Influence and the Creative Process


Beethoven's influence is rightfully immense, but we must remove the rigid shackles of tradition so we may properly evaluate and include others. Beethoven deeply influenced the succeeding Romantic generation; predominantly, Brahms, Berlioz,Wagner, Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler. However, Liszt not only influenced all the above mentioned, minus Brahms and perhaps Berlioz, but Liszt also influenced Grieg, Smetana, Saint-Saëns, Franck and let's not forget the whole Russian school, which includes Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov (who's Scheherazade has elements of Liszt's Battle of the Huns), Mussorgsky {who's Pictures at an Exhibition of 1874 has influences of Liszt's Fantasy & Fugue on BACH of 1856 among others), or even Tchaikovsky (who although professing his love for Mozart, his works clearly demonstrate the strong subliminal influence of Liszt.) Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Hamlet, Fatum, or the Piano Concerto No.1, are inconceivable without Liszt. As is Wagner's mature music, since his music was profoundly transformed after scrutinizing Liszt. Therefore, we must also include some of Wagner's influence, including Puccini and the many opera composers who indirectly reaped these Lisztian benefits. Henceforth, we can now see much more clearly that this vast orbit of immense influence all originates from Liszt's powerful nucleus.

To further solidify this point, Beethoven was the end of a long historical tradition of music developing in a straight line. After Liszt the music world splintered into many schools and directions. Liszt influenced not some but all of these various schools that emerged. No other composer in history can stake such a claim.

Liszt's creativity was like a bright light soaring through a prism - his magnificent rays of light fractured into multiple rays of diverse and colorful influence that spawned numerous new genres. This colorful array of influence extended from the Late Romantics (Rachmaninoff, Busoni and Mahler) to the Impressionists (Debussy and Ravel) onto the Atonal school (Schoenberg). These latter schools becoming prevalent only in the next century, well after Liszt's death. Bartók, Gershwin and even Sibelius, who only died in 1957, owed a great deal to Liszt. Thus Liszt's vast prismatic rays of influence enlightened the multitude, spanning two centuries, helping to shape the colorful diversity of musical forms we know and cherish today.

The Creative Process

It is also interesting to examine the process of creativity, which is universally overlooked, that also generated speculation regarding Liszt's output and influence to this day. The methodologies of Beethoven and perhaps all others preceeding Liszt differed immensely. Beethoven and Chopin in particular were reclusive and created slowly in solitude, with little distraction, working to reach that final end-product. Liszt, in contrast, was a major public figure who personally directed all aspects of Weimar's operatic and concert schedule, was barraged by students from all across the globe vying for his time and wisdom, and he perpetually traveled. Despite these distractions Liszt's creations flowed profusely - some brilliantly complete and finished, others as semi-gems, and yes, even those oddities that turned heads. This simply brings to light the complexity of Liszt's mind and his creative process amid a distracting and taxing schedule, but another and perhaps more interesting point is this... the common world-view was and remains that a creative work must have a definitive end result or final form.

Therefore, the real core of Liszt's essence is that he viewed the creative process as ever-evolving and not finite. Hence, he would rewrite pieces years later, sometimes offering two or more versions of the same work, or he would extract small bits from pieces that would resurface years or even decades later as totally new creations. Others saw this as a lack in vision, but in reality his vision was only becoming broader... a restless mind constantly juggling and experimenting with the limitless ideas that sparked through his cerebral circuitry. This awareness that time, knowledge and ideals perpetually change is evident in his life's work. His aim was to make his works grow, expand and mature, as he did, since, as in life, new and improved ideas systematically arise.

As such, it's fascinating to learn that as Liszt devised and perfected the metamorphosis of themes he himself exhibited a lifelong metamorphosis of creation. Kinetic and ever-evolving - in direct contrast to the norm. Hence, both creative methodologies utilize different philosophies; one rigid and conservative, the other fluid and liberal. Not that one should take precedence over the other, as we should embrace both, but again, most people are taught the former, as it has a beginning and a finalized end. Easier to teach, easier to learn, and easier to embrace. So, yes, we need to learn Liszt's unorthodox creative process, as well as his unconventional catalog of work. Henceforth, if we can learn not to prejudge and can remove the blinders of tradition, then we can all see Liszt's contribution more clearly.

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