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Franz Liszt By James Huneker Characters: 21293

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Liszt's Birthplace, Raiding

The year 1811 was the year of the great comet. Its wine is said to have been of a richness; some well-known men were born, beginning with Thackeray and John Bright; Napoleon's son, the unhappy Duc de Reichstadt, first saw the light that year, as did Jules Dupré, Théophile Gautier, and Franz Liszt. There will be no disputes concerning the date of his birth, October 22d, as was the case with Chopin. His ancestors, according to a lengthy family register, were originally noble; but the father of Franz, Adam Liszt, was a manager of the Esterhazy estates in Hungary at the time his only son and child was born. He was very musical, knew Joseph Haydn, and was an admirer of Hummel, his music and playing. The mother's maiden name was Anna Lager (or Laager), a native of lower Austria, with German blood in her veins. The mixed blood of her son might prove a source of interest to Havelock Ellis in his studies of heredity and genius. If Liszt was French in the early years of his manhood, he was decidedly German the latter half of his life. The Magyar only came out on the keyboard, and in his compositions. She was of a happy and extremely vivacious nature, cheerful in her old age, and contented to educate her three grandchildren later in life. The name Liszt would be meal or flour in English; so that Frank Flour might have been his unromantic cognomen; a difference from Liszt Ferencz, with its accompanying battle-cry of Eljen! In his son Adam Liszt hoped to realise his own frustrated musical dreams. A prodigy of a prodigious sort, the comet and the talent of Franz were mixed up by the superstitious. Some gipsy predicted that the lad would return to his native village rich, honoured, and in a glass house (coach). This he did. In Oedenburg, during the summer of 1903, I visited at an hour or so distant, the town of Eisenstadt and the village of Raiding (or Reiding). In the latter is the house where Liszt was born. The place, which can hardly have changed much since the boyhood of Liszt, is called Dobrjan in Hungarian. I confess I was not impressed, and was glad to get back to Oedenburg and civilisation. In this latter spot there is a striking statue of the composer.

Anna Liszt

Liszt's Mother

It is a thrice-told tale that several estimable Hungarian magnates raised a purse for the boy, sent him with his father to Vienna, where he studied the piano with the pedagogue Carl Czerny, that indefatigable fabricator of finger-studies, and in theory with Salieri. He was kissed by the aged Beethoven on the forehead-Wotan saluting young Siegfried-though Schindler, ami de Beethoven, as he dubbed himself, denied this significant historical fact. But later Schindler pitched into Liszt for his Beethoven interpretations, hotly swearing that they were the epitome of unmusical taste. The old order changeth, though not old prejudices. Liszt waxed in size, technique, wisdom. Soon he was given up as hopelessly in advance of his teachers. Wherever he appeared they hailed him as a second Hummel, a second Beethoven. And he improvised. That settled his fate. He would surely become a composer. He went to Paris, was known as le petit Litz, and received everywhere. He became the rage, though he was refused admission to the Conservatoire, probably because he displayed too much talent for a boy. He composed an opera, Don Sancho, the score of which has luckily disappeared. Then an event big with consequences was experienced by the youth-he lost his father in 1827. (His mother survived her husband until 1866.) He gave up concert performances as too precarious, and manfully began teaching in Paris. The revolution started his pulse to beating, and he composed a revolutionary symphony. He became a lover of humanity, a socialist, a follower of Saint-Simon, even of the impossible Père Prosper Enfantin. His friend and adviser was Lamenais, whose Paroles d'un Croyant had estranged him from Rome. A wonderful, unhappy man. Liszt read poetry and philosophy, absorbed all the fashionable frenzied formulas and associated with the Romanticists. He met Chopin, and they became as twin brethren. Fran?ois Mignet, author of A History of the French Revolution, said to the Princess Cristina Belgiojoso of Liszt: "In the brain of this young man reigns great confusion." No wonder. He was playing the piano, composing, teaching, studying the philosophers, and mingling with enthusiastic idealists who burnt their straw before they moulded their bricks. As Francis Hackett wrote of the late Lord Acton, Liszt suffered from "intellectual log-jam." But the current of events soon released him.

