Wilhelm von Lenz.

The great piano virtuosos of our time from personal acquaintance : Liszt, Chopin, Tausig, Henselt online

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W I L-DE.-

JlhU^;^:^^ /f^^^'

Great Piano Virtuosos


Great Piano Virtuosos
of Our Time


Liszt, Chopin, Tausig,



Author of ^^ Beethoven et ses trots Styles^ and ''Beethoven^
eine Kunststtidie.""



G. Schirmer



Copyright, 1899, by G. Schirmer



k M t


ORY OF/l/ft^-^X






r^HE first part of the following
Recollections of my musical life ap-
peared in 1868 in the '*Neue Bei'liner
Musikzeitung" Tausig vcished the articles
collected and published separately, and cor-
responded with me on the subject. These
essays — to which I have added one on
Adolph Henselt — will now have a wider
circulation than would be possible through
the columns of the ''Neue Berliner Musik-

The Author


Franz Liszt

Majore cultu

ranz JLiszt

ALL the great pianists of the first half of
the century, were personally known to me:
Field, Hummel, Moscheles, Kalkbrenner.
From the school which we now already call "old""
(excluding Field, who went his own peculiar way),
a school which, if not founded by Hummel, was
at least essentially influenced by him, I came to
the new era of the pianoforte, to Liszt and

Liszt is a phenomenon of universal musical virtu-
osity, such as had never before been known : not
simply a pianistic wonder. Liszt is a phenomenon
spreading over the whole domain of musical pro-
duction, and creating a universal standard of com-

Liszt does not merely play piano; he tells, at the
piano, the story of his own destiny, which is closely
linked to, and reflects, the progress of our time.
Liszt is a latent history of the keyboard, himself
its cro^vning glory. To him the piano becomes an
approximate expression of his high mental culti-
vation, of his views, of his faith and being. "WTiat
does piano-playing matter to him! — ^^ Steig' auf


Great Piano Virtuosos

den Thurm, und siehe wie die Schlacht sich wendet ""
["Climb the tower, and see how the battle goes"']
— that is what one should say of him; how far in-
quiry has reached into the domain of science, how
far speculation has fathomed musical thought; how
it goes in the world of intellect — that is what one
has to learn from his playing (how else were such
playing possible?), and to learn for the ßrst time,
for one could never go so far alone.
His wish to become a priest rose from the inner-
most core of his being. It was thematic. The man
of the world in Liszt is but an episode from the
theme. To the priest alone are the portals of in-
finity the home of the soul. Priest in continuation
of Prophet; and Liszt was ever a prophet from
the beginning of his career.

When Liszt thunders, lightens, sighs on the piano
that "Song of Songs" — the great Bßat major So-
nata for Hammerklavier — by Beethoven, he coins
capital for mankind out of the ideas of the great-
est musical thinker the world has ever known,
who could have had no conception of such a ren-
dering of his Hammerklavier music; he wrote his
later piano-music (from Op. 100 on) for the tran-
scendence (viewed through the spectroscope of his

Franz Liszt

orchestral conceptions at the piano) of his musical
thought, not of his ^^?ö;20-thought.
The pianist in Liszt is an apparition [Gespenst],
not to be compressed within the bounds of the
house drawn by schools and professors !
The old proverb applies here: "Quod licet Jovi^
non licet hovir

Nothing could be more foolish than to attempt to
imitate Liszt, or even to use him as a measure by
which to criticise others. Where Liszt appears, all
other pianists disappear; there remains only the
piano, and that trembles in its whole body!
Liszt is the past, the present, and the future of
the piano; how, then, should he find time to be
a professor and pattern besides ? He is the spirit of
the matter; he absorbs the conception. How can
that which is perishable hope to vie with the im-
perishable.'^ — This entire pianistic stronghold is the
material side of the matter; it was never the spirit
of the matter, however much spirit may have oc-
cupied the guest-chamber. One cannot suspend a
ghost as a barometer in the sitting-room! So
Liszt is no pattern, only the beginning, continua-
tion, and end! Hence, in Liszt's case, any com-
parison of any given performance at the piano is

