Oct 8, 2012

An Unknown Grandmother of Liszt

The genealogical basics of Franz Liszt's family tree have been established decades ago. This may have been caused by the debated question whether Liszt was a German or a Hungarian composer and by the fact that having been Richard Wagner's father-in-law, his ancestry simply was an important issue in the eyes of purebred Wagnerites and a ministry of propaganda that used Liszt's "Les Preludes" as signature tune of its regular reports from the theater of war. The essential literature on Franz Liszt's ancestry consists of the following four publications:
  • Heinrich E. Wamser: "Abstammung und Familie Franz Liszts", Burgenländische Heimatblätter 1936, vol. 2, 24-33.
  • Eduard Ritter von Liszt: Franz Liszt. Abstammung, Familie, Begebenheiten, (Vienna-Leipzig: Braumüller, 1937).
  • Josef Beatus Klingohr and Wolfgang Huschke: "Zur Herkunft Franz Liszts. Neue Forschungen über die Ahnen seiner Mutter (Lager, Laager)", Genealogie 14, 1965, 422-28.
  • Heinz Schöny: "Neues zu Franz Liszt", Adler. Zeitschrift für Genealogie und Heraldik, (Vienna: Heraldisch-genealogische Gesellschaft Adler), vol. 21, 2001-02, 28-30.

The young Franz Liszt, anonymous oil painting  (Ernst Burger: Frédéric Chopin. Eine Lebenschronik in Bildern und Dokumenten. München: Hirmer 1990, 99)

While the details of  Liszt's family's roots have been covered quite extensively back to Liszt's great-grandfather Sebastian List (~1703–1793), including the identification of the complete fourth generation of ancestors, ten of Liszt's sixteen great-great-grandparents still remain unknown. Three generations of the Liszt family are given in the following table by Heinrich Wamser.

The date of the marriage of Liszt's parents, given by Wamser, is wrong. The correct date is 17 January 1811. At times the genealogical literature is a little messy. Liszt's four grandparents ("Generation III"), on whose identity the literature agrees unanimously, are given as follows in Heinz Schöny's 2001 article in the genealogical journal Adler.

It is easy to see that a few things are gravely amiss in the above list and one wonders, who served as editor at the Gesellschaft Adler back in 2001. Liszt's grandfather Georg Adam List was not born on 14 January, but on 14 October 1755. He did not marry in 1715, but in 1775. His first wife Barbara Schlesak was of course born in 1753, not in 1853. Mathias Lager was not born in 1815, but 100 years earlier. Lager did not get married in Kirchberg am Wagram on 26 May, but on 27 May 1777 (with Ludwig von Köchel's grandfather Georg Heinrich Köchel serving as his best man), his bride's name was Schuhmann, not Schihmann and the place of her birth was not "Öttinger", but Oettingen in Bayern.

The entry concerning the wedding of Liszt's grandparents Mathias Lager and Franziska Schumann on 27 May 1775 in Kirchberg am Wagram ("ex Kremß dimissa") (Pfarre Kirchberg am Wagram, Tom. 2/7, p. 51)

At least Franziska Lager's date of death (9 June 1797) is correct in Schöny's chart, whereas Wamser gives it one month too early. It is also interesting to note that Georg Adam List was not only an organist, but up into the 1830s was also in charge of rehearsing the boys' choir in the chapel of Pottendorf Castle.

Liszt's grandfather Georg Adam List (1755–1844), anonymous oil paintig from around 1820

According to the literature, Franz Liszt's grandfather Georg Adam List (he always signed his name just "Adam List") was married three times, namely  to 1) Barbara Schlesak (1753–1798) (Liszt's supposed grandmother), 2) Barbara Weninger (1778–1806) and 3) Magdalena Richter (1780–1856). His late third marriage in 1807 led to his last son Eduard (1817–1879) being actually six years younger than his first grandson, the famous pianist Franz Liszt.

A few days before on 11 January 1811, in the Hungarian village of Unterfrauenhaid, Franz Liszt's father Adam married Maria Anna Laager, the banns had to be published in the two Viennese home parishes of the bride. The sources in Vienna's parish archives concerning Adam List's wedding have hitherto not been acknowledged by Liszt scholarship. The information in these documents regarding the mother of the groom is starkly at odds with what is documented in the genealogical literature. According to the entries in the marriage records of St. Stephen's and the Schottenkirche, which were made on 7 and 8 January 1811 respectively, Adam List's mother was not Barbara Schlesak, but a certain Katharina Baumann.

