Light, Camera, Action!

Well, it’s begun! After more than twelve years of planning, we began shooting “talking head” interviews with scholars in January and commenced filming the major segments of Liszt in the World last week. Happening concurrently, Betty and I slip away to shoot several long scenes and interviews in Weimar, Germany and Budapest, Hungary. These two […]

Well, it’s begun!

After more than twelve years of planning, we began shooting “talking head” interviews with scholars in January and commenced filming the major segments of Liszt in the World last week. Happening concurrently, Betty and I slip away to shoot several long scenes and interviews in Weimar, Germany and Budapest, Hungary. These two cities, along with Rome and Paris, were the chief homestead for Franz Liszt during his “Glanzzeit” years, years of splendor.

After achieving international fame as the greatest living pianist, Liszt settled in Weimar with his second mistress, Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, to take up the baton. As Kapellmeister, Liszt championed the orchestral and operatic works of many then-unknown composers such as Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, and many others. We will shoot scenes at The Altenburg, Liszt’s principal residence at the time. He had been appointed by Grand Duke Carl Alexander to reclaim the intellectual mantle of Weimar made famous by Johann Goethe and Anton Schiller a generation earlier. We will conduct interviews with Dr. Detlef Altenburg, Head of musicology at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Weimar.

A few days later, we fly–for the fifth time–back to Budapest for the shooting of important scenes with Dr. Maria Eckhardt, at the Franz Liszt Museum and Research Center. The Museum has recreated the living quarters of Liszt and holds a number of original scores and important documents for perusal.

At the end of September, we’ll bring all of these segments together in the editing room–interviews, studio shots, concert performances, narration, (even a Bugs Bunny cartoon strip) to tell the story of the remarkable musician, author, entrepreneur, philanthropist, Abbe of the Catholic Church, father, conductor, composer–lover! In truth, Franz Liszt was the first truly “international musician.” Some claim he was the first “rock star.” We go as far as to suggest that Franz Liszt was the “first European.”

Stay tuned to this blog and for the film’s premiere later this year when we attempt to tell the story of the most famous artist of the 19th century, Franz Liszt (1811-86)

Cecil Lytle
Betty McManus

The Naked Liszt Premieres March 11th

Late in 2010, we finished the scripts for our documentary film, Liszt In The World. We were astounded by the wealth of materials we had gathered over the dozen years of research and travels in search of the interior life and music of Franz Liszt. While continuing to develop the script, fund raising, grant writing, […]

Late in 2010, we finished the scripts for our documentary film, Liszt In The World. We were astounded by the wealth of materials we had gathered over the dozen years of research and travels in search of the interior life and music of Franz Liszt. While continuing to develop the script, fund raising, grant writing, and the shooting schedule, Betty came up with the brilliant idea to combine musical initiatives.

Rather quickly during the month of December, we reviewed our materials to develop a stage adaptation of the three-hour documentary film. That stage performance evolved along the lines of a musical program I have presented on-and-off for the past twenty years. The Naked Gershwin is a concert performance where I am joined by two musicians (a drummer and bassist) to form a jazz trio. We perform with a narrator who reads a script based on letters to, from, or about the fabulous Gershwins.

Staring at the script for Liszt In The World, it dawned on Betty that we could present a similar stage performance of the film as a teaser for the longer more extensive film project. Hence, The Naked Liszt was born! This stage adaptation of the film was first presented in the Conrad Prebys Concert Hall in La Jolla, California on Sunday, January 30, 2011 (click here to download the event program). It’s airing in March on UCSD-TV and UCTV and audiences around the world can view The Naked Liszt by clicking here.

But don’t confuse the genre. The Naked Liszt is only but a small sampler of the rich music, interviews, and narrative to be presented in the documentary film, Liszt In The World. We expect to premiere the film in late 2011. Keep checking this site for the latest information and progress reports.

Ready, Set, Rome!

As the New Year approached, Betty and I made our much-delayed trip to Italy to scout sites for the final episode of the film. Having read the many biographies and accounts of Liszt’s final years, his activities in and around Rome were a blur of motion. He lived in many different residences; his activities often […]

As the New Year approached, Betty and I made our much-delayed trip to Italy to scout sites for the final episode of the film. Having read the many biographies and accounts of Liszt’s final years, his activities in and around Rome were a blur of motion. He lived in many different residences; his activities often overlapped and come down to us today as a confusion of associations, disjointed locations, sudden shifts, and seemingly long periods of inactivity. We chased after Liszt in Rome traipsing through narrow alleys, broad boulevards, and mountaintops that he frequented beginning in 1861. But it was one afternoon standing atop the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome, that it suddenly became clear to us how Liszt intuitively framed his existence in Rome.

His appointment in Weimar had ended disastrously in 1859 with the failure of the court orchestra, the death of two of his children, severe public criticism of his compositions, and the death of his chief benefactor in Weimar, Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. Rome was to be a new beginning for Liszt.

