Part 3 out of 5
Helsingfors, Stockholm and Copenhagen. They started on their tour in
January and did not reach home till the first of June.
Schumann now seemed to lose interest in the Journal and expressed
a wish to withdraw from it and live only for his creative art. An
alarming state of health--both mind and body--seemed to make this
retirement desirable. Perhaps owing to this condition of health he
decided to leave Leipsic for good and make his home in Dresden. He and
his wife took formal leave of Leipsic in a Matinee musical given on
the eighth of December.
But life in Dresden became even more strenuous and more racking than
it had been in Leipsic. He threw himself into the labor of composing
the epilogue of Goethe's "Faust" with such ardor that he fell into
an intensely nervous state where work was impossible. However, with
special medical treatment he so far recovered that he was able to
resume the work, but still was not himself. We can divine from brief
remarks he let drop from time to time, that he lived in constant
fear--fear of death, insanity or disaster of some kind. He could
not bear the sight of Sonnenstein, an insane asylum near Dresden.
Mendelssohn's sudden death in November, 1847, was a great shock and
preyed on his mind.
Schumann had intervals of reprieve from these morbid dreams, and
he again began to compose with renewed--almost abnormal--vigor and
The artist pair took a trip to Vienna where Clara gave several
concerts. They spent some weeks there and before returning to Dresden,
gave two splendid concerts in Prague, where Schumann received a
perfect ovation for his piano quintette and some songs. A little
later the two artists made a trip north. In Berlin Robert conducted
a performance of "Paradise and the Peri" at the Singakademie, while
Clara gave two recitals.
This year of 1847 was a very active one outside of the musical
journeys. The master composed several piano trios, much choral music,
and began the opera "Genevieve," which was not completed however,
until the middle of 1848. All the compositions of the previous year
were perfectly lucid and sane. The opera unfortunately had a text from
which all the beauty and romance had been left out.
The music, however, revealed a rare quality of creative power,
combined with deep and noble feeling. Schumann's nature was more
lyric than dramatic; he was not born to write for the stage. The lyric
portions of his opera are much the best. He did not realize that
he failed on the dramatic side in his work, indeed seemed quite
unconscious of the fact.
"Genevieve" was given in Leipsic in June 1850, directed by the
composer. Two more performances were given and then the work was laid
In 1848, Schumann, who loved children dearly and often stopped his
more serious work to write for them, composed the "Album for the
Young," Op. 68, a set of forty-two pieces. The title originally was:
"Christmas Album for Children who like to play the Piano." How many
children, from that day to this have loved those little pieces, the
"Happy Farmer," "Wild Rider," "First Loss," "Reaper's Song," and all
the rest. Even the great pianists of our time are not above performing
these little classics in public. They are a gift, unique in musical
literature, often imitated, but never equaled by other writers.
Schumann wrote of them: "The first thing in the Album I wrote for my
oldest child's birthday. It seems as if I were beginning my life as a
composer anew, and there are traces of the old human here and there.
They are decidedly different from 'Scenes from Childhood' which are
retrospective glances by a parent, and for elders, while 'Album for
the Young' contains hopes, presentments and peeps into futurity _for
After the children's Album came the music to Byron's "Manfred." This
consists of an overture and fifteen numbers. The whole work, with one
exception, is deep in thought and masterly in conception. The
overture especially is one of his finest productions, surpassing other
orchestral works in intellectual grandeur.
A choral club of sixty-seven members, of which Schumann was the
director, inspired him to compose considerable choral music, and his
compositions of this time, 1848-9, were numerous.
The intense creative activity of 1849 was followed by a period of
rest when the artist pair made two trips from Dresden, early in 1850.
Leipsic, Bremen, and Hamburg were visited. Most of the time in Hamburg
was spent with Jenny Lind, who sang at his last two concerts.
The late summer of 1850 brought Schumann an appointment of director of
music in Duesseldorf, left vacant by the departure of Ferdinand Hiller
for Cologne. Schumann and his wife went to Duesseldorf the first week
of September and were received with open arms. A banquet and concert
were arranged, at which some of the composer's important works were
performed. His duties in the new post were conducting the subscription
concerts, weekly rehearsals of the Choral Club and other musical
performances. He seemed well content with the situation and it did not
require too much of his physical strength.