Great Piano Virtuosos

a priori out of the question; because he is the ex-
ception, because he is the prophet who has ceased
to be a plain citizen, in order to become a soldier
of the spirit in his own church, his own ideas.
Such a brain must be rated higher than a piano,
and it is an accidental circumstance, of no impor-
tance, that Liszt plays the piano at all. Perhaps,
in a higher sense (majore cultu), this is in fact
not the case, the piano being merely visible, like
the tub in Mesmer's case! It is wholly uncritical
to say that Liszt does this or that differently from
some one else; do not imagine that Liszt does any-
thing — he does nothing at all; he thinks, and what
he thinks takes on this form. That is the process.
Can this be called piano-playing? "Thee now the
body leaveth, and God the soul receiveth,"' ' for
now everything leads upward, onward, — excelsior!
Liszt, then, cannot be expected to practise scales
and finger-exercises, as is the custom among schools
and professors ! — Does the eagle practise flying?
he looks upwards, gazes towards the sun, un-
folds his pinions, and soars towards its burning

Such is the relation of Liszt to the piano, and it

is not given to every one to follow his flight,


Franz Liszt

thereby forgetting the unhappy instrument, the
starting-point !

I will relate the circumstances which brought me
to Liszt, as one makes the acquaintance of such a
spirit in no ordinary way; one gains access to
him, or one does not. That is the whole matter,
and signifies much in either case.
In 1828 (forty-three yeai-s ago!) I was nineteen
years old, and had come to Paris to pursue my
studies (humamores litt er ce) on a broader scale,
above all to continue my work in French chan-
nels, and to take piano-lessons (as people used to
say), but with Kalkbrenner. Kalkbrenner was a na-
tive of Berlin, of Jewish extraction; in Paris he was
the Joconde of the ^aZow-piano, under Charles the
Tenth. He was a knight of the Legion of Honor,
and farmer-general of all permissible pianistic ele-
gancies. The beautiful Camille Mock, later Mme.
Pleyel — to whose charms neither Liszt nor Chopin
was indifferent — was the favorite pupil of the irre-
sistible Kalkbrenner. I heard her play from the
manuscript, with Kalkbrenner and Onslow, the lat-
ter's sextuor. It was at the home of Baron Tre-
mont, a tame musical Maecenas of the time, in Paris.
She played the piano as one wears an elegant shoe,

Great Piano Virtuosos

when one is a pretty Parisian. Nevertheless, I was
in danger of becoming Kalkbrenner's pupil, but
Liszt and my good star ordered it otherwise. On
the way to Kalkbrenner (who plays a note of his,
nowadays?), as I was walking along the boulevards,
I read among the theatre-posters of the day, which
exercised so powerful an attraction, the notice of
an extra concert (it was already November) to be
given at the Conservatoire by Mr. Liszt, with
Beethoven's Eflat majo?- Piano Concerto heading the

Beethoven was then (and not only in Paris) Para-
celsus personified, in the concert-room. Of Beethoven,
at that time, I knew only that I had been fright-
ened by his ladder-like notes in the D major Trio^
and in the Fantasia with chorus, which I had once
opened (and at once closed) in a music-store in my
native city, Riga, where more was doing in trade
than in music.

How astonished I should have been if some one
had told me — as I innocently stood before the
advertising-column in Paris, and learned from the
notice that there were such things as piano-con-
certos by Beethoven — that some time in the fu-
ture I should write six volumes in German, and

Franz Liszt

two in French, about Beethoven ! I had heard of
the septuor. In those days Beethoven was called
J. N. Humjnel!

From the concert-notice, I concluded that any one
who could publicly play a Beethoven piano-con-
certo must be a remarkable person, and of quite
a different growth from Kalkbrenner, the composer
of the Fantasia Effusio Muska. That this Ef-
fusio was a ti^umpery piece, so much I already
understood, young and happy though I was.
It was in this manner — on the fateful Paris boule-
vards — that I first saw the name of Liszt, which
was to fill the world; — on the boulevards where one
fancies one is contributing one''s part to the daily
history of Europe when one takes a walk !
That concert-notice was destined to have a lasting
influence on my life. I can still see, after the lapse
of so many years, the color of the fateful paper;
gigantic black letters on a bright yellow ground
{la coideur d'lstin^uee of those days, in Paris).
I drove straight to Schlesinger, whose place was at
that time the musical exchange of Paris, in the
Rue Richelieu.

"Where does Mr. Liszt live.^" I demanded, and
pronounced it Litz, for the Parisians never got any


Great Piano Virtuosos

further with Liszt than Litz. That good German,
Rudolf Kreutzer, who chanced at one time to be
their best vioHn-virtuoso, they called Kretch, where-
fore the man to whom Beethoven dedicated his
great violin-sonata, Op. 47, had his cards engraved
thus: Rodolph Kreutzer, prononcez Bertrand. The
Parisians understood that; Parisians are, after all,
very "so,*" as Falstaff says.

