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   Chapter 4 THE HEART OF A VIOLINIST

The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2 By Rupert Hughes Characters: 18267

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


"From this did Paganini comb the fierce

Electric sparks, or to tenuity

Pull forth the inmost wailing of the wire?-

No catgut could swoon out so much of soul!"

-Browning, "Red Cotton Night-Cap Country."

Many people have based their idea of the moral status of musicians and the moral effects of music upon a certain work by Tolstoi, who is no more eminent as a crusader in the fields of real life and real fiction, than he is incompetent as a critic of art. His novel, "The Kreutzer Sonata," is musically a hopeless fallacy. And Tolstoi's claim, that Beethoven must have written it under the inspiration of a too amorous mood, is pretty well answered by the fact that Beethoven, who was so liberal of his dedications to women, whenever they had inspired him, dedicated this work to two different violinists, both men.

It is said that he first inscribed it to George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a mulatto violinist, who, being lucky enough to be born in Europe, was not ostracised from paleface society. This can be only too well proved by the fact that Beethoven-who spelled the man's name "Brischdower"-after dedicating the sonata to him, found that the Africo-European had been his successful rival in one of those numberless flirtations of his, in which Beethoven always came out second. Indignant at his dusky rival's success, Beethoven erased his name from the title-page and substituted that of Rudolphe Kreutzer. The curious thing about this great piece of music, known to fame as the "Kreutzer Sonata," is that Beethoven had never seen Kreutzer, and that Kreutzer never played the sonata.

I have not discovered whether or no Kreutzer was married; he probably was, for he died insane. A German composer, Conradin Kreutzer, with whom he might be confused, had a daughter whom he trained as a singer. As for Bridgetower, he married and had a daughter.

But speaking of violinists, what would become of them if there never had been makers of violins, especially such luthiers as the Amati? Yet all I know of the Amati is that they formed a dynasty, and doubtless fell in love on occasion, though how, or when, I do not learn.

The great Antonio Stradivari, however, began his love-making like David Copperfield, by falling in love with a woman ten years his senior, when he was only seventeen. She was Francesca Capra; her husband had been assassinated three years before, leaving her a child. The boy Stradivari and the widow were married July 4, 1667, and on December 23d, a daughter named Julia was born. Francesca bore Stradivari six children. Her second child was a son named after her, Francesco; but Francesco died in infancy, and the name, in spite of the omen, was given to the next son, who followed his father's profession, but never married. The next child was a daughter, who died a spinster; the next was a son, who became a priest, and the next a son, who died a bachelor. The failure of all their children to marry does not indicate a particularly happy home-life, but this is mere speculation. We only know that Stradivari's first wife died, after a marriage lasting thirty-four years.

A year and a half later Stradivari married a girl fifteen years his junior; Antonia Zambelli was, indeed, born the very year Francesca's first husband had been assassinated. Antonia bore Stradivari five children: a daughter, who died at the age of twenty; a son, who died in infancy; a son, who died at twenty-four; a son, who became a priest and lasted seventy-seven years, and, finally, a son, Paolo, the only child of Stradivari that seems to have married, and certainly the only one who handed down the family name. How happy Antonia was with her husband, we do not know. "As rich as Stradivari," became a proverb. She died at the age of seventy-three, and Stradivari survived her less than one year; this may have been because he was overcome with grief; or because he was already nearly ninety years of age.

In the workshop of Stradivari was a fiddle-maker named Andreas Guarnieri, who had two sons, Pietro and Giuseppe, who had a son named Pietro, and a more famous cousin named Giuseppe, who was a dissipated genius, and blasphemously gave himself the nickname, "del Gesù." Of him there is a pretty fable, that once being sent to prison for debt, he won over the jailer's daughter, and she brought him stealthily wood and implements with which he made the so-called "prison fiddles," of whose curious shape Charles Reade said: "Such is the force of genius that I believe in our secret hearts we love these impudent fiddles best; they are so full of chic." As Giuseppe called himself "Gesù," so there was a member of the famous violin-making family of Guadagnini who was called "John the Baptist," and of whom I only know that he belonged to a large family.

TARTINI

But to turn from these unsatisfactory violin makers to violin players: I know nothing of the great Corelli's personal history; his pupil Geminiani is said to have led a life full of romance. Philidor spent his years chiefly in the intrigues of chess-playing. The great Tartini, whom the devil visited in the dream he immortalised in his famous Sonata del Diavolo, had a checkerboard career. As a young university student he fell in love with a niece of Cardinal Cornaro, and married her in secret. Like Romeo, his romance brought him separation and exile. His parents cast him off; the cardinal made his life unsafe. He fled from Padua, and took up the violin to save him from starvation. "And some have greatness thrust upon them."

One day, as he was playing at the monastery where he was in retirement, the wind blew aside a curtain just as a fellow townsman was passing. He took home the news, and by this time resentment had died out so much, that Tartini and his young wife were permitted to resume their romance. They went to Venice. Later his ambition for the violin caused them to separate, but finally they returned to Padua to live. Burney says that his wife was "of the Xantippe sort." His love story somewhat suggests that of Desmarets, who also had to flee for his life in consequence of a secret marriage, and who was twenty-two years appeasing the wrath of the aristocratic family.

