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LBW. No. 63


From a Photo' by Elliot S'Fry.




N his essay on Wagner, included in this series, Mr.
Frederick Corder writes of Franz Liszt: 'As time goes
on, every fact concerning this man that comes to light
exalts him higher and higher in our esteem, till he
seems likely to assume the legendary proportions of
a King Arthur of music'
Since his deaths, over thirty-five years ago — the volumes
of correspondence between himself and Wagner, the Princess Sayn-
Witt^enstein, the letters of his son-in-law Hans von Bulow, and
lastly Wagner's ' Mein Leben,' have all further contributed to reveal the
unique influence on modern music and magnificent unselfishness of the
artist and the man who held the attention of musical Europe uninter-
ruptedly for nearly seventy years. At this distance of time, his extra-
ordinary life — fully discussed in many biographies all more or less tinted
mth the predilections or prejudices of their authors — reads more like
romance than reahty. Exceptionally gifted in every respect, Liszt
seems to have been sent into the world first to dazzle and astound, then
to suffer for his fearless championship of all that has spelt progress in
our art. Born in 1811 at Raiding, a village in Hungary, and making the
first of a long series of public appearances at the age of nine (with the
immediate result of securing a number of friends who provided for his
future studies), the wonder-child passed into the care of Czerny, the
famous teacher whose name is still before every student of the pianoforte.



Liszt always spoke of him with reverence as the best instructor he had
known. Another master was Salieri, known to us, with a doubtful
amount of truth, as the spiteful rival of Mozart. The boy was also taken
to Schubert, and when in 1823 he made his first bow to a Viennese audience,
Beethoven (who was with difficulty persuaded to go) stepped on the plat-
form and kissed him.^ Could the greatest of composers divine that this
boy was to become the unapproachable exponent of his works, and
practically erect, by his own exertions, the Beethoven monument at Bonn ?
Another less well-known circumstance connects the two illustrious
names. The first edition of ' Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli ' (pubHshed

in the same year, 1823) contains contribu-
tions by fourteen composers, among others
Hummel, Mozart's second son, Moscheles,
Czerny, etc. Beethoven wrote two Variations,
which are also to be found in his famous set of
thirty -three on the same theme, and No. IX.
is Liszt's first published composition. The
regulation which prevented the boy's admis-
sion to the Paris Conservatoire because he
was not of French parentage, can hardly be
accounted an unreasonable one, and Director
Cherubini — a foreigner himself — would pro-
bably be the last person from whom any pro-
posal to override it could come.^ But the mortification which Liszt felt
became a source of benefaction to others, since we know from himself
that out of that disappointment grew the resolve to teach young musicians
always without a fee — a resolution to which he adhered to the end.
That his theoretical education was insufficient may be doubted. There is
evidence that the boy had composed a good deal before he came to Paris,
and that he had not spent his time entirely at the pianoforte. Reicha,
his chief teacher, a man of progress and in advance of his time, who took
exceptional interest in him, was not likely to be trifled with. Distracting

^ There is no doubt of this fact, but Beethoven, being already deaf, could hardly have heard much
of the boy's performance.

* Young Rubinstein met with the same rebuff seventeen years later.



and disturbing elements, however, were the boy's precocious powers and
strangely attractive personality which at once opened the doors of Parisian
society much too wide and too often for one of his years.^ His father's
needy pocket had to be kept supplied, hence these numerous artistic
tours and public appearances to which Franz had to submit. Each of
his eight visits to England has its peculiar interest. His first appearance
in London (1824), when he was twelve years and seven months old, was
an immediate success, and Adam Liszt seems to have realised that the
prodigy, who was not treated
like a spoiled child as in Paris,
was in a healthier atmosphere.
While in London, as Liszt told
Mr. Alfred Littleton in 1886, his
father consulted a phrenologist as
to what should be done with this
'stupid boy.' 'Not so stupid;
try him with music,' was the
answer. Father and son remain-
ed ' in retreat ' in order that the
partially composed operetta, Don
Sancho, should be completed.
Thus the remaining half of the
score was written in London and
played three times in the follow-
ing year in Paris. Practically,
then, Liszt began as an oper-
atic composer, and although a
hankering after the stage never
quite left him, his admiration
for Wagner's superior gifts prevented the inclination from being indulged
Of the following couple of visits to our shores, at the ages of thirteen
and sixteen, there would only be the same tale of enthusiasm to tell, were




