Thalberg's style was, perhaps, the best possible illustration of the legitimate effects of the pianoforte carried to the highest by as perfect a technique as could possibly be attained by human skill.
That he lacked poetic fire and passion, that the sense of artistic restraint and a refined fastidiousness chilled and fettered him, is doubtlessly true. Whether the absence of the imaginative warmth and vigor which suffuse a work of art with the glow of something that can not be fully expressed, and kindle the thoughts of the hearer to take hitherto unknown flights, is fully compensated for by that repose and symmetry of style which know exactly what it wishes to express, and, being perfect master of the means of expression, puts forth an exact measure of effort and then stops as if shut down by an iron wall—this is an open question, and must be answered according to one's art theories. The exquisite modeling of a Benvenuto Cellini vase, wrought with patient elaboration into a thing of unsurpassable beauty, does not invoke as high a sense of pleasure as an heroic statue or noble painting by some great master, but of its kind the pleasure is just as complete. Apart from Thalberg's power as a player, however, there was something captivating in the quality of his talent, which, though not creative, was gifted with the power of seizing the very essence of the music to be interpreted. A striking example of this is shown in the fantasias he composed on the different operas, a form of writing which reached its perfection in him. His own contribution is simply a most delightful setting of the melodies of his subject, and the whole is steeped in the very atmosphere and feeling of the original, as if the master himself had done the work.
A good example is the fantasia on Mozart's "Don Giovanni." The little, wild, unformed melodies rustle in quick gusts along the keys as if wavering shadows, yet with all the familiar rhythm and family likeness, filling the mind of the hearer with the atmosphere and necessity of what is to follow, while gradually the full harmonies unfold themselves. The introduction of the minuet is one of the most striking portions. The scene of the minuet in the opera is a vision of rural loveliness and repose, whispering of flowers, fields, and happy flying hours. All this becomes poetized, and the music seems to imply rich reaches of odorous garden and moonlight, whispering foliage, and nightingales mad with the delight of their own singing, and a palace on the lawn sounding with riotous mirth. The player-composer weaves the glamour of such a dream, and the hearer finds himself strolling in imagination through the moonlit garden, listening to the birds, the waters, and the rustling leaves, while the stately beat of the minuet comes throbbing through it all, calling up the vision of gayly dressed cavaliers and beautiful ladies fantastically moving to the tune. Such poetic sentiment as this of the purely picturesque sort was in large measure Thalberg's possession, but he could never understand that turbulent ground-swell of passion which music can also powerfully express, and by which the soul is lifted up to the heights of ecstasy or plunged in depths of melancholy. Music as a vehicle for such meanings was mere Egyptian hieroglyphic, utterly beyond his limitation, absolute bathos and absurdity.
It is doubtful whether any player ever possessed a more wonderfully trained mechanism; the smallest details were polished and finished with the utmost care, the scales marvels of evenness, the shakes rivaling the trill of a canary bird. His arpeggios at times rolled like the waves of the sea, and at others resembled folds of transparent lace floating airily with the movements of the wearer. The octaves were wonderfully accurate, and the chords appeared to be struck by steel mallets instead of fingers. He was called the Bayard of pianists, "le Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche." His tone was noble, yet mellow and delicate, and the gradations between his forte and piano were traced most exquisitely. In a word, technical execution could go no further. It is said that he never played a piece in public till he had absolutely made it the property of his fingers. He was the first to divide the melody between the two hands, making the right hand perform a brilliant figure in the higher register, while the left hand exhibited a full and rich bass part, supplementing it with an accompaniment in chords. It was this characteristic which made his fantasias so unique and interesting, in spite of their lack of originality of motive, as compositions. Almost all writers for the piano have since adopted this device, even the great Mendelssohn using it in some of his concertos and "Songs without Words"; and in many cases it has been transformed into a mere trick of arrant musical charlatanism, designed to cover up with a sham glitter the utter absence of thought and motive. No better suggestion of the dominant characteristic of Thal-berg as a pianist can be found than a critical word of his friend Moscheles: "The proper ground for finger gymnastics is to be found in Thalberg's latest compositions; for mind [Geist], give me Schumann."
During Thalberg's first visit to America he had an active and dangerous rival in the young and brilliant pianist, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was as fresh to New York audiences as Thalberg himself, though the latter had the advantage over his young competitor in a fame which was almost world-wide. Of American pianists Louis Gottschalk stands confessedly at the head by virtue of remarkable native gifts, which, had they been assisted by greater industry and ambition, might easily have won him a very eminent rank in Europe as well as in his own country. An easy, pleasure-loving, tropical nature, flexible, facile, and disposed to sacrifice the future to the present, was the only obstacle to the attainment to a place level with the foremost artists of his age.
Edward Gottschalk, who came to America in his young manhood and settled in New Orleans, and his wife, a French Creole lady, had five children, of whom the future pianist was the eldest, born in 1829. His feeling for music manifested itself when he was three years old by his ability to play a melody on the piano which he had heard. Instantly he was strong enough, he was placed under the instruction of a good teacher, and no pains were spared to develop his precocious talent. At the age of six he had made such progress on the piano that he was also instructed on the violin, and soon was able to play pieces of more than ordinary difficulty with taste and expression. We are told that the lad gave a benefit concert at the age of eight to assist an unfortunate violin-player, with considerable success, and was soon in great request at evening parties as a child phenomenon. The propriety of sending the little Louis to Paris had long been discussed, and it was finally accomplished in 1842.
On reaching Paris he was first put under the teaching of Charles Halle, but, as the latter master was a little careless, he was replaced by M. Camille Stamaty, who had the reputation of being the ablest professor in the city. The following year he began the study of harmony and counterpoint with M. Malidan, and the rapid progress he evinced in his studies was of a kind to justify his parents in their wish to devote him to the career of a pianist.
Young Louis Gottschalk was much petted in the aristocratic salons of Paris, to which he had admission through his aunts, the Comtesse de Lagrange and the Comtesse de Bourjally. His remarkable musical gifts, and more especially his talent for improvisation, excited curiosity and admiration, even in a city where the love of musical novelty had been sated by a continual supply of art prodigies. Young as he was, he wrote at this time not a few charming compositions, which were in after-years occasional features of his concerts. His delicate constitution succumbed under hard work, and for a while a severe attack of typhoid fever interrupted his studies. On his recovery, our young artist spent a few months in the Ardennes. On returning to Paris, he became the pupil of Hector Berlioz, who felt a deep interest in the young American, as an art prodigy from a land of savages in harmony, and devoted himself so assiduously to the study that he declined an invitation from the Spanish queen to become a guest of the court at Madrid.
An amusing incident occurred in a pedestrian trip which he made to the Vosges in 1846. He had forgotten his passport, and, on arriving at a small town, was arrested by a gendarme and taken before the maire. The latter official was reading a newspaper containing a notice of his last concert, and through this means he assured the worthy functionary of his identity, and was cordially welcomed to the hospitality of the official residence.
His friend Berlioz, who was ever on the alert to help the American pupil who promised to do him so much credit, arranged a series of concerts for him at the Italian Opera in the winter of 1846-'47, and these proved brilliantly successful, not merely in filling the young artist's purse, but in augmenting his fast-growing reputation. Steady labor in study and concert-giving, many of his public performances being for charity, made two years pass swiftly by. A musical tour through France in 1849 was highly successful, and the young American returned to Paris, loaded down with gifts, and rich in the sense of having justly earned the congratulations which showered on him from all his friends. A second invitation now came from Spain, and Louis Gottschalk on arriving at Madrid was made a guest at the royal palace. From the king he received two orders, the diamond cross of Isabella la Catholique and that of Leon d'Holstein, and from the Duke de Montpensier he received a sword of honor. We are told that at one of the private court concerts Gottschalk played a duet with Don Carlos, the father of the recent pretender to the Spanish throne.
Among the romantic incidents narrated of this visit of Gottschalk to Madrid, one is too characteristic to be overlooked, as showing the tender, generous nature of the artist. An imaginative Spanish girl, whose fancy had been excited by the public enthusiasm about Gottschalk, but was too ill to attend his concerts, had a passionate desire to hear him play, and pined away in the fret-fulness of ungratified desire. Her family were not able to pay Gottschalk for the trouble of giving such an exclusive concert, but, to satisfy the sick girl, made the circumstances known to the artist. Gottschalk did not hesitate a moment, but ordered his piano to be conveyed to the humble abode of the patient. Here by her bedside he played for hours to the enraptured girl, and the strain of emotion was so great that her life ebbed away before he had finished the final chords. Gottschalk remained in Spain for two years, and it was not till the autumn of 1852 that he returned to Paris, to give a series of farewell concerts before returning again to America, where his father and brothers were anxiously awaiting him.
