These are the first two things we learn about Franz Liszt:
- He was one of the most influential musicians of the nineteenth century.
- He was a babe magnet.
Historians (the vast majority of them male) revel in describing Liszt’s fangirls, marveling at every detail of their insanity. These women were hysterical, petty, irrational. They fought over his handkerchiefs, fashioned piano strings into bracelets, and even tucked his discarded cigar butts between their boobs. Their intense reaction to his performances even inspired a new noun – Lisztomania – coined by Heinrich Heine in the 1840s. Heine asked “a physician, whose speciality is female diseases” to explain why Liszt held audiences so spellbound. Predictably, the physician declared the phenomenon to be pathological, offering as explanation self-assured mumbo-jumbo about magnetism, electricity, and even musical cantharidin, I sh*t you not.
But let’s be real: Liszt’s female fans weren’t brainless bimbos. Contrary to the stereotype, many brilliant women fell into Liszt’s orbit for intellectual, emotional, or even spiritual reasons. We’ve read about a few of his protégés already, including virtuosas Amy Fay, Adele aus der Ohe, and Sophie Menter. But one of the most important Liszt fangirls was not a professional musician at all. She was a self-taught writer and historian who made important contributions to the nascent field of musicology, and her groundbreaking work still raises timely questions even today. Her name was Marie Lipsius, pseudonym La Mara.