The Best Music of Franz Liszt for Your Classical Music Playlist

A Franz Liszt Classical Music Playlist

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Franz Liszt (1811-1886), the great romantic period composer and virtuoso pianist best known for his works like Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, Liebestraum, and La Campanella. Photo by PALM/RSCH /Redferns

Nineteenth-century virtuoso pianist and composer Franz Liszt was an especially gifted and extremely talented pianist. The Hungarian's works, written over 125 years ago, are still widely performed in concert halls around the world today and used extensively in television, cinema, radio and commercial media. The 10 Liszt works listed below include pieces that every classical music playlist should include.

Franz Liszt Classical Music Playlist

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
Of the 19 piano rhapsodies in this set, No. 2 takes the cake. It was composed in 1847, then published in 1851. It was an instant success. Liszt went on to arrange an orchestral version of it, as well as a version for a piano duet. Many of you will instantly recognize this piece of music. My first memory of it comes from the 1980s while watching Saturday morning cartoons: Rhapsody Rabbit (1946), a Merry Melodies Animated Short. Due to the piece’s extreme difficulty (just listen to that finale!), it unofficially became a challenge and requisite for any virtuoso pianist.

Best Uses: Play Rhapsody No. 2 when you want to focus on the music and do nothing else. It’s not great for studying or relaxing because it demands your absolute attention.

Liebestraum No. 3
Composed as a set of three piano pieces, each Liebestraum (Dreams of Love) was conceived from poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath and published in 1850.

Liebestraum No. 3 is the most popular of the set, and its corresponding poem, “O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst” (“Love as long as you can”) describes unconditional love.
Best Uses: Play Liebestraum No. 3 quietly in the background during a romantic, candle-lit dinner.

La Campanella
Meaning “the little bell” in Italian, the third piece of Liszt’s six Grandes études de Paganini (1851) comes from the final movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.

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Best Uses: Play La Campanella at a small dinner party or social gathering. Its positive energy will lighten everyone’s mood and enliven the conversation.

12 Grandes Etudes
Also known as the Transcendental Etudes, the current versions we hear today are actually revisions of revisions of 12 etudes Liszt composed when he was 15 years old. He wrote them in 1826, but then revised them, named them Douze Grandes Etudes and published them in 1837. Fifteen years later, he revised them again, made them less difficult (as in not as extremely difficult for a piano virtuoso) and added programatic titles to all but etudes 2 and 10.
Best Uses: For those of you who do not easily get distracted, you can likely get away with listening to Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes while studying. It would also be great to listen to while doing something creative, like painting a picture.

Piano Concerto No. 1
How great would it have been to see the premiere performance of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on February 17, 1855? Liszt himself was at the piano, and Hector Berlioz was conducting. Like the Transcendental Etudes, it took over two decades for Liszt to finally finish composing the works. He began working on the concerto at 19 years of age in 1830.

After a series of revisions, he premiered the work in 1855 but then went on to make even more changes. Liszt had his revised concerto published in 1856, which is what is performed in concert halls today.
Best Uses: Play Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 when you’re feeling creative.

Sonata in B Minor 
Liszt’s Sonata in B minor was definitely not a crowd pleaser after its first performances. Liszt dedicated the piece to Robert Schumann, but Schumann’s wife, Clara (a pianist and composer herself), did not perform it. She called it “blind noise.” When Liszt performed the piece in front of Johannes Brahms in 1853, it was said that Brahms fell asleep. However, as time progressed, pianists and musicologists began favorably reviewing the work. Some even go so far as to call it one of the greatest keyboard works of the 19th century.

Many in-depth studies and analyses have been made regarding the compositional structure of the work. In light of these stark contrasts of either loving it or hating it, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor must be included within this list.
Best Uses: Either set aside to time to really listen to Sonata in B minor, or play it as you study or work on a project.

Consolation No. 3 
Included within a set of six Consolations, Consolation No. 3 (Lento placido) is the most popular. It was published in 1850 (the versions most performed today) as a revision to the originals composed between 1844 and 1849. The original versions weren’t published until 1992.
Best Uses: Play Consolation No. 3 when you need to relax; it’s a perfect respite to a stressful day. With its inherent serenity, it would also be a good choice to play at a funeral.

Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (for orchestra)
Liszt originally composed the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 for orchestra, but he later arranged it for solo piano and piano duet. It’s program music, titled Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke (The Dance in the Village Inn), is set to a scene from Nikolaus Lenau’s Faust. Though Liszt wanted this waltz to be published and performed with a piece he wrote at the same time, Midnight Procession (Der nächtliche Zug”)--also from Nikolaus Lenau’s Faust--the publisher did not grant Liszt’s request and the two works were published separately.
Best Uses: This is an attention grabbing piece, so it would be best to listen to this when you need a 10- to 15-minute musical break.

Hexameron
At the suggestion of Princess Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, who also commissioned the work, Liszt and five other composers (Sigismond Thalberg, Johann Peter Pixis, Carl Czerny, Henri Herz and Frédéric Chopin) collaborated on Hexameron (which refers to the Bible's six days of creation). The piece is divided into nine parts and includes six variations on the theme March of the Puritans from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I puritani. Each of the six composers contributed one variation, and Belgiojoso persuaded Liszt to arrange them in a way that was artistically and stylistically pleasing.

Variation 1 was written by Thalberg, Variation 2 was written by Liszt, Variation 3 was written by Pixis, Variation 4 was written by Czerny, Variation 5 was written by Herz and Variation 6 was written by Chopin. Liszt also wrote the introduction, theme and finale. Belgiojoso commissioned the piece as a benefit concert to raise money for the poor.
Best Uses: Play Hexameron at a dinner party or social gathering. It’s also a great way to get your creative juices flowing.

Un Sospiro
Number three of a set of Three Concert EtudesUn Sospiro (“a sigh”) is a study of several different techniques, but the most apparent are the crossing hand movements. The three etudes were composed between 1845 and 1849.
Best Uses: Play Un Sospiro in a romantic setting, dinner party, while studying, crafting, painting or when you just need to relax.

Les Jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este
Without the Villa d’Este, which is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Liszt would not have composed this beautiful piece of music. He wrote it after receiving inspiration from the villa’s fountains. The piece comes from a larger set of three suites titled Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). The first suite, Première année: Suisse (First Year: Switzerland) and second suite, Deuxième année: Italie (Second Year: Italy) were published in 1855 and 1858, while his third, Troisième année (Third Year), which includes Les Jeux d’eau a la Villa d’Este, was published in 1883.
Best Uses: This is another piece to sit back and enjoy without any distractions.