BERLIN, November 21, 1869.
THERE is so much to be seen and heard in Berlin that if one has but the money there is no end to one’s resources. There are the opera and the Schauspielhaus every night, and beautiful concerts going on every evening too. They say that the opera here is magnificent, and the scenery superb, and they have a wonderful ballet-troupe. So far I have only been to one concert, and that was a sacred concert. But Joachim played — and oh, what a tone he draws out of the violin! I could think of nothing but Mrs.——’s voice, as he sighed out those exquisitely pathetic notes. He played something by Schumann which ended with a single note, and as he drew his bow across he produced so many shades that it was perfectly marvelous. I am going to hear him again on Sunday night, when he plays at Clara Schumann’s concert. It will be a great concert, for she plays much. She will be assisted by Joachim, Müller, De Ahne, and by Joachim’s wife, who has a beautiful voice and sings charmingly in the serious German style. Joachim himself is not only the greatest violinist in the world, but one of the greatest that ever lived. De Ahne is one of the first violinists in Germany, and Müller is one of the first ’cellists. In fact, this quartette cannot be matched in Europe—so you see what I am expecting!
BERLIN, December 12, 1869.
I heard Clara Schumann on Sunday, and on Tuesday evening also. She is a most wonderful artist, and I think must be the greatest living pianist except Liszt. In the first concert she played a quartette by Schumann, and you can
imagine how lovely it was under the treatment of Clara Schumann for the piano, Joachim for first violin, De Ahne for the second, and Müller for thy third. It was perfect, and I was in raptures. Madame Schumann’s selection for the two concerts was a very wide one, and gave a full exhibition of her powers in every kind of music. The Impromptu by Schumann, Op. 90, was exquisite. It was full of passion and very difficult. The second of the Songs without Words by Mendelssohn, was the most fairy-like performance. It is one of those things that must be tossed off with the greatest grace and smoothness, and it requires the most beautiful and delicate technique. She played it to perfection. The terrific Scherzo by Chopin she did splendidly, but she kept the great octave passages in the bass a little too subordinate, I thought, and did not give it quite boldly enough for my taste, though it was extremely artistic. Clara Schumann’s playing is very objective. She seems to throw herself into the music, instead of letting the music take possession of her. She gives you the most exquisite pleasure with every note she touches, and has a wonderful conception and variety in playing, but she seldom whirls you off your feet. At the second concert she was even better than at the first, if that is possible. She seemed full of fire, and when she played Bach, she ought to have been crowned with diamonds! Such noble playing I never heard. In fact, you are all the time impressed with the nobility and breadth of her style, and the comprehensiveness of her treatment, and oh, if you could hear her scales! In short, there is nothing more to be desired in her playing, and she has every quality of a great artist. Many people say that Tausig is far better, but I don’t believe it. He may have more technique and more power, but nothing else, I am sure. Everybody raves over his playing, and I am getting quite impatient for his return, which is expected next week. I send you Madame Schumann’s photograph, which is exactly like her. She is a large, very German-looking woman, with dark hair and superb neck and arms. At the last concert she was dressed in black velvet, low body and short sleeves, and when she struck powerful chords, those large white arms came down with a certain splendor.
As for Joachim, he is perfectly magnificent, and has amazing power. When he played his solo in that second Chaconne of Bach’s, you could scarcely believe it was only one violin. He has, like Madame Schumann, the greatest variety of tone, only on the violin the shades can be made far more delicate than on the piano.
I thought the second movement of Schumann’s Quartette about as extraordinary as any part of Clara Schumann’s performance. It was very rapid, very staccato, and pianissimo all the way through. Not a note escaped her fingers, and she played with so much magnetism that one could scarcely breathe until it was finished. You know nothing can be more difficult than to play staccato so very softly where there is great execution also. Both of the concertos, for violin and piano, which were played by Madame Schumann and Joachim, and especially the one in A minor, by Beethoven, were divine. Both parts were equally well sustained, and they played with so much fire — as if one inspired the other. It was worth a trip across the Atlantic just to hear those two performances.
The Sing - Akademie, where all the best concerts are given, is not a very large hall, but it is beautifully proportioned and its acoustics are perfect. The frescoes are very delicate, and on the left are boxes all along, which add much to the beauty of the hall with their scarlet and gold fiutings. Clara Schumann is a great favorite here, and there was such a rush for seats that, though we went early for our tickets, all the good parquette seats were gone, and we had to get places on the estrade, or place where the chorus sits — when there is one. But I found it delightful for a piano concert, for you can be as close to the performer as you like, and at the same time see the faces of the audience. I saw ever so many people that I knew, and we kept bowing away at each other. Just think how convenient it is here with regard to public amusements ; for ladies can go any where alone! You take a drosehke (as they call the cabs) and they drive you anywhere for five groschen, which is about fifteen cents. When you get into the concert hall you go into the garde-robe and take off your things, and hand them over to the care of the woman who stands there, and then you walk in and sit down comfortably, as you would in a parlor, and are not roasted in your hat and cloak while at the concert, and chilled when you go out, as we are in America. Their programmes, too, are not so unconscionably long as ours, and in short, their whole method of concert giving is more rational than with us. I always enjoy the garde-robe, for if you have acquaintances you are sure to meet them, and you have no idea how exciting it is in a foreign city to see anybody you know.
