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Liszt’s Wild Party

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Eighteen forty-eight. Piano virtuoso Franz Liszt was dazzling Europe in one concert after another. The slender, dark-haired virtuoso was the heartthrob of many a lady. But one day the arch-romantic became a little too flamboyant.

The occasion was a farewell party for a friend leaving Weimar. The partygoers toasted the guest of honor by passing around a boot of champagne, and before long the gathering became very merry. As the proceedings progressed, Liszt took off his jacket and tie. It occurred to him that the doctor sitting next to him had promised to sound his chest when the opportunity occurred. Liszt tore open his shirt and invited the doctor to do the procedure right then and there.

The doctor had been enjoying the champagne too. Laughing, he took a piece of paper from his coat pocket, formed it into a stethoscope, and placed it uncertainly on Liszt’s bared chest.

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At this point a Professor Wolff, realizing that he was supposed to be giving an English lesson to Princess Wittgenstein’s daughter, decided to slip away from the party. He was most of the way down the stairs when Liszt noticed his absence. Still half-dressed, Liszt leaped from his chair and chased after the professor in an effort to bring him back to the party. Not finding him, Liszt ran all the way to the corner of the next street. Now bare-chested, with his hair flying about his face, Liszt caught sight of a pretty girl standing in a doorway, knitting. He stopped and spoke to her passionately, trying to embrace and kiss her.

The frightened girl fled across the courtyard, through the cellar door, and down the steps with Liszt in pursuit. Just then, a servant drawing water at a well, came to the girl’s defense by emptying the bucket on Liszt’s head.

His friends quickly marched the doused pianist back to the party. But the incident caused a scandal. Only the intervention of the Grand Duchess—and the girl’s assurance that she had been unharmed by the presumed madman—prevented damage to the dashing virtuoso’s career.

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