The recital is an invention of romanticism or, more exactly, of an intensely romantic artist, Franz Liszt, and of an artist, Ignaz Moscheles, who was always looking at romanticism with a little reserve.
The term "recital on the piano" was adopted by Liszt in London on June 9, 1840.
Before inventing the denomination, however, Liszt he had invented the event: the show of a musical solitary knight struggling with a dragon called public.
This happened in Rome where he carried on an entire concert by himself for the first time. The program included his transcription of Rossini's Symphony of William Tell, his Reminiscences of the "Puritans", a choice of his studies and an improvisation on themes proposed by the public. In a letter to Cristina di Belgiojoso, dated June 4, 1839, Liszt called the Roman concerts "soliloques musicaux", and listed the above-mentioned program.
The following year the "soliloques" were replaced with the "recital"; the name was first discussed with a little irony, but soon entered into use and remained there.
We don't know how and why Liszt chose the term recital which means "story", "tale"; it corresponds to the French récit, but in English no less than in French - the most familiar language for Liszt - has the same root as "acting" and "reciting".
It can be observed that, at least in Vienna, in mixed concerts of the 30s, pieces of dramatic acting were often included. For example, two actresses from the court theater, Madame Rettich and Mademoiselle Marie Denker, participated in the concerts that Liszt held in 1838.
The court theater actor Herr Anschütz took part at the great debut in Vienna of the eighteen year old Sigismund Thalberg, on April 3, 1830; also in 1836 Thalberg had several actors as partners, including Madame Rettich who would later collaborate with Liszt.
From the use of the recitation inserted in a concert Liszt could therefore have taken the idea of the term recital.
The first Roman occasion for the creation of the recital influenced, of course, its content. By placing himself in front of an Italian audience, who loved melodrama madly and who did not profess the cult of instrumental music, Liszt invented the recital as a replacement show of the opera.
Two years earlier, in front of a London audience, who had been fanatic of instrumental music, at least symphonic, since Haydn's time, Moscheles had invented the recital as a musical conference, as an exquisitely cultural event.
On February 18, 1837 Moscheles did not present himself to the public alone, because he had invited some singers to collaborate in four pieces. But he performed on his own at least a dozen compositions, by Weber (Sonata Op. 24), Bach (Preludes and fugue in C sharp major, C sharp minor and D major from the Well-tempered Clavier, it is not known whether from the first or second book), Beethoven (Sonata Op. 31 N. 2, Sonata Op. 81), Scarlatti (choice of pieces), Händel (The harmonious blacksmith), Moscheles (choice of Studies Op. 95). And to play Scarlatti, "on demand", he had used the harpsichord.
The approach followed by Moscheles was culturally perfect and audacious: a historical span of a hundred years, with the recovery not only of the music but also of the instrument of the past.
Liszt's approach, on the contrary, was a bit self-centered, and not only in Rome but also in London: the first London recital included the Scherzo and Finale of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony transcribed by Liszt, Schubert's Serenade and Ave Maria transcribed by Liszt, Liszt's Hexameron, Chopin, Thalberg, Pixis, Herz and Czerny, the Tarantella of Auber’s Muta di Portici paraphrased by Liszt, the Grand Galop chromatique of Liszt.
A little symphonic, a little opera, a little chamber singing, a little original piano music: a kind of photograph on the piano of what was then the typical mixed concert.
Moscheles, however, was able to present only few others of his exemplary programs, because even the British public was finally terrified.
Liszt instead played in recitals for years and in all European countries, introducing increasingly culturally and intellectually demanding music into his programs.