^ By way of fixing the period, it should be remembered that all this carries us hack to the later
days of Madame Recamier, Chateaubriand, Due d'Orle'ans (Louis Philippe), etc.


it not for the fact that, as his musical gifts increased in brilliance, a rapidly
growing distaste for the manner of life he was compelled to lead began to
show itself. His boyish good humour vanished. A serious desire for
knowledge and a better general education seized him ; religious thoughts
filled his mind, and he deliberately proposed to enter the Church. 'You
belong to Art,' said the father; a sentence which Franz received in silence.
When his father — ^to whom he was tenderly attached — died, the melan-
choly which preyed upon liim became so intense that he withdrew from
all society, and his prolonged disappearance caused a rumour of his
death — ^the second occurrence of this kind, for a similar report circulated
once before in Hungary when he was still a wonder-child. This time
numerous obituary notices appeared in the French journals deploring the
death of a genius. The state of moody depression continued until the
Revolution of 1830, when he awoke to active life once more, ' The
sound of the cannons cured him,' his mother was wont to say.

A revolutionary symphony, never published, dates from that year ;
but a revised fragment became afterwards the symphonic poem ' H^roide
fun^bre,' in which a faint echo of the Marseillaise is to be found.

Paris was now his mother's home. Moving in the brilliant circles
in which Lamartine, Balzac, Victor Hugo, and the rest of the leaders of the
exuberant romanticism of the time lived, in accordance with the freedom
they advocated, there exists no famous name with which Liszt cannot be
in some way connected. This, the ' butterfly ' period of his life, is full of
strangely contrasted moods. The pianoforte had lost much of its charm
for one whose mind was fairly equally divided between serious thought and
the allurements of the salons. The coming of that weird genius Paganini
marked the turning-point in the master's life. The spell which the
Italian virtuoso contrived to cast over his hearers not only revived the
young artist's enthusiasm, but fanned his ambition to transfer the liitherto
unapproached brilliancy of execution from the violin to the pianoforte.
What was the pianoforte literature of the moment ? Beethoven's creations
were still — and for a long time to come — unknown. So were Weber's.
Chopin was just beginning, Schumann had not commenced to work, nor
had Mendelssohn written very much. Kalkbrenner, Charles Mayer, Herz,



Doeh/er (later on Thalberg on a somewhat higher plane), provided the
music heard in salon and concert-room. We may take it for granted that
the lyrical charm and novel personal technique of Chopin attracted and
had their influence on Liszt. Be that as it may, the new era in pianoforte-
playing dates from the publication of the
transcriptions of Paganini's Capricii, and
from that day Liszt's incredible activity
and fertility of invention becomes amaz-
ing. Operatic fantasias, the famous tran-
scriptions of Beethoven and Berlioz's
symphonies, of Schubert's songs, and a
number of original works such as ' Annees
de Pelerinage ' (Swiss and Italian), the
' Grandes Etudes,' all of which are still,
after sixty-five years, on every pianist's
programmes, must have literally flown
from his pen. Granted that many of the
fantasias have gone out of vogue, with
their subjects, I am of opinion that their
astounding invention of passage-work, in-
genious dove-tailing of themes and inex-
haustible fancy, are efforts of genius.
Most of them owe their existence to
Liszt's amiable habit of offering musical
homage to the prominent composers of
the countries he happened to be in. Some
were written with the deliberate intention
of popularising the music of comparatively
unknown composers. Wagner was glad,
in the early stages of his career, to have that assistance. In tnis way
Liszt called attention to the genius of Schubert in Austria. Thus with
the almost forgotten Scarlatti (the Liszt of his day) in Italy. So with
Rossini, Meyerbeer, Auber, and Verdi. It was his manner of paying a
graceful compliment to the nations as he made their acquaintance in


(from an etching by jean INGRES,

MADE IN 1839).


turn, or of paying tributes of thanks to musicians who had served him, or
to help those in whom he was interested.

