Budapest is a musical city and there’s no better way to explore this vibrant Hungarian city than with your ears. Here’s everything you need to know about Liszt in Budapest, the music-themed Aria Hotel and how to turn a trip to Budapest into music to your ears.
Liszt in Budapest
I’d like to say I fell in love with Franz Liszt in Budapest for his music, but really it was his hair. It was an instant attraction when I saw him on Liszt Ferenc Square, his bronze locks flying in the wind like all those New Wave bass players I used to date in the 80s.
Franz Liszt in Budapest
The chemistry was irresistible. I crawled into his lap. His skin was smooth as steel, cool to the touch.
Two timing in Budapest. Or is that three?
I looked up at Liszt adoringly, then realized I shouldn’t be throwing myself at him like this as I’m 1) a married woman and 2) already sleeping with Pavarotti back at the musically-themed Aria Hotel Budapest.
Not that I’m the first fan to fall for Liszt, one of the most celebrated pianists and composers of the 19th century. “Women fell for him all over Europe,” says Ava, the guide for our small group of journalists who have come to explore Budapest with Transat Holidays – a Canadian travel company launching direct flights from Toronto and Montreal to Budapest this spring.
Beatles move over, I have Lisztomania
Yes, Lisztomania is a real thing. Hungarian-born Franz Liszt toured Europe extensively and was, some say, the world’s first rock star, with women fighting over everything from locks of his hair to broken piano strings.
Maybe that’s why the smooth bronze lap of the Liszt statue in Liszt Ferenc Square has been worn to a sheen.
I blame Budapest
I give Liszt a last look of longing and go for lunch, thinking that if I’ve caught Lisztomania, Budapest is to blame. There is music everywhere in the Hungarian capital city, from suites named for famous musicians at the Aria Hotel Budapest to buskers in Vorosmarty Square, historic concert halls and the opulent Budapest Opera House.
Spend enough time in Budapest and it’s hard not to get swept up in its … er, song.
The old Liszt Academy, which isn’t called the Liszt Academy but the Old Music Academy because there is a different more glamorous Liszt Academy
In the evening I went to the old Liszt Academy for a concert, located in the building where Liszt himself lived from 1881 to 1886. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but if it was golden cherubs and dazzling ornamentation (which it kind of was), the old Liszt Academy was a down-to-earth surprise.
The concert hall was nice but not grand, more like somewhere I might have given a piano recital in grade school.
Sounds of authentic Hungary
It was perfect, a touch of the real Hungary, a concert put on by the senior students of the prestigious music academy that Franz Liszt helped found.
The young musicians’ dedication, visible in their looks of concentration as they started to play, reminded me of myself when I was studying piano … or, no, scratch that. Now that I think of it, I was put on probation by my piano teacher for not practicing. A blow to my mother, I’m sure, who has her Grade 8 Piano. (Sorry, Mom!)
Ah well, my failure as a virtuoso doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the music of my crush. My eyes close dreamily. The music flows through me. Wait. I open one eye. “This isn’t … Liszt,” I whisper to Ava.
Oh, my fickle musical heart
“It’s Mozart,” she said.
Mozart! Somehow I’d assumed everything at the old Liszt Academy would be Liszt. Not that I have anything against Mozart. I just feel a little disloyal, especially when my fingers start tapping softly on the arm of the chair.
Don’t worry, Franz, I whisper to the air, Mozart is a mere dalliance. He’s nothing compared to you.
The New Liszt Academy
After the concert I would have liked to go upstairs to the Liszt Ferenc Museum but it was too late. Instead, we briefly stopped in at the New Liszt Academy, which has all the Art Nouveau splendour I’d expected: crystal chandeliers, marble pillars and Hungarian-made Zsolnay tiles that gleam with an iridescent sheen.
The Budapest Opera House aka the Hungarian State Opera House
The next day, unable to get music out of my mind, I toured the Budapest Opera House. When it was opened in 1884 it was meant to be the grandest of the grand – only not quite as grand as the one in Vienna because the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Joseph, couldn’t allow anything to trump that.
