On a snowy day in Berlin, two days after Christmas 1841, Franz Liszt strode out onto the stage at the Berliner Singakademie concert hall. He sat at his grand piano in profile, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He was 30 years old, at the height of his ability, and he was about to unleash a mania—a mania not in the sense of “Beatlemania,” or any of the other relatively mild musical obsessions, but a mania viewed as a truly contagious, dangerous medical condition that would affect women in Germany, Italy, France, Austria, and elsewhere.
Using his whole body—his undulating eyebrows, his wild arms, even his swaying hips—Liszt dove into Händel's “Fugue in E minor” with vigor and unfettered confidence, keeping perfect tempo and playing entirely from memory. It was the start of the phenomenon later called “Lisztomania,” and the women in the audience went mad.
They fought over the kerchiefs and velvet gloves that he theatrically tossed out at the end of a performance, made bracelets out of his broken piano strings, and vied for locks of his famously long, flowing hair when he exited the concert hall, as recounted in Alan Walker’s Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years.
In fact, obsession over absolutely everything related to the prodigious pianist was so great that, as Walker writes, “Liszt once threw away an old cigar stump in the street under the watchful eyes of an infatuated lady-in-waiting, who reverently picked the offensive weed out of the gutter, had it encased in a locket and surrounded with the monogram ‘F.L.’ in diamonds, and went about her courtly duties unaware of the sickly odor it gave forth.”