The section pertaining to the groom of the entry concerning the publication of the banns on 7 January 1811 for Adam List's wedding (A-Wd, Tom. 82b, fol. 325)
d[en] 7t[en] Jänner [1811] / Tit[ulo] H[err] Adam \List/ Rechnungs= / führer beÿm Fürst / Esterhazy zu Raiding / in Hungarn, geb. von / Matterstorf[sic] in Hung= / garn, des Tit. H[errn] / Adam List, Schaf / fers zu Matterstorf / beym Fürst Esterhazy / leb[end] u. der Fr. Kathar[ina] / geb. Baumann, sel[ig] / ehel[icher] Sohn.
January 7th, [1811] Mr. Adam List, head accountant with Prince Esterházy in Raiding in Hungary, born in Mattersdorf in Hungary, legitimate son of Adam List, workman in Mattersdorf at Prince Esterházy's, alive, and of Mrs. Katharina [List], née Baumann deceased.
As a matter of fact, Adam List was not born in Mattersdorf, but in Edelstal. And the fact that List's age is given as 30 (instead of 35, as given in the Edelstal records) might also be of interest, considering his unknown mother that appears nowhere in the Liszt literature. The earlier original entry from 7 January 1811 (A-Wd, Rapular 1810–13, fol. 220), referring to the bride, also yields new information: we finally learn for whom Liszt's mother had worked as parlourmaid in Vienna.

The previously unknown entry in the wedding Rapular of St. Stephen's pertaining to Anna Laager's employment (A-Wd, Rapular 1810–13, fol. 220)
J[un]gf[er] Mar[ia] Anna / Laager, Stu= / benmagd gew[esen] / beÿ der Frau / v. Kurzbeck, / geb. von Krems, / des H. Mat= / thäus Laager / Bürgers da= / selbst sel[ig] u. / der Fr. Fr[an]z[is]ka / geb. Schuchmann / sel., ehel[iche] Tochter.
Derzeit / Pfarr= / ort zu / Matter= / storf / in Hungarn, / vordem / Pfarr St. / Steph. / Nro 1139. / dann vordem / Pf. Schotten / Nro 235.
22 / d[en] 9t Maÿ 788
The maiden Maria Anna Laager, formerly parlourmaid with Frau von Kurzbeck, born in Krems, legitimate daughter of Matthäus Laager, deceased citizen in said town, and Mrs. Franziska, née Schuchmann deceased. [Her] current parish is Mattersdorf in Hungary, formerly in St. Stephen's parish No. 1139, then in the Schotten parish No. 235. [years of age] 22, [born] 9 May 1788
Unlike the groom, the bride was underage and therefore had to present a birth certificate and a marriage license from the Krems magistrate. On 10 January 1811 the couple also received a dispensation from the other two publications of the banns.

Liszt's mother Anna Liszt, née Laager around 1860 (photography by Sabatier-Blot)

Maria Anna Laager's employer "Frau v. Kurzbeck" was Katharina von Kurzbeck, née Gerold (b. 15 November 1748 in Vienna, d. 19 August 1821 in Baden bei Wien), widow of the printer, merchant and estate owner Joseph von Kurzbeck (1736–1792). The Kurzbeck family is of particular interest because of seven very musical daughters who were acquainted with Mozart and Haydn. These daughters are listed in the 1788 Taschenbuch für den weiblichen Adel in Wien as living at Stadt 1152 (today Bräunerstr. 1), a house that had been owned by Joseph von Kurzbeck since 1775.

The Kurzbeck daughters listed in the 1788 Taschenbuch für den weiblichen Adel in Wien

The most prominent member of the family was of course Magdalena von Kurzbeck (1767–1845), pianist, composer and student of Clementi, Haydn and Andreas Streicher. For a long time she was regarded as Vienna's finest female pianist. Haydn dedicated the printed edition of his piano sonata in E flat major (Hob. XVI/52) and the piano trio (Hob. XV/31) to her. Johann Nepumuk Hummel wrote his piano sonata op. 20 for her. Soon after the death of Joseph von Kurzbeck on 18 December 1792 (Wiener Zeitung, 26 December 1792, 3493), his widow Katharina sold the house in the Untere Bräunerstraße for 46,000 gulden, and moved into the so-called Hasenhaus at Kärntnerstraße 8 (then No. 1082, from 1795 until 1821 No. 1139) where about fifteen years later Liszt's mother was to work as parlourmaid.

Catharina Edle von Kurzbeck ("Großhandl[er]s Wittwe gestorben"), listed together with three of her daughters on a concription sheet from the so-called Hasenhaus, Stadt No. 1073, dating from about 1805 (A-Wsa, Konskriptionsamt, Stadt 1073/3r)

Shortly before the marriage of her maid, Katharina von Kurzbeck must have moved to the house Stadt 235 (today Tiefer Graben 22). Similar records from other Viennese parishes prove that on 7 January 1811 Maria Anna Laager also had to submit a testimony by her employer to the government and the parish priest, regarding her good moral conduct during her service as maidservant.