Before Gottschalk's departure from Paris, Hector Berlioz thus wrote of his protege, for whom we may fancy he had a strong bias of liking; and no judge is so generous in estimation as one artist of another, unless the critic has personal cause of dislike, and then no judge is so sweepingly unjust: "Gottschalk is one of the very small number who possess all the different elements of a consummate pianist, all the faculties which surround him with an irresistible prestige, and give him a sovereign power. He is an accomplished musician; he knows just how far fancy may be indulged in expression. He knows the limits beyond which any freedom taken with the rhythm produces only confusion and disorder, and upon these limits he never encroaches. There is an exquisite grace in his manner of phrasing sweet melodies and throwing off light touches from the higher keys. The boldness, brilliancy, and originality of his play at once dazzle and astonish, and the infantile naivete of his smiling caprices, the charming simplicity with which he renders simple things, seem to belong to another individuality, distinct from that which marks his thundering energy. Thus the success of M. Gottschalk before an audience of musical cultivation is immense."
But even this enthusiastic praise was pale in comparison with the eulogiums of some of the New York journals, after the first concert of Gottschalk at Niblo's Garden Theatre. One newspaper, which arrogated special strength and good judgment in its critical departments, intimated that after such a revelation it was useless any longer to speak of Beethoven! Whether Beethoven as a player or Beethoven as a composer was meant was left unknown. Gottschalk at his earlier concerts played many of his own compositions, made to order for the display of his virtuosoism, and their brilliant, showy style was very well calculated to arouse the enthusiasm of the general public. Perhaps the most sound and thoughtful opinion of Gottschalk expressed during the first enthusiasm created by his playing was that of a well-known musical journal published in Boston:
"Well, at the concert, which, by the way, did not half fill the Boston Music Hall, owing partly, we believe, to the one-dollar price, and partly, we hope, to distrust of an artist who plays wholly his own compositions, our expectation was confirmed. There was, indeed, most brilliant execution; we have heard none more brilliant, but are not yet prepared to say that Jaell's was less so. Gottschalk's touch is the most clear and crisp and beautiful that we have ever known. His play is free and bold and sure, and graceful in the extreme; his runs pure and liquid; his figures always clean and perfectly denned; his command of rapid octave passages prodigious; and so we might go through with all the technical points of masterly execution. It was great execution. But what is execution, without some thought and meaning in the combinations to be executed?... Skillful, graceful, brilliant, wonderful, we own his playing was. But players less wonderful have given us far deeper satisfaction. We have seen a criticism upon that concert, in which it was regretted that his music was too fine for common apprehension, 'too much addressed to the reasoning faculties,' etc. To us the want was, that it did not address the reason; that it seemed empty of ideas, of inspiration; that it spake little to the mind or heart, excited neither meditation nor emotion, but simply dazzled by the display of difficult feats gracefully and easily achieved. But of what use were all these difficulties? ('Difficult! I wish it was impossible,' said Dr. Johnson.) Why all that rapid tossing of handfuls of chords from the middle to the highest octaves, lifting the hand with such conscious appeal to our eyes? To what end all those rapid octave passages? since in the intervals of easy execution, in the seemingly quiet impromptu passages, the music grew so monotonous and commonplace: the same little figure repeated and repeated, after listless pauses, in a way which conveyed no meaning, no sense of musical progress, but only the appearance of fastidiously critical scale-practicing."
In the series of concerts given by Gottschalk throughout the United States, the public generally showed great enthusiasm and admiration, and the young pianist sustained himself very successfully against the memories of Jaell, Henri Herz, and Leopold de Meyer, as well as the immediate rivalry of Thalberg, who appealed more potently to a select few. The hold the American pianist had secured on his public did not lessen during the five years of concert-giving which succeeded. No player ever displayed his skill before American audiences who had in so large degree that peculiar quality of geniality in his style which so endears him to the public. This characteristic is something apart from genius or technical skill, and is peculiarly an emanation from the personality of the man.
In the spring of 1837 Gottschalk found himself in Havana, whither he had gone to make the beginning of a musical tour through the West Indies. His first concert was given at the Tacon Theatre, which Mr. Maretzek, who was giving operatic representations then in Havana, yielded to him for the occasion. The Cubans gave the pianist a tropical warmth of welcome, and Gott-schalk's letters from the old Spanish city are full of admiration for the climate, the life, and the people, with whom there was something strongly sympathetic in his own nature. The artist had not designed to protract his musical wanderings in the beautiful island of the Antilles for any considerable period, but his success was great, and the new experiences admirably suited his dreaming, sensuous, pleasure-loving temperament. Everywhere the advent of Gottschalk at a town was made the occasion of a festival, and life seemed to be one continued gala-day with him.
In the early months of 1860 the young pianist, Arthur Napoleon, joined Gottschalk at Havana, and the two gave concerts throughout the West Indies, which were highly successful. The early summer had been designed for a tour through Central America and Venezuela, but a severe attack of illness prostrated Gottschalk, and he was not able to sail before August for his new field of musical conquest. Our artist did not return to New York till 1862, after an absence of five years, though his original plan had only contemplated a tour of two years. It must not be supposed that Gottschalk devoted his time continually to concert performances and composition, though he by no means neglected the requirements of musical labor. As he himself confesses, the balmy climate, the glorious landscapes, the languid dolce far niente, which tended to enervate all that came under their magic spell, wrought on his susceptible temperament with peculiar effect. A quotation from an article written by Gottschalk, and published in the "Atlantic Monthly," entitled "Notes of a Pianist," will furnish the reader a graphic idea of the influence of tropical life on such an imaginative and voluptuous character, passionately fond of nature and outdoor life: "Thus, in succession, I have visited all the Antilles—Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Swedish, and Danish; the Guianas, and the coasts of Para. At times, having become the idol of some obscure pueblo, whose untutored ears I had charmed with its own simple ballads, I would pitch my tent for five, six, eight months, deferring my departure from day to day, until finally I began seriously to entertain the idea of remaining there for evermore. Abandoning myself to such influences, I lived without care, as the bird sings, as the flower expands, as the brook flows, oblivious of the past, reckless of the future, and sowed both my heart and my purse with the ardor of a husbandman who hopes to reap a hundred ears for every grain he confides to the earth. But, alas! the fields where is garnered the harvest of expended doubloons, and where vernal loves bloom anew, are yet to be discovered; and the result of my prodigality was that, one fine morning, I found myself a bankrupt in heart, with my purse at ebb-tide. Suddenly disgusted with the world and myself, weary, discouraged, mistrusting men (ay, and women too), I fled to a desert on the extinct volcano of M———, where, for several months, I lived the life of a cenobite, with no companion but a poor lunatic whom I had met on a small island, and who had attached himself to me. He followed me everywhere, and loved me with that absurd and touching constancy of which dogs and madmen alone are capable. My friend, whose insanity was of a mild and harmless character, fancied himself the greatest genius in the world. He was, moreover, under the impression that he suffered from a gigantic, monstrous tooth. Of the two idiosyncrasies, the latter alone made his lunacy discernible, too many individuals being affected with the other symptom to render it an anomalous feature of the human mind. My friend was in the habit of protesting that this enormous tooth increased periodically, and threatened to encroach upon his entire jaw. Tormented, at the same time, with the desire of regenerating humanity, he divided his leisure between the study of dentistry, to which he applied himself in order to impede the progress of his hypothetical tyrant, and a voluminous correspondence which he kept up with the Pope, his brother, and the Emperor of the French, his cousin. In the latter occupation he pleaded the interests of humanity, styled himself 'the Prince of Thought,' and exalted me to the dignity of his illustrious friend and benefactor. In the midst of the wreck of his intellect, one thing still survived—his love of music. He played the violin; and, strange as it may appear, although insane, he could not understand the so-called music of the future.
"My hut, perched on the verge of the crater, at the very summit of the mountain, commanded a view of all the surrounding country. The rock upon which it was built projected over a precipice whose abysses were concealed by creeping plants, cactus, and bamboos. The species of table-rock thus formed had been encircled with a railing, and transformed into a terrace on a level with the sleeping-room, by my predecessor in this hermitage. His last wish had been to be buried there; and from my bed I could see his white tombstone gleaming in the moonlight a few steps from my window. Every evening I rolled my piano out upon the terrace; and there, facing the most incomparably beautiful landscape, all bathed in the soft and limpid atmosphere of the tropics, I poured forth on the instrument, and for myself alone, the thoughts with which the scene inspired me. And what a scene! Picture to yourself a gigantic amphitheatre hewn out of the mountains by an army of Titans; right and left, immense virgin forests full of those subdued and distant harmonies which are, as it were, the voices of Silence; before me, a prospect of twenty leagues marvelously enhanced by the extreme transparency of the air; above, the azure of the sky: beneath, the creviced sides of the mountain sweeping down to the plain; afar, the waving savannas; beyond them, a grayish speck (the distant city); and, encompassing them all, the immensity of the ocean closing the horizon with its deep-blue line. Behind me was a rock on which a torrent of melted snow dashed its white foam, and there, diverted from its course, rushed with a mad leap and plunged headlong into the gulf that yawned beneath my window.