Adam Liszt

Liszt's Father

He met the Countess d'Agoult in the brilliant whirl of his artistic success. She was beautiful, accomplished, though her contemporaries declare she was not of a truthful nature. She was born Marie Sophie de Flavigny, at Frankfort-on-Main in 1805. Her father was the Vicomte de Flavigny, who had married the daughter of Simon Moritz Bethmann, a rich banker, originally from Amsterdam and a reformed Hebrew. She had literary ability, was proud of having once seen Goethe, and in 1827 she married Comte Charles d'Agoult. But social sedition was in the air. The misunderstood woman-no new thing-was the fashion. George Sand was changing her lovers with every new book she wrote, and Madame, the Countess d'Agoult-to whom Chopin dedicated his first group of Etudes-began to write, began to yearn for fame and adventures. Liszt appeared. He seems to have been the pursued. Anyhow, they eloped. In honour he couldn't desert the woman, and they made Geneva their temporary home. She had in her own right 20,000 francs a year income; it cost Liszt exactly 300,000 francs annually to keep up an establishment such as the lady had been accustomed to-he earned this, a tidy amount, for those days, by playing the piano all over Europe. Madame d'Agoult bore him three children: Blandine, Cosima, and Daniel. The first named married Emile Ollivier, Napoleon's war minister-still living at the present writing-in 1857. She died in 1862. Cosima married Hans von Bülow, her father's favourite pupil, in 1857; later she went off with Richard Wagner, married him, to her father's despair-principally because she had renounced her religion in so doing-and to-day is Wagner's widow. Daniel Liszt, his father's hope, died December, 1859, at the age of twenty. Liszt had legitimatised the birth of his children, had educated them, had dowered his daughters, and they proved all three a source of sorrow.

Blandine Ollivier

Daughter of Liszt

He quarrelled with the D'Agoult and they parted bad friends. Under the pen name of Daniel Stern she attacked Liszt in her souvenirs and novels. He forgave her. They met in Paris once, in the year 1860. He gently told her that the title of the souvenirs should have been "Poses et Mensonges." She wept. Tragic comedians, both. They were bored with one another; their union recalls the profound reflection of Flaubert, that Emma Bovary found in adultery all the platitudes of marriage. Perhaps other ladies had supervened. Like Byron, Liszt was the sentimental hero of the day, a Chateaubriand René of the keyboard. Balzac put him in a book, so did George Sand. All the painters and sculptors, Delaroche and Ary Scheffer among others made his portrait. Nevertheless, his head was not turned, and when, after an exile of a few years, Thalberg had conquered Paris in his absence, he returned and engaged in an ivory duel, at the end worsting his rival. Thalberg was the first pianist in Europe, contended every one. And the Belgiojoso calmly remarked that Liszt was the only one. After witnessing the Paderewski worship of yesterday nothing related of Liszt should surprise us.

Daniel Liszt

Son of Liszt

In the meantime, Paganini, had set his brain seething. Chopin, Paganini and Berlioz were the predominating artistic influences in his life; from the first he appreciated the exotic, learned the resources of the instrument, and the value of national folk-song flavour; from the second he gained the inspiration for his transcendental technique; from the third, orchestral colour and the "new paths" were indicated to his ambitious spirit. He never tired, he always said there would be plenty of time to loaf in eternity. His pictures were everywhere, he became a kind of Flying Hungarian to the sentimental Sentas of those times. He told Judith Gautier that the women loved themselves in him. Modest man! What charm was in his playing an army of auditors have told us. Heine called Thalberg a king, Liszt a prophet, Chopin a poet, Herz an advocate, Kalkbrenner a minstrel, Madame Pleyel a Sibyl, and Doehler-a pianist. Scudo wrote that Thalberg's scales were like pearls on velvet, the scales of Liszt the same, but the velvet was hot! Louis Ehlert, no mean observer, said he possessed a quality that neither Tausig nor any virtuoso before or succeeding him ever boasted-the nearest approach, perhaps, was Rubinstein-namely: a spontaneous control of passion that approximated in its power to nature ... and an incommensurable nature was his. He was one among a dozen artists who made Europe interesting during the past century. Slim, handsome in youth, brown of hair and blue-eyed, with the years he grew none the less picturesque; his mane was white, his eyes became blue-gray, his pleasant baritone voice a brumming bass. There is a portrait in the National Gallery by Lorenzo Lotto, of Prothonotary Giuliano, that suggests him, and in the Burne-Jones picture, Merlin and Vivien, there is certainly a transcript of his features. A statue by Foyatier in the Louvre, of Spartacus, is really the head of the pianist. As Abbé he was none the less fascinating; for his admirers he wore his soutane with a difference.

Useless to relate the Thousand-and-One Nights of music, triumphs, and intrigues in his life. When the Countess d'Agoult returned to her family a council, presided over by her husband's brother, exonerated the pianist, and his behaviour was pronounced to be that of a gentleman! Surely the Comic Muse must have chuckled at this. Like Wagner, Franz Liszt was a Tragic Comedian of prime order. He knew to the full the value of his electric personality. Sincere in art, he could play the grand seignior, the actor, the priest, and diplomat at will. Pose he had to, else abandon the profession of piano virtuoso. But he bitterly objected to playing the r?le of a performing poodle, and once publicly insulted the Czar, who dared to talk while the greatest pianist in the world played. He finally grew tired of Paris, of public lif

e. He had been loved by such various types of women as George Sand-re-christened by Baudelaire as the Prudhomme of immorality; delightful epigram!-by Marie Du Plessis, the Lady of the Camellias, and by that astounding adventuress, Lola Montez. How many others only a Leporello catalogue would show.