Outside of his official duties his passion for work again gained the
ascendent. From November 2, to December 9, he sketched and completed
the Symphony in E flat in five parts, a great work, equal to any of
the other works in this form.
From this time on, one important composition followed another, until
increasing illness forshadowed the sad catastrophe of the early part
of 1854. He wrote in June 1851, "we are all tolerably well, except
that I am the victim of occasional nervous attacks; a few days ago I
fainted after hearing Radecke play the organ." These nervous attacks
increased in 1852. He could not think music in rapid tempo and wished
everything slow. He heard special tones to the exclusion of all
The close of 1853, brought two joyful events to Schumann. In October
he met Johann Brahms, whom he had introduced to the world through his
Journal, as the "Messiah of Art." In November he and his wife took a
trip through Holland, which was a triumphal procession. He found his
music almost as well known in Holland as at home. In Rotterdam and
Utrecht his third symphony was performed; in The Hague the second was
given, also "The Pilgrimage of the Rose." Clara also played at many
Just before Christmas the artist pair returned to Duesseldorf.
The hallucinations which had before obsessed him now returned with
alarming force. He could no longer sleep--he seemed to be lost in
One day in February 1854, his physician made a noon call upon him.
They sat chatting when suddenly Schumann left the room without a word.
The doctor and his friends supposed he would return. His wife went in
search of him. It seems he had left the house in dressing-gown, gone
to the Rhine bridge and thrown himself into the river. Some sailors
He now received constant care, and it was found best to place him in
a private hospital near Bonn. Here he remained till the end of July,
1856, when the end came.
In his death the world of music lost one of the most highly gifted
spirits. His life was important and instructive for its moral and
intellectual grandeur, its struggles for the noblest, loftiest
subjects as well as for its truly great results.
What would the piano playing world do without the music of Frederic
Chopin? We can hardly think of the piano without thinking of Chopin,
since he wrote almost exclusively for the universal instrument. His
music touches the heart always rather than the head, the emotional
message far outweighs the intellectual meaning. It is vital
music--love music, winning the heart by its tenderness, voicing the
highest sentiments by its refinement, its purity, its perfection of
detail and finish.
And the man who could compose with such refinement, with such
appealing eloquence, must have possessed those qualities which
shine out in his music. He must have been gentle, chivalrous,
high-thoughted. We cannot avoid expressing ourselves in our work--in
whatever we do.
The father of this beloved composer was a Frenchman, born in Nancy,
Lorraine, in 1770, the same year Beethoven saw the light in Bonn. He
was carefully brought up, well-bred and well-educated. When a friend
of his in Warsaw, Poland, in the tobacco and snuff trade, then in high
repute with the nobility, needed help with his book-keeping, he sent
for the seventeen-year-old lad. Thus it happened that Nicholas Chopin
came to Warsaw in 1787. It was a time of unrest, when the nation was
struggling for liberty and independence. The young man applied himself
to master the language, and study the character and needs of his
adopted country, that he might be well informed. During the period of
insecurity in political affairs, the tobacco factory had to be closed
and Nicholas Chopin looked for other activity. A few years later we
find him in the household of Countess Skarbek, as a tutor to her son,
Frederic. Here he met his bride, Justina de Krzyzanowska, a young
lady of noble but poor family, whom he married in 1806. She became the
mother of his four children, three girls and a boy.
The boy Frederic Chopin, was born on March 1, 1809, in the little
village of Zelazowa Wola, belonging to the Countess Skarbek, about
twenty-eight miles from Warsaw. It is probable the family did not
remain here long, for the young husband was on the lookout for more
profitable employment. He was successful, for on October 1, 1810,
he was appointed Professor of French in the newly founded Lyceum in
Warsaw. He also soon organized a boarding school for boys in his own
home, which was patronized by the best Polish families of the country.
Surrounded by refined, cultivated people, in an atmosphere at once
moral and intellectual, little Frederic passed a fortunate childhood.
