Admired and Hated


“It was chiefly Liszt (along with Paganini and Wagner) who taught the nineteenth century plebs the meaning of the word ‘artist’.” F. Nietzsche’s statement is a two-edged sword: On the one hand, he had to admit to the undeniable role of the above-mentioned composers/performers in the dissemination of culture to the ‘plebs’, on the other hand, he considered all three of them as virtuosi. In his eyes, this was not a compliment, and it must have been particularly hurtful for Wagner, who – as we shall see at the end of this paper – had a difficult relationship with performers in general and clearly did not want to be counted among the virtuosi. More importantly, Nietzsche’s statement also reveals the main audience for the virtuoso performer in the nineteenth century: the ‘plebs’, the common people. In the first part of this paper, I will discuss the positive and negative concepts and roles of virtuosity and their implication on society; the second part will explore the relationship between composers and virtuoso performers, in particular Liszt and Wagner.