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Franz Liszt By James Huneker Characters: 12949

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

The feminine friendships of Franz Liszt gained for him as much notoriety as his music making. To the average public he was a compound of Casanova, Byron and Goethe, and to this mixture could have been added the name of Stendhal. Liszt's love affairs, Liszt's children, Liszt's perilous escapes from daggers, pistols and poisons were the subjects of conversation in Europe three-quarters of a century ago, as earlier Byron was both hero and black-sheep in the current gossip of his time. And as Liszt was in the public eye and ubiquitous-he travelled rapidly over Europe in a post-chaise, often giving two concerts in one day at different places-he became a sort of legendary figure, a musical Don Juan. He was not unmindful of the value of advertisement, so the legend grew with the years. That his reputation for gallantry was hugely exaggerated it is hardly necessary to add; a man who, accomplished as much as he, whether author, pianoforte virtuoso or composer, could have hardly had much idle time on his hands for the devil to dip into; and then his correspondence. He wrote or dictated literally thousands of letters. He was an ideal letter-writer. No one went unanswered, and a fairly good biography might be evolved from the many volumes of his correspondence. Nevertheless he did find time for much philandering, and for the cultivation of numerous platonic friendships. But the witty characterisation of Madame Plater holds good of Liszt. She said one day to Chopin: "If I were young and pretty, my little Chopin, I would take thee for husband, Ferdinand Hiller for friend, and Liszt for lover." This was in 1833, when Liszt was twenty-two years of age and the witticism definitely places Liszt in the sentimental hierarchy.

La Mara, an indefatigable and enthusiastic collector of anecdotes about unusual folk, has just published a book, Liszt und die Frauen. It deals with twenty-six friends of Liszt and does not lean heavily on scandal as an attractive adjunct; indeed La Mara (Marie Lipsius) sees musical life through rose-coloured spectacles, and Liszt is one of her gods. For her he is more sinned against than sinning, more pursued than pursuer; his angelic wings grow in size on his shoulders while you watch. Only a few of the ladies, titled and otherwise, mentioned in this book enjoyed the fleeting affection of the pianist-composer. Whatever else he might have been, Liszt was not a vulgar gallant. Over his swiftest passing intrigues he contrived to throw an air of mystery. In sooth, he was an idealist and romanticist. No one ever heard him boast his conquests.

Did Liszt ever love? It has been questioned by some of his biographers. His first passion, however, seems to have been genuine, as genuine as his love for his mother and for his children; he proved more admirable as a father than he would have been as a husband. In 1823 as "le petit Litz" he had set all musical Paris wondering. When his father died in 1827 he gave lessons there like any everyday pianoforte pedagogue because he needed money for the support of his mother. Among his aristocratic pupils was Caroline de Saint-Criq, the daughter of the Minister of Commerce, Count de Saint-Criq. It must have been truly a love in the clouds. Caroline was motherless. She was, as Liszt later declared, "a woman ideally good." Her father did not enjoy the prospect of a son-in-law who gave music lessons, and the intimacy suddenly snapped. But Liszt never forgot her; she became his mystic Beatrice, for her and to her he composed and dedicated a song; and even meeting her at Pau in 1844, just sixteen years after their rupture, did not create the disenchantment usual in such cases. Berlioz, too, sought an early love when old, and in his eyes she was as she always had been; Stendhal burst into tears on seeing again Angela Pietagrua after eleven years absence. Verily art is a sentimental antiseptic.

Liszt, about 1850

Caroline de Saint-Criq had married like the dutiful daughter she was, and Liszt's heart by 1844 was not only battle-scarred but a cemetery of memories. She died in 1874. They had corresponded for years, and at the moment of their youthful parting, caused by a cruel and extremely sensible father, they made a promise to recall each other's names at the hour of the daily angelus. Liszt averred that he kept his promise. The name of the lyric he wrote for her is: "Je voudrais m'évanouir comme la pourpre du soir" ("Ich m?chte hingehn wie das Abendrot").

