In Weimar With Liszt: From a Young Lady's Letters Home
WEIMAR, May 1, 1873.
LAST night I arrived in Weimar, and this evening I have been to the theatre, which is very cheap here, and the first person I saw, sitting in a box opposite, was Liszt, from whom, as you know, I am bent on getting lessons, though it will be a difficult thing I fear, as I am told that Weimar is overcrowded with people who are on the same errand. I recognized Liszt from his portrait, and it entertained and interested me very much to observe him. He was making himself agreeable to three ladies, one of whom was very pretty. He sat with his back to the stage, not paying the least attention, apparently, to the play, for he kept talking all the while himself, and yet no point of it escaped him, as I could tell by his expression and gestures. He is the most interesting and striking looking man imaginable. Tall and slight, with deep-set eyes, shaggy eyebrows, and long iron-gray hair, which he wears parted in the middle. His month turns up at the corners, which gives him a most crafty and Mephistophelean expression when he smiles, and his whole appearance and manner have a sort of Jesuitical elegance and ease. His hands are very narrow, with long and slender fingers that look as if they had twice as many joints as other people’s. They are so flexible and supple that it makes you nervous to look at them. Anything like the polish of his manner I never saw. When he got up to leave the box, for instance, after his adieux to the ladies, he laid his hand on his heart and made his final bow, — not with affectation, or as in mere gallantry, but with a quiet courtliness which made you feel that no other way of bowing to a lady was right or proper. It was most characteristic. But the most extraordinary thing about Liszt is his .wonderful variety of expression and play of feature. One moment his face will look dreamy, shadowy, tragic. The next he will be insinuating, amiable, ironical, sardonic ; but always the same captivating grace of manner. He is a perfect study. I cannot imagine how he must look when he is playing. He is all spirit, but half the time, at least, a mocking spirit, I should say. I have heard the most remarkable stories about him already. When he walks out in Weimar he bows to everybody just like a king! The Grand Duke has presented him with a house beautifully situated on the park, and here he lives elegantly, free of expense, whenever he chooses to come to it.
WEIMAR, May 7, 1873.
There is n’t a piano to he had in Weimar for love or money, as there is no manufactory, and the few there were to be disposed of were snatched up before I got here. So I have lost an entire week in hunting one up, and was obliged to go first to Erfurt and finally to Leipsic, before I could find one — and even that was sent over as a favor, after much coaxing and persuasion. I felt so happy when I fairly saw it in my room! As if I had taken a city! However, I met Liszt two evenings ago at a little tea-party given by a friend and protégée of his to as many of his scholars as have arrived, I being asked with the rest. Liszt promised to come late. We only numbered seven. There were three young men and four young ladies, of whom three, including myself, were Americans. Five of the number had studied with Liszt before, and the young men are artists already before the public. To fill up the time till Liszt came, our hostess made us all play, one after the other, beginning with the latest arrival. . . . After we had each “ exhibited,” little tables were brought in and supper served. We were in the midst of it, and having a merry time, when the door suddenly opened and Liszt appeared. We all rose to our feet and he shook hands with everybody without waiting to be introduced. Liszt looks as if he had been through everything, and has a face seamed with experience. He is tall and very narrow, and wears a long abbés coat reaching nearly down to his feet. He made me think of an old-time magician more than anything, and I felt that with a touch of his wand he could transform us all. After he had finished his greetings, he passed into the next room and sat down. The young men gathered round him and offered him a cigar, which he accepted and began to smoke. We others continued our nonsense where we were, and I suppose Liszt overheard some of our brilliant conversation, for he asked who we were, I think, and presently the lady of the house came out after Miss W. and me, the two American strangers, to take us in and present us to him. After the preliminary greetings we had some little talk. He asked me if I had been to Sophie Meuter’s concert in Berlin the other day. I said yes. He remarked that Miss Meuter was a great favorite of his, and that the lady from whom I had brought a letter to him had done a good deal for her. I asked him if Sophie Meuter was a pupil of his. He said no, he could not take the credit of her artistic success to himself. I heard afterward that he really had done ever so much for her, but he won’t have it said that he teaches! After he had finished his cigar, Liszt got up and said, “ America is now to have the floor,” and requested Miss W. to play for him. This was a dreadful ordeal for us new arrivals, for we had not expected to be called upon. Miss W. had been up since five o’clock in the morning, and had traveled all day; and I had been without a piano for nearly a week. However, there was no getting off. A request from Liszt is a command, so we had to do as best we might. He is just like a monarch, and no one dares speak to him until he addresses one first, which I think no fun. He did not play to us at all except when some one asked him if he had heard R. play that afternoon. R. is a young organist from Leipsic, who telegraphed to Liszt to ask him if he might come over and play to him on the organ. Liszt, with his usual amiability, answered that he might. “ Oh,” said Liszt, with an indescribably comic look, “ he improvised for me for a whole halfhour in this style,” — and then he got up and went to the piano, and without sitting down he played some ridiculous chords in the middle of the key-board, and then little trills and turns way up in the treble, which made us all burst out laughing. Shortly after I had played I took my leave. Liszt had gone into the other room to smoke, and I didn’t care to follow him, as I saw that he was tired and had no intention of playing to us. Our hostess told Miss W. and me to “ slip out so that he would not perceive it.” The next day be sent for me to come to him. So I trust that means that I have passed the Rubicon and that the magician intends to admit me into the " charmed circle” of young artists who cluster about him, but whom he does not “ teach ” —oh no !
