A Book of Liszts – Variations
The publication of John Spurling’s ‘biography’ of Franz Liszt celebrates his career as a dazzling performer, composer and conductor – a 19th century international superstar. Its publication coincides with Liszt’s bicentenary in October 2011. It is a ‘biography’ that has been well-researched but that also contains elements of fiction, and it uses different literary devices and viewpoints which one might associate with fiction writing. Each of the 15 chapters is self-contained, and represents ‘variations on a theme’ of Liszt’s life covering his colourful love affairs, his friendship with Wagner and his hypnotic effect on his audiences. It is an innovative book, which in some aspects mirrors Liszt’s original approach to composition.
The author’s background as a playwright, novelist and the New Statesman’s art critic has no doubt enabled the writer to create a work of nonfiction that reads like a novel. Parts of the book read like a play script, and I was intrigued by the way that the author transformed Liszt’s correspondence with Marie d’Agoult into a mini-opera/play. It also includes three CDs of music. This is a subtle, elegantly written and witty ‘biography’, which manages to be interesting throughout. Much to my surprise I loved it!