Jeremy Siepmann and Naxos Records have created a truly winning recipe with their "Life and Works" series. The combination of an audio book with music is an extraordinarily powerful and compelling way of bringing the biography of a classical musician to life and, at the same time, making the music accessible to a wide audience who may never have had the privilege of listening to some of the greatest music ever written.
Franz Liszt, revered in his time as the greatest pianist in Europe (and, as a result, almost certainly in the world) is now recognized as perhaps the most technically skilled virtuoso pianist who ever laid hands to keys.
An important and influential composer, Liszt's development of the symphonic poem form and his departures from accepted harmonic combinations are now seen as the early fore-runner to modern music and the basis on which 20th century "classical" music is now based.
The enormous body of work left behind by Liszt includes, for example, a large number of religious works which a century and a half later are only now being explored and studied by religious and music scholars and conductors. His first setting of the "Ave Maria" is so lush and mellifluous as to positively melt a listener. What I wouldn't give for an opportunity to perform such a magnificent work!
This wonderfully performed story ends by summarizing the paradoxes of Franz Liszt's life and the almost inconceivably vast catalogue of music that was his legacy. In a most confusing way, Liszt was astonishingly vain and yet truly humble; self-centred and self-seeking yet prodigiously generous with his time, his skills and his teaching; powerfully sexual and, not to put too fine a point on it, a "chick magnet" with a power that would be the stuff of a modern man's fantasy, but, at the same time, morally strict with himself and others (the classic example of saint and sinner rolled into one).
In a listening experience that spans a scant two hours, it's difficult to be scholarly and cover great expanses of music. But, be assured, it's all here at least in brief - his love life; his virtuosic piano skills; an overview of his music; his nomadic living style coupled with a fierce patriotic love of Hungary, his birth place; his fiery relationship with his mistresses; his sadly deficient parenting skills and his virtual non-reltionship with his children; his courageous support of the Romany gysies, for example, in the face of political opposition; and much, much more.
Truly an uplifting, entertaining and educational listening experience. Highly recommended.