Lisztomania: For the love of music

Growing up, I hated music. I had been exposed to the popular music of the early 2000s before anything else, and if you can remember any early Miley Cyrus hits or other millennial-teen music that had permeated down through the public school system and into the ears of the impressionable youth, my original sentiments towards music seem justified. After spending nearly eight years believing that I would live a life devoid of melody, I discovered classical music. This music was entirely different in the sense that I didn’t feel like the performer was syringe-feeding a message to me through shallow lyrics but was rather presenting to me an opportunity to interpret the melodies as I pleased. The complexity of classical music transfixed me, and the breadth of styles gave me insight into the scope of human musical production, which spanned so far beyond Britney Spears. This revelation led to the largest paradigm shift that I have experienced to date: I discovered that my life would not be complete without music. I had become a Lisztomaniac.

The song, “Lisztomania,” by the French rock band, Phoenix, was released in 2009, when I was nine years old and a budding Lisztomaniac. The title of this song pays homage to an obsession with Hungarian composer and virtuosic pianist Franz Liszt, who lived in the 19th century. In the same way the “Beatlemania” movement took Beatles fans by storm in the 1960s, Liszt’s fans experienced similar sensations over a century earlier. When on a concert tour of Europe in the 1840s, fans were known to faint upon seeing the young, rugged pianist, and would attempt to steal locks of his hair. To describe this behavior, German journalist Heinrich Heine coined the term “Lisztomania.” Medical professionals of the time treated Lisztomania as a manic mental disorder due to the elevated levels of arousal in people with manic tendencies, and, evidently, in people who loved Liszt. It is unclear exactly why the pianist received such a response, although it is speculated that it was a combination of his exceptional musical skills and unusually good looks. Whatever the cause, the term “Lisztomania” has withstood the test of time, and has made its way into the modern English vernacular as a term describing the need to always be listening to music.

The Phoenix hit, “Lisztomania,” in my opinion, is not explicitly exploring the idea of needing to listen to music constantly, but rather the need to search for a deeper meaning in different aspects of our lives. In this weekly column, I do not intend to review classical music, “syringe-feed” my favorite songs to you and coerce you into appreciating them. This column is simply an exploration of music history, and hopefully, a source of inspiration for finding music that is meaningful to you.

To begin, here is a short Liszt of some of Franz’s compositions to ignite your Lisztomanic tendencies.

Liebestraum in A-Flat Major

Piano Concerto No. 1

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor

Grandes études de Paganini – “La Campanella”

Étude de Concert No.2 – “La Leggierezza”


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