BERLIN, February 8, 1870.
I have heard both Rubinstein and Tausig in concert since I last wrote. They are both wonderful, but in quite a different way. Liszt’s trill is like the warble of a bird, Tausig’s is as much so. Rubinstein has the greatest power and abandon in playing that you can imagine, and is extremely exciting. I never saw a man to whom it seemed to be so easy to play. It is as if he were just sporting with the piano, and could do what he pleased with it. Tausig, on the contrary, is extremely restrained, and has not quite enthusiasm enough, but he is absolutely perfect, and plays with the greatest expression. He is preëminent in grace and delicacy of execution, but seems to hold back his power in a concert-room, which is very singular, for when he plays to his classes in the Conservatory he seems all passion, and thrills you to the marrow of your bones. His conception is so very refined that sometimes it is a little too much so, while Rubinstein is occasionally too precipitate. I have not yet decided which I like best, but in my estimation Clara Schumann as a whole is superior to both, although she doesn’t begin to have their technique. Tausig’s octave playing is the most extraordinary I ever heard. The last piece on his programme was a Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, and it was all octaves. The first part he played so pianissimo that you could only just hear it, and then he took the same theme and played it tremendously forte. It was colossal! His scales surpass Clara Schumann’s, and it seems as if he played with velvet fingers, his touch is so very soft. He played the great C major Sonata by Beethoven, — Moscheles’ favorite, you know. His conception of it was not brilliant, as I expected it would be, but very calm and dreamy, and the first movement especially he took very piano. He did it most beautifully, but I was not quite satisfied with the last movement, for I expected he would make a grand climax with those passionate trills, and he did not. Chopin he plays divinely, and that little Bourrée of Bach’s that I used to play, was magical. He played it like lightning and made it perfectly bewitching.
Altogether he is a great man. But Clara Schumann always puts herself en rapport with you immediately, and therefore I think she is the greater genius, although I imagine the Germans would not agree with me. Tausig has such a little hand that I wonder he has been able to acquire his immense virtuosity. He is very short indeed; too short, in fact, for good looks, but he has remarkably keen and vivid eyes. He is only thirty years old, and is much younger than Rubinstein or Büllow.
BERLIN, March 4, 1870.
Last month I went for the first time to hear the Berlin Symphony Kapella.
It is composed only of artists, and is the most splendid music imaginable. He Ahne, for instance, is one of the violinists, and he is not far behind Joachim. We have no conception of such an orchestra in America. The Philharmonic of New York approaches it, but is still a long way off. This orchestra is so perfect, and plays with such precision, that you can't realize that there are any performers at all. It is just a great wave of sound that rolls over you as smooth as glass. As the concert halls are much smaller here, the music is much louder, and every man not only plays piano and forte where it is marked, but he draws the tone out of his violin. They have the greatest pathos, consequently, in the soft parts, and overwhelming power in the loud. Where great expression is required the conductor almost ceases to beat time, and it seems as if the performers took it ad libitum; but they understand each other so well that they play like one man. It is too ecstatic! I observed the greatest difference in the horn playing. Instead of coming in in a monotonous sort of way as it does at home, and always with the same degree of loudness, here, when it is solo, it begins round and smooth and full, and then gently modulates until the tone seems to sigh itself out, dying away at last with a little tremolo that is perfectly melting. I never before heard such an effect. When the trumpets come in it is like the crack of doom, and you should hear the way they play the drums. I never was satisfied with the way they strike the drums in New York and Boston, for it always seemed as if they thought the parchment would break. Here, sometimes they give such a sharp stroke that it startles me, though of course it is not often. But it adds immensely to the accent, and makes your heart boat, I can tell you. They played Schubert’s great symphony, and Beethoven’s in B major, and I could scarcely believe my own ears at the difference between this orchestra and ours. It is as great as between —— and Tausig. Since I last
wrote I have been to hear Rubinstein again. He is the greatest sensation player I know of, and, like Gottschalk, has all sorts of tricks of his own. It is dreadfully exciting to hear him, and at his last concert the first piece he played — a terrific composition by Schubert — gave me such a violent headache that I could n't hear the rest of the performance with any pleasure. He has a gigantic spirit in him, and is extremely poetic and original, but for an entire concert he is too much. Give me Rubinstein for a few pieces, but Tausig for a whole evening. Rubinstein does n’t care how many notes he misses, provided he can bring out his conception and make it vivid enough. Tausig strikes every note with rigid exactness, and perhaps his very perfection makes him at times a little cold. Rubinstein played Schubert’s Erl-König, arranged by Liszt, gloriously. Where the child is so frightened, his hands flew all over the piano, and absolutely made it shriek with terror.
BERLIN, April 8, 1870.
