Franz Liszt and the Virtuoso Public Sphere

Lawrence Kramer

in Musical Meaning

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2001 | ISBN: 9780520228245
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928329 | DOI:
Franz Liszt and the Virtuoso Public Sphere

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This chapter attempts to sketch out some of the cultural meanings of a virtuoso with a concentration on Franz Liszt, who defined the model that subsequent virtuosos have been expected either to emulate or to reject. Technical wizardry and sexual magnetism set the Lisztian virtuoso sharply apart from the Orphean singer. A virtuoso's instrument carries no metaphysical privilege; it is a machine that must be manually operated and yet spiritualized. The virtuoso becomes a magnet for the multiple ambivalences that have haunted the concept of appearance itself in relation to the body, theatricality, deception, and rhetoric. The virtuoso concert can be understood historically as part of a long series of performance genres devised to attract a large public. Many of these genres originated in the social and cultural turmoil of Paris during the Restoration and July Monarchy. The virtuoso concert combines the contradictory functions of ceremony and carnival. It exacts disciplined attention from the audience along with awe at the performer's preternatural skill and frees the audience to take personal pleasure in the spectacle of the virtuoso's face and body, which is a medium of identification and desire.

Keywords: Franz Liszt; virtuoso public sphere; Orphean; virtuosity; Harmonies du Soir; rise of mass entertainment

Chapter.  12393 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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