Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/158

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

thrown on his own resources to provide for himself and his mother. During his stay in Paris, where he settled for some years, he became acquainted with the leaders of French literature, Victor Hugo, Lamartine and George Sand, the influence of whose works may be discovered in his' compositions. For a time also he became an adherent of Saint-Simon, but soon reverted to the Catholic religion, to which, as an artist and as a man, he has since adhered devoutly. In 1834 he became acquainted with the Countess D'Agoult, better known by her literary name of Daniel Stern, who for a long time remained attached to him and by whom he had three children. Two of these, a son and a daughter, the wife of M. Ollivier the French statesman, are dead. The third, Cosima, is the wife of Richard Wagner. The public concerts which Liszt gave during the latter part of his stay in Paris placed his claim to the first rank amongst pianists on a firm basis, and at last he was induced, much against his will, to adopt the career of a virtuoso proper. The interval from 1839 to 1847 Liszt spent in travelling almost incessantly from one country to another, being everywhere received with an enthusiasm unequalled in the annals of Art. In England he played at the Philharmonic Concerts of May 21, 1827 (Concerto, Hummel), May 11, 1840 (Concertstück, Weber), June 8, 40 (Kreutzer sonata), June 14, 41 (Hummel's 7tet). His reception seems to have been less warm than was expected, and Liszt, with his usual generosity, at once undertook to bear the loss that might have fallen on his agent. Of this generosity numerous instances might be cited. The charitable purposes to which Liszt's genius has been made subservient are legion, and in this respect as well as in that of technical perfection he is unrivalled amongst virtuosi. The disaster caused at Pesth by the inundation of the Danube (1837) was considerably alleviated by the princely sum—the result of several concerts contributed—by this artist; and when two years later a considerable sum had been collected for a statue to be erected to him at Pesth, he insisted upon the money being given to a struggling young sculptor, whom he moreover assisted from his private means. The poor of Raiding also had cause to remember the visit paid by Liszt to his native village about the same time. It is well known that Beethoven's monument at Bonn owed its existence, or at least its speedy completion, to Liszt's liberality. When the subscriptions for the purpose began to fail, Liszt offered to pay the balance required from his own pocket, provided only that the choice of the sculptor should be left to him. From the beginning of the forties dates Liszt's more intimate connection with Weimar, where in 1849 he settled for the space of 12 years. This stay was to be fruitful in more than one sense. When he closed his career as a virtuoso, and accepted a permanent engagement as conductor of the Court Theatre at Weimar, he did so with the distinct purpose of becoming the advocate of the rising musical generation, by the performance of such works as were written regardless of immediate success, and therefore had little chance of seeing the light of the stage. At short intervals eleven operas of living composers were either performed for the first time or revived on the Weimar stage. Amongst these may be counted such works as Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, and The Flying Dutchman of Wagner, Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz, Schumann's Genoveva, and music to Byron's 'Manfred.' Schubert's Alfonso and Estrella was also rescued from oblivion by Liszt's exertions. For a time it seemed as if this small provincial city were once more to be the artistic centre of Germany, as it had been in the days of Goethe, Schiller and Herder. From all sides musicians and amateurs flocked to Weimar, to witness the astonishing feats to which a small but excellent community of singers and instrumentalists were inspired by the genius of their leader. In this way was formed the nucleus of a group of young and enthusiastic musicians, who, whatever may be thought of their aims and achievements, were and are at any rate inspired by perfect devotion to music and its poetical aims. It was, indeed, at these Weimar gatherings that the musicians who now form the so-called School of the Future, till then unknown to each other and divided locally and mentally, came first to a clear understanding of their powers and aspirations. How much the personal fascination of Liszt contributed to this desired effect need not be said. Amongst the numerous pupils on the pianoforte, to whom he at the same period opened the invaluable treasure of his technical experience, may be mentioned Hans von Bülow, the worthy disciple of such a master.

But, in a still higher sense, the soil of Weimar, with its great traditions, was to prove a field of richest harvest. When, as early as 1842, Liszt undertook the direction of a certain number of concerts every year at Weimar, his friend Duverger wrote 'Cette place, qui oblige Liszt à séjourner trois mois de l'année à Weimar, doit marquer peut-être pour lui la transition de sa carriere de virtuose à celle de compositeur.' This presage has been verified by a number of compositions which, whatever may be the final verdict on their merits, have at any rate done much to elucidate some of the most important questions in Art. From these works of his mature years his early compositions, mostly for the pianoforte, ought to be distinguished, In the latter Liszt the virtuoso predominates over Liszt the composer. Not, for instance, that his 'transcriptions' of operatic music are without superior merits. Every one of them shows the refined musician, and for the development of pianoforte technique, especially in rendering orchestral effects, they are of the greatest importance. They also tend to prove Liszt's catholicity of taste; for all schools are equally represented in the list, and a selection from Wagner's 'Lohengrin' is found side by side with the Dead March from Donizetti's 'Don Sebastian.' To point out even the most important among these selections