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A star on the Bosphorus: Franz Liszt in Constantinople
In the 1840s Liszt is at the height of his glory. He is the most famous virtuoso in Europe, the 'king of pianists': invited by all the courts, disputed by the salons, reviewed by critics who compete in the formulas to describe his successes, and (in) followed by the chroniclers of all the gazettes . Above all, he is the idol of the public of concert halls and theaters, a public that pays him acclamations that border on phenomena of collective hysteria. It is the so-called 'Lisztomania'.

These are the years of 'Glanzperiode' (heyday, 1839 - 1848) as music historians have defined it: Liszt travels Europe several times from one end to the other and in all directions with his tours, travels from Vienna to Hungary, from Prague to Germany, from Paris to Great Britain, he goes to Gibraltar, Russia, modern day Romania, Belgium, Spain, Portugal ...

In his career as a virtuoso, however, one point on the map was still missing: Constantinople, the gateway to the East. Liszt wanted to reach Istanbul since 1838, as he wrote to a friend: "... [I have] the desire and the firm intention to go to Istanbul. . . " although I will need introductory letters from Prince Metternich ". However, the trip did not materialize due to the pregnancy of his partner, Countess Marie d'Agoult, pregnant with their third child. However Liszt continued to show a great interest in all aspects of Turkish culture, which in the context of 19th century Orientalism had already fascinated many of the writers and artists of his circle, first of all the writer and poet Alphonse de Lamartine, author of Voyage en Orient (1835). As Marie d'Agoult reported,"Franz speaks and dreams only of the Sultan and wishes to bring his music to the Ottoman people".

Finally in 1847, shortly before ending his career as an itinerant virtuoso, Liszt succeeded in his intent to visit the Ottoman Empire. The trip materialized thanks to the interest of Lamartine, the reformist Grand Vizier Mustafa Reşid Pascià (who had also been Ambassador to Paris, and to whom Lamartine wrote a letter of recommendation), and Giuseppe Donizetti Pascià, Gaetano's elder brother, who since 1846 he had informed his'Turkish brother ', in charge of imperial music at the Sultan's court, “My dear friend Franz Liszt strongly wishes to visit Istanbul”.

The reigning sultan was then Abdul Mejid I (in office from 1839 to 1861), who, continuing the work of his father Mahmud II, carried out, starting from 1839, a great reorganization of the Turkish administration, army and economy taking France as a model, the so-called Tanzimat (reforms), a context in which Westernization in the cultural sphere and the spread of European arts and lifestyles continued further.

Abdul Mejid himself had received a European-style education, and was the first sultan to speak French fluently. He was also interested in literature and classical music, dabbling in the piano and promoting the representations of the Italian opera (Donizetti, Rossini, Bellini), entrusted to the care of Giuseppe Donizetti, who also took care of organizing the concerts of the great virtuosos of the time)

Liszt arrived in Constantinople on June 8, 1847, aboard a steamship on which he had embarked two days earlier in Galati, a Romanian river port on the Danube delta, then crossing the Black Sea.

The local press had informed the public of the arrival of the most famous musical star in Europe six months in advance, and the famous piano factory Érard had sent a magnificent instrument, the flagship model of the house, specially from Paris for the occasion. The piano in question was sent to Donizetti, who had not disinterested communication even through an advertisement that appeared on 11 May 1847 in the 'Journal de Constantinople '. In the words of the manufacturer himself, Sébastien Pierre Érard, the piano is described as “a tail, grand La-Mi-La model, 7 octaves and three strings, Érard double escapement mechanics with all improvements, in mahogany, etc. ", and the "power and perfection". Érard and Liszt had long since entered into what we would now call a sponsorship agreement, and the manufacturer sent them wherever he played the best instruments. In the announcement addressed to Donizetti Pascià, Érard says in fact "Since our friend Liszt had to travel quickly from Odessa to Constantinople, we wanted him to find a piano worthy of his talent on his arrival in this city ”.

Liszt stayed in Constantinople for five weeks, as a guest of Donizetti who had procured him an apartment in the residence of the piano maker Alexander Kommendinger (a commemorative plaque commemorates his stay on the site of the palace, which no longer exists).

As soon as he landed, Liszt was already awaited by the twenty-four-year-old Sultan, who was perfectly aware of the artist's fame and career, as he himself noted when writing to Marie d'Agoult: "... I confess I was very surprised to find His Highness so well informed about what little celebrity I have, and to learn that long before my arrival he had instructed both the Ambassador of Austria and Donizetti to take me to the his Palace as soon as I arrived ”.

Liszt performed for the Sultan in the sumptuous palace on the Bosphorus. The latter was enchanted, entertained him amiably in good French, and wanted to listen to it again the next day. The artist, according to his tried and tested habit of reconnecting with some local element to effectively involve the public, asked Donizetti for the score of the march he had composed for the sovereign, the Mecidiye marşı, on which he performed a piano paraphrase of spectacular virtuosity, given to the press the following year in Berlin.

Abdul Mejid rewarded him with an enameled snuffbox, studded with pearls and diamonds and filled with gold coins, still kept at the Liszt Haus in Weimar, and with the award of the Order of Glory (Nişan-i İftihar) - an honorary title established on the model of the Western Orders of Chivalry - in gold, silver and diamonds.

During his stay, Liszt held a series of highly popular public and private concerts in various elegant halls and venues in the city, including the Russian Embassy on Gran Via di Pera and the Franchini inn in Galata. As was his custom, he also gave a matinee, allocating the proceeds to the poor.

The programs included, among other things, the Overture by William Tell by Rossini, a Fantasia on the motifs of Sleepwalking by Bellini, a Mazurka by Chopin, the Paraphrase on the March by Donizetti, the Galop chromatique. Since the Italian opera Constantinople was very much in vogue as we have seen, the opera transcriptions found a receptive audience.

Liszt ended his concert series with great success, being acclaimed and celebrated everywhere. The precious piano on which he had played, was purchased for the conspicuous sum of 16 thousand plates by a young Greek named Baltaci, who gave it to his fiancée, a "romantic destiny" as Liszt himself defined it, informing the manufacturer Érard.

On July 13 Liszt took the ship back to Galati, closing his incredible career as a virtuoso having embraced the east and west in a single glance in the panorama of Istanbul.

A magnificent seal for an extraordinary period and the beginning of a new phase in his life as an artist and as a man.

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