WEIMAR, May 21, 1873.
Liszt is so besieged by people, and so tormented with applications, that I fear I should only have been sent away if I had come without Frau von S.’s letter of introduction, for he admires her extremely, and I judge that she has much influence with him. He says people " fly in his face by dozens,” and seem to think he is “only there to give lessons.” He gives no paid lessons whatever, as he is much too grand for that, but if one has talent enough, and pleases him, he lets one come to him and play to him. I go to him every other day, but I don’t play more than twice a week, as I cannot prepare so much, but I listen to the others. Up to this point there have been only four in the class beside myself, and I am the only new one. From four to six P. M. is the time when he receives his scholars. The first time I went I did not play to him, but listened to the rest Urspruch and Leitert, the two young men whom I met the other night, have studied with Liszt a long time, and both play superbly. Fräulein Schultz and Miss Gaul (of Baltimore) are also most gifted creatures. As I entered Liszt’s salon, Urspruch was performing Schumann’s Symphonie Etuden — an immense composition, and one that it took at least half an hour to get through. He played so splendidly that my heart sank down into the very depths. I thought I should never get on there. Liszt came forward and greeted me in a very friendly manner as I entered. He was in very good humor that day, and made some little witticisms. Urspruch asked him what title he should give to a piece he was composing. “ Per astra ad astra,” said Liszt. This was such a good hit, that I began to laugh, and he seemed to enjoy my appreciation of his little sarcasm. That was the beginning of our friendship. I did not play that time, as my piano had only just come, and I was not prepared to do so, but I went home and practiced tremendously for several days on Chopin’s B minor Sonata. It is a great piece, and one of his last works. When I thought I could play it, I went to Liszt, though with a trembling heart. I cannot tell you what it has cost me every time I have ascended his stairs. I can scarcely summon up courage to go there, and generally stand on the steps awhile before I can make up my mind to open the door and go in!
This day it was particularly trying, as it was really my first serious performance before him, and he speaks so very indistinctly that I feared I should n’t understand his corrections, and that he would get out of patience with me, for he cannot hear to explain. I think he hates the trouble of speaking German, for he mutters his words and does not half finish his sentences. Yesterday when I was there he spoke to me in French all the time (though I do not speak it), and to the others in German, — one of his funny whims, I suppose.
Well, on this day the artists Leitert and Urspruch, and the young composer Metzdorf, who is always hanging about Liszt, were in the room when I came. They had probably been playing. At first Liszt took no notice of me beyond a greeting, till Metzdorf said to him, " Herr Doctor, Miss F. has brought a sonata.” “ Ah well, let us hear it,” said Liszt. Just then he left the room for a minute, and I told the three gentlemen that they ought to go away and let me play to Liszt alone, for I felt nervous about playing before them. They all laughed at me and said they would not budge an inch. When Liszt came back they said to him, " Only think, Herr Doctor, Miss F. proposes to send us all home.” I said I could not play before such great artists. “ Oh, that is healthy for you,” said Liszt with a smile, and added, “ you have a very choice audience, now.” I don't know whether he appreciated how nervous I was, but instead of walking up and down the room as he often does, he sat down by me like any other teacher, and heard me play the first movement. It was frightfully hard, but I had studied it so much that I managed to get through with it pretty successfully. Nothing could exceed Liszt’s amiability, or the trouble he gave himself, and instead of frightening me, he inspired me. Never was there such a delightful teacher! and he is the first sympathetic one I’ve had. You feel so free with him, and he develops the very spirit of music in you. He does n’t keep nagging at you all the time, but he leaves you your own conception. Now and then he will make a criticism, or play a passage, and with a few words give you enough to think of all the rest of your life. There is a delicate point to everything he says, as subtle as he is himself. He does n’t tell you anything about the technique. That you must work out for yourself. Luckily for me, Kullak was such a tremendous Techniker that I know how to study. When I had finished the first movement of the sonata, Liszt said ” Bravo!” Taking my seat, he made some little criticisms, and then told me to go on and play the rest of it.
Now I only half knew the other movements, for the first one was so extremely difficult that it cost me all the labor I could give to prepare that. But playing to Liszt reminds me of trying to feed the elephant in the Zoological Garden with lumps of sugar. He gulps down whole movements as if they were nothing. One of my fingers fortunately began to bleed, for I had practiced the skin off, and that gave me a good excuse for stopping. Whether he was pleased at this proof of industry, I know not; but after looking at my finger and saying, “ Oh! ” very compassionately, he sat down and played the whole three last movements himself. That was a great deal, and showed off all his powers. It was the first time I had heard him, and I don’t know which was the most extraordinary,—the Scherzo, with its wonderful lightness and swiftness, the Adagio with its depth and pathos, or the last movement, where the whole key-board seemed to “ donnern und blitzen.”1 There is such a vividness about everything he plays that it does not seem as if it were mere music you were listening to, but it is as if he had called up a real, living form, and you saw it breathing before your face and eyes. It gives me almost a ghostly feeling to hear him, and it seems as if the air were peopled with spirits. Oh, he is a perfect wizard! It is as interesting to see him as it is to hear him, for his face changes with every modulation of the piece, and he looks exactly as he is playing. He has one element that is most captivating, and that is, a sort of delicate and fitful mirth that keeps peering out at you here and there! It is most peculiar, and when he plays that way, the most bewitching little expression comes over his face. It seems as if a little spirit of joy were playing hide and go seek with you.