He soon manifested such fondness for music, especially for the piano,
that his parents allowed him to have lessons, his teacher being
Adalbert Zywny, the best-known master of the city. It is related that
Zywny only taught his little pupil first principles, for the child's
progress was so extraordinary that before long he had mastered all
his teacher could impart, and at twelve he was left to shape his own
He early gave proofs of his talents. Before he was eight years old
he played at a large evening company, with such surprising cleverness
that it was predicted he would become another Mozart. The next year he
was invited to take part in a large concert given under distinguished
patronage. The boy was a simple, modest child, and played the piano as
the bird sings, with unconscious art. When he returned home after this
concert, his mother asked: "What did the people like best?" and he
answered naively: "Oh, mama, every one was looking at my collar."
After this, little Frederic became more than ever the pet of the
aristocracy of Warsaw; his charming manners, his unspoiled nature, his
musical gifts made him welcome in princely homes. He had also begun
to compose; indeed these efforts started soon after he began piano
lessons, and before he could handle a pen. His teacher had to write
down what the little composer played. Among those early pieces were
mazurkas, polonaises, valses and the like. At the age of ten he
dedicated a march to Grand Duke Constantine, who had it scored for
band and played on parade. He started lessons in composition with
Joseph Eisner, a celebrated teacher, who became a life-long adviser
Up to the age of fifteen, Frederic was taught at home, in his father's
school. He now entered the Warsaw Lyceum, and proved a good student,
twice carrying off a prize. With this studiousness was joined a gaiety
and sprightliness that manifested itself in all sorts of fun and
mischief. He loved to play pranks on his sisters, comrades and others,
and had a fondness for caricature, taking off the peculiarities of
those about him with pose and pen. Indeed it was the opinion of a
clever member of the profession, that the lad was born to become a
great actor. All the young Chopins had a great fondness for literature
and writing; they occasionally tried their hand at poetry, and the
production of original one-act plays, written for birthday fetes and
The most important event of Frederic's fifteenth year was the
publication of his first composition for piano, a Rondo in C minor.
This was soon followed by a set of Variations, Op. 2, on an air from
Mozart's "Don Giovanni." In these early pieces, written perhaps even
before he was fifteen, we find the first stages of his peculiar style.
Even at this early time he was pleased with chords that had the tones
spread apart in extended harmony. As his hands were small he invented
a contrivance which separated the fingers as far apart as possible,
in order that he might reach the new chords more easily. This he wore
even during the night. The contrivance however, did not result in
injury to his hands, as did Schumann's efforts to strengthen his
In 1827, Chopin finished his studies at the Lyceum and determined
to adopt music as his profession. He was now seventeen, of slender
figure, finely cut features, high forehead, delicate brows above
dreamy, soulful eyes. Though not weak or sickly, as some accounts make
out, he was never very robust; he would far rather lie under beautiful
trees in delightful day dreams, than take long excursions afoot. One
of his aversions was smoking or tobacco in any form; he never used it
in his whole life. He was vivacious, active, hard working at music and
reasonably healthy in early youth, but not of a hardy organism. His
mother and sisters constantly cautioned him to wrap up in cold or damp
weather, and like an obedient son and good brother, he obeyed.
Young Chopin greatly wished to travel and see something of the
world. A much longed-for opportunity to visit Berlin came to him the
following year. An old friend of his father's, Dr. Jarocki, Professor
in the Warsaw University, was invited to attend a Philosophic
Congress, presided over by Alexander von Humboldt, to be held in that
city. The good Professor was willing to take his friend's son under
his wing, and Frederic was quite beside himself with joy, for now he
believed he could meet some of the musical celebrities of Berlin, and
hear some great music. As to the latter his hopes were realized, but
he did not meet many musicians, and could only gaze at them from a
distance. It may have been a certain shyness and reticence that stood
in the way, for he wrote home about a concert in the Singakademie:
"Spontini, Zelter and Felix Mendelssohn were all there, but I spoke to
none of these gentlemen, as I did not think it becoming to introduce
myself." Music and things connected with music, music-shops and piano
factories, took up most of his time, as he declined to attend the
meetings of the Congress.