I went to hear Haydn’s Jahreszeiten a few evenings since, and it is the most charming work, — such a happy combination of grave and gay! He wrote it when he was seventy years old, and it is so popular that one has great difficulty in getting a ticket for it. The salon was entirely filled, so that I had to take a seat in the loge, where the places are pretty poor, though I went early too. The work is sung like an oratorio, in arias, recitatives, and choruses, and is interspersed with charming little songs. It represents the four seasons of the year, and each part is prefaced by a little overture appropriate to the passing of each season into the next. The recitatives are sung by Hanna and Lucas, who are lovers, and by Simon, who is a friend of both, apparently. The autumn is the prettiest of the four parts, for it represents first the joy of the country people over the harvests and over the fruits. Then comes a splendid chorus in praise of Industry. After that follows a little love dialogue between Hanna and Lucas, then a description of a hunt, then a dance; lastly the wine is brought and the whole ends with a magnificent chorus in praise of wine. The dance is too pretty for anything, for the whole chorus sings a waltz, and it is the gayest, most captivating composition imaginable. The choruses here are so splendidly drilled that they give the expression in a very vivid manner, and produce beautiful effects. All the parts are perfectly accurate and well balanced. But the solo singers are, as I have remarked in a former letter, for the most part miserable. They cannot show here such a pair of stars as we had last winter in Parepa and Adelaide Phillips.
Last night I went with Mr. B——to hear Bach’s Passion Music. Anything to equal that last chorus I never heard from voices. I felt as if it ought to go on forever, and could not bear to have it end. That choral, “ O Sacred Head now wounded,” is taken from it, and it comes in twice; the second time with different harmonies and without accompaniment. It is the most exquisite thing; you feel as if you would like to die when you hear it. But the last chorus carries you straight up to heaven. It begins, —
And call to thee in the grave,
Rest soft — rest soft! ”
It represents the rest of our Saviour after the stone has been rolled before the tomb, and it is divine. Everybody in the chorus was dressed in black, and almost everyone in the audience, so you can imagine what a sombre scene it was. This is the custom here, and on Good Friday, when the celebrated Tod Jesus by Graun is performed, they go in black without exception.
BERLIN, April 24, 1870.
On Easter Sunday I did not go to the English church as is my wont, but to the Dom, which is the great church here, and is where all the court goes. It is an extremely ugly church, and much like one of our old Congregational meeting-houses; but they have a superb choir of two hundred men and boys, which is celebrated all over Europe. Haupt (Mr. J. K, Paine’s former master) is the organist, and of course they have a great big organ. I knew, as this was Easter, that the music would be magnificent, and so I made A—— W—— go there with me, much against her will, for she declared we should get no seat. The Germans don’t trouble themselves to go to church very often, but on a feast day they turn out in crowds. We got to the church onty twenty minutes before the service began, and I confess I was rather daunted as I saw the swarms of people not onlygoing in but coming out, hopeless of getting into the church. However, I determined to push on and see what the chances were, and with great difficulty we got up-stairs. There is a lobby that runs all round the church, just as in the Boston Music Hall. All the doors between the gallery and the lobby were open, and each was crammed full of people. I thought the best thing we could do would be to stand there until we got tired, and listen to the music, and then go. Finally the sexton came along, and A—— asked him if he could not give us two seats; he shrugged his shoulders and said, “ Yes, if you choose to pass through the crowd.” We boldly said we would, although it looked almost hopeless, and then made our way through it, followed by muttered execrations. At last the sexton unlocked a door, and gave us two excellent seats, and there was plenty of room for a dozen more people; but I don’t doubt he frightened them away just as he would have done us if he could. He locked us in and there we sat quite in comfort. At ten the choir began to sing a psalm. They sit directly over the chancel, and a gilded frame-work conceals them completely from the congregation. They have a leader who conducts them, and they sing in most perfect time and tune, entirely without accompaniment. The voices are soft and tender rather than loud, and they weave in and out most beautifully. There are a great many different parts, and the voices keep striking in from various points, which produces a delicious effect, and makes them sound like an angel choir far up in the sky. After they had finished the psalm the organ burst out with a tremendous great chord, enough to make you jump, and then played a choral, and there were also trombones which took the melody. Then all the congregation sang the choral and the choir kept silence. You can’t imagine how easy it is to sing when the trombones lead, and the effect is overwhelming with the organ, especially in these grand old chorals. I could scarcely bear it, it was so very exciting. There was a groat deal of music, as it was Easter Sunday, and it was done alternately by the choir and the congregation; but generally the Dom choir only sings one psalm before the service begins, and therefore I seldom take the trouble to go there. The rest of the music is entirely congregational, and they only have trombones on great occasions. We sat close by the chancel, and the great wax candles flared on the altar below us, and the Lutheran clergyman read the German so that it sounded a good deal like Latin. I was quite surprised to see how much like Latin German could sound, for it has those long, rolling words, and it is just as pompous. Altogether it made a strange but splendid impression. I thought if they had only had their choir in the chancel and in white surplices it would have been much more beautiful, but perhaps the music would not have sounded so fine as when the singers were overhead. The Berlin churches all look as if religion was dying out here, so old and bare and ill-cared-for, and so few in number. They are only redeemed by the great castles of organs which they generally have; and it is a difficult thing to get the post of organist here. One must be an experienced and well-known musician to do it. They sing no chants in the service, but only chorals.
