Because French pianist Francis Planté lived nearly a century and remained musically active for most of his life, he is often viewed as a bridge linking vastly different keyboard worlds. Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow were prominent figures in his early days, while Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz were rising stars in his latter years. He was one of the oldest pianists ever to record and one of the few who lived well into the twentieth century who may have seen Chopin perform. But his historical significance aside, he was one of the finest pianists from the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Planté was born in the small town of Orthez, southwest France, on March 2, 1839. He began playing the piano at a very early age and gave his debut recital in Paris at the age of seven. He took classes at the Paris Conservatory from Antoine Marmontel and won first prize in a competition there in 1850. That same year, he was presented to Rossini, who engaged Planté to perform regularly at his private concerts. Through him, the youth met Verdi, Dumas, and other luminaries of the day. A wealthy patron, Madame Erard, was also greatly impressed with his talents and often invited him to play for her. Liszt, a frequent guest of hers, admired the youth's pianism. Planté returned to the Paris Conservatory for further study, this time to take instruction in harmony from François Bazin. While there, he won another prize in a piano competition in 1855. He replaced Alkan in a trio that included Alard and Franchomme, and also gave regular recitals until 1861, when he largely withdrew from concert activity for about a decade.
During this period, he lived in the French Pyrénées, presumably to accommodate private study and to indulge his passion for hunting. But he did give concerts in Mont-de-Marsan in 1864, where his uncle was mayor. In 1869, Planté married Léonie Jumel, the daughter of a lawyer. Three years later, he returned to the concert circuit, appearing regularly throughout Europe and Russia. It was now that he made the greatest strides in his career, becoming widely recognized as one of the finest pianists of his time. He also appeared in numerous concerts with Saint-Saëns in duo-piano repertory during this period. He often discussed details of the repertory with audience members at his concerts. Typically, he traveled with a dummy keyboard and performed the most demanding compositions, including many by Liszt. When not concertizing, he lived in Saint-Avit, where he was elected mayor in 1896. Planté gave a memorable concert in 1886 in Paris, playing the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, with the aging composer in attendance and afterward issuing lavish praise for the performances.
In 1908, Planté's wife died; thereafter, he withdrew from concert activity. He did occasionally appear at charity events, such as the two memorable concerts he gave in Paris in 1916. His first and only recordings were made in 1928, when Columbia Records sent a team to Mont-de-Marsan, capturing the pianist at this very late stage of his career in repertory by Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. The one-take performances of the 89-year-old Planté are likely not representative of his art from its prime years of several decades earlier. He died in Saint-Avit on December 19, 1934.