Katharina von Kurzbeck's seal and signature from 1795 (A-Wsa, Merkantilgericht, Fasz. 3, 1, Reihe, litt. CK, Nr. 4)

There are three different copies of the entry concerning the publication of the banns for Adam List and Maria Anna Laager in Viennese parish archives: a) the entry in the records of St. Stephen's quoted above, b) a slightly shortened copy of this entry (without the the information regarding the Kurzbeck connection) in the series of duplicate marriage records of St. Stephen's, and c) the entry in the marriage records of the Schotten parish which was made one day later, on 8 January 1811. The entry related to Adam List is basically identical with the earlier ones, and Katharina Baumann is given again as Adam List's mother. Only the dates referring to the dispensation from two publications of the banns and the delivery of the certificate ("Ist der Braut den 13. Jänner [1]811 der Verkündschein gegeben worden") have been added. This note and the date "12 [January]" above the entry show that the bride was still in Vienna on 13 January 1811, because (contrary to the information in the Liszt literature)  Adam List's wedding in Hungary took place only on 17 January 1811.

The entry concerning the publication of the banns for Adam List's wedding in January 1811 (A-Ws, Tom. 41, fol. 109)

Who was Adam List's mother Katharina List, née Baumann? The following explanatory scenarios come to mind.
  • Heinrich Wamser's genealogical chart is flawed, because Wamser overlooked one of Georg Adam Liszt's wives. Adam List the elder did not marry three, but four times. The age given by his son at the time of his marriage in 1811, pointing to 1780 as his year of birth, could be a clue in favor of this hypothesis.
  • Liszt's father Adam List was an illegitimate child and this family secret was already covered up by Liszt's early biographers.
  • Adam List had been provided with false information regarding his ancestry. In times when many people did not even know their own date of birth, such a situation was quite common. On the other hand, the fact that his father was still alive and he was in regular contact with his relatives makes such a lack of information unlikely.
  • Liszt's official paternal grandmother Barbara Schlesak and Katharina Baumann are one and the same person. Different first names bear little significance in 200-year-old sources that sometimes are fraught with errors, caused by faulty readings and flawed transmission. And yet, it is hardly conceivable that the name "Katharina Baumann" as mother of the groom does not appear in the 1811 marriage records of Unterfrauenhaid.
  • The whole "Schlesak-construct" is a fabrication by the fervent Nazi Heinrich Wamser, who discovered that Liszt had a baptized, but originally Jewish grandmother by the name of Katharina Baumann and decided to erase her from the family tree. The Johann Strauss forgery is ample proof that the Nazis did not shy away from falsifying the sources for the sake of "preserving" a composer for the German nation.
Katharina Baumann's existence could remain undetected for over 200 years, because Viennese genealogists, who obviously considered the marriage of Liszt's parents in Unterfrauenhaid an exclusively Hungarian affair, never did any research in Vienna. Based on the newly discovered documents, I consider it very likely that Liszt's father did not make the acquaintance of his bride in Mattersdorf, but actually first met her in Vienna and then made her move to Hungary with his proposal of marriage. A lot of research still remains to be done on a topic that seemed to be covered so exhaustively.

The handwriting of Franz Liszt's grandfather Adam List the elder

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2012. All rights reserved.

Updated: 30 October 2021

Additional research in the church records of Edelstal has already been conducted, but the results can only be published as soon as somebody is willing to fund this project.


  1. Another fascinating and enlightening blog entry. What I particularly like about these entries is that although they are packed with names and dates you still make them immensely readable.

  2. Fascinating. Unless I'm mistaken, if Kurzbeck were still at Tiefer Graben 22 in 1815, she would have been Beethoven's neighbor (#8-10).

  3. Very good research, but it is possible, that the parish entries made a mistake and are showing the name of the firt wife of the young Adam Liszt ( as whriten in some literatur) and not the mother.

  4. No, that's not possible. Maria Anna Laager was Adam's first wife. The literature you are referring to is mistaken.

  5. Hi Michael, I found your information very interesting. Maria Anna Lager is my 1st Cousin 6 x removed.

  6. It might be that a DNA analysis of Adam Liszt and one of his siblings would answer the question whether they had a common mother.

  7. You know where exactly these people are buried? Congratulations.

    1. One of Adam Liszt's sisters (or half-sisters), Barbara Liszt (Borbala Liszt, later Borbala Vetzko after her husband) deceased in the small village of Bedegker, Hungary. Some of the villagers might still know her grave place. Adam List's grave is in Boulogne-sur-mer. But you're probably right: it is practically impossible to find their remains.