To-night is the last Royal Symphony Concert of this season, and of course I shall go. This wonderful orchestra carries me completely away. It is too marvelous how they play! such expression, such élan ! I heard them give Beethoven’s Leonora Overture last week in such a fashion as fairly electrified me. This overture sums up the opera of Fidelio, and in one part of it, just as the hero is going to be executed, you hear the post-horn sound which announces his delivery. This they play so softly that you catch it exactly as if it came from a long distance, and you can’t believe it comes from the orchestra. It makes you think of “the horns of elf-land faintly blowing.”
BERLIN, December 11, 1870.
Last month I went with the B——s
to a superb concert given for the benefit of the wounded. The Royal Orchestra played, and it was the best orchestral performance I have yet attended. The last piece on the programme was the Ritt der Walküren by Wagner. It was the first time it was given in Berlin, and it is a wonderful composition. It represents the ride of the spirits into Valhalla, and when you hear it, it seems as if you could really see the spectral horses with their ghostly riders. The effect produced at the end is so unearthly that one feels as if one had suddenly stepped into Pandemonium. I was perfectly enchanted with it, and the “ Bravos ” resounded all over the house. Tausig played a concerto in his own glorious fashion. He did his very best, and when he got through, not only the whole orchestra was applauding him, but even the conductor was rapping his desk like mad with his bâton. I thought to myself it was a proud position when a man would excite such enthusiasm in the breasts of these old and tried musicians.
But I wish you could hear Joachim, for it is simple ecstacy to listen to him! I am attending a series of quartette concerts that he is giving, and last night was the third. Oh, he is to me the wonder of the age, and unless I were to rave I could never express him! I am always amazed afresh every time I hear him, and never can I get used to his feats. Then his expression is so marvelous that he holds complete sway over his audience from the minute he begins till he ceases. he possesses magnetic power in the highest degree. Last night he gave a quartette by Haydn which was perfectly bewitching. The adagio he played so wonderfully, and drew such a pathetic tone from his violin, that it seemed to pierce one through! The third movement was a jig, and just the gayest little piece! It flashed like a humming-bird, and he played every note so distinctly and so fast that people were beside themselves, and it was almost impossible to keep still. It received tremendous encore.
I heard a new lady pianist the other day, who is becoming very celebrated and who plays superbly. Her name is Fräulein Meuter, and she is from Munich. She has been a pupil of Liszt, Tausig, and Bülow. Think what a galaxy of teachers! She is as pretty as she can be, and looks lovely at the piano. She plays everything by heart, and has a beautiful conception. She gave her concert entirely alone, except that some one sang a few songs, and at the end Tausig played a duet for two pianos with her, in which he took the second piano. Imagine being able to play well enough for such a high artist as he to condescend to do such a thing! It was so pretty when they were encored. He made a sign to go forward. She looked up inquiringly, and then stepped down one step lower than he. He smiled and applauded her as much as anybody. I thought it was very gallant in him to stand there and clap his hands before the whole audience, and not take any of the encore to himself, for his part was as important as hers, and he is a much greater artist. I was charmed with her, though. She goes far beyond Mehlig and Topp, though Mehlig too is considered to have a remarkable technique.
BERLIN, May 18, 1871.
Wagner has just been in Berlin, and his arrival here has been the occasion of great musical excitement. He was received with the greatest enthusiasm, and there was no end of ovations in his honor. First, there was a great supper given to him, which was got up by Tausig and a few other distinguished musicians. Then on Sunday, two weeks ago, was given a concert in the SingAkademie, where the seats were free. As the academy only holds about a thousand people, you may imagine it was pretty difficult to get tickets. I did n’t even attempt it, but luckily Weitzmann, my harmony teacher, who is an old friend of Wagner’s, sent me one. The orchestra was immense. It was carefully selected from all the orchestras in Berlin, and Sterne, who directed it, had given himself infinite trouble in training it. Wagner is the most difficult person in the world to please, and is a wonderful conductor himself. He was highly discontented with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipsic, which thinks itself the best in existence, so the Berliners felt rather shaky. The hall was filled to overflowing, and finally, in marched Wagner and his wife, preceded and followed by various distinguished musicians. As he appeared the audience rose, the orchestra struck up three clanging chords, and everybody shouted Hoch! It gave one a strange thrill. The concert was at twelve, and was preceded by a “ greeting ” which was recited by Frau Jachmann Wagner, a niece of Wagner’s, and an actress. She was a pretty woman, “fair, fat, and forty,” and an excellent speaker. As she concluded she burst into tears, and stepping down from the stage she presented Wagner with a laurel crown, and kissed him. Then the orchestra played Wagner’s Faust Overture most superbly, and afterwards his Fest March from the Tannhäuser. The applause was unbounded. Wagner ascended the stage and made a little speech, in winch he expressed his pleasure to the musicians and to Sterne, and then turned and addressed the audience. He spoke very rapidly and in that child-like way that all great musicians seem to have, and as a proof of his satisfaction with the orchestra he requested them to play the Faust Overture under his direction. We were all on tiptoe to know how he would direct, and indeed it was wonderful to see him. He controlled the orchestra as if it were a single instrument and he were playing on it. He didn’t beat the time simply, as most conductors do, but he had all sorts of little ways to indicate what he wished. It was very difficult for them to follow him, and they had to “ keep their little eye open,” as——used to say. He held them down during the first part, so as to give the uncertainty and speculativeness of Faust’s character. Then as Mephistopheles came in, he gradually let them loose with a terrible crescendo, and made you feel as if helh suddenly gaped at your feet. Then where Gretchen appeared, all was delicious melody and sweetness. And so it went on, like a succession of pictures. The effect was tremendous. I had one of the best seats in the house, and could see Wagner and his wife the whole time. He has an enormous forehead, and is the most nervous-looking man you can imagine, but has that grim setting of the mouth that betokens an iron will. When he conducts he is almost beside himself with excitement. That is one reason why he is so great as a conductor, for the orchestra catches his frenzy, and each man plays under a sudden inspiration. I was as much interested in his wife as in him. You know she is Liszt’s daughter. She has a very remarkable face; not at all handsome, but pale and intellectual and full of soul. She must be nearly forty, I should think. She gazed at Wagner as if she only lived and moved and had her being in him, as I suppose is the case. . . .