"Amid such scenes I composed 'Reponds-moi la Marche des Gibaros,' 'Polonia,' 'Columbia,' 'Pastorella e Cavaliere,' 'Jeunesse,' and many other unpublished works. I allowed my fingers to run over the keys, wrapped up in the contemplation of these wonders; while my poor friend, whom I heeded but little, revealed to me with a childish loquacity the lofty destiny he held in reserve for humanity. Can you conceive the contrast produced by this shattered intellect expressing at random its disjointed thoughts, as a disordered clock strikes by chance any hour, and the majestic serenity of the scene around me? I felt it instinctively. My misanthropy gave way. I became indulgent toward myself and mankind, and the wounds of my heart closed once more. My despair was soothed; and soon the sun of the tropics, which tinges all things with gold—dreams as well as fruits—restored me with new confidence and vigor to my wanderings.
"I relapsed into the manners and life of these primitive countries: if not strictly virtuous, they are at all events terribly attractive. Existence in a tropical wilderness, in the midst of a voluptuous and half-civilized race, bears no resemblance to that of a London cockney, a Parisian lounger, or an American Quaker. Times there were, indeed, when a voice was heard within me that spoke of nobler aims. It reminded me of what I once was, of what I yet might be; and commanded imperatively a return to a healthier and more active life. But I had allowed myself to be enervated by this baneful languor, this insidious far niente; and my moral torpor was such that the mere thought of reappearing before a polished audience struck me as superlatively absurd. 'Where was the object?' I would ask myself. Moreover, it was too late; and I went on dreaming with open eyes, careering on horseback through the savannas, listening at break of day to the prattle of the parrots in the guava-trees, at nightfall to the chirp of the grillos in the cane-fields, or else smoking my cigar, taking my coffee, rocking myself in a hammock—in short, enjoying all the delights that are the very heart-blood of a guajiro, and out of the sphere of which he can see but death, or, what is worse to him, the feverish agitation of our Northern society. Go and talk of the funds, of the landed interest, of stock-jobbing, to this Sybarite lord of the wilderness, who can live all the year round on luscious bananas and delicious cocoa-nuts which he is not even at the trouble of planting; who has the best tobacco in the world to smoke; who replaces today the horse he had yesterday by a better one, chosen from the first calallada he meets; who requires no further protection from the cold than a pair of linen trousers, in that favored clime where the seasons roll on in one perennial summer; who, more than all this, finds at eve, under the rustling palm-trees, pensive beauties, eager to reward with their smiles the one who murmurs in their ears those three words, ever new, ever beautiful, 'Yo te quiero.'"
Mr. Gottschalk's return to America in February, 1862, was celebrated by a concert in Irving Hall, on the anniversary of his debut in New York. This was the beginning of another brilliant musical series, in pursuance of which he appeared in every prominent city of the country. While many found fault with Gottschalk for descending to pure "claptrap" and bravura playing, for using his great powers to merely superficial and unworthy ends, he seemed to retain as great a hold as ever over the masses of concert-goers. Gottschalk himself, with his epicurean, easy-going nature, laughed at the lectures read him by the critics and connoisseurs, who would have him follow out ideals for which he had no taste. It was like asking the butterfly to live the life of the bee. Great as were the gifts of the artist, it was not to be expected that these would be pursued in lines not consistent with the limitations of his temperament. Gottschalk appears to have had no desire except to amuse and delight the world, and to have been foreign to any loftier musical aspiration, if we may judge by his own recorded words. He passed through life as would a splendid wild singing-bird, making music because it was the law of his being, but never directing that talent with conscious energy to some purpose beyond itself.
In 1863 family misfortunes and severe illness of himself cooperated to make the year vacant of musical doings, but instantly he recovered he was engaged by M. Strakosch to give another series of concerts in the leading Eastern cities. Without attempting to linger over his career for the next two years, let us pass to his second expedition to the tropics in 1865. Four years were spent in South America, each country that he visited vieing with the other in doing him honor. Magnificent gifts were heaped on him by his enthusiastic Spanish-American admirers, and life was one continual ovation. In Peru he gave sixty concerts, and was presented with a costly decoration of gold, diamond, and pearl. In Chili the Government voted him a grand gold medal, which the board of public schools, the board of visitors of the hospitals, and the municipal government of Valparaiso supplemented by gold medals, in recognition of Gottschalk's munificence in the benefit concerts he gave for various public and humane institutions. The American pianist, through the whole of his career, had shown the traditional benevolence of his class in offering his services to the advancement of worthy objects. A similar reception awaited Gottschalk in Montevideo, where the artist became doubly the object of admiration by the substantial additions he made to the popular educational fund. While in this city he organized and conducted a great musical festival in which three hundred musicians engaged, exclusive of the Italian Opera company then at Montevideo.
The spring of 1869 brought Gottschalk to the last scene of his musical triumphs, for the span of his career was about to close over him. Rio Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, gave Gottschalk an ardent reception, which made this city properly the culmination of his toils and triumphs. Gottschalk wrote that his performances created such a furore that boxes commanded a premium of seventy-five dollars, and single seats fetched twenty-five. He was frequently entertained by Dom Pedro at the palace; in every way the Brazilians testified their lavish admiration of his artistic talents. In the midst of his success Gottschalk was seized with yellow fever, and brought very low. Indeed, the report came back to New York that he was dead, a report, however, which his own letters, written from the bed of convalescence, soon contradicted.
In October of 1869 Gottschalk was appointed by the emperor to take the leadership of a great festival, in which eight hundred performers in orchestra and chorus would take part. Indefatigable labor, in rehearsing his musicians and organizing the almost innumerable details of such an affair, acted on a frame which had not yet recovered its strength from a severe attack of illness. With difficulty he dragged himself through the tedious preparation, and when he stood up to conduct the first concert of the festival, on the evening of November 26, he was so weak that he could scarcely stand. The next day he was too ill to rise, and, though he forced himself to go to the opera-house in the evening, he was so weak as to be unable to conduct the music, and he had to be driven back to his hotel. The best medical skill watched over him, but his hour had come, and after three weeks of severe suffering he died, December 18, 1869. The funeral solemnities at the Cathedral of Rio were of the most imposing character, and all the indications of really heart-felt sorrow were shown among the vast crowd of spectators, for Gottschalk had quickly endeared himself to the public both as man and artist. At the time of Gott-schalk's death, it was his purpose to set sail for Europe at the earliest practicable moment, to secure the publication of some of his more important works, and the production of his operas, of which he had the finished scores of not less than six.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk was an artist and composer whose gifts were never more than half developed; for his native genius as a musician was of the highest order. Shortly before he died, at the age of forty, he seemed to have ripened into more earnest views and purposes, and, had he lived to fulfill his prime, it is reasonable to hazard the conjecture that he would have richly earned a far loftier niche in the pantheon of music than can now be given him. A rich, pleasure-loving, Oriental temperament, which tended to pour itself forth in dreams instead of action; vivid emotional sensibilities, which enabled him to exhaust all the resources of pleasure where imagination stimulates sense; and a thorough optimism in his theories, which saw everything at its best, tended to blunt the keen ambition which would otherwise inevitably have stirred the possessor of such artistic gifts. Gottschalk fell far short of his possibilities, though he was the greatest piano executant ever produced by our own country. He might have dazzled the world even as he dazzled his own partial countrymen.
His style as a pianist was sparkling, dashing, showy, but, in the judgment of the most judicious, he did not appear to good advantage in comparison with Thalberg, in whom a perfect technique was dominated by a conscious intellectualism, and a high ideal, passionless but severely beautiful.
Gottschalk's idiosyncrasy as a composer ran in parallel lines with that of the player. Most of the works of this musician are brilliant, charming, tender, melodious, full of captivating excellence, but bright with the flash of fancy, rather than strong with the power of imagination. We do not find in his piano-forte pieces any of that subtile soul-searching force which penetrates to the deepest roots of thought and feeling. Sundry musical cynics were wont to crush Gottschalk's individuality into the coffin of a single epigram. "A musical bonbon to tickle the palates of sentimental women." But this falls as far short of justice as the enthusiasm of many of his admirers overreaches it. The easy and genial temperament of the man, his ability to seize the things of life on their bright side, and a naive indolence which indisposed the artist to grapple with the severest obligations of an art life, prevented Gottschalk from attaining the greatness possible to him, but they contributed to make him singularly lovable, and to justify the passionate attachment which he inspired in most of those who knew him well. But, with all of Gottschalk's limitations, he must be considered the most noticeable and able of pianists and composers for the piano yet produced by the United States.