A contemporary violinist and composer was Benedetto Marcello, whose melodramatic affair has been described by Crowest and may be quoted here, with full permission to believe as much of it as you please.

"Marcello was the victim of a hopeless passion for a beautiful lady, Leonora Manfrotti, and on the occasion of her marriage to Paolo Seranzo, a Venetian of high rank, Marcello was unwise enough to send her a rose and a billet-doux containing words more complimentary to the lady's beauty than to her taste in the choice of a husband. This epistle, coming to Seranzo's notice, caused him so violent a fit of jealousy that he tormented his young wife by supervision and suspicion to such an extent that she actually sank under his ill-treatment and died. Her body was laid out in state in the church 'Dei Frari,' and here Marcello seeing it, learned the ill effects of his rash passion. He fell into a state of melancholy madness, and at last, having with the craft and ingenuity of a madman succeeded in stealing the body of his love, he conveyed it to a ruined crypt in one of the neighbouring islands, which, bearing the reputation of being haunted, was seldom visited by any one. Here, watched only by a faithful old nurse, he sat day and night watching the dead form of Leonora, singing and playing to it as though by the force of music he would recall her to life.

"Long ere this, Venice, and indeed Italy, was full of excitement at the composition of some unknown musician (no other than Marcello). Among other admirers of this music was Eliade, twin sister of Leonora, and resembling her so closely that even friends could scarcely distinguish her. Eliade had even been effected to insensibility by the strain of the unknown, and hearing one day a gondola pass, in which a voice was singing one of the songs which was an especial favourite, in such a way as she had never heard it sung before, she followed and traced the gondola to the deserted island. A visit to this island resulted in a meeting with the old nurse, and a few explanations. The ingenious woman contrived to take advantage of a short absence of Marcello, and, substituting the living sister for the dead one, awaited the mad musician. This time, however, his usual invocation was not in vain: as he called on Leonora to awake, a living image arose from the coffin, and Marcello, restored to happiness by the delusion, was quite content with the exchange when he found out that, although the lady was not Leonora, she was a devoted admirer of his musical skill, and professed an 'affinity of soul' for him, in which her sister had been wanting. Their happiness was short-lived, for Marcello died a few years after their marriage."

This has a faint resemblance to the romance of "The Quick or the Dead," with a certain vice-versation.

LOUIS SPOHR

To come back to earth: The eminent violinist, Spohr, and his pupil, Francis

Eck, made an extensive concert-tour together, in which they rivalled each other almost more in their rapid series of amorous adventures, than in their more legitimate concert work. While in St. Petersburg, Eck met the daughter of one of the members of the Imperial Orchestra, and began a flirtation, which she took so seriously that her father gave him the alternative of matrimony or Siberia. After some hesitation he chose matrimony. Had he foreseen the sequel, he would doubtless have greatly preferred Siberia, for his wife was a virago, and collaborated with his ill-health to guide him to the madhouse.

Spohr may have profited by Eck's experience, when some years later he met the beautiful and brilliant Dorette Scheidler; she was eighteen years old, and played that most becoming instrument, the harp, as well as the piano and violin. They appeared together in a court concert, and on the way to her home, in the carriage, he made the not particularly original proposition: "Shall we thus play together for life?" She, with hardly more originality, wept her consent upon his shoulder. They were married without delay, and began a series of very successful concert-tours. They seem to have been happy together for twenty-six years, and they reared a large family. Her death in 1832 broke down his health for several months. But two years later, he then being fifty, he married the skilful pianist, Marianne Pfeiffer, over twenty years his junior. They also made a brilliant concert-tour together.

PAGANINI, THE INFERNAL

Paganini, as everybody knows, sold his soul to the devil for fame. He made the best of the gamble, as he usually did when he gambled; for the poor, innocent Lucifer got only a fourth-rate soul, while Paganini secured a fame that will not be surpassed while fiddlers fiddle.

Gambling was not Paganini's only vice. In spite of the fact that he will always be almost as famous for his multiplex ugliness as for his skill, women found him fascinating, and kept him busy. When he was only seventeen, a beautiful dame of Bologna abducted him and held him prisoner in her country chateau, as once Liszt, his rival in technical fame, was kept a few months. Can there be any secret technical virtue in being kidnapped thus? The fair Bolognese kept Paganini captive for three years in this retreat, where he fed upon scenery, love, and music. For her sake he practised her favourite instrument, the guitar, and worked miracles with it as with the violin. At the age of twenty, Paganini broke the spell and resumed his gipsying, persuading the public, and not without reason, that he was aided by magic. He lived for many years with the singer, Antonia Bianchi, who bore him a son, Achille, whom he legitimised. Antonia was devotion itself, until she was gradually driven to a jealousy that was almost fiendish, and led to a separation. Paganini himself tells this story:

"Antonia was constantly tormented by the most fearful jealousy. One day, she happened to be behind my chair when I was writing some lines in the album of a great pianist, and, when she read the few amiable words I had composed in honour of the artist, to whom the book belonged, she tore it from my hands, demolished it on the spot. So fearful was her rage, she would have assassinated me."

