Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/718

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702
LISZT.
 

had already borne fruit in the wonderful achievements of his most distinguished pupils—Von Bülow, Geza Zichy, D' Albert, the lamented Tausig, and others, and no wonder that the music room which the generous artist had thrown open to all comers was thronged by a number of more or less gifted young people in search of inspiration—no other word so well describes the ideal character of the instruction they were privileged to receive.

Liszt held his classes in the afternoon, during which several of the pupils would play their piece in the presence of the rest—some dozen or more, perhaps—all being expected to attend the séance. At times the master would seat himself at the piano and play, but this supreme pleasure could never be counted upon. It was noticeable that this most unselfish of geniuses was never more strict or more terrible than when a Beethoven sonata was brought to him, whereas he would listen to the execution of his own compositions with indulgent patience—a characteristic trait. Yet Liszt's thoughts often dwelt upon his great choral works, and he was heard to declare that sacred music had become to him the only thing worth living for.

A lively description of Liszt's professorial life has been given by an American lady who visited Weimar in 1873.[1] Again, the unique qualities of Liszt's genius and his regal position among all sorts and conditions of men were recognized as unimpaired ten years later by Mr. Francis Hueffer,[2] who had the opportunity of forming a judgment upon these things when visiting Bayreuth in 1884, thus affording another link in the chain of historical criticism.

In Rome again Liszt found himself the centre of an artistic circle of which Herr von Keudell and Sgambati were the moving spirits. The significance, however, of his residence in the Eternal City lies rather in the view he took of it as his années de recueillement, which ultimately led to his binding himself as closely as he could to the Church of Rome. He who in his youth, with the thirst for knowledge upon him, had enjoyed the writings of freethinkers and atheists (without being convinced by them), was now content with his breviary and book of hours; the impetuous artist who had felt the fascination of St. Simonianism[3] before he had thoroughly understood its raison d'etre, who had been carried away by the currents of the revolution, and had even in 1841 joined the Freemasons,[4] became in 1856 or 58 a tertiary of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1879 be was permitted to receive the tonsure and the four minor orders (doorkeeper, reader, exorcist, and acolyth), and an honorary canonry. The Abbé Liszt, who as a boy had wished to enter the priesthood, but was dissuaded therefrom by his parents and his confessor, now rejoiced in the public avowal of his creed as conveyed by his priestly garb, although he was indeed no priest, could neither say mass nor hear a confession, and was at liberty to discard his cassock, and even to marry if he chose, without causing scandal. Thus, in the struggle with the world which the youth of sixteen had so much dreaded, his religious fervour was destined to carry the day. Extracts from Liszt's private papers throwing further light on his inmost thoughts have been published,[5] but can be only referred to in this place.

Liszt's former triumphs in England were destined to be eclipsed by the enthusiasm of the reception which awaited him when he was prevailed upon to return in 1886. In 1824 George IV. had given the sign to the aristocracy of homage to the child-prodigy; and his visits in the following year and in 1827 were successful enough. In 1840–41[6] the Queen's favour was accorded to him, and he shared with Thalberg a reputation as a skilful pianist in fashionable circles. But it was not until 1886 that the vast popularity which had hitherto been withheld from him, owing to the conditions of musical life in our country, was meted out to him in full measure. 'There is no doubt,' says a musical critic,[7] 'that much of this enthusiasm proceeded from genuine admiration of his music, mixed with a feeling that that music, for a number of years, had been shamefully neglected in this country, and that now, at last, the time had come to make amends to a great and famous man, fortunately still living. It is equally certain that a great many people who were carried away by the current of enthusiasm—including the very cabmen in the streets, who gave three cheers for the "Habby Liszt"—had never heard a note of his music, or would have appreciated it much if they had. The spell to which they submitted was a purely personal one; it was the same fascination which Liszt exercised over almost every man and woman who came into contact with him.'

Liszt paused awhile in Paris on his way, and received much attention, his musical friends and followers gathering to meet him at the concerts of Colonne, Lamoureux, and Pasdeloup. At length on April 3, the Abbé Liszt reached our shores, and on the same evening three or four hundred people met at Mr. Littleton's house at Sydenham to do honour to the great artist, and a programme consisting entirely of his compositions was gone through by Mr. Walter Bache and others. The gracious and venerable appearance of the distinguished guest, and his kindly interest in all that went forward, won the hearts of those who witnessed the scene; all recognized the presence in their midst of a marvellous personality such as is rarely met with. On the following day Liszt played part of his E♭ Concerto before a few friends. On the Monday he attended the rehearsal of his oratorio 'St. Elisabeth' in St. James's Hall; and in the

  1. 'Music Study in Germany,' Amy Fay.
  2. In the Fortnightly Review for September 1886.
  3. 'I neither officially nor unofficially belonged to the St. Simonians.' See Ramann, vol. 1. Heine is inaccurate on this and some other points.
  4. At Frankfort-on-the-Maine, during the period of his sojourn at Nonnenwerth with the Countess d'Agoult.
  5. Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung, May 13, 1887.
  6. His project of conducting German opera in London in 1842 came to nothing.
  7. Fortnightly Review, September 1886.