The Spoiled Favorite of Fortune.—His Inherited Genius.—Birth and Early Training.—First Appearance in Concert.—Adam Liszt and his Son in Paris.—Sensation made by the Boy's Playing.—His Morbid Religious Sufferings.—Franz Liszt thrown on his own Resources.—The Artistic Circle in Paris.—Liszt in the Banks of Romanticism.—His Friends and Associates.—Mme. D'Agoult and her Connection with Franz Liszt.—He retires to Geneva.—Is recalled to Paris by the Thalberg Furore.—Rivalry between the Artists, and their Factions.—He commences his Career as Traveling Virtuoso.—The Blaze of Enthusiasm throughout Europe.—Schumann on Liszt as Man and Artist.—He ranks the Hungarian Virtuoso as the Superior of Thalberg.—Liszt's Generosity to his own Countrymen.—The Honors paid to him in Pesth.—Incidents of his Musical Wanderings.—He loses the Proceeds of Three Hundred Concerts.—Contributes to the Completion of the Cologne Cathedral.—His Connection with the Beethoven Statue at Bonn, and the Celebration of the Unveiling.—Chorley on Liszt.—Berlioz and Liszt.—Character of the Enthusiasm called out by Liszt as an Artist.—Remarkable Personality as a Man.—Berlioz characterizes the Great Virtuoso in a Letter.—Liszt erases his Life as a Virtuoso, and becomes Chapel-Master and Court Conductor at Weimar.—Avowed Belief in the New School of Music, and Production of Works of this School.—Wagner's Testimony to Liszt's Assistance.—Liszt's Resignation of his Weimar Post after Ten Years.—His Subsequent Life.—He takes Holy Orders.—Liszt as a Virtuoso and Composer.—Entitled to be placed among tire most Remarkable Men of his Age.
There are but few names in music more interesting than that of Franz Liszt, the spoiled favorite of Europe for more than half a century, and without question the greatest piano-forte virtuoso that ever lived. His life has passed through the sunniest regions of fortune and success, and from his cradle upward the gods have showered on him their richest gifts. His career as an artist and musician has been most remarkable, his personal life full of romance, and his connection with some of the most vital changes in music which have occurred during the century interesting and significant. From his first appearance in public, at the age of twelve, his genius was acknowledged with enthusiasm throughout the whole republic of art, from Beethoven down to the obscurest dilletante, and it may be asserted that the history of music knows no instance of success approaching that achieved by the performances of this great player in every capital of Europe, from Madrid to St. Petersburg. When he wearied of the fame of the virtuoso, and became a composer, not only for the piano-forte, but for the orchestra, his invincible energy soon overcame all difficulties in his path, and he has lived to see himself accepted as one of the greatest of living musical thinkers and writers.
The life of Liszt is so crowded with important incidents that it is difficult to condense into the brief limits of a sketch any fairly adequate statement of his career. He was born October 22, 1811, in the village of Raiding, in Hungary, and it is said that his father Adam Liszt, who was in the service of the Prince Esterhazy, was firmly convinced that the child would become distinguished on account of the appearance of a remarkable comet during the year. Adam Liszt himself was a fine pianist, gifted indeed with a talent which might have made him eminent had he pursued it. All his ambition and hope, however, centered in his son, in whom musical genius quickly declared itself; and the father found teaching this gifted child not only a labor of love, but a task smoothed by the extraordinary aptness of the pupil. He was accustomed to say to the young Franz: "My son, you are destined to realize the glorious ideal that has shone in vain before my youth. In you that is to reach its fulfillment which I have myself but faintly conceived. In you shall my genius grow up and bear fruit; I shall renew my youth in you even after I am laid in the grave." Such prophetic words recall the vision of the Genoese woman, who foresaw the future greatness of the little Nicolo Paganini, a genius who resembled in many ways the phenomenal musical force embodied in Franz Liszt. When the lad was very young, perhaps not more than six, he read the "Kene" of Chateaubriand, and it made such an indelible impression on his mind that he in after years spoke of it as having been one of the most potent influences of his life, since it stimulated the natural melancholy of his character when his nature was most flexible and impressible.
At the age of nine he made his first appearance in public at Odenburg, playing Bies's concerto in three flats, and improvising a fantasia so full of melodic ideas, striking rhythms, and well-arranged harmony as to strike the audience with surprise and admiration. Among the hearers was Prince Esterhazy, who was so pleased with the precocious talent shown that he put a purse of fifty ducats in the young musician's hand. Soon after this Adam Liszt went to Pres-burg to live, and several noblemen, among whom were Prince Esterhazy, and the Counts Amadee and Szapary, all of them enthusiastic patrons of music, determined to bear the burden of the boy's musical education. To this end they agreed to allow him six hundred florins a year for six years. Young Liszt was placed at Vienna under the tutelage of the celebrated pianist and teacher Czerny, and soon made such progress that he was able to play such works as those even of Beethoven and Hummel at first sight. When Liszt did this for one of Hummel's most difficult concertos, at the rooms of the music publisher one day, it created a great sensation in Vienna, and he quickly became one of the lions of the drawing-rooms of the capital. Czerny himself was so much delighted with the genius of his charge that he refused to accept the three hundred florins stipulated for his lessons, saying he was but too well repaid by the success of the pupil.
Though toiling with incessant industry in musical study and practice, for the boy was working at composition with Salieri and Randhartinger, as well as the piano-forte with Czerny, he found time to indulge in those strange, mystical, and fantastic dreams which have molded his whole life, oscillating between pietistic delirium, wherein he saw celestial visions and felt the call to a holy life, and the most voluptuous images and aspirations for earthly pleasures. Franz Liszt at this early age had a sensibility so delicate, and an imagination so quickly kindled, that he himself tells us no one can guess the extremes of ecstasy and despair through which he alternately passed. These spiritual experiences were perhaps fed by the mysticism of Jacob Boehme, whose works came into his possession, and furnished a most delusive and dangerous guide for the young enthusiast's fancy. But, dream and suffer as he might, nothing was allowed to quench the ardor of his musical studies.
Eighteen months were passed in diligent labor under the guidance of the masters, who found teaching almost unnecessary, as the wonderful lad needed but a hint to work out for himself the most difficult problems, and he toiled so incessantly that he often became conscious of the change of day into night only by the failure of the light and the coming of the candles. Finally, by advice of Salieri, after eighteen months of labor, he determined to appear in concert in Vienna. On this occasion the audience was composed of the most distinguished people of Vienna, drawn thither to hear the young musical wonder of whom every one talked. Among the hearers was Beethoven, who after the concert gave the proud boy the most cordial praise, and prophesied a great career for him.
The elder Liszt was already in Paris, and it was determined that Franz should go to that city, to avail himself of the instructions of Cherubini, at the Conservatoire, who as a teacher of counterpoint had no equal in Europe. The Prince Metternich sent letters of the warmest recommendation, but they were of no avail, for Cherubini, who was singularly whimsical and obstinate in his notions, refused to accept the new candidate, on account of the rule of the Conservatoire excluding pupils of foreign birth, a plea which the famous director did not hesitate to break when he chose. Franz, however, continued his studies under Reicha and Paer, and, while the gates of the Conservatoire were closed, all the salons of Paris opened to receive him. Everywhere he was feted, courted, caressed. This fair-haired, blue-eyed lad, with the seal of genius burning on his face, had made the social world mad over him. The young adventurer was sailing in a treacherous channel, full of dangerous reefs. Would he, in the homage paid to him, an unmatured youth, by scholars, artists, wealth, beauty, and rank, forgot in mere self-love and vanity his high obligations to his art and the sincere devotion which alone could wrest from art its richest guerdon? This problem seems to have troubled his father, for he determined to take his young Franz away from the palace of Circe. The boy had already made an attempt at composition in the shape of an operetta, in one act, "Don Sanche," which was very well received at the Academie Royale. Adolph Nourrit, the great singer, had led the young composer on the stage, where he was received with thunders of applause by the audience, and was embraced with transport by Rudolph Kreutzer, the director of the orchestra.
