Mr Deputy Minister for Culture, dear Géza Szöcs, Mr President of the French Institute, dear Xavier Darcos, Mr President of the Hungarian Institute, dear Pal Hatos, Mr Commissioner General of the Year Liszt, dear Jean-Yves Clément, ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends,

It is an honour for me to see you again, Mr. Minister, a few months after our last interview, so that we may pay tribute together to the man in whom Baudelaire recognized “the singer of eternal Delight and Anguish”. In 2007, France responded to the call of Hungary, which wanted to bring together various international cultural organizers to federate the festivities of this bicentennial. Today, it is in this room that counts so much in the life of the pianist that we celebrate, under the high patronage of the President of the Republic, the 200 years of a European hero of music.

At the Carnavalet Museum in Paris, one can find the biting statuettes of Jean-Pierre Dantan, who was putting his satirical gaze on the personalities of the political world and the arts of his time. There is an evil Liszt, whose mythical hair is intertwined with spiders' fingers, attacking a right piano to which he makes no quarter. For sure, the virtuoso with the studied posture knew how to make the caricaturists happy. If I may mention this aspect of the character alongside a confirmed pianist like Xavier Darcos, Liszt still remains today, alongside Paganini, the guardian god of virtuosity, the one whose formidable works offer pianists from all over the world the challenge of technique – and there are many who, amateur or professional, know the fate of Mazeppa on his torture horse while playing his plays. Liszt will forever have pushed the boundaries of the king instrument, by revolutionizing its fingerings, by pushing as far as possible the new possibilities offered by the advances of the piano design for which the house Erard, which already supplied Haydn and Beethoven, played such a big part.

Liszt is also one of the most flamboyant inventors of star system, the phenomenon that Heine, as a witness to the scene, had baptized the Lisztomania. He is the composer of Dream of love, which makes girls dream all over Europe, on permanent tour for ten years, from Dublin to Constantinople, from Cadiz to St Petersburg. It is Liszt surrounded by Dumas, Paganini, Rossini, Hugo, the countess of Agoult at her feet, George Sand in Pamoison, expressing her genius in front of the bust of Beethoven and the portrait of Byron, under the palette, very Biedermeier, of Josef Danhauser. In this romantic Europe, competition for the title of virtuoso is fierce, and no one except the specialists today remembers his rival Thalberg. Women collect her locks of hair and cigarette butts, crowned heads do her honor. The inventor of the master class knows how to cultivate his image: he practices charity, comes to the aid of victims of fires and floods. It’s a good one rock star that we pay tribute today.

The Liszt Year is also the most European of our 2011 National Celebrations. I am also delighted, Mr Minister, that you have included the mobility of artists and cultural professionals among your priorities for your presidency of the Council of European Ministers of Culture: what better inspiration, for this ambition I share, that Ferenc Liszt, the musician with multiple identities? In the age of the crystallization of nationalism, the courted virtuoso knew how to play on all horizons. The man who said he conceived a «chauvinist passion» for Paris will also be the one who will design the acoustics of the Wartburg concert hall, this high place of German nationalism, to welcome Minnesänger’s dreams. Liszt, it is this star both Hungarian and Franco-German that succeeds in being the father-in-law and Emile Ollivier, and Richard Wagner. To celebrate his bicentenary in Paris is also to remember that the city where he arrived here at the age of 12, hosted by the Erard family, was the springboard of his European success - that of Liszt the Hungarian, who, at the age of 28, set foot in his homeland, whose language he barely speaks to be treated as a national hero, and whose name has never been mentioned in capital letters in the history of one of the greatest musical countries, Kodaly, Bartók and Cziffra - the pianist with fifty fingers, including the auditorium of La Chaise Dieu, which I had the pleasure of inaugurating, bears the name. It is also Liszt the Italian, fascinated by Palestrina and Allegri, inspired by Petrarch and by Dante, who would not have departed by crossing the Styx alongside Virgil in Delacroix’s painting. Franz Liszt the priest, the composer of Christusit is also the man of the secret of the chancelleries and the confidences of the Grand Duke of Weimar, a diplomatic bag all by himself, who recreates in the cultural capital of Thuringia an intellectual salon where the European Republic of Arts and Letters meets, from Tolstoy to Saint-Saëns.

On this multiple and deeply European identity, the cities of Weimar and Raiding, his birthplace in Austrian Burgenland, were not mistaken, they also organize a superb program this year around the figure of Liszt. I am thinking in particular of the exhibition which will soon be inaugurated in Weimar, and which will include many pieces from France. The bicentenary in which this Liszt Year takes place in France is an exemplary partnership between the Member States of the European Union, with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, France and Italy, to celebrate a Europe of music whose existence has always preceded the voluntarism of politicians.

If I had to emphasize in Liszt a feature of the character that is particularly dear to me, I would choose his vocation for transmission. The Hungarian star has devoted his life to the music of others: Liszt the teacher, Liszt the performer who creates the works of others, such as Edvard Grieg’s concerto; Liszt, the man of transcriptions, who has proved, to the great delight of the instrumentalists, that everything could be played on a piano, from Beethoven’s Symphonies to Berlioz’s Fantastique. This is perhaps one of its strongest underground influences: that of having considerably extended the domains of the instrument, for its technique as for its repertoire. Yesterday, UNESCO, together with this Year, celebrated the passing of the relay between the Chopin Year and the Liszt Year, Mr Minister, in your presence. It is sometimes said that in the game of memorial competition, Chopin would win, more visible, more popular, and Liszt’s story more often retains the performer than the composer. In this case, this Year will certainly be an opportunity to rediscover the immense influence of the one who was inspired by Petrarch and his sonnets: «our works are those that give men immortal fame».

I would like to greet in the presence of my friend Xavier Darcos the extraordinary work done by the French Institute, and its close partnership with the Hungarian Institute of Paris, which, within the FICEP network, is to our delight one of the most active in the capital, as well as an essential relay of our Franco-Hungarian cultural cooperation, thanks to its excellent relations with our cultural institutions – I am thinking in particular of the remarkable exhibition André Kertész, which was one of the highlights of Photo Month in Paris, and can still be seen for a few days at the Jeu de Paume.

Finally, I would like to thank Jean-Yves Clément, this year’s Liszt Commissioner, for his remarkable commitment, which has benefited from the valuable support of Anne Gazeau-Secret, the knowledge and skills of musicologist Nicolas Dufetel, and the complicity of Csaba Varga, the artistic director of the Hungarian Institute. I also welcome the commitment of the international musical organizations that are associated with the event - I am thinking of the European Association of Festivals or the European Union Youth Orchestra.

Thanks to all of you, Jean-Yves Clément will now be presenting a series of major events and a very good program.

Thank you.