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   Chapter 4 A FAMOUS FRIENDSHIP

Franz Liszt By James Huneker Characters: 11402

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The perennial interest of the world in the friendships of famous men and women is proved by the never-ceasing publication of books concerning them. Of George Sand and her lovers how much has been written. George Eliot and Lewes, Madame de Récamier and Chateaubriand, Goethe and his affinities, Chopin and George Sand, Liszt and the Countess d'Agoult, Wagner and Mathilde-a voluminous index might be made of the classic and romantic liaisons that have excited curiosity from the time when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary down to yesteryear. Although Franz Liszt, great piano virtuoso, great composer, great man, has been dead since 1886, and the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein since 1887, volumes are still written about their friendship. Indeed, in any collection of letters written by Liszt, or to him, the name of the princess is bound to appear. She was the veritable muse of the Hungarian, and when her influence upon him as a composer is considered it will not do to say, as many critics have said, that she was a stumbling-block in his career. The reverse is the truth.

The most recent contributions to Liszt literature are the letters between Franz Liszt and Carl Alexander, Archduke of Weimar; Aus der Glanzzeit der Weimarer Altenburg, by the fecund La Mara; and Franz Liszt, by August G?llerich, a former pupil of the master. To this we might add the little-known bundle of letters by Adelheid von Schorn, Franz Liszt et la Princesse de Sayn-Wittgenstein, (translated into French), a perfect mine of gossip. Miss von Schorn remained in Weimar after the princess left the Athens-on-the-Ilm for Rome and corresponded with her, telling of Liszt's doings, never failing to record new flirtations and making herself generally useful to the venerable composer. When attacked by his last illness at Colpach, where he had gone to visit Munkacszy, the painter, Miss von Schorn went to Bayreuth to look after him. There, at the door of his bed-chamber, she was refused admittance, Madame Cosima Wagner, through a servant, telling her that the daughter and grand-daughters of Franz Liszt would care for him. The truth is that Madame Wagner had always detested the Princess Wittgenstein and saw in the Weimar lady one of her emissaries. Miss Von Schorn left Bayreuth deeply aggrieved. After Liszt's death her correspondence with the princess abruptly ceased. She tells all this in her book. Even Liszt had shown her his door at Weimar several years before he died. He detested gossips and geese, he often declared.

The interest displayed by the world artistic has always centred about the episode of the projected marriage between the princess and Liszt. A dozen versions of the interrupted ceremony have been printed. Bayreuth, which never loved Weimar-that is, the Wagner family and the Wittgenstein faction-has said some disagreeable things, not hesitating to insinuate that Liszt himself was more pleased than otherwise when Pope Pius IX forbade the nuptials. Liszt biographers side with their idol-who once said of his former son-in-law, Hans von Bülow, that he had no talent as a married man. He might have lived to repeat the epigram if he had married the princess. Decidedly, Liszt was not made for stepping in double-harness.

Liszt, the most fascinating pianist in Europe, had been the most pursued male on the Continent, and his meeting with the Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein at Kieff, Russia, in February, 1847, was really his salvation. He was then about thirty-six years old, in all the glory of his art and of his extraordinary virility. The princess, who was born in 1819, was living on her estate at Woronice, on the edge of the Russian steppes. She was nevertheless of Polish blood, the daughter of Peter von Iwanowski, a rich landowner, and of Pauline Podoska, an original, eccentric, cultivated woman and a traveller. In 1836 she married the Prince Nikolaus Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Russian millionaire and adjutant to the Czar. It was from the first a miserable failure, this marriage. The bride, intellectual, sensitive, full of the Polish love of art, above all of music, could not long endure the raw dragoon, dissipated gambler and hard liver into whose arms she had been pushed by her ambitious father. She made a retreat to Woronice with her infant daughter and spent laborious days and nights in the study of philosophy, the arts, sciences, and religion. The collision of two such natures as Carolyne and Liszt led to some magnificent romantic and emotional fireworks.

We learn in reading the newly published letters between Liszt and the Grand Duke Carl Alexander of Weimar that the pianist had visited Weimar for the first time in 1841. The furore he created was historic. The reigning family-doubtless bored to death in the charming, placid little city-welcomed Liszt as a distraction. The Archduchess Maria Pawlovna, the sister of the Czar of Russia and mother of the later Kaiserin Augusta, admired Liszt, and so did the Archduke Carl. He was covered with jewels and orders. The upshot was that after a visit in 1842 Liszt was invited to the office of General Music Director of Weimar. This offer he accepted and in 1844 he began his duties. Carl Alexander had married the Princess Sophie of Holland, and therefore Liszt had a strong party in his favour at court. That he needed royal favour will be seen when we recall that in 1850 he produced an opera by a banished socialist, one Richard Wagner, the opera Lohengrin. He also needed court protection when in 1848 he brought to Weimar the runaway wife of Prince Wittgenstein. The lady placed herself under the friendly wing of Archduchess Maria Pawlovna, who interceded in vain with the Czar in be

half of an abused, unhappy woman. Nikolaus Wittgenstein began divorce proceedings. His wife was ordered back to her Woronice estate by imperial decree. She refused to go and her fortune was greatly curtailed by confiscation. She loved Liszt. She saw that in the glitter of this roving comet there was the stuff out of which fixed stars are fashioned, and she lived near him at Weimar from 1848 to 1861.