Adam Liszt and his son went to England, and spent about six months in giving concerts in London and other cities. Franz was less than fourteen years old, but the pale, fragile, slender boy had, in the deep melancholy which stamped the noble outline of his face, an appearance of maturity that belied his years. English audiences everywhere received him with admiration, but he seemed to have lost all zest for the intoxicating wine of public favor. A profound gloom stole over him, and we even hear of hints at an attempt to commit suicide. Adam Liszt attributed it to the sad English climate, which Hein-rich Heine cursed with such unlimited bitterness, and took his boy back again to sunnier France. But the dejection darkened and deepened, threatening even to pass into epilepsy. It assumed the form of religious enthusiasm, alternating with fits of remorse as of one who had committed the unpardonable sin, and sometimes expressed itself in a species of frenzy for the monastic life. These strange experiences alarmed the father, and, in obedience to medical advice, he took the ailing, half-hysterical lad to Boulogne-sur-Mer, for sea-bathing.
While by the seaside Franz Liszt lost the father who had loved him with the devotion of father and mother combined. This fresh stroke of affliction deepened his dejection, and finally resulted in a fit of severe illness. When he was convalescent new views of life seemed to inspire him. He was now entirely thrown on his own resources for support, for Adam Liszt had left his affairs so deeply involved that there was but little left for his son and widow. A powerful nature, turned awry by unhealthy broodings, is often rescued from its own mental perversities by the sense of some new responsibility suddenly imposed on it. Boy as Liszt was, the Titan in him had already shown itself in the agonies and struggles which he had undergone, and, now that the necessity of hard work suddenly came, the atmosphere of turmoil and gloom began to clear under the imminent practical burden of life. He set resolutely to work composing and giving concerts. The religious mania under which he had rested for a while turned his thoughts to sacred music, and most of his compositions were masses. But the very effort of responsible toil set, as it were, a background against which he could appoint the true place and dimensions of his art work. There was another disturbance, however, which now stirred up his excitable mind. He fell madly in love with a lady of high rank, and surrendered his young heart entirely to this new passion. The unfortunate issue of this attachment, for the lady was much older than himself, and laughed with a gentle mockery at the infatuation of her young adorer, made Liszt intensely unhappy and misanthropical, but it did not prevent him from steady labor. Indeed, work became all the more welcome, as it served to distract his mind from its amorous pains, and his fantastic musings, instead of feeding on themselves, expressed themselves in his art. Certainly no healthier sign of one beginning to clothe himself in his right mind again can easily be imagined.
Liszt was now twenty years of age, and had regularly settled in Paris. He became acquainted intimately with the leaders of French literature, and was an habitue of the brilliant circles which gathered these great minds night after night. Lamartine and Chateaubriand were yielding place to a young and fiery school of writers and thinkers, but cordially clasped hands with the successors whom they themselves had made possible. Mme. George Sand, Balzac, Dumas, Victor Hugo, and others were just then beginning to stir in the mental revolution which they made famous. Liszt felt a deep interest in the literary and scientific interests of the day, and he threw himself into the new movement with great enthusiasm, for its strong wave moved art as well as letters with convulsive throes. The musician found in this fresh impulse something congenial to his own fiery, restless, aspiring nature. He entered eagerly into all the intellectual movements of the day. He became a St. Simonian and such a hot-headed politician that, had he not been an artist, and as such considered a harmless fanatic, he would perhaps have incurred some penalties. Liszt has left us, in his "Life of Chopin," and his letters, some very vivid portraitures of the people and the events, the fascinating literary and artistic reunions, and the personal experiences which made this part of his life so interesting; but, tempting as it is, we can not linger. There can be no question that this section of his career profoundly colored his whole life, and that the influence of Victor Hugo, Balzac, and Mme. George Sand is very perceptible in his compositions not merely in their superficial tone and character, but in the very theory on which they are built. Liszt thenceforward cut loose from all classic restraints, and dared to fling rules and canons to the winds, except so far as his artistic taste approved them. The brilliant and daring coterie, defying conventionality and the dull decorum of social law, in which our artist lived, wrought also another change in his character. Liszt had hitherto been almost austere in his self-denial, in restraint of passion and license, in a religious purity of life, as if he dwelt in the cold shadow of the monastery, not knowing what moment he should disappear within its gates. There was now to be a radical change.
One of the brilliant members of the coterie in which he lived a life of such keen mental activity was Countess D'Agoult, who afterward became famous in the literary world as "Daniel Stern." Beautiful, witty, accomplished, imaginative, thoroughly in sympathy with her friend George Sand in her views of love and matrimony, and not less daring in testifying to her opinion by actions, the name of Mme. D'Agoult had already been widely bruited abroad in connection with more than one romantic escapade. In the powerful personality of young Franz Liszt, instinct with an artistic genius which aspired like an eagle, vital with a resolute, reckless will, and full of a magnetic energy that overflowed in everything—looks, movements, talk, playing—the somewhat fickle nature of Mme. D'Agoult was drawn to the artist like steel to a magnet. Liszt, on the other hand, easily yielded to the refined and delicious sensuousness of one of the most accomplished women of her time, who to every womanly fascination added the rarest mental gifts and high social place.
The mutual passion soon culminated in a tie which lasted for many years, and was perhaps as faithfully observed by both parties as could be expected of such an irregular connection. Three children were the offspring of this attachment, a son who died, and two daughters, one of whom became the wife of M. Ollivier, the last imperial prime minister of France, and the other successively Mme. Von Bulow and Mme. Wagner, under which latter title she is still known. The chroniques scandaleuses of Paris and other great cities of Europe are full of racy scandals purporting to connect the name of Liszt with well-known charming and beautiful women, but, aside from the uncertainty which goes with such rumors, this is not a feature of Liszt's life on which it is our purpose to dilate. The errors of such a man, exposed by his temperament and surroundings to the fiercest breath of temptation, should be rather veiled than opened to the garish day. Of the connection with Mme. D'Agoult something has been briefly told, because it had an important influence on his art career. Though the Church had never sanctioned the tie, there is every reason to believe that the lady's power over Liszt was consistently used to restrain his naturally eccentric bias, and to keep his thoughts fixed on the loftiest art ideals.
Soon after Liszt's connection with Mme. D'Agoult began, he retired with his devoted companion to Geneva, Switzerland, a city always celebrated in the annals of European literature and art. In the quiet and charming atmosphere of this city our artist spent two years, busy for the most part in composing. He had already attained a superb rank as a pianist, and of those virtuosos who had then exhibited their talents in Paris no one was considered at all worthy to be compared with Liszt except Chopin. Aside from the great mental grasp, the opulent imagination, the fire and passion, the dazzling technical skill of the player, there was a vivid personality in Liszt as a man which captivated audiences. This element dominated his slightest action. He strode over the concert stage with the haughty step of a despot who ruled with a sway not to be contested. Tearing his gloves from his fingers and hurling them on the piano, he would seat himself with a proud gesture, run his fingers through his waving blonde locks, and then attack the piano with the vehemence of a conqueror taking his army into action. Much of this manner was probably the outcome of natural temperament, something the result of affectation; but it helped to add to the glamour with which Liszt always held his audiences captive. When he left Paris for a studious retirement at Geneva, the throne became vacant. By and by there came a contestant for the seat, a player no less remarkable in many respects than Liszt himself, Sigismond Thalberg, whose performances aroused Paris, alert for a new sensation, into an enthusiasm which quickly mounted to boiling heat. Humors of the danger threatened to his hitherto acknowledged ascendancy reached Liszt in his Swiss retreat. The artist's ambition was stirred to the quick; he could not sleep at night with the thought of this victorious rival who was snatching his laurels, and he hastened back to Paris to meet Thalberg on his own ground. The latter, however, had already left Paris, and Liszt only felt the ground-swell of the storm he had raised. There was a hot division of opinion among the Parisians, as there had been in the days of Gluck and Piccini. Society was divided into Lisztians and Thalbergians, and to indulge in this strife was the favorite amusement of the fashionable world. Liszt proceeded to reestablish his place by a series of remarkable concerts, in which he introduced to the public some of the works wrought out during his retirement, among them transcriptions from the songs of Schubert and the symphonies of Beethoven, in which the most free and passionate poetic spirit was expressed through the medium of technical difficulties in the scoring before unknown to the art of the piano-forte. There can be no doubt that the influence of Thalberg's rivalry on Liszt's mind was a strong force, and suggested new combinations. Without having heard Thalberg, our artist had already divined the secret of his effects, and borrowed from them enough to give a new impulse to an inventive faculty which was fertile in expedients and quick to assimilate all things of value to the uses of its own insatiable ambition.
Franz Liszt's career as a traveling virtuoso commenced in 1837, and lasted for twelve years. Hitherto he had resisted the impulsion to such a course, all his desires rushing toward composition, but the extraordinary rewards promised cooperated with the spur of rivalry to overcome all scruples. The first year of these art travels was made memorable by the great inundation of the Danube, which caused so much suffering at Pesth. Thousands of people were rendered homeless, and the scene was one that appealed piteously to the humanitarian mind. The heart of Franz Liszt burned with sympathy, and he devoted the proceeds of his concerts for nearly two months to the alleviation of the woes of his countrymen. A princely sum was contributed by the artist, which went far to assist the sufferers. The number of occasions on which Liszt gave his services to charity was legion. It is credibly stated that the amount of benefactions contributed by his benefit concerts, added to the immense sums which he directly disbursed, would have made him several times a millionaire.