His third artistic period began in 1847, his sojourn at Weimar. It was the most attractive and fruitful of all. From 1848 to 1861 the musical centre of Germany was this little town immortalised by Goethe. There the world flocked to hear the first performance of Lohengrin, and other Wagner operas. A circle consisting of Raff, Von Bülow, Tausig, Cornelius, Joseph Joachim, Schumann, Robert Franz, Litolff, Dionys Pruckner, William Mason, Lassen, with Berlioz and Rubinstein and Brahms (in 1854) and Remenyi as occasional visitors, to mention a tithe of famous names, surrounded Liszt. His elective affinity-in Goethe's phrase-was the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, who with her child had deserted the usual brutal and indifferent husband-in fashionable romances. Her influence upon Liszt's character has been disputed, but unwarrantably. She occasionally forced him to do the wrong thing, as in the case of the ending of the Dante symphony; vide, the new Wagner Autobiography. Together they wrote his chief literary works, the study of Chopin-the princess supplying the feverish local colour, and the book on Hungarian gipsy music, which contains a veiled attack on the Jews, for which Liszt was blamed. The Sayn-Wittgenstein was an intense, narrow nature-she has been called a "slightly vulgar aristocrat," and one of her peculiarities was seeing in almost every one of artistic or intellectual prominence Hebraic traits or lineaments. Years before the Geyer and the Leipsic Judengasse story came out she unhesitatingly pronounced Richard Wagner of Semitic origin; she also had her doubts about Berlioz and others. The Lisztian theory of gipsy music consists, as Dannreuther says, in the merit of a laboured attempt to prove the existence of something like a gipsy epic in terms of music, the fact being that Hungarian gipsies merely play Hungarian popular tunes in a fantastic and exciting manner, but have no music that can properly be called their own. Liszt was a facile, picturesque writer and did more with his pen for Wagner than Wagner's own turbid writings. But a great writer he was not-many-sided as he was. It was unkind, however, on the part of Wagner to say to a friend that Cosima had more brains than her father. If she has, Bayreuth since her husband's death hasn't proved it. Wagner, when he uttered this, was probably in the ferment of a new passion, having quite recovered from his supposedly eternal love for Mathilde Wesendonck.

Cosima von Bülow

Daughter of Liszt

A masterful woman the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, though far from beautiful, she so controlled and ordered Liszt's life that he quite shed his bohemian skin, composed much, and as Kapellmeister produced many novelties of the new school. They lived on a hill in a house called the Altenburg, not a very princely abode, and there Liszt accomplished the major portion of his works for orchestra, his masses and piano concertos. There, too, Richard Wagner, a revolutionist, wanted by the Dresden police, came in 1849-from May 19th to 24th-disguised, carrying a forged passport, poor, miserable. Liszt secured him lodgings, and gave him a banquet at the Altenburg attended by Tausig, Von Bülow, Gille, Draeseke, Gottschalg, and others, nineteen in all. Wagner behaved badly, insulted his host and guests. He was left in solitude until Liszt insisted on his apologising for his rude manners-which he did with a bad grace. John F. Runciman has said that Liszt ought to have done even more for Wagner than he did-or words to that effect; just so, and there is no doubt that the noble man has put the world in his debt by piloting the music-dramatist into safe harbour; but while ingratitude is no crime according to Nietzsche (who, quite illogically, reproached Wagner for his ingratitude) there seems a limit to amiability, and in Liszt's case his amiability amounted to weakness. He could never say "No" to Wagner (nor to a pretty woman). He understood and forgave the Mime nature in Wagner for the sake of his Siegfried side. There was no Mime in Liszt, nothing small nor hateful, although he could at times play the benevolent, ironic Mephisto. And in his art he mirrored the quality to perfection-the Mephistopheles of his Faust Symphony.

