Among the many legends that sprang up around Franz Liszt was a story that Beethoven attended a concert the 11-year-old wunderkindgave in Vienna’s Redoutensaal. Allegedly, the 53-year-old composer even supplied a theme for Liszt to improvise on. Following the performance, the older man was supposedly so moved by Liszt’s playing that he ascended the platform to give his enthusiastic benediction, kissing the pianist on the brow – a Weihekussor ‘kiss of consecration’.

The story was repeated during Liszt’s lifetime and became an important part of the composer’s mythology – a commemorative lithograph was even published on the 50th anniversary of the concert (and has often been provided, dubiously, as proof that the event occurred). Liszt certainly never denied the kiss took place, embracing the legend wholeheartedly and pinpointing the moment as the real beginning of his career.

Franz Liszt The young Franz Liszt

The kiss also became a symbolic link between Liszt and Beethoven, a passing of the torch, with Liszt going on to become one of the most important Beethoven interpreters of the 19th century. He transcribed each of the nine symphonies for the piano and donated a significant...