The blaze of enthusiasm which Liszt kindled made his track luminous throughout the musical centers of Europe. Caesar-like, his very arrival was a victory, for it aroused an indescribable ferment of agitation, which rose at his concerts to wild excesses. Ladies of the highest rank tore their gloves to strips in the ardor of their applause, flung their jewels on the stage instead of bouquets, shrieked in ecstasy and sometimes fainted, and made a wild rush for the stage at the close of the music to see Liszt, and obtain some of the broken strings of the piano, which the artist had ruined in the heat of his play, as precious relics of the occasion. The stories told of the Liszt craze among the ladies of Germany and Russia are highly amusing, and have a value as registering the degree of the effect he produced on impressible minds. Even sober and judicious critics who knew well whereof they spoke yielded to the contagion. Schumann writes of him, apropos of his Dresden and Leipzig concerts in 1840: "The whole audience greeted his appearance with an enthusiastic storm of applause, and then he began to play. I had heard him before, but an artist is a different thing in the presence of the public compared with what he appears in the presence of a few. The fine open space, the glitter of light, the elegantly dressed audience—all this elevates the frame of mind in the giver and receiver. And now the demon's power began to awake; he first played with the public as if to try it, then gave it something more profound, until every single member was enveloped in his art; and then the whole mass began to rise and fall precisely as he willed it. I never found any artist except Paga-nini to possess in so high a degree this power of subjecting, elevating, and leading the public. It is an instantaneous variety of wildness, tenderness, boldness, and airy grace; the instrument glows under the hand of its master.... It is most easy to speak of his outward appearance. People have often tried to picture this by comparing Liszt's head to Schiller's or Napoleon's; and the comparison so far holds good, in that extraordinary men possess certain traits in common, such as an expression of energy and strength of will in the eyes and mouth. He has some resemblance to the portraits of Napoleon as a young general, pale, thin, with a remarkable profile, the whole significance of his appearance culminating in his head. While listening to Liszt's playing, I have often almost imagined myself as listening to one I heard long before. But this art is scarcely to be described. It is not this or that style of piano-forte playing; it is rather the outward expression of a daring character, to whom Fate has given as instruments of victory and command, not the dangerous weapon of war, but the peaceful ones of art. No matter how many and great artists we possess or have seen pass before us of recent years, though some of them equal him in single points, all must yield to him in energy and boldness. People have been very fond of placing Thalberg in the lists beside him, and then drawing comparisons. But it is only necessary to look at both heads to come to a conclusion. I remember the remark of a Viennese designer who said, not inaptly, that his countryman's head resembled that of a handsome countess with a man's nose, while of Liszt he observed that he might sit to every painter for a Grecian god. There is a similar difference in their art. Chopin stands nearer to Liszt as a player, for at least he loses nothing beside him in fairy-like grace and tenderness; next to him Paganini, and, among women, Mme. Malibran; from these Liszt himself says he has learned the most.... Liszt's most genial performance was yet to come, Weber's 'Concert-stuck,' which he played at the second performance. Virtuoso and public seemed to be in the freshest mood possible on that evening, and the enthusiasm during and after his playing almost exceeded anything hitherto known here. Although Liszt grasped the piece from the begin-ing with such force and grandeur that an attack on the battle-field seemed to be in question, yet he carried this on with continually increasing power, until the passage where the player seems to stand at the summit of the orchestra, leading it forward in triumph. Here, indeed, he resembled that great commander to whom he has been compared, and the tempestuous applause that greeted him was not unlike an adoring 'Vive l'Empereur.'"
Flattering to his pride, however, as were the universal honors bestowed on the artist, none were so grateful as those from his own countrymen. The philanthropy of his conduct had made a deep impression on the Hungarians. Two cities, Pesth and Odenburg, created him an honorary citizen; a patent of nobility was solicited for him by the comitat of Odenburg; and the "sword of honor," according to Hungarian custom, was presented to him with due solemnities. A brief account from an Hungarian journal of the time is of interest.
"The national feeling of the Magyars is well known; and proud are they of that star of the first magnitude which arose out of their nation. Over the countries of Europe the fame of the Hungarian Liszt came to them before they had as yet an opportunity of admiring him. The Danube was swollen by rains, Pesth was inundated, thousands were mourning the loss of friends and relations or of all their property. During his absence in Milan Liszt learned that many of his countrymen were suffering from absolute want. His resolution was taken. The smiling heaven of Italy, the dolce far niente of Southern life, could not detain him. The following morning he had quitted Milan and was on his way to Vienna. He performed for the benefit of those who had suffered by the inundation at Pesth. His art was the horn of plenty from which streamed forth blessings for the afflicted. Eighteen months afterward he came to Pesth, not as the artist in search of pecuniary advantage, but as a Magyar. He played for the Hungarian national theatre, for the musical society, for the poor of Pesth and of Odenburg, always before crowded houses, and the proceeds, fully one hundred thousand francs, were appropriated for these purposes. Who can wonder that admiration and pride should arise to enthusiasm in the breasts of his grateful countrymen? He was complimented by serenades, garlands were thrown to him; in short, the whole population of Pesth neglected nothing to manifest their respect, gratitude, and affection. But these honors, which might have been paid to any other artist of high distinction, did not satisfy them. They resolved to bind him for ever to the Hungarian nation from which he sprang. The token of manly honor in Hungary is a sword, for every Magyar has the right to wear a sword, and avails himself of that right. It was determined that their celebrated countryman should be presented with the Hungarian sword of honor. The noblemen appeared at the theatre, in the rich costume they usually wear before the emperor, and presented Liszt, midst thunders of applause from the whole assembled people, with a costly sword of honor." It was also proposed to erect a bronze statue of him in Pesth, but Liszt persuaded his countrymen to give the money to a struggling young artist instead.
In the autumn of 1840 Liszt went from Paris, at which city he had been playing for some time, to the north of Germany, where he at first found the people colder than he had been wont to experience. But this soon disappeared before the magic of his playing, and even the Hamburgers, notorious for a callous, bovine temperament, gave wild demonstrations of pleasure at his concerts. He specially pleased the worthy citizens by his willingness to play off-hand, without notes, any work which they called for, a feat justly regarded as a stupendous exercise of memory. From Hamburg he went to London, where he gave nine concerts in a fortnight, and stormed the affections and admiration of the English public as he had already conquered the heart of Continental Europe. While in London a calamity befell him. A rascally agent in whom he implicitly trusted disappeared with the proceeds of three hundred concerts, an enormous sum, amounting to nearly fifty thousand pounds sterling. Liszt bore this reverse with cheerful spirits and scorned the condolences with which his friends sought to comfort him, saying he could easily make the money again, that his wealth was not in money, but in the power of making money.
The artist's musical wanderings were nearly without ceasing. His restless journeying carried him from Italy to Denmark, and from the British Islands to Russia, and everywhere the art and social world bowed at his feet in recognition of a genius which in its way could only be designated by the term "colossal." It seems cumbersome and monotonous to repeat the details of successive triumphs; but some of them are attended by features of peculiar interest. He offered, in the summer of 1841, to give the proceeds of a concert to the completion of the Cathedral of Cologne (who that loves music does not remember Liszt's setting of Heine's song "Im Rhein," where he translates the glory of the Cathedral into music?). Liszt was then staying at the island of Nonneworth, near Bonn, and a musical society, the Liedertafel, resolved to escort him up to Cologne with due pomp, and so made a grand excursion with a great company of invited guests on a steamboat hired for the purpose. A fine band of music greeted Liszt on landing, and an extensive banquet was then served, at which Liszt made an eloquent speech, full of wit and feeling. The artist acceded to the desire of the great congregation of people who had gathered to hear him play; and his piano was brought into the ruined old chapel of the ancient nunnery, about which so many romantic Rhenish legends cluster. Liszt gave a display of his wonderful powers to the delighted multitude, and the long-deserted hall of Nonneworth chapel, which for many years had only heard the melancholy call of the owl, resounded with the most magnificent music. Finally the procession with Liszt at the head marched to the steamboat, and the vessel glided over the bosom of the Rhine amid the dazzling glare of fireworks and to the music of singing and instruments. All Cologne was assembled to meet them, and Liszt was carried on the shoulders of his frantic admirers to his hotel.