Before the affair began with the Countess d'Agoult, afterward the mother of his three children, Liszt enjoyed an interlude with the Countess Adèle Laprunarède. It was the year of the revolution, 1830, and the profound despondency into which he had been cast by his unhappy love for Caroline was cured, as his mother sagely remarked, by the sound of cannon. He became a fast friend of Countess Adèle and followed her to her home in the Alps, there, as he jestingly said, to pursue their studies in style in the French language. It must not be forgotten that the Count, her husband, was their companion. But Paris wagged its myriad tongues all the same. Liszt's affiliation with Countess Louis Plater, born Gr?fin Brzostowska, the Pani Kasztelanowa (or lady castellan in English; no wonder he wrote such chromatic music later, these dissonantal names must have been an inspiration) was purely platonic, as were the majority of his friendships with the sex. But he dearly loved a princess, and the sharp eyes of Miss Amy Fay noted that his bow when meeting a woman of rank was a trifle too profound. (See her admirable Music Study in Germany.) The truth is that Liszt was a courtier. He was reared in aristocratic surroundings, and he took to luxury as would a cat. With the cannon booming in Paris he sketched the plan of his Revolutionary Symphony, but he continued to visit the aristocracy. In 1831 at Stuttgart his friend Frédéric Chopin wrote a "revolutionary" study (in C minor, opus 10) on hearing of Warsaw's downfall. Wagner rang incendiary church bells during the revolutionary days at Dresden in May 1849. Brave gestures, as our French friends would put it, and none the less lasting. Liszt's symphony is lost, but its themes may have bobbed up in his Faust and Dante symphonies. Who remembers the Warsaw of 1831 except Chopin lovers? And the rebellious spirit of Wagner's bell-ringing passed over into his Tetralogy. Nothing is negligible to an artist, not even a "gesture." Naturally th

ere is no reference to the incident in his autobiography. If you are to take Wagner at his word he was a mere looker-on in Dresden during what Bakounine contemptuously called "a petty insurrection." Nietzsche was right-great men are to be distrusted when they write of themselves.

With the Madame d'Agoult and Princess Wittgenstein episodes we are not concerned just now. So much has been written in this two-voiced fugue in the symphony of Liszt's life that it is difficult to disentangle the truth from the fable. La Mara is sympathetic, though not particularly enlightening. Of more interest, because of the comparative mystery of the affair, is the friendship between George Sand and Liszt. Naturally La Mara, sentimentalist that she is, denies a liaison. She errs. There was a brief love passage. But Liszt escaped the fate of De Musset and Chopin. Balzac speaks of the matter in his novel Béatrix, in which George Sand is depicted as Camille Maupin, the Countess d'Agoult as Béatrix, Gustave Planché as Claude Vignon, and Liszt as Conti. Furthermore, the D'Agoult was jealous of Madame Sand, doubly jealous of her as a friend of Liszt and as a writer of genius. Read the D'Agoult's novel, written after her parting with Liszt, and see how in this Nélida she imitates the Elle et Lui. That she hated George Sand, after a pretended friendship, cannot be doubted; we have her own words as witnesses. In My Literary Life, by Madame Edmond Adam (Juliette Lamber), she said of George Sand to the author: "Her lovers are to her a piece of chalk, with which she scratches on the black-board. When she has finished she crushes the chalk under her foot, and there remains but the dust, which is quickly blown away." "How is it, my esteemed and beloved friend, you have never forgiven?" sadly asked Madame Adam. "Because the wound has not healed yet. Conscious that I had put my whole life and soul into my love for Liszt she tried to take him away from me."

