Liszt koncertteremben, Theodor Hosemann, 1842

In the mid-19th century, an extraordinary phenomenon was seen across Europe called “Lisztomania,” which was a term used to describe the intense enthusiasm and adoration that fans had for the Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. It was a cultural and social trend that had a profound impact on the music world of the time. Lisztomania was characterized by a hysterical reaction to Liszt and his concerts. Fans would swarm over him, fighting over his handkerchiefs and gloves, wearing his portrait on brooches and cameos, and trying to get locks of his hair. Whenever he broke a piano string, admirers would try to obtain it in order to make a bracelet. Some female admirers would even carry glass phials into which they poured his coffee dregs. Lisztomania was considered by some a genuine contagious medical condition, and critics recommended measures to immunize the public.

The writer Heinrich Heine coined the term “Lisztomania” to describe the outpouring of emotion that accompanied Liszt and his performances. His review of the musical season of 1844 is the first place where he uses the term. Heine’s use of the term was not used in the same way that “Beatlemania” was used to describe the intense emotion generated towards The Beatles in the 20th century. Instead, Lisztomania had much more of a medical emphasis because the term “mania” was a much stronger term in the 1840s, whereas in the 20th century “mania” could refer to something as mild as a new fashion craze.

There was no known cause for Lisztomania, but there were attempts to explain the condition. Heine tried to explain the cause of Lisztomania in the same letter in which he first used the term. In that letter, he wrote that the solution of this question belongs to the domain of pathology rather than that of aesthetics. A physician, whose specialty is female diseases, and whom he asked to explain the magic Liszt exerted upon the public, said all sorts of things about magnetism, galvanism, electricity, of the contagion of the close hall filled with countless wax lights and several hundred perfumed and perspiring human beings, of historical epilepsy, of the phenomenon of tickling, of musical cantherides, and other scabrous things.

Some critics of the day thought that Lisztomania was mainly a reflection of the attitudes of Berliners and Northern Germans and that Southern German cities would not have such episodes of Lisztomania because of the difference in constitutions of the populace. Lisztomania was seen as a unique cultural and social phenomenon of its time, and it is still remembered today as a fascinating moment in the history of music.