In common with all other great musicians, Liszt has throughout life been a reverential admirer of the genius of Beethoven, an isolated force in music without peer or parallel. In his later years Liszt bitterly reproached himself because, in the vanity and impetuosity of his youth, he had dared to take liberties with the text of the Beethoven sonatas. Many interesting facts in Liszt's life connect themselves, directly or indirectly, with Beethoven. Among these is worthy of mention our artist's part in the Beethoven festival at Bonn in 1845, organized to celebrate the erection of a colossal bronze statue. The enterprise had been languishing for a long time, when Liszt promptly declared he would make up the deficiency single-handed, and this he did with great celerity. In an incredibly short time the money was raised, and the commission put in the hands of the sculptor Hilbnel, of Dresden, one of the foremost artists of Germany.
The programme for the celebration was drawn up by Liszt and Dr. Spohr, who were to be the joint conductors of the festival music. A thousand difficulties intervened to embarrass the organization of the affair, the jealousies of prominent singers, who revolted against the self-effacement they would needs undergo, a certain truly German parsimony in raising the money for the expenses, and the envious littleness of certain great composers and musicians, who feared that Liszt would reap too much glory from the prominence of the part he had taken in the affair, But Liszt's energy had surmounted all these obstacles, when finally, only a month before the festival, which was to take place in August, it was discovered that there was no suitable Pesthalle in Bonn. The committee said, "What if the affair should not pay expenses? would they not be personally saddled with the debt?" Liszt promptly answered that, if the proceeds were not sufficient, he himself would pay the cost of the building. The architect of the Cologne Cathedral was placed at the head of the work, a waste plot of ground selected, the trees grubbed up, timber fished up from one of the great Rhine rafts, and the Festhalle rose with the swiftness of Aladdin's palace. The erection of the statue of Beethoven at his birthplace, and the musical celebration thereof in August, 1845, one of the most interesting events of its kind that ever occurred, must be, for the most part, attributed to the energy and munificence of Franz Liszt. Great personages were present from all parts of Europe, among them King William of Prussia and Queen Victoria of England. Henry Chorley, who has given a pretty full description of the festival, says that Liszt's performance of Beethoven's concerto in E flat was the crowning glory of the festival, in spite of the richness and beauty of the rest of the programme. "I must lastly commemorate, as the most magnificent piece of piano-forte playing I ever heard, Dr. Liszt's delivery of the concerto in E flat.... Whereas its deliverer restrained himself within all the limits that the most sober classicist could have prescribed, he still rose to a loftiness, in part ascribable to the enthusiasm of time and place, in part referable to a nature chivalresque, proud, and poetic in no common degree, which I have heard no other instrumentalist attain.... The triumph in the mind of the executant sustained the triumph in the idea of the compositions without strain, without spasm, but with a breadth and depth and height such as made the genius of the executant approach the genius of the inventor.... There are players, there are poets; and as a poet Liszt was possibly never so sublimely or genuinely inspired as in that performance, which remains a bright and precious thing in the midst of all the curiously parti-colored recollections of the Beethoven festival at Bonn."
In 1846, among Liszt's other musical experiences, he played in concerts with Berlioz throughout Austria and Southern Germany. The impetuous Osechs and Magyars showed their hot Tartar blood in the passion of enthusiasm they displayed. Berlioz relates that, at his first concert at Pesth, he performed his celebrated version of the "Rakoczy March," and there was such a furious explosion of excitement that it wellnigh put an end to the concert. At the end of the performance Berlioz was wiping the perspiration from his face in the little room off the stage, when the door burst open, and a shabbily dressed man, his face glowing with a strange fire, rushed in, throwing himself at Berlioz's feet, his eyes brimming with tears. He kissed the composer over and over again, and sobbed out brokenly: "Ah, sir! Me Hungarian... poor devil... not speak French... un, poco l'taliano.... Pardon... my ecstasy... Ah! understand your cannon... Yes! yes! the great battle... Germans, dogs!" Then, striking great blows with his fists on his chest, "In my heart I carry you... A Frenchman, revolutionist... know how to write music for revolutions." At a supper given after the performance, Berlioz tells us Liszt made an inimitable speech, and got so gloriously be-champagned that it was with great difficulty that he could be restrained from pistolling a Bohemian nobleman, at two o'clock in the morning, who insisted that he could carry off more bottles under his belt than Liszt. But the latter played at a concert next day at noon "assuredly as he had never played before," says Berlioz.
Before passing from that period of Liszt's career which was distinctly that of the virtuoso, it is proper to refer to the unique character of the enthusiasm which everywhere followed his track like the turmoil of a stormy sea. Europe had been familiar with other great players, many of them consummate artists, like Hummel, Henri Herz, Czerny, Kalkbrenner, Field, Moscheles, and Thalberg, the most brilliant name of them all. But the feeling which these performers aroused was pale and passionless in comparison with that evoked by Franz Liszt. This was not merely the outcome of Liszt as a player and musician, but of Liszt as a man. The man always impressed people as immeasurably bigger than what he did, great as that was. His nature had a lavishness that knew no bounds. He lived for every distinguished man and beautiful woman, and with every joyous thing. He had wit and sympathy to spare for gentle and simple, and his kindliness was lavished with royal profusion on the scum as well as the salt of the earth. This atmosphere of personal grandeur radiated from him, and invested his doings, musical and otherwise, with something peculiarly fine and fascinating. And then as a player Liszt rose above his mates as something of a different genius, a different race, a different world, to every one else who has ever handled a piano. He is not to be considered among the great composers, also pianists, who have merely treated their instrument as an interpreting medium, but as a poet, who executively employed the piano as his means of utterance and material for creation. In mere mechanical skill, after every one else has ended, Liszt had still something to add, carrying every man's discovery further. If he was surpassed by Thalberg in richness of sound, he surpassed Thalberg by a variety of tone of which the redoubtable Viennese player had no dream. He had his delicate, light, freakish moods in which he might stand for another Chopin in qualities of fancy, sentiment, and faery brilliancy. In sweep of hand and rapidity of finger, in fire and fineness of execution, in that interweaving of exquisite momentary fancies where the work admits, in a memory so vast as to seem almost superhuman; in that lightning quickness of view, enabling him to penetrate instantaneously the meaning of a new composition, and to light it up properly with its own inner spirit (some touch of his own brilliancy added); briefly, in a mastery, complete, spontaneous, enjoying and giving enjoyment, over every style and school of music, all those who have heard Liszt assert that he is unapproached among players and the traditions of players.
In a letter from Berlioz to Liszt, the writer gives us a vivid idea of the great virtuoso's playing and its effects. Berlioz is complaining of the difficulties which hamper the giving of orchestral concerts. After rehearsing his mishaps, he says: "After all, of what use is such information to you? You can say with confidence, changing the mot of Louis XIV, 'L'orchestre, c'est moi; le chour, c'est moi; le chef c'est encore moi.' My piano-forte sings, dreams, explodes, resounds; it defies the flight of the most skillful forms; it has, like the orchestra, its brazen harmonies; like it, and without the least preparation, it can give to the evening breeze its cloud of fairy chords and vague melodies. I need neither theatre, nor box scene, nor much staging. I have not to tire myself out at long rehearsals. I want neither a hundred, fifty, nor twenty players. I do not even need any music. A grand hall, a grand pianoforte, and I am master of a grand audience. I show myself and am applauded; my memory awakens, dazzling fantasies grow beneath my fingers. Enthusiastic acclamations answer them. I sing Schubert's "Ave Maria," or Beethoven's "Adelaida" on the piano, and all hearts tend toward me, all breasts hold their breath.... Then come luminous bombs, the banquet of this grand firework, and the cries of the public, and the flowers and the crowns that rain around the priest of harmony, shuddering on his tripod; and the young beauties, who, all in tears, in their divine confusion kiss the hem of his cloak; and the sincere homage drawn from serious minds and the feverish applause torn from many; the lofty brows that bow down, and the narrow hearts, marveling to find themselves expanding '.... It is a dream, one of those golden dreams one has when one is called Liszt or Paganini."
That such a man as this, brilliant in wit, extravagant in habit and opinion, courted for his personal fascination by every one greatest in rank and choicest in intellect from his prodigious youth to his ripe manhood, should suddenly cease from display at the moment when his popularity was at its highest, when no rival was in being, is a remarkable trait in Dr. Franz Liszt's remarkable life. But this he did in 1849, by settling in Weimar as conductor of the court theatre, his age then being thirty-eight years.