Intrigues pursued him in his capacity as court musical director. The Princess Maria-Pawlowna died June, 1859; the following October Princess Marie, daughter of Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, married the Prince Hohenlohe, and Liszt, after the opera by Peter Cornelius was hissed, resigned his post. He remembered Goethe and his resignation, caused by a trained dog, at the same theatre. But he didn't leave Weimar until August 17, 1861, joining the princess at Rome. The scandal of the attempted marriage there is told in another chapter. Again the eyes of the world were riveted upon Liszt. His very warts became notorious. Some say that Cardinal Antonelli, instigated by Polish relatives of the princess, upset the affair when the pair were literally on the eve of approaching the altar; some believe that the wily Liszt had set in motion the machinery; but the truth is that at the advice of the Cardinal Prince Hohenlohe, his closest friend, the marriage scheme was dropped. When the husband of the princess died there was no further talk of matrimony. Instead, Liszt took minor orders, concentrated his attention on church music, and henceforth spent his year between Rome, Weimar, and Budapest. He hoped for a position at the Papal court analogous to the one he had held at Weimar; but the appointment of music-director at St. Peter's was never made. To Weimar he had returned (1869) at the cordial invitation of the archduke, who allotted to his use a little house in the park, the Hofg?rtnerei. There every summer he received pupils from all parts of the world, gratuitously advising them, helping them from his impoverished purse, and, incidentally, being admired by a new generation of musical enthusiasts, particularly those of the feminine gender. There were lots of scandals, and the worthy burghers of the town shook their heads at the goings-on of the Lisztianer. The old man fell under many influences, some of them sinister. He seldom saw Richard or Cosima Wagner, though he attended the opening of Bayreuth in 1876. On that occasion Wagner publicly paid a magnificent tribute to the genius and noble friendship of Liszt. It atoned for a wilderness of previous neglect and ingratitude.

With Wagner's death in 1883 his hold on mundane matters began to relax. He taught, he travelled, he never failed to pay the princess an annual visit at Rome. She had immured herself, behind curtained windows and to the light of waxen tapers led the life of a mystic, also smoked the blackest of cigars. She became a theologian in petticoats and wrote numerous inutile books about pin-points in matters ecclesiastical. No doubt she still loved Liszt, for she set a spy on him at Weimar and thus kept herself informed as to how much cognac he daily consumed, how many pretty girls had asked for a lock of his silvery hair, also the name of the latest aspirant to his affections.

What a brilliant coterie of budding artists surrounded him: D'Albert, Urspruch, Geza Zichy, Friedheim, Joseffy, Rosenthal, Reisenauer, Grieg, Edward MacDowell, Burmeister, Stavenhagen, Sofie Menter, Toni Raab, Nikisch, Weingartner, Siloti, Laura Kahrer, Sauer, Adele Aus der Ohe, Moszkowski, Scharwenka, Pachmann, Saint-Sa?ns, Rubinstein-the latter not as pupil-Borodin, Van der Stucken, and other distinguished names in the annals of compositions and piano playing. Liszt's health broke down, but he persisted in visiting London in the early summer of 1886, where he was received as a demi-god by Queen Victoria and the musical world; he had been earlier in Paris where a mass of his was sung with success. His money affairs were in a tangle; once in receipt of an income that had enabled him to throw money away to any whining humbug, he complained at the last that he had no home of his own, no income-he had not been too shrewd in his dealings with music publishers-and very little cash for travelling expenses. The princess needed her own rents, and Liszt was never a charity pensioner. During the Altenburg years, the Glanzzeit at Weimar, her income had sufficed for both, as Liszt was earning no money from concert-tours. But at the end, despite his devoted disciples, he was the very picture of a deserted, desolate old hero. And he had given away fortunes, had played fortunes at benefit-concerts into the coffers of cities overtaken by fire or flood. Surely, the seamy side of success. "Wer aber wird nun Liszt helfen?" This half humorous, half pathetic cry of his had its tragic significance.

Liszt last touched the keyboard July 19, 1886, at Colpach, Luxemburg, the castle of Munka?zy, the Hungarian painter. Feeble as he must have been there was a supernatural aureole about his music that caused his hearers to weep. (Fancy the pianoforte inciting to tears!) He played his favourite Liebestraum, the Chant Polonais from the "Glanes de Woronice" (the Polish estate of the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein) and the sixteenth of his Soirées de Vienne. He went on to Bayreuth, in company with a persistent young Parisian lady-the paramount passion not quite extinguished-attended a performance of Tristan and Isolde, through which he slept from absolute exhaustion; though he did not fail to acknowledge in company with Cosima Wagner the applause at the end. He went at once to bed never to leave it alive. He died of lung trouble on the night of July 31st or the early hour of August 1, 1886, and his last word is said to have been "Tristan." He was buried, in haste-that he might not interfere with the current Wagner festival-and, no doubt, is mourned at leisure. His princess survived him a year; this sounds more romantic than it is. [Madame d'Agoult had died in 1876.] A new terror was added to death by the ugly tomb of the dead man, designed by his grandson, Siegfried Wagner; said to be a composer as well as an amateur architect. Victories usually resemble each other; it is defeat alone that wears an individual physiognomy. Liszt, with all his optimism, did not hesitate to speak of his career as a failure. But what a magnificent failure! "To die and to die young-what happiness," was a favourite phrase of his.

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