This was the brilliant period of musical Weimar. The illusion that the times of Goethe and Schiller were come again was indulged in by other than sentimental people. Princess Carolyne held a veritable court at the Altenburg, a large, roomy so-called palazzo on the Jena post-road, just across the muddy creek they call the River Ilm. The present writer when he last visited Weimar found the house very much reduced from its former glories. It looked commonplace and hardly like the spot where Liszt wrote his symphonic poems, planned new musical forms and the reformation of church music; where came Berlioz, Thackeray, George Eliot, and George Henry Lewes, not to mention a number of distinguished poets, philosophers, dramatists, composers, and aristocratic folk. Carolyne corresponded with all the great men of her day, beginning with Humboldt. The idea of the Goethe Foundation was born at that time. It was a veritable decade of golden years that Weimar lived; but there were evidences about 1858 that Liszt's rule was weakening, and after the performance of his pupil's opera, The Barber of Bagdad, by Peter Cornelius, December 15, 1858, he resigned as Kapellmeister. Dinglested's intrigues hurt his unselfish nature and a single hiss had disturbed him into a resignation. The daughter of Princess Wittgenstein married in 1859 Prince Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, and in 1861 the Altenburg was closed and the princess went to Rome to see the Pope.

At the Vatican the princess was well received. She was an ardent Catholic and was known to be an author of religious works. Pius IX bade her arise when she fell weeping at his feet asking for justice. She presented her case. She had been delivered into matrimony at the age of seventeen, knowing nothing of life, of love, of her husband. Wouldn't his Holiness dissolve the original chains so that she could marry the man of her election? The Pope was amiable. He knew and admired Liszt. He had the matter investigated. After all it was an enforced marriage to a heretic, this odious Wittgenstein union; and then came the desired permission. Carolyne, Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein, born Ivanovska, was a free woman. Delighted, she lost no time; Liszt was told to reach Rome by the evening of October 21, 1861, the eve of his fiftieth birthday. The ceremony was to take place at the Church of San Carlo, on the Corso, at 6 A. M. of October 22.

What really happened the night of the 21st after Liszt arrived no one truly knows but the principals. Lina Ramann tells her tale, La Mara hers, G?llerich his; Eugen Segnitz in his pamphlet, Franz Liszt und Rom, has a very conservative account; but they all concur if not in details at least in the main fact, that powerful, unknown machinery was set in motion at the Vatican, that the Holy Father had rescinded his permission pending a renewed examination of the case. The blow fell at the twelfth hour. The church was decorated and a youth asked the reason for all the candles and bravery of the altars. He was told that Princess Wittgenstein was to marry "her piano player" the next morning. The news was brought by the boy to his father, M. Calm-Podoska, a cousin of Carolyne, who, with the aid of Cardinal Catarani and the Princess Odescalchi, begged a hearing at the Vatican. Cardinal Antonelli sent the messenger bearing the fatal information. The princess was as one dead. It was the end of her earthly ambitions.

How did Liszt bear the disappointment? At this juncture the fine haze of legend intervenes. His daughter Cosima has said (in a number of the Bayreuther Bl?tter) that he had left Weimar for Rome remarking that he felt as if going to a funeral. Other and malicious folk have pretended to see in the melodramatic situation the fine Hungarian hand of Liszt. He was glad, so it was averred, to get rid of the marriage and the princess at the same stroke of the clock. Had she not been nicknamed "Fürstin Hinter-Liszt" because of the way she followed him from town to town when he was giving concerts? But Antonelli was a friend of the princess as well as an intimate of Liszt. We doubt not that Liszt came to Rome in good faith. In common with the princess he accepted the interruption as a sign from on high, and even when in 1864 Prince Wittgenstein died the marriage idea was not seriously revived. Carolyne asked Liszt to devote his genius to the Church. In 1865 he assumed minor orders and became an abbé.

Pius IX, a lover of music, had on July 11, 1863, visited Liszt at the Dominican cloister of Monte Mario, and to the Hungarian's accompaniment had sung in his sweet-toned musical voice. Liszt was called his Palestrina, but alas! in the churchly music of Liszt Rome has never betrayed more than a passing interest; and to-day Pius X is ultra-Gregorian. Liszt, like a musical Moses, saw the promised land but did not enter it.

The friendship of the princess and Liszt never abated. He divided his days between Weimar, Rome, and Budapest (from 1876 in the latter city), and she wrote tirelessly in Rome books on theology, mysticism, and Church history. She was a great and generally good force in the life of Liszt, who was, she said, a lazy, careless man, though he left over thirteen hundred compositions. Women are insatiable.

The Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein

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