Although the great pianist confessed that public adulation had now
and then beguiled him into the committal of unworthy tours deforce, his pro-
grammes were by no means confined to these show-pieces. As a Beethoven
player he was already famous. The names of Weber, Chopin, Schumann,
etc., were all added to his repertoire, almost as soon as their works were
published ; and who but Liszt helped to hasten their fame ?

For all that, the magnetic power and masterful sway he exercised
over his audiences brought much splenetic and jealous opposition in their
train. A glance at the outcome of his stay in London in 1840,^ when a
young man of world-wide experience at the height of his renown as a
virtuoso, will serve to give a clear idea of the effects of his strong person-
ality. Then began that fierce opposition, continued until quite recently,
which raged around the very name of Liszt — a name which seems to have
operated like the proverbial red rag upon bulls.

It should be remembered that the same bitter attacks were being
made on him in Germany, particularly in Leipzig, from whence, without
much doubt, the rancour had travelled. Liszt was generally condemned
for * elaborate caricature,' which ' more frequently suggested the idea of a
delirious posture-master than a refined artist,' who ' transforms elegance
into ugliness : employing his acquirements on some of the ugliest and least
artistic combinations of sound that ever found acceptance in a concert-
room.' These are some of the milder specimens of criticism. Only one
writer seems to have had the courage of his opinions when he said, ' The
critics may not understand M. Liszt, but the musicians crowd to hear him.'
This with reference to his second Recital^ a term he invented for his London
concerts, and which has remained with us ever since. On his return in
the following year the storm burst with increased vigour. Apart from
the fact that, combined with a phenomenal technique, the music presented
was entirely new and strange, there were now other combustibles ready to
hand to throw into the fire. Thalberg, the successful and elegant pianist,

* It is generally forgotten that in 1840 Liszt made not one, but three separate visits to England.
The intervals were filled hj concert-trips to the Rhine and to Hamburg.


•was popular both in Paris and London, and therefore an easily found
figure to set up in opposition. Between the two men themselves there
existed no such feeling. Add to that his predilection for fashionable life,
his intimacy with the nobility of every court in Europe. Malicious
Heinrich Heine says, ' Liszt takes a pleasure in having talented sovereigns
for his proteges.' AVhile in London he preferred that portion of society
led by Lady Blessington, Count d'Orsay, and others, who were perhaps
not in the best of odours with the rest of an aristocracy which was now


inclined to hold aloof from him. There is no record of his playing at
Windsor Castle in that year. The sudden appearance on the scene —
much against his wish — of the Countess d'Agoult cannot have helped him.
An extravagant generosity — ^which lasted to the end of his days — was
sneered at, and highly coloured pictures of his vanity, hauteur, and
posturings were therefore easily painted. But let it be said, in regard to
his fondness for society, that he himself sprang from a noble, though
impoverished, Hungarian family, and had lived from childhood in close
contact with the cultured and well-bred. Anything mean or small
offended him ; and if he asked to be treated like a noble, he certainly