WEIMAR, May 29, 1873.
I am having the most heavenly time here in Weimar, studying with Liszt, and sometimes I can scarcely realize that I am at that summit of my ambition,— to be his pupil! It was the Frau von S.’s letter that secured it for me, I am sure. He is so overrun with people, that I think it a wonder he is civil to anybody, but he is the most amiable man I ever knew, though he can be dreadful too, when he chooses, and he understands how to put people outside his door in as short a space of time as it can be done. I go to him three times a week. At home Liszt does n’t wear his long abbé’s coat, but a short one, in which he looks much more artistic. His figure is remarkably slight, but his head is most imposing. It is so delicious in that room of his ! It was all furnished and put in order for him by the Grand Duchess herself. The walls are pale gray, with a gilded border running round the room, or rather, two rooms, which are divided, but not separated, by crimson curtains. The furniture is crimson, and everything is so comfortable, such a contrast to German bareness and stiffness generally. A splendid grand piano stands in one window (he receives a new one every year). The other window is always wide open and looks out on the park. There is a dove-cote just opposite the window, and the doves promenade up and down on the roof of it, and fly about, and sometimes whir down on the sill itself. That pleases Liszt. His writing-table is beautifully fitted up with things that all match. Everything is in bronze, inkstand, paper-weight, match-box, etc., and there is always a lighted candle standing on it by which he and the gentlemen can light their cigars. There is a carpet on the floor, — a rarity in Germany, — and Liszt generally walks about, and smokes, and mutters (he can never be said to talk), and calls upon one or other of us to play. From time to time he will sit down and play himself, where a passage does not suit him, and when he is in good spirits he makes little jests all the time. His playing was a complete revelation to me, and has given me an entirely new insight into music. You cannot conceive, without hearing him, how poetic he is, or the thousand nuances that he can throw into the simplest thing, and he is equally great on all sides. From the zephyr to the tempest, the whole scale is equally at his command. I’ve begun to study now in an entirely new way, and I feel that every time I go to him it is worth a thousand dollars to me.
But Liszt is not at all like a master, and cannot be treated like one. He is a monarch, and when he extends his royal sceptre you can sit down and play to him. You never can ask him to play anything for you, no matter how much you ’re dying to hear it. If he is in the mood he will play; if not, you must content yourself with a few remarks. You cannot even offer to play yourself. You lay your notes on the table, so he can see that you want to play, and sit down. He takes a turn up and down the room, looks at the music, and if the piece interests him, he will call upon you. We bring the same piece to him but once, and but once play it through.
Yesterday I had prepared for him his Au Bord d'une Source. I was nervous and played badly. He was not to be put out, however, but acted as if he thought I had played charmingly, and then he sat down and played the whole piece himself, oh, so exquisitely! It made me feel like a wood-chopper. The notes just seemed to ripple off his fingers’ ends with scarce any perceptible motion. As he neared the close I remarked that that funny little expression came over his face which he always has when he means to surprise you, and he suddenly took an unexpected chord, and extemporized a poetical little end, quite different from the written one. — Do you wonder that people go distracted over him?
WEIMAR,June 6, 1873.
When I first came there were only five of us who studied with Liszt, but lately a good many others have been there. Day before yesterday there came a young lady who was a pupil of Henselt in St. Petersburg. She is immensely talented, only seventeen years old, and her name is Laura Kahrer. It is a very rare thing to see a pupil of Henselt; for it is very difficult to get lessons from him. He stands next to Liszt. This Laura Kahrer plays everything that ever was heard of, and she played a fugue of her own composition the other day that was really vigorous and good. I was quite astonished to hear how she had worked it up. She has made a grand concert tour in Russia. I never saw such a hand as she had. She could bend it backwards till it looked like the palm of her hand turned inside out. She was an interesting little creature, with dark eyes and hair, and one could see by her Turkish necklace and various other bangles, that she had been making money. She played with the greatest aplomb, though her touch had a certain roughness about it to my ear. She did not carry me away, but I have not heard many pieces from her. However, all playing sounds barren by the side of Liszt, for his is the living, breathing impersonation of poetry, passion, grace, wit, coquetry, daring, tenderness, and every other fascinating attribute that you can think of ! I’m ready to hang myself half the time when I’ve been to him. Oh, he is the most phenomenal being in every respect ! All that you 've ever heard of him would never give you an idea of him. In short, he represents the whole scale of human emotion. He is a many-sided prism, and reflects back the light in all colors, no matter how you look at him. His pupils adore him, as in fact everybody else does, but it is impossible to do otherwise with a person whose genius flashes out of him all the time so, and whose character is so winning.