Liszfs address was Rue Montholon, far away, where
Paris imagines that she can become a mountain!
What has Twt Paris imagined — and what have we
ever refused to believe of her? Mountain and valley.
Heaven and Hell — all these has she imagined her-
self to be!

They gave me Liszfs address at Schlesinger'^s with-
out any hesitation, but when I asked litz's price,
and made known my wish to study with Litz, they
all laughed at me, and the clerks behind the desk
giggled with them, and they all said at once: ^^He
has never given a lesson, he is no piano-teacher T
I felt that I must have said something very stupid !
But the reply: ^'' no piano-teacher,''^ pleased me, never-
theless, and I made my way at once to Rue Mon-

Liszt was at home. That was a very unusual thing,

Franz Liszt

his mother told me— an excellent woman with a
German heart, who pleased me extremely, — her
Franz was almost always at church, she said, and —
above all things — busied himself no more with music!
Those were the days when Liszt wished to become
a Saint Simonist; when Pere Enfantin infested
Paris; when Lamennais wrote the Paroles (Tun Croy-
ant, and the Peau de chagrin of Balzac followed
close upon his Scenes de la vie privee.
It was a grand epoch, and Paris the navel of the
earth. Rossini lived there, and Cherubini, also
Auber, Hale'vy, Berlioz, and the great violinist Bail-
lot ; Victor Hugo, who was afterwards banished for
political reasons, had published his Orientales, and
Lamartine was just recovering from the exertion of
his Meditations poetiques. We should soon be in the
midst of the July revolution, but we were still under
the Martignac ministry.

Odilon-Barrot spoke C07i sordini in the Chamber,
Cuvier lectured in the Jardin des Plantes, Guizot
and Villemain in the Sorbonne; Cousin had discov-
ered German philosophy; Lerminier — Savigny and
Ganz — one ran from one to the other! Scribe was
doing his turn at the theatre, where Mile. Mars
was still playing. Dumas had, after the German


Great Piano Virtuosos

style, given his first and best piece, Henry III et la
Cour, to the Theatre Fran^ais, where the fii-st per-
formance was repressed by the ministry, because
there was something in it about "LiHes.'' Paris
piqued herself upon possessing both the Classic and
the Romantic Schools, and these factions were at
swords' points. During the reign of Charles X.,
there were masked balls at court, at which the
Duchesse de Berry appeared as Maria Stuart, the
Due de Chartres as Francis I.; the Duchesse de
Berry'^s lovely foot was much talked of, and Sal-
vandy said — at the Due d'Orleans"* ball in the Palais
Royal — "We are dancing on a volcano.'' George
Sand was not yet well known — Chopin not yet in
Paris. Marie Taglioni danced at the Grand Opera,
Habenek, a German master, conducted the Elite
Orchestra at the Conservatoire — where the Pari-
sians, one year after Beethoven's death, heard, for
the first time, some of his music. Malibran and
Son tag sang the "tourney" duet in Tancredi at the
Italian Opera. It was the winter of 1828-1829;
Baillot played in quartets, and Rossini gave his
Tell early in the New Year.

In Liszt I found a pale, haggard young man, with

unspeakably attractive features. He was reclining


Franz Liszt

on a broad sofa, apparently lost in deep reflection,
and smoking a long Turkish pipe. Three pianos
stood near. He did not make the slightest motion
when I entered — did not even seem to notice me.
When I explained to him, in French — at that time
no one presumed to address him in any other lan-
guage — that my family had sent me to Kalkbrenner,
but that I came to him because he dared to play a
Beethoven Concerto in public — he seemed to smile;
it was, however, like the glitter of a dagger in the

"Play me something,*" said he, with indescribable
sarcasm, which, nevertheless, did not hurt my feel-
ings — any more, for instance, than one feels insulted
when it thunders.

"I will play the Kalkbrenner Sonata for the left
hand,*" said I, feeling that I had chosen well.
^'That I will not hear, I do not know it, and I do
not care to know it!"" he answered, with yet stronger
sarcasm and scarcely concealed scorn.
I felt that I was playing a pitiable role — perhaps
I was expiating the sins of some one else, of some
Parisian. However, I said to myself, as I looked at
this young Parisian — for in appearance he was thor-
oughly Parisian — that he must surely be a genius;


Great Piano Virtuosos

and thus, without further skirmishing, I did not
care to be driven from the field by any Parisian.
With modest, but firm step I approached the near-
est piano.