"At the time of the Berlin visit," writes Niecks, his biographer,
"Chopin was a lively, well-educated, well-mannered youth, who walked
through life, pleased with its motley garb, but as yet unconscious
of the deeper truths, the immensities of joy and sadness, of love and
hate, which lie beneath the surface."
After a stay of two weeks in the Prussian capital, Professor Jarocki
and Frederic started on their return to Poland. During the journey
they were obliged to halt an hour for fresh horses. Chopin began to
look about the little inn for some sort of amusement to while away the
time. He soon discovered in a corner, an old piano, which proved to
be in tune. Of course he lost no time, but sat down and began to
improvise on Polish melodies. Soon his fellow passengers of the
stage-coach began to drop in one after another; at last came the post
master with his wife and pretty daughter. Even when the hour was
up and the horses had been put to the chaise, they begged the young
musician to go on and on. Although he remonstrated, saying it was now
time to go, they protested so convincingly that the boy sat down again
and resumed his playing. Afterwards wine was brought in and they all
drank to the health of the young master. Chopin gave them a mazurka
for farewell, then the tall post master caught him up and carried him
out to the coach, and all travelers started away in high spirits.
About the middle of July, 1829, Chopin with three young friends,
started out for Vienna. In those days an artist, in order to make
himself and his work known, had to travel about the world and arrange
concerts here and there, introduce himself to prominent people in each
place and make them acquainted with his gifts. The present journey had
for its object Vienna, the city of Beethoven and Schubert and other
Of course the young musician carried many letters of introduction,
both to publishers and influential persons, for whom he played. Every
one told him he ought to give a concert, that it would be a disgrace
to parents, teachers and to himself not to appear in public. At last
Frederic overcame his hesitation. In a letter home he writes; "I have
made up my mind; they tell me I shall create a furore, that I am an
artist of the first rank, worthy of a place beside Moscheles, Herz
and Kalbrenner," well-known musicians of the day. One must forgive the
nineteen year old boy, if he felt a little pride in being classed with
these older and more famous musicians.
The concert took place in the Imperial Opera House, just ten days
after his arrival, and from all accounts was a great success. Chopin
was more than satisfied, he was delighted. Indeed his success was so
emphatic that a second concert was given the following week. In both
he played some of his own compositions and improvised as well.
"It goes crescendo with my popularity here, and this gives me much
pleasure," he wrote home, at the end of the fortnight, and on the eve
of starting to return. On the way back the travelers visited Prague,
Teplitz and Dresden. A couple of days were spent in each, and then the
party arrived safely in Warsaw.
With such an intense nature, friendship and love were two vital forces
controlling life and action. Chopin was devoted to his friends; he
clung to them with effusive ardor, incomprehensible to those less
sensitive and romantic. With Titus Woyciechowski he was heart to heart
in closest intimacy, and wrote him the most adoring letters when they
chanced to be separated. Titus was less demonstrative, but always
Love for women was destined to play a large part in the inner life of
Chopin. The first awakening of this feeling came from his admiration
of Constantia Gladowska, a beautiful girl and vocal pupil at the
Conservatory at Warsaw. Strangely enough he admired the young lady for
some time at a distance, and if report be true, never really declared
himself to her. But she filled his thoughts by day, and he confessed
to dreaming of her each night. When she made her debut in opera, he
hung on every note she sang and rejoiced in her success but did not
make his feelings known to her. All this pent-up emotion was confined
to his piano, in impassioned improvisations.
Seeing no suitable field for his genius in Warsaw and realizing he
ought to leave home and strike out for himself, he yet delayed making
the break. He continued putting off the evil day of parting from home
and friends, and especially putting a wide distance between himself
and the object of his adoration, Constantia.
The two years of indecision were fruitful in producing much piano
music and in completing the beautiful E minor Concerto, which was
rehearsed with orchestra and was performed at the third and last
concert he ever gave in Warsaw. This concert was arranged for October
11, 1830. Chopin requested Constantia Gladowska, whom he had never
met, to sing an aria. In the success of the evening sorrow was
forgotten. He wrote to his friend: "Miss Gladowska wore a white gown
with roses in her hair and was wondrously beautiful; she had never
sung so well."