One would suppose from the above that Liszt was faithful to Madame d'Agoult or that George Sand had separated the runaway couple, whereas in reality Liszt knew George Sand before he met the D'Agoult. What Madame Sand said of Liszt as a gallant can hardly be paraphrased in English. She was not very flattering. Perhaps George Sand was a reason why the relations between Chopin and Liszt cooled; the latter said: "Our lady loves had quarrelled, and as good cavaliers we were in duty bound to side with them." Chopin said: "We are friends, we were comrades." Liszt told Dr. Niecks: "There was a cessation of intimacy, but no enmity. I left Paris soon after, and never saw him again." It was at the beginning of 1840 that Liszt went to Chopin's apartment accompanied by a companion. Chopin was absent. On his return he became furious on learning of the visit. No wonder. Who was the lady in the case? It could have been Marie, it might have been George Sand, and probably it was some new fancy.

After an oil painting by J. Danhauser

Victor Hugo Paganini Rossini

Dumas George Sand Countess d'Agoult

Liszt at the Piano

More adventurous were Liszt's affairs with Marguerite Gautier, the lady of the camellias, the consumptive heroine of the Dumas play, as related by Jules Janin, and with the more notorious Lola Montez, who had to leave Munich to escape the wrath of the honest burghers. The king had humoured too much the lady's extravagant habits. She fell in love with Liszt, who had parted with his Marie in 1844, and went with him to Constantinople. Where they separated no one knows. It was not destined to be other than a fickle passion on both sides, not without its romantic aspects for romantically inclined persons. Probably the closest graze with hatred and revenge ever experienced by Liszt was the Olga Janina episode. Polish and high born, rich, it is said, she adored Liszt, studied with him, followed him from Weimar to Rome, from Rome to Budapest, bored him, shocked him as an abbé and scandalised ecclesiastical Rome by her mad behaviour; finally she attempted to stab him, and, failing, took a dose of poison. She didn't die, but lived to compose a malicious and clever book, Souvenirs d'une Cosaque (written at Paris and Karentec, March to September, published by the Libraire Internationale, 1875, now out of print), and signed "Robert Franz." Poor old Liszt is mercilessly dissected, and his admiring circle at Weimar slashed by a vigourous pen. In truth, despite the falsity of the picture, Olga Janina wrote much more incisively, with more personal colour and temperament, than did Countess d'Agoult, who also caricatured Liszt in her Nélida (as "Guermann"), and the good Liszt wrote to his princess: "Janina was not evil, only exalted." [I have heard it whispered that the attempt on Liszt's life at Rome was a melodramatic affair, concocted by his princess, who was jealous of the Janina girl, with the aid of the pianist's valet.]

La Mara shows to us twenty-six portraits in her Liszt and the Ladies; they include Princess Cristina Belgiojoso, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Caroline Unger-Sabatier, Marie Camille Pleyel, Charlotte von Hagn, Bettina von Arnim, Marie von Mouchanoff-Kalergis, Rosalie, Countess Sauerma, a niece of Spohr and an accomplished harp player; the Grand Duchess of Saxony, Maria Pawlowna, and her successor, Sophie, Grand Duchess of Weimar, both patronesses of Liszt; the Princess Wittgenstein, Emilie Merian-Genast, Agnes Street Klindworth, Jessie Hillebrand Laussot, Sofie Menter, the greatest of his women pupils; the Countess Wolkenstein and Bülow, Elpis Melena, Fanny, the Princess Rospigliosi, the Baroness Olga Meyendorff (this lady enjoyed to an extraordinary degree the confidence of Liszt. At Weimar she was held in high esteem by him-and hated by his pupils), and Nadine Helbig-Princess Nadine Schahawskoy. Madame Helbig was born in 1847 and went to Rome the first time in 1865. She became a Liszt pupil and a fervent propagandist. Her crayon sketch drawing of the venerable master is excellent. In her possession is a drawing by Ingres, who met Liszt in Rome, 1839, when the pianist was twenty-eight years of age. We learn that Liszt never attempted "poetry" with the exception of a couplet which he sent to the egregious Bettina von Arnim. It runs thus, and it consoles us with its crackling consonants for the discontinuance of further poetic flights on the part of its creator:

"Ich kraxele auf der Leiter

Und komme doch nicht weiter."

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