Franz Liszt's “Chopin” was published for the first time in installments by "France Musicale" in 1851, less than two years after the death of the artist who was celebrated there.
Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein influenced Liszt both in the first draft of the text and in the two reprints of 1879 and 1882. Carolyn, who lived alongside Liszt for fifteen years, and who kept an eye on him for the rest of his days, wrote a History of the Catholic Church in twenty-four volumes: to give an idea of the size of the work, we will say that the third volume, presented by Liszt at the customs office in Budapest, had 1149 pages. Therefore Carolyn was not the writer who tended to synthesis or Cartesian measure.
And neither was Liszt.
Liszt's prose is that of an orator, of an orator who does not read but harangues. And his “Chopin” is a kind of prayer in defense of an artist who, let us not forget, had written neither a melodrama nor a symphony.
Today we see Chopin together with Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner. In 1849 his disappearance was announced in the "Musical Times" of London in ten lines, under the title "Death of the pianist Chopin".
Liszt made Chopin the representative and the poet of a nation and a civilization, the exiled witness of an ancient, very noble and oppressed nationality.
And while showing some misunderstanding for the most extreme aspects of Chopin's art, and while giving some unreliable biographical information (of which Chopin's family grieved), he created a mausoleum that led the public to consider Chopin worthy of a mausoleum.
In the chapter dedicated to Chopin's virtuosity, which is the most interesting for us, precisely because there is nothing tangible left of Chopin as a pianist, Liszt could have told us much more: for example, where he held his elbows in the study Op. 25 N. 2, how he acted with the weight of his arm in the first movement of the Sonata Op. 35, why Chopin had been so impressed by his performance, which Liszt had made him listen to, of the Etudes Op. 10.
But Liszt was not aiming at the description, much less the precise description: his aim was the evocation, the evocation of a hero.
The Chopin that emerges from his pages has perhaps never existed: it is certainly the one that Liszt made his great students listen to, like Tausig, like Rosenthal, like d’Albert.
Liszt's “Chopin” is therefore not the first critical biography of Chopin, but it is the first document in the history of Chopin's interpretation, just as the interpretation of the character is his mausoleum.
Biographers always looked at Liszt with undisguised suspicion, even assuming that he wanted to falsify the story and create an image of Chopin made to measure. Which, while not wrong, should not be judged moralistically: the realistic detail is not tied to the logical links of historical discourse, but drowns in the epic flow of Liszt's prose.
As a diarist Liszt was wrong, but as an ideologue he was right.