Wagner’s object in coming here was to try and get his Nibelungen opera performed. It is an opera which requires four evenings to get through with. Did you ever hear of such a thing? He lays out everything on such a colossal scale. It reminded me of that story they tell of him when he was a boy. He was a great enthusiast of Shakespeare, and wanted to write plays too! So he wrote one in which he killed off forty of the principal characters in the last act! He gave a grand concert in the opera house here, which he directed himself. It was entirely his own compositions, with the exception of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which he declared nobody understood but himself! That rather took down Berlin, but all had to acknowledge after the concert that they never had heard it so magnificently played. He has his own peculiar conception of it. There was a great crowd, and every seat had been taken long before. All the artists were present except Kullak, who was ill. I saw Tausig sitting in the front rank with the Baroness von S——. There must have been two hundred players in the orchestra, and they acquitted themselves splendidly. The applause grew more and more enthusiastic, until it finally found vent in a shower of wreaths and bouquets. Wagner bowed and bowed, and it seemed as if the people would never settle down again. At the end of the concert followed a second shower of flowers, and his Kaiser March was encored. The march is superb — so pompous and majestic, and with delicious melodies occasionally interwoven through it. The bouquets were piled in a heap on the stage, in front of the director’s desk, for Wagner had no place left big enough to stand on without crushing them. Altogether it was a brilliant affair, and a great triumph for his friends. He has a great many bitter enemies here. Joachim is one of them, though it seems inconceivable that a man of his musical gifts should be so. Ehlert is also a strong anti - Wagnerite, and the Jews hate him intensely. It was expected that they would take advantage of this occasion to get up an opposition, and hiss in the concert, but there was nothing of the kind.
BERLIN,August 31, 1871.
I got home from my Rhine journey much refreshed in body and spirit, though saddened by the news of Tausig’s death, which reached us when we were at Bingen. He died at Leipsic on the 17th of July, of typhus fever, brought on, it is said, by overtaxing his musical memory. Is it not dreadful that he should have died so young — only thirty-one years old! When I think of his wonderful playing silenced forever, it is impossible to be reconciled to it, and if you could have heard those matchlessly trained fingers of his you would understand my feeling perfectly. And he played only twice in Berlin last winter. He was a strange little soul — a perfect misanthrope. Nobody knew him intimately. He lived all the last part of his life in the strictest retirement, a prey to deep melancholy. He was noted for the severe morality of his life, and all the papers spoke of it. That was much for such a fascinating artist as he was, for I suppose no end of women were in love with him. A countess went on from Dresden and nursed him all through his illness. He was taken ill in Leipsic, whither he had gone to meet Liszt. Until the ninth day they had hopes of his recovery, but in the night he had a relapse, and died the tenth day, very easily at the last. His remains were brought to Berlin and he was buried here. Everything was done to save him, and he had the most celebrated physicians, but it was useless. So my last hope of lessons from him again is at an end, you see! I never expect to hear such piano-playing again. It was as impossible for him to strike one false note as it is for other people to strike right ones. He was absolutely infallible. The papers all tell a story about his playing a piece onetime before his friends, from the notes. The music fell upon the keys, but Tausig did n’t allow himself to be at all disturbed, and went on playing through the paper, his fingers piercing it and grasping the proper chords, until some one rushed to his aid and set the notes up again! Oh, he was a wonder, and it is a tragic loss to Art that he is dead. He was such a true artist, his standard was so immeasurably high, and he had such a proud contempt for anything approaching clap-trap, or what he called Spectakel. I have seen him execute the most gigantic difficulties without permitting himself a sign of effort beyond an almost imperceptible compression of one corner of his mouth. However, he entirely overstrained himself, and his whole nervous system was completely shattered long before his illness. He said last winter that the very idea of playing in public was unbearable to him, and after he had announced in the papers that he would give four concerts, he recalled the announcement on the plea of ill-health. Then he thought he would go to Italy and spend the winter. But when he got as far as Naples, he said to himself, “ Nein, hier bleibst du nicht ” (No, you won’t stay here); and back he came to Berlin. He doesn’t seem to have known what he wanted, himself; his was an uneasy, tormented, capricious spirit, at enmity with the world. Perhaps his marriage had something to do with it. His wife was a beautiful artist too, and they thought the world of each other, yet they could n’t live together. But Tausig’s whole life was a mystery, and his reserve was so complete that nobody could pierce it.