Liszt closed his career as a virtuoso, and accepted a permanent engagement at Weimar, with the distinct purpose of becoming identified with the new school of music which was beginning to express itself so remarkably through Richard Wagner. His new position enabled him to bring works before the world which would otherwise have had but little chance of seeing the light of day, and he rapidly produced at brief intervals eleven works, either for the first time, or else revived from what had seemed a dead failure. Among these works were "Lohengrin," "Rienzi," and "Tannhauser" by Wagner, "Benvenuto Cellini" by Berlioz, and Schumann's "Genoveva," and music to Byron's "Manfred." Liszt's new departure and the extraordinary band of artists he drew around him attracted the attention of the world of music, and Weimar became a great musical center, even as in the days of Goethe it had been a visiting shrine for the literary pilgrims of Europe. Thus a nucleus of bold and enthusiastic musicians was formed whose mission it was to preach the gospel of the new musical faith.
Richard Wagner says that, after the revolution of 1849, when he was compelled to fly for his life, he was thoroughly disheartened as an artist, and that all thought of musical creativeness was dead within him. From this stagnation he was rescued by a friend, and that friend was Franz Liszt. Let us tell the story in Wagner's own words:
"I met Liszt for the first time during my earliest stay in Paris, at a period when I had renounced the hope, nay, even a 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 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 this behavior, 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 on him as strange and adverse to my nature. My repeated expression of this feeling was afterward told to him, just at the time when my "Rienzi" at Dresden was attracting 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 think of the repeated and eager attempts he made to change my opinion of him, even before he knew any of my works. He acted not from any artistic sympathy, but led by the purely human wish of discontinuing a casual disharmony between himself and another being; perhaps he also felt an infinitely tender misgiving of having really hurt me unconsciously. He who knows the selfishness and terrible insensibility of our social life, and especially of the relations of modern artists to each other, can not be struck with wonder, nay, delight, with the treatment I received from this remarkable man.... At Weimar I saw him for the last time, when I was resting for a few days in Thuringia, uncertain whether the threatening persecution would compel me to continue my flight from Germany. The very day when my personal danger became a certainty, I saw Liszt conducting a rehearsal of my 'Tannhouser,' and was astonished at recognizing my second self in his achievement. What I had felt in inventing this music, he felt in performing it; what I had wanted to express in writing it down, he expressed in making it sound. Strange to say, through the love of this rarest friend, I gained, at the very moment of becoming homeless, a real home for my art which I had hitherto longed for and sought for in the wrong place.... At the end of my last stay in Paris, when, ill, miserable, and despairing, I sat brooding over my fate, my eye fell on the score of my 'Lohengrin,' which I had totally forgotten. Suddenly I felt something like compassion that this music should never sound from off the death-pale paper. Two words I wrote to Liszt; the answer was that preparation was being made for the performance on the grandest scale which the limited means of Weimar permitted. Everything that man or circumstances could do was done to make the work understood.... Errors and misconceptions impeded the desired success. What was to be done to supply what was wanted, so as to further the true understanding on all sides and, with it, the ultimate success of the work? Liszt saw it at once, and did it. He gave to the public his own impression of the work in a manner the convincing eloquence and overpowering efficacy of which remain unequaled. Success was his reward, and with this success he now approaches me, saying, 'Behold, we have come so far! Now create us a new work, that we may go still farther.'"
Liszt remained at Weimar for ten years, when he resigned his place on account of certain narrow jealousies and opposition offered to his plans. Since 1859 he has lived at Weimar, Pesth, and Rome, always the center of a circle of pupils and admirers, and, though no longer occupying an active place in the world, full of unselfish devotion to the true interests of music and musicians. In 1868 he took minor orders in the Roman priesthood. Since his early youth Liszt had been the subject of strong paroxysms of religious feeling, which more than once had nearly carried him into monastic life, and thus his brilliant career would have been lost to the world and to art. After he had gained every reward that can be lavished on genius, and tasted to the very dregs the wine of human happiness, so far as that can come of a splendid prosperity and the adoration of the musical world for nearly half a century, a sudden revulsion seems to have recalled again to the surface that profound religious passion which the glory and pleasure of his busy life had never entirely suppressed. It was by no means astonishing to those who knew Liszt's life best that he should have taken holy orders.
Abbe Liszt lives a portion of each year with the Prince-Cardinal Hohenlohe, in the well-known Villa d'Este, near Rome, a chateau with whose history much romance is interwoven. He is said to be very zealous in his religious devotions, and to spend much time in reading and composing. He rarely touches the piano, unless inspired by the presence of visitors whom he thoroughly likes, and even in such cases less for his own pleasure than for the gratification of his friends. Even his intimate friends would hardly venture to ask Liszt to play. His summer months are divided between Pesth and Weimar, where his advent always makes a glad commotion among the artistic circles of these respective cities. Of the various pupils who have been formed by Liszt, Hans von Bulow, who married his daughter Cosima, is the most distinguished, and shares with Rubenstein the honor of being the first of European pianists, now that Liszt has for so long a time withdrawn himself from the field of competition.
Liszt has been a very industrious and prolific writer, his works numbering thirty-one compositions for the orchestra; seven for the piano-forte and orchestra; two for piano and violin; nine for the organ; thirteen masses, psalms, and other sacred music; two oratorios; fifteen cantatas and chorals; sixty-three songs; and one hundred and seventy-nine works for the piano-forte proper. The bulk of these compositions, the most important of them at least, were produced in the first forty years of his life, and testify to enormous energy and capacity for work, as they came into being during his active period as a virtuoso. In addition to his musical works, Liszt has shown distinguished talent in letters, and his articles and pamphlets, notably the monographs on Robert Franz, Chopin, and the Music of the Gypsies, indicate that, had he not chosen to devote himself to music, he might have made himself an enviable name in literature.
Perhaps no better characterization of Liszt could be made than to call him the musical Victor Hugo of his age. In both these great men we find the same restless and burning imagination, a quickness of sensibility easily aroused to vehemence, a continual reaching forward toward the new and untried and impatience of the old, the same great versatility, the same unequaled command of all the resources of their respective crafts, and, until within the last twenty years, the same ceaseless fecundity. Of Liszt as a player it is not necessary to speak further. Suffice it that he is acknowledged to have been, while pursuing the path of the virtuoso, not only great, but the greatest in the records of art, with the possible exception of Paganini. To the possession of a technique which united all the best qualities of other players, carrying each a step further, he added a powerful and passionate imagination which illuminated the work before him. Wagner wrote of him: "He who has had frequent opportunities, particularly in a friendly circle, of hearing Liszt play, for instance, Beethoven, must have understood that this was not mere reproduction, but production. The actual point of division between these two things is not so easily determined as most people believe, but so much I have ascertained without a doubt, that, in order to reproduce Beethoven, one must produce with him." It was this quality which made Liszt such a vital interpreter of other composers, as well as such a brilliant performer of his own works. As a composer for the piano Franz Liszt has been accused of sacrificing substantial charm of motive for the creation of the most gigantic technical difficulties, designed for the display of his own skill. This charge is best answered by a study of his transcriptions of songs and symphonies, which, difficult in an extreme degree, are yet rich in no less excess with musical thought and fullness of musical color. He transcribed the "Etudes" of Pa-ganini, it is true, as a sort of "tour deforce", and no one has dared to attempt them in the concert room but himself; but for the most part Liszt's piano-forte writings are full of substance in their being as well as splendid elaboration in their form. This holds good no less of the purely original compositions, like the concertos and "Rhapsodies Hongroises," than of the transcriptions and paraphrases of the Lied, the opera, and symphony.
As a composer for the orchestra Liszt has spent the ripest period of his life, and attained a deservedly high rank. His symphonies belong to what has been called, for want of a better name, "programme music," or music which needs the key of the story or legend to explain and justify the composition. This classification may yet be very misleading. Liszt does not, like Berlioz, refer every feature of the music to a distinct event, emotion, or dramatic situation, but concerns himself chiefly with the pictorial and symbolic bearings of his subject. For example, the "Mazeppa" symphony, based on Victor Hugo's poem, gets its significance, not in view of its description of Mazeppa's peril and rescue, but because this famous ride becomes the symbol of man: "Lie vivant sur la croupe fatale, Genie, ardent Coursier." The spiritual life of this thought burns with subtile suggestions throughout the whole symphony.
Liszt has not been merely a devoted adherent of the "Music of the Future" as expressed in operatic form, but he has embodied his belief in the close alliance of poetry and music in his symphonies and transcriptions of songs. Anything more pictorial, vivid, descriptive, and passionate can not easily be fancied. It is proper also to say in passing that the composer shows a command over the resources of the orchestra similar to his mastery of the piano, though at times a tendency to violent and strident effects offends the ear. Franz Liszt, take him for all in all, must be regarded as one of the most remarkable men of the last half century, a personality so stalwart, picturesque, and massive as to be not only a landmark in music, but an imposing figure to those not specially characterized by their musical sympathies. His influence on his art has been deep and widespread; his connection with some of the most important movements of the last two generations well marked; and his individuality a fact of commanding force in the art circles of nearly every country of Europe, where art bears any vital connection with social and public life.