In February 1847, Franz Liszt met the Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein while giving concerts in Kiev. Already separated from the husband to whom she had been married when only 17, Carolyne fell in love with the pianist, who was also at a personal crossroads. Weary from almost a decade of constant touring, Liszt completed some further engagements and then abandoned the public concert stage as a pianist, staying with Carolyne on her Ukrainian estate from the fall of 1847 until January 1848, when the couple left for Weimar.
Years before, the Grand Duke Carl Alexander had offered Liszt the post of Kapellmeister-in-Extraordinary, an appealingly grandiose music directorship that Liszt’s relentless touring precluded accepting. Now Liszt wanted to devote himself more to composition. Weimar offered him an orchestra and an opera house, and a kindred spirit in the Grand Duke, with whom Liszt hoped to create an “Athens of the North.” This dream went unfulfilled, but Liszt wrote some of his finest music during the 18 years he spent in Weimar.
Much of Liszt’s organ music comes from this period. Previously he had been an organ dabbler, interested in the instrument and playing privately on pedal pianos. His only known public performance on organ had come in 1843, when he played a benefit program at a church in Moscow. In