BERLIN,October 2, 1871.
The other day was an auction in poor little Tausig’s house, and all his furniture was sold. It was very handsome, all of solid oak, beautifully carved. He had spent five thousand dollars on it. His wardrobe was sold too, and I don’t know How many pairs of his little boots and shoes were there, his patent leather concert boots among others. His little velvet coat, that he used to wear at the Conservatory, went with the rest. I saw it lying on a chair. I wanted to buy a picture, but they were all sold in a lot. He had excellent ones of all the great composers, down to Liszt and Wagner, hanging over his piano in the room where he always played. So wretched as it all was!
Kullak deplores Tausig’s death very deeply. He had visited him in Leipsic two days before he was taken ill, and said that nobody could have dreamed that Tausig was going to die, he looked so well. Kullak says that Tausig was one of the three or four great special pianists. “ Who will interpret to us so again? ” he said.
BERLIN,February 10, 1872.
I have just had a splendid time in Dresden, where E—— L—— and I have been spending a week with C—— T——. C—— did everything in her power to amuse us, and she is the soul of amiability. She kept inviting people to meet us, and had several tea-parties, and when we had no company she took us to the theatre or the opera. She invited Marie Wieck (the sister of Clara Schumann) to tea one night. I was very glad to meet her, for she is an exquisite artist herself, and plays in Clara Schumann’s style, though her conception is not so remarkable. Her touch is perfect. At C——’s request she tried to play for us, but as the action of C——’s piano is pretty well worn out, she presently got up, saying that she could do nothing on such an instrument, but that if we would come to her, she would play for us with pleasure. I was in high glee at that proposal, for I was very anxious to see the famous Wieck, the trainer of so many generations of musicians. Fräulein Wieck appointed Saturday evening, and we accordingly went. C—— had instructed us how to act, for the old man is quite a character, and has to be dealt with after his own fashion. She said we must walk in (having first laid off our things) as if we had been members of the family all our lives, and say, “ Good evening, Papa Wieck,” — everybody calls him Papa. Then we were to seat ourselves, and if we had some knitting or sewing with us it would be well. At any rate, we must have the apparent intention of spending several hours, for nothing provokes him so as to have people come in simply to call. “ What! ” he will say, “ do you expect to know a celebrated man like me in half an hour? ” then (very sarcastically), “ perhaps you want my autograph!” He hates to give his autograph. Well, we went through the prescribed programme. We were ushered into a large room, much longer than it was broad. At either end stood a grand piano. Otherwise the room was furnished with the greatest simplicity. My impression is that the floor was a plain yellow painted one, with a rug or two here and there. A few portraits and bas-reliefs hung upon the walls. The pianos were of course fine. Frau Wieck and “ Papa ” received us graciously. We began by taking tea, but soon the old man became impatient, and said, “ Come, the ladies wish to perform (vortragen) something before me, and if we don’t begin we shan’t acccomplish anything.” He lives entirely in music, and has a class of girls whom he instructs every evening for nothing. Five of these young girls were there. He is very deaf, but, strange to say, he is as sensitive as ever to every musical sound, and the same is the case with Clara Schumann. Fräulein Wieck then opened the ball. She is about forty, I should think, and a stout, phlegmatic-looking woman. However, she played superbly, and her touch is one of the most delicious possible. After hearing her, one is not surprised that the Wiecks think nobody can teach touch but themselves. She began with a nocturne by Chopin, in F major. I forgot to say that the old Herr sits in his chair with the air of being on a throne, and announces beforehand each piece that is to be played, and follows it with some comment : e. g., “ This nocturne I allowed my daughter Clara to play in Berlin forty years ago, and afterward the principal newspaper in criticising her performance remarked: ‘ This young girl seems to have much talent; it is only a pity that she is in the hands of a father whose head seems stuck full of queer, new-fangled notions,’ — so new was Chopin to the public at that time.” That is the way he goes on. After Fräulein Wieck had finished the nocturne, I asked for something by Bach, which I’m told she plays remarkably. She said that at the moment she had nothing in practice by Bach, but she would play me a gigue by a composer of Bach’s time, — Hessel, I think she said, but cannot remember, as it was a name entirely unknown to me. It was very brilliant, and she executed it beautifully. Afterward she played the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat major, but I was n’t particularly struck with her conception of that. Then we had a pause, and she urged me to play. I refused, for as I had been in Dresden a week and had not practiced, I did not wish to sit down and not do myself justice. The old man then said, “ Now we ’ll have something else;” and got up and went to the piano, and called the young girls. He made three of them sing, one after the other, and they sang very charmingly indeed. One of them he made improvise a cadenza, and a second sang the alto to it without accompaniment. He was very proud of that. He exercises his pupils in all sorts of ways, trains them to sing any given tone, and to “ skip up and down the ladder ” as they call the scale. After the master had finished with the singing, Fräulein Wieck played three more pieces, one of which was an exquisite arrangement by Liszt of that song by Schumann, Du meine Seele. She ended with a gavotte by Glück, or as Papa Wieck would say, “ This is a gavotte from one of Glück’s operas, arranged by Brahms for the piano. To the superficial observer the second movement will appear very easy, but