Even so, the Budapest Opera House, renowned for its superb acoustics, is lavish to the extreme. In addition to a 3-ton chandelier surrounded by a fresco of Greek gods, so much gold (3 kilos to be exact) coats the fixtures you’d be excused for thinking you’ve stumbled into a Hungarian Fort Knox.
A date with Franz Liszt in Budapest
The best part of the Budapest Opera House was that when I went outside my sweetheart Liszt was waiting for me, sitting patiently in a niche in the Neo-Renaissance facade, and while his expression was a tad stoney (he might have heard I’d spent the evening with Mozart), the connection we had was so strong one could even say it was carved in stone.
The Aria Hotel Budapest – who says hotels are just for sleeping in?
In the afternoon, I returned to the Aria Hotel Budapest, where my whimsical purple and golden Pavarotti Suite made me feel as if I were sleeping in a musical garret (though I hasten to assure you I did try to get the Franz Liszt Suite first, but it was occupied).
A Budapest hotel with a song in its heart
There is always something new popping out at you at the Aria Hotel Budapest: a tiled piano path through the lobby, a musical mural on the breakfast room wall or an obelisk-shaped art installation with flowing piano keys.
Aria Hotel Budapest – the Music Garden Courtyard
As I strolled into the lobby (which will heretofore be known as the Music Garden Courtyard), I stopped by a circular lime green couch cocking my ear like a songbird. Was that, could it be … Liszt?
Hypnotized I walked closer to the hotel’s centrepiece piano, which isn’t any old piano but a futuristic grand piano made with carbon fibre instead of wood, developed by Hungarian concert pianist, Gergely Boganyi.
Dark hair flying, fingers fluttering over the keys like wings, a man was playing the piano. My heart skipped a melodious beat. It was Liszt come to life. I was sure of it. I’d willed him here by my passionate devotion.
The other Hungarian virtuoso
“Gergely Boganyi,” someone told me. “The most famous pianist in Hungary.”
Ah. Not Liszt but close. Born in Vác, Hungary, Boganyi began playing the piano at the age of four. He studied at the Liszt Academy, won the gold medal at the International Franz Liszt Competition and was awarded the Liszt Prize by the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Heritage. If any pianist embodies Liszt, it’s he.
My very own Hungarian Rhapsody
I stood mesmerized at this impromptu concert (though not so mesmerized I forgot to press record on my camera). And in that one moment everything I’d seen (and heard) in the Hungarian capital came together, as if concertos and sonatas and musical notes are the ribbons that tie Budapest together: merging its past with its present, the hotel with its concert halls and statues and celebrities, wrapping it all into one perfectly lyrical tune.
Travel tips for a music-themed trip to Budapest
The Old Music Academy and the Liszt Ferenc Museum is at Wesselényi u. 52.
The Franz Liszt Academy of Music is at Liszt Ferenc tér 8.
The Hungarian State Opera House (Budapest Opera House) is at Andrássy út 22.
Where to stay in Budapest
A member of the Library Hotel Collection, the new Aria Hotel Budapest is a boutique luxury hotel with a musical concept. With their Harmony Spa, year round rooftop High Note Sky Bar and central Pest location near Saint Stephen’s Basilica, the Aria Hotel Budapest is a fun and funky way to connect with the city.
Free perks at Aria Hotel Budapest include: Breakfast buffet, daily cocktail hour wine and cheese, an extensive music library and wifi. Rooms start at about 270 €, but check the Aria Hotel website for special offers. The Aria Hotel Budapest is at Hercegprímás 5.
Getting to Budapest
Air Transat offers a variety of flights and packages to Budapest and other locations in Europe. Visit Air Transat for info.
For a splash of luxury read Splurgy Things to do in Budapest, Hungary.
Coachella move over. For a very different type of music experience in Budapest read about the Sziget Festival.