The Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum has a gigantic assortment of books and scores that Liszt had collected and in his will ordered them all to become the property of the Music Academy...



- The Most Beautifully Decorated Scores of Liszt’s Private Collection

The new temporary exhibition of the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum

on the first floor and the ground floor

12 May 2018 – 4 May 2019

Lending institutions:

Stamp Museum

Budapest History Museum – Kiscelli Museum

Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music Research Library

National Széchényi Library Manuscript Collection

Curators: Anna Peternák, Júlia Fedoszov, Lilla Bokor

Installation: Tímea Bősze

The Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum has a gigantic assortment of books and scores that Liszt had collected and in his will ordered them all to become the property of the Music Academy. Every score and book has a round shaped blue stamp with the text “The estate of Liszt Ferenc”. Although there are nearly 2500 books and scores in the Museum, only a very small fraction of the gigantic collection has been made public, because many of the composers whose works are in the collection have little or no connection to Liszt at all. On the other hand these compositions were created during Liszt’s time and thus reflect the most important trends of the 19th century helping us determine what people liked in those days. The amount of scores he left behind is also a reminder of the composer’s generosity, another proof of the well-known fact that Liszt supported young composers, he was a mentor for many, but this activity eventually became a burden.

These decorative, beautifully illustrated covers give us a perfect idea of aesthetics and taste of people in the 19th century. Decorative as they are it is certain that Liszt wasn’t fascinated by all of them. A significant part of the collection are scores that were sent to Liszt by his admirers hoping to receive a letter of appreciation in return, but the composer repeatedly stated and published open letters asking people not to send him anything, because he was unable to concentrate on his own work.

The following messages appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik on 10 November 1882 and 31 October 1884:

“To the Honorable Editor!

As I am continuously receiving scores, compositions and other forms of letters which are hindering my own work tremendously, I hereby ask you to publish my statement that I am no longer available in that respect. I have been modestly rejecting request from autograph collectors for many years.


Franz Liszt

Weimar, November 1882.”

“I cannot grant the request of autograph collectors and also beseech everyone not to send me unwanted compositions and autographs. Fr. Liszt”

Liszt received the works from composers but some of the scores were given to him by publishers and students. He saved all of them regardless of their quality. The exhibition concentrates on the scores sent by Liszt contemporaries only. There is a large selection of works by musicians Liszt was actually in contact with, he knew them personally, or through correspondence and some were his students or protégés at one point. Just a few examples: Bedřich Smetana, William Mason, César Cui, Robert Franz, Antal Siposs, Kornél Ábrányi, Mihály Mosonyi, Joseph d’Ortigue, Camille Saint-Saëns, Felix Draeseke.

In the beginning of the 19th century cover pages were very simple with practically no decoration (maybe a little flower or a basic drawing) but as graphic design techniques developed – especially lithography - richly illustrated, decorative cover pages were published. By the 1860s it became general that the scores of salon music and dance music were attractively decorated while in Hungary the scores of folk-like art songs and czardas music had ornaments on the cover. This was of course a business decision as publishers were aware that beautifully decorated scores were easier to sell especially if the composer’s name was not as well known or not as popular to encourage people to buy their works. Liszt’ compositions didn’t need such extra attention, but sometimes he ordered illustrations when he thought it was important to connect the illustration to the composition as in the case of Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From the Cradle to the Grave) which is actually a symphonic poem based on an engraving by Mihály Zichy or Sposalizio (based on the Rafael painting) or Il Penseroso (based on the Michelangelo sculpture).

It is worth mentioning that high quality illustrations on scores were very rare in those times because neither Hungarian nor foreign publishers entrusted famous artists to decorate music scores. That is why Zichy’s masterpiece should be treasured. Another unique series of illustrations is that of Jenő Hubay’s 18 Hungarian Original Songs, for voice and piano, words by Petőfi where each song is accompanied by an original drawing by a famous Hungarian artist (see display case 7). Among the notable artists are Károly Lotz, Mihály Munkácsy, Árpád Feszty and Mihály Zichy who all contributed with a drawing just like their lesser- known but talented contemporaries János Jankó, Béla Spányi and Mihály Szemlér. The situation outside Hungary was just about the same concerning the illustration of scores: names like Antoine Barbizet or Yan’ Dargent are completely unknown today and there are several more mysterious artists whose signatures can be seen on some of the scores of the Budapest collection: we will probably never find out who Prina, Sperati, Ed. Hébert, Römer, P. Borie, Gaspar, T. Laval were. There are many illustrations without signatures. If we look around in a store today, there are thousands of items in colorful boxes and the designers are completely unknown and we really do not care who they were. This may have been the case with many of the cover pages of the music scores published in the 19th century. The illustration itself was more important than the artist who made the drawing, most of them probably didn’t even consider the lithographs as works of art, just a task they were given. Artists who were proud of their illustrations signed the works and by doing so, preserved their names.

The lively illustrations on the cover pages not only contributed to the selling of the scores but usually carried essential information about the compositions: the figures and motifs relate to the character and style of the music inside. It can refer to the orchestration, to its religious, secular or national character, it might contain information about the composer and about the composition itself. The motifs on the covers are fairly typical, so they can easily be grouped based on certain characteristics. Looking at the scores of the Liszt collection one can identify the most popular topics of the second half of the 19th century. The exhibited samples of the Liszt collection are not only a showcase of the works of his contemporaries, not only a collection of forgotten names, but the cover pages provide a fairly precise impression of 19th century applied arts and the typical motifs used for decoration. A great number of drawings have a direct reference to sound, for example birds, instruments (also angels, putti or other allegories) or a dance scene. The scores are displayed in thematic groups so the display cases on the 1st floor are scores decorated with: flowers, birds, ornaments, portraits (woman portraits, composer portraits or royal majesties), Hungarian landscapes and genre scenes, towns or landscapes and flags. The ground floor display cases are scores with exotic scenes, putti, children, angels, instruments, fairy tale figures and heroes. The exhibition is not chronological, so you can choose where you would like to begin the tour. There are also a few applied art pieces that have a similar atmosphere as the motifs on the scores: stamps from the Stamp Museum and objects from the Kiscelli Museum - Budapest History Museum.