Still a man without a country, Franz Liszt built his world around the Spanish Steps. Just to the east a few blocks along Via Felice (renamed Via Sistina), he took his first Roman residence in an hostel for traveling priests; at the bottom of the steps (plazza di Spagna) he regularly met with his Italian colleague and student Giovanni Sgambati; his mistress and muse, Carolyn von Sayn-Wittgenstein, took an apartment a few blocks north on Via del Baubino; Caffe Greco was the meeting place for Liszt and his students to enjoy cigars and brandy; he frequently performed and taught at the Academy de Santa Cecilia within earshot of Carolyne’s windows; and, Santa Francesca Romana was an elegant apartment on the grounds of one of Rome’s most famous chapels and just a short walk from the Spanish Steps. These locations functioned as his secular abodes for music-making, hosting guests, and teaching.

Liszt simultaneously maintained several more remote and secluded dwellings to feed his spiritual life. The Dominican monastery atop Monte Mario in Rome, Madonna del Rosario, was his home for five years (1863-68). In it he maintained a small cell a few feet square with little more than a table, chair, a wooden bed, and a piano (with a missing “D”). Overlapping all of these dates, Liszt maintained an apartment more distant from the center of Rome in Tivoli. Via d’Este was then and is today a sprawling villa built along the contours of a cascade of waters. The fountains and cypresses of Villa d’Este became the subject of his most impressive piano compositions late in life.

Shooting Interviews

For over four years, we have planned to spend a number of days shooting “talking head” interviews with the leading Liszt scholars in Europe. Thanks to the annual meeting of the American Liszt Society (ALS), many of these scholars were clustered in Athens, Georgia a few weeks ago for the annual ALS meeting, February 16-20, […]

For over four years, we have planned to spend a number of days shooting “talking head” interviews with the leading Liszt scholars in Europe. Thanks to the annual meeting of the American Liszt Society (ALS), many of these scholars were clustered in Athens, Georgia a few weeks ago for the annual ALS meeting, February 16-20, 2011. The interviews will be incorporated into the documentary to enliven and heighten topics being presented.

Most often, I interviewed our guests. However, Betty interviewed the most interesting person attending the ALS conference. Dr. Gabriella Wolz is a Hungarian research biologist who plans her vacations around the annual meetings of the American Liszt Society and has been a regular attendee for over ten years. Though not a performer or scholar, she had both personal and musical insights about why people in general–and Hungarians, in particular–are rabid about the music and life of Franz Liszt. Her interview emphasizes the effect Liszt has on the devotion of his present-day countrymen and women.

Not seen in the photo is the cameraman and film’s director, Ken Kebow. In the spring of 2011, we are planning a trip with Ken to the east coast to interview scholars in New York City and at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Shooting interviews is grueling but imaginative work. You spend an hour or more talking with someone who is very excited about their research on Liszt to eventually wind up with 20 to 30 seconds of “useable” material.

Everything Old Becomes New Again

A new year affords the opportunity to reflect on what’s gone before while looking ahead to new possibilities. In this spirit, I can think of no better way to kick off 2011 than by presenting new musical contributions from old and valued friends. • La Jolla Music Society SummerFest – During the 18 years (!) […]

A new year affords the opportunity to reflect on what’s gone before while looking ahead to new possibilities. In this spirit, I can think of no better way to kick off 2011 than by presenting new musical contributions from old and valued friends.

La Jolla Music Society SummerFest – During the 18 years (!) of our association, SummerFest has moved from strength to strength, and the three 2010 concerts which premiere this month on UCSD-TV reflect the range, depth and joyous musicality which have always characterized this chamber music festival.

San Diego Opera – Since the premiere of San Diego Opera Spotlight in January 1997, our collaboration with the Opera has grown to include two additional series, San Diego OperaTalk and, most recently, San Diego Opera Stars in the Salon (formerly Artists’ Roundtable). To my knowledge this partnership is unique in the opera world, as the three series combine to produce a long-term, comprehensive portrait of the history and evolution of a vital art form. The new season of opera programming premieres this month with a behind-the-scenes peek at Puccini’s Turandot and continues its run through the end of May.

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus – This community-based ensemble has performed challenging music on the UCSD campus for over 50 years. UCSD-TV’s association with the Symphony (and mine) began in 1993, and it remains a touchstone in my professional life. The Symphony combines respect for tradition with an adventurous spirit, presenting established repertoire alongside challenging new or undeservedly obscure works. Their 2010 concert, Color, premiering in February, is an excellent example of what the Symphony does best.  The program spans the 20th century, from Mahler to Bernstein, and includes a dynamic performance of Alexandre Scriabin’s pioneering multimedia composition, Prometheus, the Poem of Fire.

Rebecca Lytle Memorial Concerts – UCSD-TV has presented Professor Emeritus and pianist Cecil Lytle in annual concerts since 1998. Through the years Cecil has displayed his virtuosity in a wide range of formats and styles, including classical, ragtime, jazz, blues, popular standards and, yes, tango. This year’s concert is a multimedia exploration of the life, influences and legacy of Hungarian master Franz Liszt. The Naked Liszt premieres on UCSD-TV in March.

Berthold Auerbach wrote, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” I like to think that UCSD-TV is doing its part to make the world a cleaner place.