Beatlemania is not without precedent. The most obvious historical example of mass hysteria inspired by musical performance prior to the 1960's is Lisztomania, so named for the revolutionary Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886), as recounted in Alan Walker's biography:
"Liszt arrived in Berlin just before Christmas 1841. ... His first recital took place in the Berlin Singakademie on December 27. ... The clamour which erupted shook the Singakademie to its foundations and set the tone for the rest of his stay. It was at Berlin that 'Lisztomania' swept in. ... The symptoms ... bear ever resemblance to an infectious disease, and merely to call them mass hysteria hardly does justice to what actually took place. His portrait was worn on brooches and cameos. Swooning lady admirers attempted to take cuttings of his hair, and they surged forward whenever he broke a piano string in order to make it into a bracelet. Some of these insane female 'fans' even carried glass phials about their persons into which they poured his coffee dregs. Others collected his cigar butts, which they hid in their cleavages."
This last sentence is confirmed by author Alan Kozin, who wrote in the preface of his Beatles biography:
"I was nine years old when 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You' began to be heard ceaselessly on American radio ... I was devoting my own musical energies to classical music, and was studying the piano with a woman whose father had been a pupil of Liszt - and who kept a collection of Liszt's cigar butts, framed in her studio."
But, of course, some aspect of Beatlemania did reach unprecedented levels. And this was not because of the music itself, but rather the product of the media and the technology at the media's disposal. Had the radio and television existed in the 1840's, perhaps Lisztomania would have been every bit as big as Beatlemania was a century later.
Kozin, Alan. The Beatles. Phaidon Press Limited, London, UK, 1995.
Walker, Alan. Franz Liszt: The Virtuoso Years, 1811-1847. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, 1983.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.