acted like one. A prince among artists, an artist among princes, Genie
oblige was the motto which guided him. When in 1840 he sailed from
Liverpool to Hamburg and realised the miserable conditions of the
orchestral musicians there, the entire proceeds of the first concert
(17,300 francs) were given to start that pension-fund which he kept in
view all his life. From the takings of his English concerts, in the same
year, 10,000 francs were sent to Bonn as a first contribution to the Beet-
hoven monument. Taking into consideration all that he did later, it
may be truthfully assumed that the monument was erected chiefly by his
own exertions. At Frankfort also he helped to initiate the Mozart founda-
tion. There is not much ' posing ' in all this ! No doubt Liszt was
impetuous at times. He was capable of throwing an etui, brought to him
by the attache of a German prince, into the wings of the stage, and of
ceasing to play when an emperor talked. Indeed, Liszt seems to have
been somewhat hard on kings and queens ! In Madrid he was informed
that court etiquette forbade a personal introduction to the reigning
monarch. ' Then I cannot play,' said he, and was received by Queen
Isabella. This being the first occasion upon which the old custom had
been broken, the pubhc hailed him with shouts of ' Salve, Artista venturoso ! '
Certainly the venturous fight for the recognition of art and artists broke
the ice for all who have since followed him. Per contra, when an old
gentleman, at one of the London Philharmonic concerts, enthusiastically
cried, ' It was worth much more,' and pressed a five-pound note into his
hand, Liszt quietly pocketed it because he ' did not want to offend the
dear old fellow.' The season of 1841 saw a repetition of successes with
London public and musicians ; but a badly arranged provincial tour had
to be curtailed, and declining to claim his legitimate fees from the manager,
Liszt departed from England, not to return for forty years. So far from
being angry at the failure, he actually accepted an engagement to conduct
a German opera company in London in 1849. The scheme came to
nothing, but the incident goes far to prove an increasing disgust at public
playing, as well as his stageward leanings. The study of French and
ItaHan art had already occupied his serious attention, and the impres-
sions made during the years 1839-40, partly spent in Rome, by the



masterpieces of scvilpture and painting, had an abiding influence upon,
the receptive mind of the highly cultured musician. In a letter to
Berlioz we find these sentences : ' Art first appears to my astonished
eyes in all its glory and unveils her universality. Every day I assure
myself more and more of the hidden relationship between all the works
of the creative spirit in man. Rafael and Michael Angelo help me to
understand Mozart and Beethoven. The Coliseum and the Campo Santo
are not so far removed from the " Eroica " and the " Requiem." '

We find the results of these meditations at first in small musical


pictures like the ' Penseroso ' and ' Sposahzio,' and later on in the ' Dante '

Up to the moment of his disappearance as a virtuoso Liszt had
written little else than pianoforte music, and some very beautiful songs :
the novelty of their treatment was sufficient to ensure a cool reception,
but a large number of them are now household words, while some, such as
' Lorelei,' ' Es muss ein wunderbares sein,' ' Du bist wie eine Blume,' are

A new field for exploration was discovered when he invented the
' Rhapsodic.' As a child he is said to have only cared for the music of
Beethoven and the gipsy tunes he constantly heard. Although we find
among his earliest publications two sets of Hungarian melodies, it was



the music of the Russian and Spanish gipsies which awoke his serious
interest. Always a believer in national music, he actually lived for a
time in the tents of the Hungarian Zingari in order to saturate himself
with the spirit of these wildly quaint tunes with which we are now so
familiar. At the time (1840) when his mother- country proudly claimed
him as her son, gipsy music was hardly on paper, but went from mouth
to mouth ; an enthusiast like Liszt could not fail to discover its hidden
capabilities and acknowledge its right to become the basis of a national art.
He listened, noted it down, and invented a medium for its idealisation.


It became a fixed idea with him to hand down these remnants of ancient
Hungary in an artistic form, as a national treasure, and of these im-
mensely popular Rhapsodies there exist twenty from his pen. Himgarian
opera — ^in fact Hungarian musical art — owes its birth to this labour of love.
In spite of all the medals struck, the freedom of cities, swords of honour,
etc., and the large sums of money which came to him, he was fretting and
inwardly chafing under the always distasteful life he had to lead. The
necessity for the development of his gifts and of exercising them in nobler
directions was persistently before the artist. Weimar was always in his
mind as a suitable spot for the furtherance of his plans as a composer,
conductor, and active patron of the new movement in music which was



struggling for recognition. AMiile still the ' strolling player ' he accepted,

in 1842, the position of ' Maitre de chapcUe en services extraordinaires '

at Weimar, but did not enter upon its duties until a couple of years later.

