“I am going deeper and deeper into Dante’s forest...” (Franz Liszt)

20 September 2021

Opening of the exhibition: October 10, 18:00 PM, Atrium of the Academy of Music (1061 Budapest, Liszt Ferenc tér 8.)


Franz Liszt and his contemporaries were intensely preoccupied with a truly insurmountable challenge: how to transpose Dante Alighieri’s poetry into the language of music and how to visualize it. Liszt was particularly interested in the story of the otherworldly journey that Dante went on in the Divina Commedia. Most of all, the drama of the Inferno piqued his curiosity, the representation of demonic horrors, the hopeless situation of the suffering souls and the forbidden love: the tragedy of Paolo and Francesca. Liszt arranged the Divina Commedia in the form of a piano piece (Dante Sonata) and a symphonic orchestral work (Dante Symphony). Nevertheless, he felt that the music alone was not enough to represent the greatness of Dante’s poetry. Liszt intended to show how music, poetry and visual art can be effectively combined in a multimedia diorama performance. Very few composers were as open to the achievements of other art forms as Franz Liszt. His relationship with the Italian arts is particularly diverse; he was inspired not only by the poetry of Dante, but also by the works of Petrarca, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Salvator Rosa. He collected these compositions in Années des pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie.


This exhibition presents not only Liszt’s interest in Dante and his compositions inspired by Dante, but also gives a context for the topic: Dante’s life and poetry are also presented, with particular attention to the Divina Commedia, while also briefly discussing the 19th century ’Dante mania’ by using examples related to Liszt. Visual artists are represented in the exhibition, with whom Liszt had a personal relationship and knew their Dante-related works. A few stories illustrate the revival of Hungarian Dante reception, such as the Hell Panorama of the City Park Budapest (opened in 1896) or Ferenc Pulszky’s Dante evening in Florence.


In the Purgatorio, Canto X, Dante and Virgil are looking at the pictures of a special ‘exhibition’. Carved in the snow-white marble of Purgatory’s hill, magnificent reliefs can be seen which are almost alive, speaking, nearly making sounds. In his poetry, Dante combines music and visuality, relying on our imagination when he writes the following lines about a relief representing King David and the Ark of the Covenant:


“There, carved in that same marble, were the cart

and oxen as they drew the sacred ark,

which makes men now fear tasks not in their charge.

People were shown in front; and all that group,

divided into seven choirs, made

two of my senses speak—one sense said, “No,”

the other said, “Yes, they do sing”; just so,

about the incense smoke shown there, my nose

and eyes contended, too, with yes and no.”


(Dante: Divina Commedia, Purgatorio, Canto X, 55–63, translated by Allen Mandelbaum)


On the bottom part of the posters of this exhibition are illustrations of the Divina Commedia by Bonaventura Genelli and Gustave Doré as a frieze, mimicking the above mentioned episode from Purgatorio.



The exhibition is a joint program of Müpa Budapest and the Liszt Academy as part of the Liszt Fest.

Created by the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum and Research Centre


Curators: Bodrogai Dóra, Halász Krisztina, Peternák Anna

Graphic design: Szabó Ferenc

English proofreading: Paul Merrick


Thanks to the partners:


Archivio Fotografico del Comune di San Severino Marche

ELTE University Library and Archives

Festival Liszt Albano – contributor: Maurizio D’Alessandro

Library of Congress

Hungarian National Museum, Historical Photo Department

Petőfi Literary Museum

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery

Liszt Ferenc Research Library