One day this week, when we were with Liszt, he was in such high spirits that it was as if he had suddenly become twenty years younger. A student from the Stuttgard conservatory played Liszt’s Concerto. His name is V., and he is dreadfully nervous. Liszt kept up a little running fire of satire all the time he was playing, but in a good-natured way. I should n’t have minded it if it had been I. In fact, I think it would have inspired me; but poor V. hardly knew whether he was on his head or his feet. It was too funny. Everything that Liszt says is so striking. For instance, in one place where V. was playing the melody rather feebly, Liszt suddenly took his seat at the piano and said, “ When I play, I always play for the people in the gallery [by the gallery he meant the cock-loft, where the rabble always sit, and where the places cost next to nothing], so that those persons who pay only five groschens for their seat also hear something.” Then he began, and I wish you could have heard him! The sound did n’t seem to be very loud, but it was penetrating and far-reaching. When he had finished, he raised one hand in the air, and you seemed to see all the people in the gallery drinking in the sound. I never shall play a melody now without thinking of the people in the gallery and instinetively articulating it. That is the way Liszt teaches you. He presents an idea to you, and it takes fast hold of your mind and sticks there. Music is such a real, visible thing to him, that he always has a symbol, instantly, in the material world to express his idea. One day, when I was playing, I made too much movement with my hand in a rotatory sort of a passage where it was difficult to avoid it. ‘‘Keep your hand still, Fräulein,” said Liszt; “don’t male omelette.” I could n’t help laughing, it hit me on the head so nicely. He is far too sparing of his playing, unfortunately, and, like Tausig, only sits down and plays a few bars at a time, generally. It is dreadful when he stops, just as yon are at the height of your enjoyment, but he is so thoroughly blasé, that he does n’t care to show off, and does n’t like to have any one pay him a compliment. Even at the court it annoyed him so that the Grand Duchess told people to take no notice when he rose from the piano. On the same day that, Liszt was in such high good-humor, a strange lady and her husband were there who had made a long journey to see him, in the hope of hearing him play. She waited patiently for a long time through the lesson, and at last Liszt took compassion on her, and sat down with the remark that “ the young ladies played a great deal better than he did, but he would try his best to imitate them,” and then played something of his own so wonderfully, that when he had finished we all stood there like posts, feeling that there was nothing to be said. But he, as if he feared we might burst out into eulogy, got up instantly and went over to a friend of his who was standing there, and who lives on an estate near Weimar, and said, in the most commonplace tone imaginable, “ By the way, how about those eggs? Are you going to send me some? ” It seems to be not only a profound bore to him, but really a sort of sensitiveness on his part. How he can bear to hear us play, I cannot, imagine. It must grate on his ear terribly, I think, because everything must sound expressionless to him in comparison with his own marvelous conception. I assure you, no matter how beautifully we play any piece, the minute Liszt plays it, you would scarcely recognize it! His touch and his peculiar use of the pedal are two secrets of his playing, and then he seems to dive down into the most hidden thoughts of the composer, and fetch them up to the surface, so that they gleam out at you one by one, like stars! The more I see and hear Liszt, the more I am lost in amazement! I can neither eat nor sleep on those days that I go to him. All my musical studies till now have been a mere going to school, a preparation for him. I often think of what Tausig said once: “ Oh, compared with Liszt, we other artists are all blockheads.” I did not believe it at the time, but I’ve seen the truth of it, and in studying Liszt’s playing, I can see where Tausig got many of his own wonderful peculiarities. I think he was the most like Liszt of all the army that have had the privilege of his instruction. I began this letter on Sunday, and it is now Tuesday. Yesterday I went to Liszt, and found that Büllow had just arrived. None of the other scholars had come, for a wonder, and I was just going away, when Liszt came out, asked me to come in a moment, and introduced me to Büllow. There I was, all alone with these two great artists in Liszt’s salon. Wasn’t that a situation? I only stayed a few minutes, of course, though I should have liked to spend hours, but our Conversation was in the highest degree amusing while I was there. Bülow had just returned from his grand concert tour, and had been in London for the first time. In a few months he had given one hundred and twenty concerts! He is a fascinating creature too, like all these master artists, but entirely different from Liszt, being small, quick, and airy in his movements, and having one of the boldest and proudest foreheads I ever saw. He looks like strength of will personified! Liszt gazed at " his Hans,” as he calls him, with the fondest pride, and seemed perfectly happy over his arrival. It was like his beautiful courtesy to call me in and introduce me to Bülow, instead of letting me go away, He thought I had come to play to him, and was unwilling to have me take that trouble for nothing, though he must have wished me in Jericho. You would think I paid him a hundred dollars a lesson, instead of his condescending to sacrifice his valuable time to me for nothing.
WEIMAR, June 19, 1873.
