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Liszt’s Greatest Pupil

Lawrence Bush
July 16, 2017

Carl Tausig, a virtuoso pianist considered to be Franz Liszt’s most accomplished pupil, died in Leipzig at age 29 on this date in 1871. Born in Warsaw to a pianist-composer father, Tausig was introduced to Liszt at 14 and became his favorite student, accompanying the master on concert tours. He was also close friends with Richard Wagner, many of whose operas he adapted for piano, and Johannes Brahms. In his short life, Tausig developed an extensive repertory, playing from memory works by Liszt, Scarlatti, and others, and becoming famous for his intense interpretations of Chopin and Beethoven. He was “known for his exemplary technique, [and] ranks with Franz Liszt and Anton Rubinstein as one of the three greatest pianists of the 19th century,” according to the Bach Cantatas website. “Liszt himself said that Tausig had ‘fingers of steel.’ ” Rubinstein called him “the infallible.” To hear one of Tausig’s few compositions for piano, look below.

“Although his playing was considered eccentric in his younger years, Tausig developed a mature style that was praised for technical dexterity, superb tone, and exquisite touch. Unlike Liszt, he was extremely quiet at the piano, hiding all evidence of physical effort.” --Encyclopedia Britannica

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.