It’s the battle of all battles…the 19th century vs. the 20th century! It’s Franz Liszt vs. The Beatles! It’s Lisztomania vs. Beatlemania. Who drove more women to fits of passion? Who wore their hair longer? Who caused the biggest mob scene? Well, the truth of the matter is they both did and the similarities are remarkable…
Lisztomania – coined on April 25, 1844 by journalist Heinrich Heine in an article he wrote about the upcoming concert season in Paris. It was actually considered a medical condition!
Beatlemania – the term was coined on October 21, 1963 for a feature story by Vincent Mulchrone in The Daily Mail with the headline “This Beatlemania”.
- Franz Liszt was born in Hungary on October 22, 1811, a century before the Beatles were even born. By age 9, he was said to be a child prodigy. His father withdrew him from school and set out to find the best piano teachers in Europe to take his son as their student. In 1822, at 11 years old, Liszt gave his first public concert in Vienna. His performance was awarded with a kiss on the forehead by Ludwig Von Beethoven.
- The Beatles were not quite as young as Liszt when they got their start. The original Fab Four, as they joined the band, were teenagers when they started out. John Lennon was 16 when he created his band The Quarrymen in Liverpool, John met Paul in July 1957 when Paul was 15 and George Harrison joined the band in a year later after having just turned 15.
- The American music critic, James Huneker has been quoted as in the 1880’s saying that he could inspect the chairs after a Liszt concert and be able to tell where the women sat!
- Comparatively, in 1963, The Beatles concert in the town of Kingston upon Hull, the manger of the Regal theater was quoted as saying, “they’d cleared away 40 pairs of abandoned knickers at the cinema” after the show.
- Franz Liszt was one of the first famed musicians to wear his hair longer than was considered acceptable in the mid-1800’s. It was customary during his time for composers/musicians such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to wear wigs. Instead, Liszt just wore his natural blond hair at shoulder length. This didn’t go unnoticed by the press at the time, with such quotes as “But what struck the Russians most was his great mane of blond hair, reaching almost down to his shoulders. No Russian would have dared to wear his hair in such a style…” by composer Vladimir Stasov, and The Musical World wrote in 1867 – “Even the unmistakably grizzling, though still thick, long flowing hair, which the scissors of the Tonsure have not dared to touch, detract but little from the heart-entrancing charm of his unusual individuality” in the Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review (April 1, 1886) “...His head is crowned by exceptionally luxuriant, long gray hairs, now well nigh white.” In 2011, on Liszt’s 200th birthday, the Toronto Star described Franz Liszt as “…a dashing Hungarian pianist with long, flowing hair who could make his audiences swoon before he had played a single note.”
- Though The Beatles’ long hair was never questioned in Europe, during their first American press conference in the U.S. at JFK airport, the Beatles were asked five questions concerning their long hair: “Does all that hair help you sing?”, “You feel like Sampson? If you lost your hair, you’d lose what you have? ‘It’?”, “How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?”, “Aren’t you afraid of what the American Barbers Association is going to think of you?”, and “Listen, I got a question here. Are you going to get a haircut at all while you’re here?” The gained the nickname MopTops and Beatles wigs were soon on the shelves for all the fans that wanted to look like them.
- Liszt’s valet, Spiridion, is rumored to have sold the hairs he combed from his master’s head to female admirers.
- The Beatles fan club secretary, Freda Kelly, mailed locks of the Fab Four’s hair clippings to fans that would make such a request.
- On January 4, 1840, after performing at the National Theatre in Pest, Hungary, Liszt exited the venue and found a crowd of young fans with flaming torches filling the square and shouting “Eljen! Eljen!” (Hurrah! Hurrah!). After sitting in his horse-drawn coach for several minutes, but unable to move through the crowd, Franz said, “I can’t stand this any longer. Let’s get out and stop behaving like aristocrats in our coach!” He then walked among his fans to his hotel, but they would not disperse until well after midnight after he had appeared twice on his balcony.
- Due to the crushing mobs of fans, The Beatles rarely ever exited their limousines without large amounts of security, as seen here in 1964 at the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough, UK.
- Franz Liszt’s fan collected his half-smoked cigar butts and one fan was even to have said to have worn one in a small locket around her neck. Another Lisztomaniac excitedly picked up and proceeded to finish smoking a still burning cigar butt that Liszt had thrown to the ground, wallowing in every puff. At another recital, “When he asked for a glass of water and put it down without draining it, the delirious beauties in the hall rushed forward at the end of the recital, picked up the glass and pressed it to their lips so as to quell their passion by taking a sip of the water he had left.”
- Beatles fans clamored to clippings from the shirts of the Fab Four that they gave to Freda Kelly to distribute to fan club members. They also collected clippings from the hotel bed linens that JPGR had slept upon while touring.
- Liszt was quite the rebel in his day when it came to playing and composing music. He refused to follow the rules and customs of the time when it came to writing and performing. At one performance, he said, they needed to bring in a second and third piano because his raucous playing would quickly cause the pianos to go out of tune.
- When George Martin first took on the job as the producer for the Beatles, he was astonished at their technique when it came to playing and creating their sound. Because none of them were formally trained in music, they developed new and unheard of styles of creating the sound they wanted. At first, Martin wanted to correct them, but he soon realized that it was their lack of musical education that made them so unique.
- Liszt fan’s wore cameos with his portrait. After one concert, he bragged that 50 portraits of himself had been sold in 24 hours!
- Beatles fans wore “I Love The Beatles” buttons and no one can ever imagine how many pictures of the Beatles have been sold.
- In June 1863, Liszt moved into the monastery of Madonna del Rosario at Monte Mario. The Vatican took advantage of having a celebrity living among them and frequently asked Franz to play charity concerts to raise money for their various events.
- In February 1968, the Fab Four went to Rishikesh, India, to study Transcendental Meditation at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They were soon to find out that the Yogi wanted 25% of their next album’s profits to be tithed into his Swiss bank account.
So there you have it, a few of the many of the similarities of a 19th century classical composer and that of the greatest rock band of the 20th century. Can anyone say who had a greater impact on their fans? Given the limited media available to Franz Liszt (no TV or radio), he did quite well making the women of Europe swoon at the very mention of his name. And the very mention of the Beatles or the showing or their image, can still make both young and older women’s hearts beat a little faster.
I’m going to call this contest a draw! Both are winners…
And speaking of winners, if you’ve made it this far, leave a comment in this post and you’ll be entered to win a $5 Amazon gift card! The winner will be announced in my next blog post on July 17th.