in my opinion it is for the artist a very hard task to hit it exactly.” I happened to know just how the thing ought to be played, for I had heard it three times from Clara Schumann herself. Fräulein Wieck didn’t please me at all in it, for she took the second movement twice as quickly as the first. “Your sister plays the second movement much slower,” said I. “So?” said she, “ I ’ve never heard it from her.” She then asked, “So slow?” playing it slower. “ Still slower ? ” said she, beginning a third time, at my continual disapproval. “In strict time,” said I, nodding my head oracularly. “ Väterchen,” called she to the old Herr, “ Miss F—— says that Clara plays the second movement so slow,” showing him. I don’t know whether this correction made an impression, but he was then determined that I should play, and on my continued refusal he finally said that he “ found it very strange that a young lady who had studied more than two years in Tausig’s and Kullak’s conservatories shouldn’t have one piece that she could play before people.” This little fling provoked me, so up I jumped, and saying to myself, “ Kopf in die Höhe, Brust heraus, vorwärts! ” (one of the military orders here), I marched to the piano and played the fugue at the end of Beethoven’s A flat Sonata, Op. 110. They all sat round the room as still as so many statues while I played, and you cannot imagine how dreadfully nervous I was. I thought fifty times I should have to stop, for like all fugues it is such a piece that if you once get out you never can get in again, and Bülow himself made a smash-up on the last part of it the other night in his concert. But I got well through, notwithstanding, and the old master was good enough to commend me warmly.
Papa Wieck used to be Bülow’s master before Bülow went to Liszt. Did I tell you how carried away with Bülow I was? He is an extraordinary artist, just between Rubinstein and Tausig. I am going to hear him again on Saturday, and then I ’ll write you my full opinion about him. He is famous for his playing of Beethoven, and I wish you could have heard the Moonlight Sonata from him. One thing he does which is entirely peculiar to himself. He runs all the movements of a sonata together, instead of pausing between. It pleased me very much, as it gives a unity of effect, and seems to make each movement beget the succeeding one.
BERLIN, July 1, 1872.
You ask about Bülow. I’ve always forgotten to describe his playing to you, and it is now so long since I heard him that my impressions of it are not so vivid. He has the most forcible style I ever heard, and phrases wonderfully. It is like looking through a stereoscope to hear him. All the points of a piece seem to start out vividly before you. He made me think of Gottschalk a little, for he is full of his airs. His expression is proud and supercilious to the last degree, and he looks all round at his audience when he is playing. He always has two grand pianos on the stage, one facing one way, and one the other, and he plays alternately on both. His face seems to say to his audience, " You ’re all cats and dogs, and I don’t care what you think of my playing.” Sometimes a look of infinite humor comes over it, when he is playing a rondo or anything gay. It is very funny. He has remarkable magnetic power, and you feel that you are under the sway of a tremendous will. Many persons find fault with his playing, because they say it is pure intellect (der reine Verstand), but I think he has too much passion to be called purely intellectual. Still, it is always passion controlled. Beethoven has been the grand study of his life, and he plays his sonatas as no one else does.
BERLIN, November 7, 1873.
You ask me in your letter to write you a comparison—a summing up — between Clara Schumann, Bülow, Tausig, and Rubinstein, but I don’t find it very easy to do, as they are all so different. Clara Schumann is entirely a classic player. Beethoven’s sonatas, and Bach, too, she plays splendidly; but she does n’t seem to me to have any finesse, or much poetry in her playing. There’s nothing subtle in her conception. She has a great deal of fire, and her whole style is grand, finished, perfectly rounded off, solid, and satisfactory, — what the Germans call gediegen. She is a healthy artist to listen to, but there is nothing of the analytic, no Balzac or Hawthorne about her. Beethoven’s Variations in C minor are perhaps the best performance I ever heard from her, and they are immensely difficult, too; I thought she did them better than Bülow, in spite of Bülow’s being such a great Beethovenite. I think she repeats the same pieces a good deal, possibly because she finds the modern fashion of playing everything without notes very trying. I’ve even heard that she cries over the necessity of doing it; and certainly it is a foolish thing to make a point of, with so very great an artist as Clara Schumann. If people could only be allowed to have their own individuality!
Bülow’s playing is more many-sided, and is chiefly distinguished by its great vigor; there is no end to his nervous energy, and the more he plays, the more the interest increases. He is my favorite of the four. But he plays Chopin just as well as he does Beethoven; and Schumann, too. Altogether he is a delicious pianist, though by no means unerring in his technique. I’ve heard him get dreadfully mixed up. I think he trusts too much to his memory, and that he does not prepare sufficiently, He plays everything by heart, and such tremendous programmes! He always hits the nail plump on the head, and such a grasp as he has! His chords take firm hold of you. For instance, in the beginning of the last movement of the Moonlight Sonata, you should hear him run up that arpeggio in the right hand so lightly and pianissimo, every note so delicately articulated, and then crash-smash on those two chords at the top! And when he plays Bach’s gavottes, gigues, etc., in the English Suites, a laughing, roguish look comes over his face, and he puts the most indescribable drollery and originality into them. You see that “he sees the point ” so well, and that makes you see it, too. Yes, it is good fun to hear Bülow do those things.
