I will then give a Romantic piano concerto on the original, beautiful Erard grand piano on which Liszt played his famous duel with Thalberg in the palace of the Italian princess Belgiojoso. Around 1830, Paris was the center of romantic piano music. The two most popular pianist-composers were Franz Liszt and Sigismund Thalberg. Starting in 1835, Thalberg literally and figuratively had free rein, as Liszt had begun a relationship with the married Countess Marie d’Agoult and had to flee with his lover, as his fans did not accept this relationship.
The fact that Thalberg now presented himself as the best pianist in Paris did not please Liszt at all. He devised a ruse: he had Marie write a scathing article about Thalberg’s Grande Fantaisie under a pseudonym: ‘extraordinarily monotonous, impotent’ were some of the qualifications. Thalberg’s Parisian fans, who also understood who the article really came from, were furious and demanded a piano duel between the two composers. This duel took place in 1837, for listeners at the time a grand event, comparable in popularity to an international soccer match today.
The Italian princess Cristina Trivulzio de Belgiojoso organized the duel; she also made available the magnificent Erard grand piano, later named after her. This duel was the conclusion of a benefit festival for Italian political refugees, which she organized on a grand scale. Archrivals Liszt and Thalberg played compositions of their own, and after public voting the result was: Thalberg was the best, but Liszt was unique!
Anno 2023, we can say which composer has stood the test of time and which composer has fallen into oblivion.
The Belgiojoso grand piano on which the duel took place was for sale at the TEFAF in Maastricht (asking price €800,000) and is now at Maison Erard in Enkhuizen.
I will, like Liszt 186 years ago in the famous duel, play the Niobe Fantasie on this grand piano. I will also play Liszt’s Dante sonata and two ballads by Chopin.
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