I think I am improving so much with Liszt ! I can at last say that my ideal in something has been realized. He goes far beyond all that I expected. Anything so perfectly beautiful as he looks when he sits at the piano I never saw, and yet he is almost an old man now.2 I enjoy him as I would an exquisite work of art. His personal magnetism is immense, and I can scarcely bear it when he plays. He can make me cry all he chooses, and that is saying a good deal, because I've heard so much music, and never have been affected by it. Even Joachim, whom I think divine, never moved me. When Liszt plays anything pathetic, it sounds as if he had been through everything, and opens all one’s wounds afresh. All that one has ever suffered comes before one again. Who was it that I heard say once, that years ago he saw Clara Schumann sitting in tears near the platform, during one of Liszt’s performances? Liszt, knows well the influence he has on people, for he always fixes his eye on some one of us when he plays, and I believe he tries to wring our hearts. When he plays a passage, and goes pearling down the key-board, he looks over at one or other of us and smiles, to see whether we are appreciating it. He does such bewitching little things ! The other day, for instance, Fräulein Gaul was playing something to him, and in it were two runs and after each run two staccato chords. She did them most beautifully, and struck the chords immediately after. “No, no,” said Liszt, “ after you make a run you must wait a minute before you strike the chords, as if in admiration of your own performance. You must pause, as if to say, ‘ How nicely I did that.’ ” Then he sat down and made a run himself, waited a second, and then struck the two chords in the treble, and as he did so he said “ Bra-vo,” and then-he played again, struck the other chords, and said again “ Bra-vo,” and positively it was as if the piano had softly applauded ! That is the way he plays everything. It seems as if the piano were speaking with a human tongue. Our class has swelled to about a dozen persons now, and a good many others come and play to him once or twice and then go. As I wrote to L. the other day, that, dear little scholar of Henselt, Fräulein kahrer, was one, but she only stayed three days. She was a most interesting little creature, and told some funny stories about Henselt, who she says has a most violent temper, and is very severe. She said that one day he was giving a lesson to the Princess Katherina, and he was so enraged over her playing that he snatched away the music, and dashed it to the ground. The princess, however, did not lose her equanimity, but folded her arms and said, “ Who shall pick it up ? ” And he had to bend and restore it to its place. I ’ve never seen Liszt look angry but once, but then he was terrific. Just like a lion ! It was one day when a student from the Stuttgart conservatory attempted to play the Sonata Appassionata, He had a good deal of technique, and a moderately good conception of it, but still he was totally inadequate to the piece, and indeed only a mighty artist like Tausig or Bülow ought to attempt to play it. It was a hot afternoon, and the clouds had been gathering for a storm. Just as the Stuttgarter played the opening notes of the sonata, the tree-tops suddenly waved wildly, and a low growl of thunder was heard muttering in the distance. “Ah,” said Liszt, who was standing at the window, with his delicate quickness of perception, “ a fitting accompaniment.” (You know Beethoven wrote the Appassionata one night when he had been caught in a thunder-storm.) If Liszt had only played it to us himself, the whole thing would have been like a poem. But he walked up and down the room and forced himself to listen, though he could scarcely bear it, I could see. A few times he pushed the student aside, and played a few bars himself, and we saw the passion leap right up into his face like a glare of sheet-lightning. Anything so magnificent as it was, the little that he did play, and the startling individuality of his conception, I never heard or imagined. I felt as if I did not know whether I were “in the body or out of the body.” The Stuttgarter made some such glaring mistakes, not in the notes, but in rhythm, etc., that at last Liszt burst out with, “You come from Stuttgart, and play like that !” and then he went on in a tirade against conservatories and teachers in general. He was just like a thunder-storm himself. He frowned, and bent his head, and his long hair fell over his face, and the poor Stuttgarter sat there like a beaten hound. Oh, it was awful. If it had been I, I think I should have withered entirely away, for Liszt is always so amiable that the contrast was all the stronger. He hasn’t the nervous irritability common to artists, but on the contrary his disposition is the most exquisite and tranquil in the world. We have been there incessantly, and I ’ve never seen him ruffled except two or three times, and then he was tired and not himself, and it was a most transient thing.
WEIMAR, July 15, 1873.
Liszt is such an immense, inspiring force, that one strides forward with him at double rate, though with double expenditure, too !