Tausig resembled Liszt more in that subtlety which Liszt has, and consequently he was a better Chopin player than anybody else except Liszt. Tausig had an intense love for Chopin, too, and always wished he could have known him. I think that he had more virtuosity, and yet more delicacy of feeling, than either Rubinstein or Bülow. His finish, perfection, and above all his touch, were beyond anything. But he was cold, at least in the concert room. In the Conservatory he seemed to me a very passionate player; but, somehow, in public that was not the ease. Unfortunately, I had studied so little at that time, that I don’t feel as if I were competent to judge him. He was Liszt’s favorite, and Liszt said of him, “ That will be the inheritor of my playing; ” but I doubt if this could have been, for the winter before Tausig died, Kullak remarked to me that his playing became more and more “ dry ” every year, probably on account of his morbid aversion to Spectakel, as he called it; whereas Liszt gives the reins to the emotions always.
Rubinstein you’ve heard. Most people put him next to Liszt. Your finding him cold surprised me, for if there is a thing he is celebrated here for, it is for the fire and passion of his playing, and for his imagination and spontaneity. I think that Tausig, Bülow, and Clara Schumann, all three, have it all cut and dried beforehand, how they are going to play a piece, but Rubinstein creates at the instant. He plays without plan. Probably the afternoon you heard him he did not feel in the mood, and so was not at his best. As a composer he far outranks the other three.
When I was in Weimar I heard a great deal about Tausig’s escapades when he was studying there as a boy. They say that he was awfully wild and reckless at that time, and Liszt paid his debts over and over again. Sometimes in aristocratic parties, when Liszt did not feel like playing, himself, he would tell Tausig to play, and perhaps Tausig would not feel like it, either. He had the most enormous strength in his fingers, though his hands were small, and he would go to the piano and pretend he was going to play, and strike the first chords with such a crash that three or four strings would snap almost immediately; and then, of course, the piano was used up for the evening.
Tausig’s father procured him a splendid grand piano from Leipsic one time, and shortly after Tausig whittled off the corners of all the keys, so as to make them more difficult to strike, and his father had to pay a large sum to have them repaired. Another time he was presented with a set of chess-men, and the next day some one on visiting him observed the pieces lying all about the floor. “ Why, Tausig, what has happened to your chess men? ” “ Oh,
I wanted to see if they were easily broken, so I knocked up the board.” He seemed to be possessed with a spirit of destruction. Gottschal told me that one time when Tausig was “hard up” for money, he sold the score of Liszt’s Faust for five thalers to a servant, along with a great pile of his own notes. The servant disposed of them to some waste-paper man; and Gottschal, accidentally hearing of it, went to the man and rescued them, just as they were about to be pasted up on a wall instead of paper, — probably in some shanty. Then Gottschal went to Liszt to tell him that he had the score. As it happened, the publisher had written for it that very day, and Liszt was turning the house upside down, looking for it everywhere.
At that time he was living in an immense house on a hill here, that they call the Altenburg; Liszt occupied the first door, a princely friend the second, and the top story was one grand ballroom, in which were generally nine grand pianos standing. They used to give the most magnificent entertainments, and Liszt spent thirty thousand thalers a year. He lived like a lord at that time, very different from his present simplicity. Well, he was in an awful state of mind because his score was nowhere to be found. “ A whole year’s labor lost! ” he cried, and he was in such a rage, that when Gottschal asked him for the third time what he was looking for, he turned and stamped his foot at him and said, “ You confounded fellow, can't you leave me in peace, and not torment me with your stupid questions? ” Gottschal knew perfectly well what was wanting, but he wished to have a little fun out of the matter. At last he took pity on Liszt, and said, “ Herr Doctor, I know what you 've lost. It is the score to your Faust.” “Oh,” said Liszt, changing his tone immediately, “ do you know anything of it? ” “Of course I do,” said Gottschal, and proceeded to unfold Master Tausig’s performance, and how he had rescued the precious music. Liszt was transported with joy that it was found, and called up-stairs, “ Carolina, Carolina, we 're saved! Gottschal has rescued us;” and then Gottschal said that Liszt embraced him, in his transport, and could not say or do enough to make up for his having been so rude to him. Well, you would have supposed that it was now all up with Master Tausig; but not at all. A few days afterwards was Tausig’s birthday, and Carolina took Gottschal aside, and begged him to drop the subject of the note stealing, for Liszt doted so on his Carl that he wished to forget it. Sure enough, Liszt kissed Carl and congratulated him on his birthday, and consoled himself with his same old observation, “ You ’ll either turn out a great blockhead, my little Carl, or a great master.”
- The reader will please to note the dates of the letters, which, as well as those from Weimar about Liszt, were written home without a thought of publication. One of A. F.’s friends wished to print extracts from her letters, and though she would not say “yes,”she did not say " no.” With this negative permission they were arranged far The Atlantic without her supervision, and are given almost verbatim as they left her rapid pen.↩