"Not that one!'' cried Liszt, without in the least
changing his half-recumbent position on the sofa,
"there, at the other one!"

I walked to the second piano. At that time I was ab-
sorbed in the Invitation to the Dance ; I had married
it out of pure love, two years before, and we were
still in our honeymoon. I came from Riga, where the
unexampled success of Der Freischütz^ had prepared
the way for Weber's piano compositions, while in
Paris Der Freischütz was called Robin (!) des hois,
and was embellished by Berlioz with recitative!
I had studied with good masters. When I tried to
strike the three first A flats I found it quite impos-
sible to make the insti-ument give forth a sound —
what was the matter? I struck hard; the Aflat
sounded, but quite piano. I appeared very foolish, I
felt sure of that, but without losing courage I went
bravely on to the entrance of the first chord — then
Liszt got up, came over to me, pulled my right hand
off the keyboard and asked: "What is that? That
begins well!


Franz Liszt

"I should think it did,*" I answered, with the pride
of a parish clerk for his pastor, "that is by Weber!*"
"Has he ^mtten for the piano, too?""* he asked, as-
tounded. "Here, we only know his Robin des bois!''^
"Certainly he has written for the piano, and more
beautifully than any one else," was my equally sur-
prised answer. "I carry in my trunk,"*"* I continued,
"two Polonaises, two Rondos, four Variation-Num-
bers,3 four Sonatas; one of the Sonatas, which I
studied with Yehrstaedt in Geneva, contains the
whole of Switzerland, and is inexpressibly beautiful
— in it all lovely women smile at once — it is in
Aflat major — you can't imagine how beautiful it
is, no one has ^vritten anything to compare with it
for the piano, believe me.'"*

I spoke from my heart, and so con\ancingly that
Liszt was strongly impressed.

Presently he said in his most winning tone: "Please
bring me ever}i:hing you have in your trunk, and,
Jbr the first time in my life, I will give lessons — to
you — because you have introduced me to Weber's
piano-music, and because you did not allow youi^self
to be discouraged by the hard action of this piano.
I ordered it myself; one scale played on such a piano
is equal to ten on any other; it is a completely im-

Great Piano Virtuosos

possible piano. It was a mauvaise plaisanter'ie on my
part — but why did you speak of Kalkbrenner and
his Sonata for the left hand? But now, play me your
piece (^ voire chose '') that begins so curiously. That
piano you first tried is one of the finest instruments
in Paris.'''

Then I played, most enthusiastically, the Invitation^
but only the Cantilena, marked wiegend (swaying,
rocking), in two parts. Liszt was charmed with the
composition. "You must bring me that,'"* said he,
"we will interpret it to each other!"
Thus the last letter of the alphabet came to the

In our first lesson, Liszt could scarcely tear himself
away from the piece. He played through the dif-
ferent parts again and again; tried various rein-
forcements; played the second part of the minor
movement in octaves, and was inexhaustible in his
praise of Weber. And what, indeed, did one find at
that time in the piano-repertory.? The bland master-
joiner Hummel ; Herz; Kalkbrenner, and Moscheles;
nothing plastic, dramatic, or speaking, for the
piano; Beethoven was not yet understood; of his
thirty -two Sonatas, three were played (!) — the Aflat
major Sonata with the variations (Op. 26), the

Franz Liszt

C sharp minor quasi Fantasia, and the Sonata in
F minor, which a publisher's fancy — not Beethoven
— christened appassionata. The five last ones passed
for the monstrous abortions of a German idealist
who did not know how to write for piano. People
undei-stood only Hummel and Co.; Mozart was too
old-fashioned, and did not write such passages as
Herz, Kalkbrenner, Moscheies, — to say nothing of
the lesser lights.

In the midst of this "Flowery Kingdom^ dwelt
Liszt, and one must take this into account, in order
to grasp the greatness of the man who discovered
Weber and his own genius at the piano, when he
was but twenty years old !

Liszt was wholly enraptured with Weber^s Aflat
major Sonata. I had studied it in Geneva, with
Vehrstaedt,'^ and expressed in my rendering the
true spirit of the composition. Liszt proved this to
me by the way he listened, by his gestures, by his
exclamations of approval. We were as one man, in
our admiration for Weber.

This great romantic poem for the piano begins with
a tremolo in the bass, on Aflat. No Sonata ever
began that way, before! It is like the sunrise over
an enchanted forest wherein the action takes place!

