Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/160

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148
LISZT.
 

final victory of genius an artist cannot well desire, and no fault can be found with Liszt, provided always that the introduction of pictorial and poetic elements into music is thought to be permissible. Neither can the melodic means employed by him in rendering this subject be objected to. In the opening allegro agitato descriptive of Mazeppa's ride, strong accents and rapid rhythms naturally prevail; but, together with this merely external matter, there occurs an impressive theme (first announced by the basses and trombones), evidently representative of the hero himself, and for that reason repeated again and again throughout the piece. The second section, andante, which brings welcome rest after the breathless hurry of the allegro, is in its turn relieved by a brilliant march, with an original Cossack tune by way of trio, the abstract idea of triumphant genius being thus ingeniously identified with Mazeppa's success among 'les tribus de l' Ukraine.' From these remarks Liszt's method, applied with slight modification in all his symphonic poems, is sufficiently clear; but the difficult problem remains to be solved, How can these philosophic and pictorial ideas become the nucleus of a new musical form to supply the place of the old symphonic movement? Wagner asks the question 'whether it is not more noble and more liberating for music to adopt its form from the conception of the Orpheus or Prometheus motive than from the dance or march?' but he forgets that dance and march have a distinct and tangible relation to musical form, which neither Prometheus and Orpheus, nor indeed any other character or abstract idea, possess. The solution of this problem must be left to a future time, when it will also be possible to determine the permanent position of Liszt's symphonic works in the history of Art.

The legend of St. Elizabeth, a kind of oratorio, full of great beauty, but sadly weighed down by a tedious libretto, leads the way to the third section—the Sacred compositions. Here the Gran Mass, the Missa Choralis, the Mass for small voices, and the oratorio Christus are the chief works. The 13th Psalm, for tenor, chorus, and orchestra,[1] may also be mentioned. The accentuation of the subjective or personal element, combined as far as possible with a deep reverence for the old forms of church music, is the keynote of Liszt's sacred compositions.

We finally come to a fourth division not hitherto sufficiently appreciated by Liszt's critics—his Songs. It is here perhaps that his intensity of feeling, embodied in melody pure and simple, finds its most perfect expression. Such settings as those of Heine's 'Du bist wie eine Blume,' or Redwitz's 'Es muss ein wunderbares sein' are conceived in the true spirit of the Volkslied. At other times a greater liberty in the rhythmical phrasing of the music is warranted by the metre of the poem itself, as, for instance, in Goethe's wonderful night-song, 'Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh',' the heavenly calm of which Liszt has rendered by his wonderful harmonies in a manner which alone would secure him a place amongst the great masters of German song. Particularly, the modulation from G major back into the original E major at the close of the piece is of surprising beauty. Less happy is the dramatic way in which such ballads as Heine's 'Loreley' and Goethe's 'König in Thule' are treated. Here the melody is sacrificed to the declamatory element, and that declamation, especially in the last-named song, is not always faultless. Victor Hugo's 'Comment dissient-ils' is one of the most graceful songs amongst Liszt's works, and in musical literature generally.

The remaining facts of Liszt's life may be summed up in a few words. In 1859 he left his official position at the Opera in Weimar owing to the captious-opposition made to the production of Cornelius's 'Barber of Bagdad,' at the Weimar theatre. Since that time he has been living at intervals at Rome, Pesth, and Weimar, always surrounded by a circle of pupils and admirers, and always working for music and musicians in the unselfish and truly catholic spirit characteristic of his whole life. How much Liszt can be to a man and an artist is shown by what perhaps is the most important episode even in his interesting career—his friendship with Wagner. The latter's eloquent words will give a better idea of Liszt's personal character than any less intimate friend could attempt to do.

'I met Liszt,' writes Wagner, 'for the first time during my earliest stay in Paris, at a period when I had renounced the hope, nay, even the wish, of a Paris reputation, and, indeed, was in a state of internal revolt against the artistic life which I found there. At our meeting he struck me as the most perfect contrast to my own being and situation. In this world, into which it had been my desire to fly from my narrow circumstances, Liszt had grown up, from his earliest age, so as to be the object of general love and admiration, at a time when I was repulsed by general coldness and want of sympathy.… In consequence I looked upon him with suspicion. I had no opportunity of disclosing my being and working to him, and, therefore, the reception I met with on his part was altogether of a superficial kind, as was indeed natural in a man to whom every day the most divergent impressions claimed access. But I was not in a mood to look with unprejudiced eyes for the natural cause of his behaviour, which, though friendly and obliging in itself, could not but wound me in the then state of my mind. I never repeated my first call on Liszt, and without knowing or even wishing to know him, I was prone to look upon him as strange and adverse to my nature. My repeated expression of this feeling was afterwards told to him, just at the time when my 'Rienzi' at Dresden attracted general attention. He was surprised to find himself misunderstood with such violence by a man whom he had scarcely known, and whose acquaintance now seemed not without value to him. I am still moved when I remember the repeated and eager attempts he made to change

  1. Performed at Mr. Bache's annual concert in 1873.