With habitual consideration for others, the agreement was only signed

on condition that the appointment should in no way interfere %\ath the

work or status of the permanent conductor. Another six years of travel

completed the ' Wanderjahre,' ^ and, in the late summer of 1847, the last

concert at which he ever played for money was given at Elizabethgrad in

South Russia. Thus Liszt passed from opulence to comparative poverty

by his own act at the zenith

of his popularity, and from

that moment there was

neither peace nor reward.

His phenomenal career as

a pianist, beginning when

he was a mere child, lasted

barely for twenty years, and

ceased abruptly at the age

of tliirty-eight. ^Miile the

necessity of providing for

his mother and his three legitimised children compelled him to continue

his public performances as long as he did, he gave lavishly to charity, both

public and private, when called upon either by his own generosity or the

solicitations of others. An utter disregard for his own future, or the

value of money for his personal needs, was one of his most prominent


Before passing to a much more important period, be it remembered
that Liszt had been carrying the music of the gi'catest dead and living
composers from place to place. The spread of Beethoven's fame was his
special mission. Liszt was the only artist who persistently brought the
names of his contemporaries before the public during his meteoric flights.
The reputations of some of them were as yet purely local — Berlioz and


{^Sketches from life by Paul Emil Jacobs.)

^ This is the itinerary of the last couple of years : Poland and Russia, South and North Germany,
France, Spain and Portugal, from Gibraltar to Alsatia, Saxony, Hungary, Constantinople.


Chopin in Paris, Schumann in Leipzig, for instance. His heart was now
set upon the continuation of this mission on a larger scale.

With the sudden change in the master's Hfe (in 1848) began the battle
of Weimar — a. struggle to open new paths, to introduce new men and
methods. So far from entirely identifying himself during his ten years of
office with the so-called Music of the future, Liszt's orchestral and operatic
programmes are unique in their liberality and for their eclecticism. He
came to Weimar with a couple of personal projects in his mind : one being
the completion of a symphony inspired by Dante, the other was the
development of a new art-form, the ' Symphonic Poem,' for the first
example of which he had already chosen his subject from Victor Hugo,
* Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne.'

Sneers at the idea of his wanting to compose at all, and doubts as to
his ability either to score for, or to conduct, an orchestra were freely
distributed. The fact that he could do all these things remarkably well
was very soon established. But the hue and cry commenced with the
production of Tannhduser, which inaugurated a lifelong friendship.
When Liszt wrote to Wagner in 1849, ' Once for all, count me among your
most zealous and devoted admirers ; far or near, count on me and dispose
of me,' he probably did not foresee to what unlimited extent he was to be
taken at his w^ord. It is impossible to disconnect these two names :
history has linked them together for all time. But this paper, being
devoted to the elder master, requires only a brief reference to the younger.
' In 1848 Wagner was no more to Liszt than a number of other men
toward whom he had amiable intentions.' So writes one of Liszt's
biographers. He had no high opinion of Kienzi, nor had he felt personally
drawn to its composer. Out of the mass of literature now available for
reference, I shall only quote a couple of extracts which may be safely
detached from their contexts without injustice to either correspondent.
The first was written by Wagner to a mutual friend in 1849.^
' That wonderful man must also look after my poor wife.'
The other (to Wagner) I give because it contains a frank statement
of Liszt's ovtvl monetary troubles :

^ For quotations from letters^ see Liszt and Wagner correspondence, translated by F. Hueffer.



' I have more than once explained to you my difficult pecuniary
situation, which simply amounts to this, that my mother and my three

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Online LibraryAlexander Campbell MackenzieLiszt → online text (page 1 of 3)