Duel Pianists – Liszt and Thalberg

Liszt’s 200th birthday falls this week on Saturday 22 October, and on Wednesday at Hatchlands in Surrey I’m giving a recital on an 1845 Erard piano signed by Thalberg, his greatest rival. ‘Old Arpeggio’ was the nickname given to Sigismund Thalberg because of a particular feature of his piano writing, which sometimes gave the melody to the thumbs while surrounding them with arpeggios above and below, sounding as if he had three hands.

 Thalberg was a fine pianist according to contemporaries Mendelssohn, Hallé and Clara Schumann; even Chopin said that he ‘played excellently’… and Paris divided itself into Thalbergian and Lisztian supporters in 1836. There were inflammatory remarks in the press, rival concerts in the Conservatoire (Thalberg) and the Opéra  (Liszt) in March 1837, culminating in a pianistic duel as part of a benefit concert for Italian refugees organised by Princess Belgiojoso in her salon. Although many artists played in the event, it was  the contributions by the two pianists which caught the public imagination.

 ‘Never was Liszt more controlled, more thoughtful, more energetic, more passionate; never has Thalberg played with greater verve and tenderness. Each of them prudently stayed within his harmonic domain, but each used every one of his resources. It was an admirable joust. The most profound silence fell over that noble arena. And finally Liszt and Thalberg were both proclaimed victors by this glittering and intelligent assembly… Thus two victors and no vanquished …’ wrote critic Jules Janin in the Journal des Débats; although the Princess’s verdict was:  ‘Thalberg is the first pianist in the world – Liszt is unique.’

The instrument used for the duel was also an Erard – purchased by the Princess with Liszt there at the time, according to the Erard register of instruments (third entry, 13317, right).

The actual instrument was rediscovered in Miami in 2001. Read about it here.

This entry was posted in Composers, Music, Pianists, Places and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Duel Pianists – Liszt and Thalberg

  1. Enjoy the concert – and the piano! I know Hatchlands well – so sorry I can’t make it: lack of ticket and teaching commitments. 😦

  2. Thank Fran – another time, I hope!

  3. Pierre says:

    Found your article while researching Liszt and Thalberg for a blogging project I am involved in this month. Read more about it here:


    Hope you get to browse and listen to some of the materials and tell me what you think!

    Pierre from Ottawa

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