To-day I 'm more dead than alive, as we had a lesson from Liszt yesterday that lasted four hours. There were twenty artists present, all of whom were anxious to play, and as he was in high good-humor he played ever so much himself, in between. It was perfectly magnificent, but exhausting and exciting to the last degree. When I come home from the lessons I fling myself on to the sofa, and feel as if I never wanted to get up again. It is a fearful day’s work every time I go to him. First four hours’ practice in the morning. Then a nervous, anxious feeling that takes away my appetite and prevents me from eating my dinner. And then several hours at Liszt’s, where one succession of concertos, fantasias, and all sorts of tremendous things are played. You never know before whom you must play there, for it is the musical headquarters of the world. Directors of conservatories, composers, artists, aristocrats, all come in, and you have to bear the brunt of it as best you can. The first month I was here it was quite another matter, when there were only five of us, but now the room is crowded every time. There is a young lady from Norway, lately come, who is a most superb pianist. She was a scholar of Kullak’s, too, but it is four years since she left him, and she has been concertizing a good deal. Yesterday she played Schumann’s A minor Concerto magnificently. A new artist, a young Belgian, has also arrived, named Servais. He never learned a note of music until he was nineteen years old, and then all of a sudden he took it up. He improvised and composed continually, and finally came to Liszt about four years ago, to whom, he says, he owes everything. Liszt gave him a great deal of advice and instruction, and Servais has returned to him every summer. This season Servais shut himself up in his room for three weeks, and composed a splendid cantata, called Tasso. It took the first prize at Brussels, four thousand thalers, which he received on condition that he should travel four years and perfect himself in different countries in musical study. But first the cantata is to be produced in Brussels with a grand orchestra of a hundred performers and two hundred singers, under Servais’ personal direction! Is n’t that a jump? Little Katie Gaul, of Baltimore, is another of Liszt’s favorites. She is only sixteen, and plays astonishingly for that age. Liszt always calls her “ America. ” She has caught many of his ways exactly in playing delicate music. Her touch is most exquisite, and in elegant pieces where a great deal of smooth and beautiful execution is required, she is perfect. She is going to study in Stuttgart two or three years more, and return to Liszt every summer. Think of such advantages! — but five years at least, and all the way from that to ten, do the best masters in Germany demand to form an artist of the first rank.
WEIMAR, July 24, 1873.
Liszt is going away to-day. He was to have left several days ago, but the Emperor of Russia (or Austria, I don’t know which) came to visit the Grand Duke, and of course Liszt was obliged to be on hand, and to spend a day with them. He is such a grandee himself, that kings and emperors are quite matters of course to him. Never was a man so courted and spoiled as he. The Grand Duchess herself frequently visits him. But he never allows any one to ask him to play, and even she doesn’t venture it. That is the only point in which one sees Liszt’s sense of his own greatness; otherwise his manner is remarkably unassuming. Liszt will be gone until the middle of August, and I shall be thankful to have a few weeks of repose, and to be able to study more quietly. With him one is at high pressure all the time, and I have gained a good many more ideas from him than I can work up in a hurry. In fact, Liszt has given me an entirely new side of the technique. He is a wonderful composer, by the way, and that is what I was unprepared for in him. His oratorio of Christus was brought out here this summer, and many strangers and celebrities came to hear it, Wagner among others. It was magnificent, and one of the noblest, and decidedly the grandest oratorio that I ever heard. I’ve never had time to write home about it, for I felt that it required a dissertation in itself to do it justice. I wish it could be performed in Boston. It is arranged for piano for four hands, but the arrangement is very expensive. So also is Bülow’s edition of Beethoven’s Sonatas, which, however, every artist must have. Ah, you cannot conceive anything like Liszt’s playing of Beethoven. None like him can span the spaces of Beethoven’s mind, and bring its conceptions into unity before you. But it bores Listz so dreadfully to hear his sonatas, that though I've heard him teach a good many I haven’t had the courage to bring him one. I suppose he is sick of the sound of them.
On Monday I had the most delightful tête-à-tête with him, quite by chance. I had occasion to call upon him for something, and strange to say he was alone, sitting by his table and writing. Generally all sorts of people are up there. He insisted upon my staying a while, and we had the most amusing and entertaining conversation imaginable. It was the first time I ever heard Liszt really talk, for he contents himself mostly with making little jests. He is full of esprit. We were speaking of the faculty for mimicry, and he told me such a funny little anecdote about Chopin, He said that when he and Chopin were youim together, somebody told him that Chopin had a remarkable talent for mimicry, and so he said to Chopin, “ Come round to my rooms this evening, and show off this talent of yours.” So Chopin came. He had purchased a blonde wig ("I was very blonde at that time,” said Liszt), which he put on, and got himself up in one of Liszt’s suits. Presently an acquaintance of Liszt’s came in. Chopin went to meet him instead of Liszt, and took off his voice and manner so perfectly, that the man actually mistook him for Liszt, and made an appointment with him for the next day ; “and there I was in the room,” said Liszt! Wasn’t that remarkable?
The other day we all made an excursion to Jena, which is about three hours’ drive from here. We went in carriages in a long train, and pulled up at a hotel named The Bear. There we took our second breakfast. There was to be a concert at five in a church, where some of Liszt’s music was to be performed. After breakfast we went to the church, where Liszt met us, and the rehearsal took place. After the rehearsal we went to dinner. We had three long tables which Liszt arranged to suit himself, his own place being in the middle. He always manages every little detail with the greatest tact, and is very particular never to let two ladies or two gentlemen sit together, but always alternately a lady and a gentleman. The dinner was a very entertaining one to me, because I could converse with Liszt, and hear all he said, as he was nearly opposite me. After dinner he said, “ Now we 'll go to Paradise.” So we put on our things and proceeded to walk along the river to a place called Paradise, on account of its loveliness. We passed the University, on one corner of which is a tablet with “ W. von Goethe ” written against the wall of the room which Goethe occupied. It seemed strange to me to be passing the room of such a celebrity as Goethe, with another celebrity like Liszt !—This walk along the river was enchanting. The current was very rapid, and the willows were all blowing in the breeze. There is an odd triangular-shaped hill that rises on one side very boldly and abruptly, called the Fox’s Head. The way was under a double row of tall trees, which met at the top and formed a green arch over our heads. It was all breeze and freshness, and the sunlight struck picturesquely aslant the hill-sides. After our walk we went to the concert, which was lovely, and then at seven we were all invited to tea at the house of a friend of Liszt’s. He was a very tall man, and he had a very tall and very hospitable daughter, nearly as big as himself, who received us very cordially. The tea was all laid on tables in the garden, and the sausages (of course) were broiling over a fire made on the ground. We sat down pell-mell, anywhere, and it was all so easy and so gay! In America our short twilight and the mosquitoes do not permit us this delight of supping out of doors, and it is such a pity!