Great Piano Virtuosos

The uneasiness of my master over the first part
of the First Allegro became so great that, before
I came to the close, he shoved me aside, saying:
"Wait — wait! what is that? I must play that my-
self !" — I had never before heard anything like that !
Think of a genius like Liszt, but twenty years
old, coming into contact, for the first time, Anth
such a capital composition — with the apparition
of that Knight in Golden Armor, Weber !
He tried the first part over and over again in
various ways; at the passage (in the dominant) in
Eflat at the close of the first part, he said: "It is
marked ligato there, would it not be better to make
it pp. staccato (pique)? Leggermente is prescribed
there, too."' He experimented in every direction.
So I had the privilege of observing how one genius
looks upon the work of another and turns it to his
owTi account! So we learned some special lesson
every day, from our two hours'* sojourn with Weber!
"Now, how is the second part of the first Allegro ?'"
asked Liszt, as he examined it. It seemed to me
quite impossible that any one could read at sight
this part through which the theme is carried in
crowded octaves several pages long!
"That is very hard,'' said Liszt, "and the Coda is

Franz Liszt

still harder; to hold the whole together in this cen-
trifugal figure near the end (thirteen measures
before the close) is very difficult. This passage (in
the second part — of course in the principal key,
Aflat) we will not play staccato, that would be
somewhat affected (recherche) ; neither will we make
it liß'ato, that is too thin; we will make it spiccato;
let us swim between the two waters'" (nageons entre
les deux eaux!).

If I admired the fire and life, the spiritual passion
in Liszt^s production of the first part — in the second
part I was astounded by his confident repose and
certainty, the way in which he held himself back
in order to reserve his strength for the last attack !
So young and so wise ! I said to myself; I felt dis-
heartened and discouraged.

I learned more from Liszt in the first four measures
of the Andante of that Sonata, than I had gotten
in years, from my earlier masters.
"This exposition is to be after the manner of Baillot
when he plays in quartet, the accompanying parts
are in the lifted sixteenth-notes ; but Baillot^s parts
are very good, you must not make them inferior to
his. You have a good hand, you can learn it; look
sharp, it is not easy — one can move stones with

Great Piano Virtuosos

that; I can imagine how the piano-hussars chase
through that ! I shall never forget that I became
acquainted with that Sonata through you. Well, you
shall learn something from me; I will tell you every-
thing I know about our insti-ument.*"
The thirty-second-note figure in the bass of the
Andante (thirty-fifth measure) one too often hears
played as a passage for the left hand; the figure
should be expressed caressingly, it should be a
violoncello solo amoroso! So Liszt played it; but
lent terrible majesty to the octave-irruption upon
the second theme in C, which Henselt calls the
"Ten Commandments'" — a capital title.
How can I begin to express what Liszt did with the
Menuetto capriccioso and Rondo of the Sonata, the
very first time he saw these inspired compositions?
What was there not in his treatment of the clarinet
solo in the trio of the Menuetto, the modulation of
that cry of longing, the winding ornamentation of
the Rondo !

After considering the composer's manner of handling
the piano, and of writing for it, one may confidently
say of the Weber sonatas that — as an expression of
the Instrument, as specific piano-music — they leave
the Beethoven sonatas behind (not as musical ideas

Franz Liszt

for which the piano is the medium of expression).
The Mozart sonatas are cartoons for quartets, the
Beethoven sonatas, symphonic rhapsodies ; but the
noble Weber sonatas — as such — are the happiest
expression of the piano, in its most happy mood.
The piano of Weber is quite innocent of quartet or
symphony; it is self-dependent, self-sufficient, con-
scious piano, and opened the door to the New School,
to the treatment of the instrument by Liszt and

And has there ever been manifested greater genius
in the handling of the piano, than is found in
Weber's ^ri-^ Sonata — the one in C major.^
One is astounded at this work of the year 1813 (in
which it was criticized by that great blindwoman,
the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung), a work which
may have been composed still earlier, — that had
emancipated itself in such a degree from the forms
controlling musical thought sixty years (!) ago, and
from all social and socio-political relations and con-
ditions in life ! For in Art we do not part the spirit
from the form. The paternal home, the hearth, the
household altar, the häusliche Jahreszeit, are the
motives of the Weber Sonata in C ; the youthful
soul thus finds expression for its impulse towards

Great Piano Virtuosos

the unknown country which lies behind the narrow
precincts of his homely native town ! This longing

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