When he died, he left his son a fortune of $400,000. Surely this sum alone proves the justice of the popular belief that he had sold himself to the devil, and, knowing it, none can doubt the story Liszt quotes in one of his essays concerning the G string of Paganini's violin: "It was the intestine of his wife, whom he had killed with his own hands." There is no record of the secret marriage, but there is record enough of the superhuman power of the melodies he drew from that string.

DE BéRIOT, SONTAG, AND MALIBRAN

Among the chief contemporaries of Paganini was De Bériot. When he was not quite thirty, he found himself in Paris at the time of the deadly vocal feud between Sontag and Malibran. The rivalry of the two singers was ended by the influence of music. One night, singing together the duet from "Semiramide," each was so overcome at the beauty of the other's voice and art, that they embraced and became friends.

De Bériot had an equally strange experience with the two women. He fell madly in love with Sontag, slight, blue-eyed and blonde as she was, and then only twenty-five. But De Bériot paid his court in vain, because at this time Sontag was engaged to the young diplomat, Count Rossi; as it would have hurt his influence to be engaged to the child of strolling players, the engagement was kept secret, until the count could persuade the King of Prussia to grant her a patent of nobility. When they were married, she gave up the stage, and travelled from court to court with her husband, singing only for charity. As her brother said: "Rossi made my sister happy, in the best sense of the word. To the day of their death they loved each other as on their wedding-day."

But political troubles ruined the count's fortunes, and it seemed necessary for the countess to return to the stage. Now again the court wished to separate diplomacy from the drama played on the open stage. Rossi was told that he might retain his ambassadorship if he would formally separate from his wife, at least until she could again leave the stage. But Rossi believed that it was his turn to make a sacrifice, and could not bear a separation; so he resigned, and travelled with his wife. They came to America, and in Mexico the cholera ended her beautiful life at the age of forty-nine.

It was into this ideal romance that De Beriot had wandered unwittingly in 1830. It was fortunate that he could not prevail against the noble Count Rossi, even though his failure caused him pain. It almost cost him his health, and he suffered so obviously that his friends were alarmed. Among those endeavouring to console him was Madame Malibran, whom people, who like exclusive superlatives, have been pleased to select as the greatest singer in the history of music. Like Sontag, she was the child of stage people, and, indeed, had made her first appearance at the age of five.

In 1826 she, and that wonderful assembly, the Garcia family, had found themselves in New York, where an old French merchant, supposed to be rich, married her. It is certain that Malibran married the old merchant for his money-a thing so common that one cannot stop to express indignation. The horrible thing is that, as it turned out, the old man had also an eye to the weather. He had hoped to stave off bankruptcy by marrying the prosperous singer. He succeeded in getting neither her money nor her heart, for she left him within a year and returned to Paris.

Here, then, we find her again, with her rival Sontag out of the way, and Sontag's lover to console. She furnished him with contrast enough, for she differed from Sontag in these respects, that she was only twenty-two, she was a contralto, dark and Spanish, and was known to be married. Her consolation of De Bériot was complete. They lived together the rest of her life, touring in concerts occasionally, with enormous financial success, she creating an immortal name as an operatic singer, and he as a violinist. In 1831 they built a palatial home in the suburbs of Brussels, where they spent the time when they were not travelling. She bore him a son and a daughter, the latter dying in infancy.

Meanwhile, she was trying to divorce her husband, who was now living in Paris. The freedom was a long while coming, and it was 1836 before the Gordian knot was cut. On March 26th of the same year, she and De Bériot were married. The very next month, in London, she was thrown from a horse and more severely injured than she realised. As soon as she could, she resumed her concerts; brain-fever attacked her. She died at the age of twenty-eight.

Two hours after her death, De Bériot hastened away to make sure of the possession of the wealth this young woman had already heaped up. He did not wait for the funeral, and all Europe was scandalised. But it is claimed in his defence that he had been devoted to her, and during her illness had never left her side, and that his mercenary haste was due to his fear that a moment's delay might give Monsieur Malibran a chance to claim her property, and thus rob the child she had borne De Bériot of his inheritance. Those who know the peculiar attitude the French law takes toward the property of a wife, can understand the difficulty of the situation.

In any case, the child was saved from poverty or from the necessity of professionalism in later life, though he was a distinguished pianist. As for De Bériot, after the success of his mission he returned to the country home and remained in seclusion, not playing again in public for one year. Two years later he married Fr?ulein Huber, the daughter of a Vienna magistrate and the adopted ward of a prince. De Bériot travelled little after this, and lived to be sixty-eight years old. He died in blindness that had been creeping on him for the last eighteen years of his life.

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