WEIMAR, August 23, 1873.
Liszt has returned from his trip, and this week is the first time that I have been able to play to him without being nervous, and that my fingers have felt warm and natural. It has been a fearful ordeal, truly, to play there, for not only was Liszt himself present, but such a crowd of artists, all ready to pick flaws in your playing, and to say, “ She has n’t got much talent.” I really begin to feel at last as if I had a little, but you have no idea how difficult it is to play anything perfectly! I am so glad that I stayed until Liszt’s return, for now the rush is over, and he has much more time for those of us who are left, and plays a great deal more himself. Yesterday he played us a study of Paganini’s, arranged by himself, and also his Campanella. I longed for—, for she is so fond of the Campanella. Liszt gave it with a velvety softness, clearness, brilliancy, and pearliness of touch, that was inimitable. And oh, his grace! Nobody can compare with him! Everybody else sounds heavy beside him. However, I have felt some comfort in knowing that it is not Liszt’s genius alone that makes him such a player. He has gone through such technical studies as no one else has except Tausig, perhaps. He plays everything under the sun in the way of Etuden. Has played them, I mean. On Tuesday I got him to talking about the composers who were the fashion when he was a young fellow, in Paris, — Kalkbrenner, Herz, etc., — and I asked him if he could not play us something by Kalkbrenner. “Oh yes, I must have a few things of Kalkbronner’s in my head still,”and then he played part of a concerto. Afterward he went on to speak of Herz, and said, “ I ’ll play you a little study of Herz’s that is infamously hard. It is a stupid little theme,” and then he played the theme, “but now pay attention.”Then he played the study itself. It was a most ridiculous thing, where the hands kept crossing continually with great rapidity, and striking notes in the most difficult positions. It made us all laugh; and Liszt hit the notes every time, though it was disgustingly hard, and as he said himself, he “ used to get all in a heat over it.” He had evidently studied it so well that he could never forget it. He went on to speak of Moscheles and of his compositions. He said that when between thirty and forty years of age, Moscheles played superbly, but as he grew older he became too old-womanish and set in his ways, — and then he took off Moscheles, and played his Etuden in his style. It was very funny. But it showed how Liszt has studied everythinq, and the universality of his knowledge, for he knows Tausig’s and Rubinstein’s studies as well as Kalkbrenner and Herz. There cannot be many persons in the world who keep up with the whole range of musical literature as he does. Liszt loved Tausig like his own child, and is always delighted when we play anything arranged by him. His death was an awful blow to Liszt, for he used to say, “ That will be the inheritor of my playing.” I suppose he thought he would live again in him, for he always says, “ Never did such a talent come under my hands.” I would give anything to have seen them together, for Tausig was a wonderfully bright and captivating little fellow, and I can imagine he must have fascinated Liszt. They say he was the naughtiest boy that ever was heard of, and caused Liszt no end of trouble and vexation; but be always forgave him, and after he vexation was past Liszt would pat him on the head and say, “ Karlchen, entweder wirst du ein groszer Lump, oder ein groszer Meister.”3 That is Liszt all over, He is so indulgent that in consideration of talent he will forgive anything.
WEIMAR, September 9, 1873.
This week has been one of great excitement in Weimar, on account of the wedding of the son of the Grand Duke. All sorts of things have been going on, and the Emperor and Empress came on from Berlin. There have been a great many rehearsals at the theatre, of different things that were played, and of course Liszt took a prominent part in the arrangement of the music. He directed the Ninth Symphony, and played twice himself with orchestral accompaniment. One of the pieces he played was Weber’s Polonaise in E major, and the other was one of his own Rhapsodies Hongroises. Of these I was at the rehearsal. When he came out on the stage the applause was tremendous, and enough in itself to excite and electrify one. I was enchanted to have an opportunity of hearing Liszt as a concert player. The director of the orchestra here is a beautiful pianist and composer himself, as well as a splendid conductor, but it was easy to see that he had to get all his wits together to follow Liszt, who gave full rein to his imagination, and let the tempo fluctuate as he felt inclined. As for Liszt, he scarcely looked at the keys, and it was astounding to see his hands go rushing down the piano and perform passages of the utmost rapidity and difliculty, while his head was turned all the while towards the orchestra, and he kept up a running fire of remarks with them continually. “ You violins, strike in sharp here.” “ You trumpets, not too loud there,” etc. He did everything with the most immense aplomb, and without seeming to pay any attention to his hands, which moved of themselves. He never did the same thing twice alike. If it was a scale the first time, he would make it in double or broken thirds the second, and so on, constantly surprising you with some new turn. While you were admiring the long roll of the wave, a sudden spray would be dashed over you, and make you catch your breath! No, never was there such a player! The nervous intensity of his touch takes right hold of you. When he had finished, everybody shouted and clapped their hands like mad, and the orchestra kept up such a fanfare of applause, that the din was quite overpowering. Liszt smiled and bowed, and walked off the stage indifferently, not giving himself the trouble to come back, and presently he quietly sat down in the parquette, and the rehearsal proceeded.
