Happy 200th birthday, Franz Liszt!

It turns out that today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt, the always controversial pianist and composer of the 19th century in Europe. It has become a commonplace that Liszt was music’s first “rock star”. And there is always the debate over his importance as a composer.

These days, I don’t care much about such debates.

Instead, I’m here to share with you one piano piece by Liszt that I discovered and listened to today and found quite beautiful.

Not being too familiar with Liszt’s music (other than half a dozen of his most popular works that often pop up on TV or in the movies or cartoons), I chose to celebrate Liszt’s birthday by listening to a piano work of his that I either hadn’t heard before or had but had not listened to.

Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este

I got this YouTube link of Claudio Arrau playing Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountains of the Villa d’Este) from Alex Ross’s blog post.

I found this music beautiful: evocative, passionate, yet restorative: I listened to it after my run in Frick Park today, relaxing with my eyes closed.

Try this: click below to start the audio playback, and then read my text below, visualizing along with me.

Video with visualization

It is the late 1800s, and we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel in Italy, exploring its culture and history. It’s all new to us. Maybe we read something in books, but we have not been there. This is not the era of trains, planes, and web sites yet.

We find ourselves at the garden in Villa d’Este, rich with Renaissance history and architecture. It is quiet and peaceful. Nobody else is around.


We sit down and admire the fountains and let our thoughts wander as the water flows. We hear and see the spraying and trickling, glistening under the sun. The air is cool from the movement, and we smell the freshness of the air amidst the trees and the earth.

The water has a life of its own, dancing to its own rhythm and patterns. Each jet or drop or trickle speaks.

A moment of silence as we zoom in on the water, and nothing but the water. We no longer see trees or buildings.

There is the water at the top, and at the bottom. They are moving differently, independently. Different rhythms. At the top the water is light and dances quickly, fluttering and suspended; at the bottom, a pool collecting and receiving.

There is a story behind every drop of water, its trajectory, its renewal as it comes up, as though toward heaven, fades and falls, merges with the rest at the bottom. We hear the stories.

There is a story of exuberance and lightheartedness, of youth striving to reach the sun. There is a story of homecoming, of comfort and wisdom. There is a story saying, we are all the same, and you were one of us, and we gave birth to you.

The old ones are now speaking; the roles are reversed. Both young and old excited and moving fast. Old to young, rising up. We see the path of life as it always is, as it must be.

Come back to us, the old say. The young say, we are not ready yet, we want to be free, we want to see the stars, we want to kiss them.

It is getting dark in the day, and sleep calls. Gently the old puts the young to bed. Tomorrow is another day. Everything is OK, everything will always be OK.

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