at him? Elvis? One of the Beatles? Bon Jovi? No, it's the original rock star, Franz Liszt! The talented Professor Greenberg always finds that unique theme that aptly characterizes the Great Master of whom he speaks. With Liszt, it’s about destroying all those misconceptions most of us have about the reserved prissiness of “long haired” music. You learn about Liszt’s conscious effort to become the most virtuosic pianist the world has ever seen, the great pains he took to achieve that end and the extraordinary payoff he receives. Liszt created the concert spectacle before Liberace, Elton John or Kiss. He was the first hip happening act that every concert venue wanted. As usual, Professor Greenberg gives you more than you expect. His enthusiastic, perhaps at times over the top, presentation not only divulges his extraordinary passion for the subject, but instills that intense passion in the listener as well. I hung on Professor Greenberg’s every word and you will too. These lectures will forever change your perspective on 19th Century music. It’s exciting, vital, even raw.
Date published: 2009-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! FIVE STARS! Dr. Greenberg’s presentation on Liszt is outstanding. This is due to his obvious preparation, and his attention to the details which he weaves into a spellbinding story. We were rooted to our seats for two days while putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle laughing and learning while listening to this accomplished storyteller on audio CD.
Date published: 2009-02-18
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