If you would open any biography of Franz Liszt, you would probably mostly read about his disquiet life as a piano virtuoso, his passionate love life, and the return to his catholic roots at the end of his life. Although all of this might be true, it only scratches the surface of his comprehensive musical personality. Liszt was a pianist, conductor, teacher and organiser, but above all he was a composer of a voluminous, capricious body of work. Even though his piano works formed his core business, he gave rise to the symphonic poem, got rid of the organ's stuffy appearance, and reinvigorated the oratorio. Moreover, with his piano transciptions of Bach's organ works and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, he was an advocate of both old and new music.
Together with his son-in-law Richard Wagner, he was in the forefront of the Romantic movement and anticipated the musical revolutions of the early 20th century with his new composition techniques.
Frédéric Chopin is one of the greatest composers of the Romantic piano tradition. He was a master in making the small form great. His ballades, mazurkas, polonaises, preludes, etudes and nocturnes all belong to the most popular standard works for piano ever written.
As a child prodigy, Chopin grew up in a middle class family, who lived among the literati of Warsaw. When in 1830 the November Uprising broke out in Poland, the twenty year old Chopin stayed in Vienna. He became an exile and never returned to his mother country. He eventually settled in Paris.
He avoided public concerts, but he did like performing in small settings, such as salons and at home for his friends. This way, Chopin built a reputation as an exceptional pianist, teacher and composer.
Chopin brought a unique synthesis between the Viennese bravado and the French/English lyric style. Even though his pieces often are technically very demanding, the focus was always on creating a lyric expression and poetic atmosphere. He invented the instrumental ballade, and brought salongenres to a higher level with his many innovations and refinements.