WEIMAR, September 24, 1873.
We had our last lesson from Liszt a few days ago, and he leaves Weimar next week. He was so hurried with engagements the last two times that he was not able to give us much attention. I played Rubinstein’s Concerto. He accompanied me himself on a second piano. We were there about six o’clock p. M. Liszt was out, but he had left word that if we came we were to wait. About seven he came in, and the lamps were lit. He was in an awful humor, and I never saw him so out of spirits. “ How is it with our Concerto?” said he to me, for he had told me the time before to send for the second piano accompaniment, and he would play it with me. I told him that unfortunately there existed no second piano part. “ Then, child, you’ve fallen on your head, if you don’t know that at least you must have a second copy of the Concerto! ” I told him I knew it by heart. “ Oh! ” said he in a mollified tone. So he took my copy, and played the orchestra part which is indicated above the piano part, and I played without notes. I felt inspired, for the piano I was at was a magnificent grand that Steinway presented to Liszt only the other day. Liszt was seated at another grand facing me, and the room was dimly illuminated by one or two lamps. A few artists were sitting about in the shadow. It was at the twilight hour, “ l’heure du mystère ” as the poetic G. used to say, and in short, the occasion was perfect, and could n’t happen so again. You see we always have our lessons in the afternoon, and it was a mere chance that it was so late this time. Well, I felt as if I were in an electric state. I had studied the piece so much that I felt perfectly sure of it, and then with Liszt’s splendid accompaniment, and his beautiful face to look over to, — it was enough to bring out everything there was in one. If he had only been himself I should have had nothing more to desire, but he was in one of his bitter, sarcastic moods. However, I went thundering on to the end — like a cataract plunging into darkness, I might say — for it was the end, too, of my lessons with Liszt!
BERLIN, October 19, 1873.
Coming back from dear little Weimar, this Berlin seems to me like a great roaring wilderness, and all the houses appear to have grown. There is an immense number of new ones going up on all sides, and the noise, and the crowd, and the confusion are enough to set one crazy, after the idyllic life I ’ve been leading all summer. Liszt was kindness itself when the time came to say goodby, but I could scarcely get out a word, nor could I even thank him for all he had done for me. I did not wish to break down and make a scene, as I felt I should if I tried to say anything. So I fear he thought me rather ungrateful and matter-of-course, for he could n’t know that I was feeling an excess of emotion which kept me silent. I miss going to him inexpressibly, and although I heard my favorite Joachim last night, even he paled before Liszt. He is on the violin what Liszt is on the piano, and is the only artist worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with him. But Liszt, in addition to his marvelous playing, has this fascinating and imposing personality, whereas Joachim looks like any heavy German. Liszt’s face is all a play of feature, a glow of fancy, a blaze of imagination, whereas Joachim is absorbed in his violin, and his face has only an expression of fine discrimination and of intense solicitude to produce his artisLic effects. Liszt is a complete actor who intends to carry away the public, who never forgets that he is before it, and who behaves accordingly. Joachim is totally oblivious of it. Liszt subdues the people to him by the very way he walks on to the stage. He gives his proud head a toss, throws an electric look out of his eagle eye, and seats himself with an air as much as to say, “ Now I am going to do just what I please with you, and you are nothing but puppets subject to my will.” He said to us in the class one day, “ When you come out on the stage, look as if you did n’t care a rap for the audience, and as if you knew more than any of them. That’s the way I used to do. — Did n’t that make the critics mad though!” he added, with an ineffable look of malicious mischief. So you see his principle, and that was precisely the way he did at the rehearsal in the theatre at Weimar that I wrote you about, and I don’t doubt that he assumed the same absolute-despot air when he played at the court concert before the emperor in the evening. Joachim, on the contrary, is the quiet gentleman-artist. He advances in the most unpretentious way, but as he adjusts his violin he looks at his audience with the calm air of a musical monarch, as much as to say, “ I repose wholly on my art, and I ’ve no need of any ' ways and manners.’ ” In reality I admire Joachim’s principle the most, but there is something indescribably bewitching about Liszt’s willfulness. You feel at once that he is a great genius, and that you are nothing but his puppet, and somehow one takes a base delight in the humiliation! The two men are intensely interesting, each in his own way, but they are extremes.
Heigh-ho! Es war eben zu schön,— the artist-life we led all summer with Liszt. To young artists he is a great illuminating, emancipating, life-giving Force, like the Sun, — and to us all, leaving him is like passing from sunlight into shadow indeed.