Abstract

Throughout his life Liszt projected diverse identities, which were sometimes embraced by the public, and sometimes questioned. These “contradictions” in his character have been the subject of much confusion and debate, and one aspect in particular still has scholars perplexed: Liszt's national identity. Writers have come down on all sides, declaring Liszt was “really” Hungarian, French, German, or “cosmopolitan,” yet the role of language in projecting these identities has so far been overlooked. This article maps Liszt's fluctuating proficiency and frequency of use of a variety of languages onto his biography. It identifies clear patterns that suggest his linguistic “reconstructions” were a means of deliberately adapting his identity as appropriate. It draws patterns from a wide range of Liszt's letters in order to establish why and how he used a device commonly referred to in sociolinguistics as “codeswitching.” This is a concept whereby bilingual speakers switch language mid-conversation or mid-sentence. The article argues that Liszt switched language to bring forward certain identities to certain recipients. It concludes by considering how “codeswitching” may also relate to his music, by applying the concept to the symphonic poem Héroïde funèbre.

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