After this event, Chopin decided the time had come for him to depart.
His trunk was bought, his clothing ready, pocket-handkerchiefs hemmed;
in fact nothing remained but the worst of all, the leave-taking. On
November I, 1830, Elsner and a number of friends accompanied him to
Wola, the first village beyond Warsaw. There they were met by a group
of students from the Conservatory, who sang a cantata, composed by
Elsner for the occasion. Then there was a banquet. During this last
meal together, a silver goblet filled with Polish earth was presented
to Chopin in the name of them all.
We can imagine the tender leave-takings after that. "I am convinced,"
he said, "I am saying an eternal farewell to my native country; I have
a presentiment I shall never return." And so indeed it proved.
Again to Vienna, by way of Breslau, Dresden and Prague. In Vienna
all was not as rosy as it had been on his first visit. Haslinger was
unwilling to publish more of his compositions, though there were the
two concertos, etudes and many short pieces. The way did not open to
give a concert. He was lonely and unhappy, constantly dreaming of home
and the beloved Constantia. From graphic letters to one of his dearest
friends, a few sentences will reveal his inner life.
"To-day is the first of January (1831). Oh, how sadly this year begins
for me! I love you all above all things. My poor parents! How are my
friends faring? I could die for you all. Why am I doomed to be here so
lonely and forsaken? You can at least open your hearts to each other.
Go and see my parents--and--Constantia."
Although it did not seem advisable to give concerts in Vienna, yet
Chopin made many pleasant acquaintances among the musicians and
prominent people, and was constantly invited. He had planned to
go from Vienna to either Italy or France. As there were political
troubles in the former country, he decided to start for Paris,
stopping on the way at a few places. In Munich he gave a morning
concert, in the hall of the Philharmonie, which won him renown. From
Munich he proceeded to Stuttgart, and during a short stay there, heard
the sad news of the taking of Warsaw by the Russians. This event, it
is said, inspired him to compose the C minor Etude, Op. 10, No. 12.
The Poles and everything Polish were at that time the rage in Paris.
The young Polish master found ready entrance into the highest musical
and literary circles of this most delightful city of the world. All
was romance, fantasy, passion, which fitted with Chopin's sensitive
and romantic temperament. Little wonder that he became inspired by
contact with some of the greatest in the world of arts and letters.
There were Victor Hugo. King of the romanticists, Heine, poet and
novelist; De Musset, Flaubert, Zola, Lamartine, Chateaubriand,
Baudelaire, Ary Scheffer, Merimee, Gautier, Berlioz, Balzac, Rossini,
Meyerbeer, Hiller, Nourrit, to mention a few. Liszt was there too, and
George Sand, Mendelssohn and Kalkbrenner. Chopin called on the last
named, who was considered the first pianist of the day, and played for
him. Kalkbrenner remarked he had the style of Cramer and the touch of
Field. He proposed that Chopin should study three years with him,
and he would then become a great virtuoso. Of course the young artist
might have learned something-on the mechanical side, but at the risk
of injuring the originality and style of his playing. His old friend
and teacher Elsner, kept him from doing this.
The first year in Paris Chopin played at a number of concerts and
functions, with ever increasing success. But in spite of the artistic
success, his finances ran low, and he began to consider a trip to
America. Fortunately he met Prince Radziwill on the street at this
time, and was persuaded to play at a Rothschild soiree in the evening.
From this moment, it is said, his prospects brightened, and he secured
a number of wealthy patrons as pupils. Whether this be true or not, he
came to know many titled personages. One has only to turn the pages of
his music to note how many pieces are dedicated to Princess This and
Countess That. This mode of life was reflected in his music, which
became more elegant and aristocratic.
During the season of 1833 and 1834, Chopin continued to make his way
as composer, pianist and teacher. A letter to friends in Poland, says:
"Frederic looks well and strong; he turns the heads of all the French
women, and makes the men jealous. He is now the fashion."
In the spring of 1834 Chopin had been persuaded by Ferdinand Hiller
to accompany him to Aix-la-Chapelle, to attend the Lower Rhine Music
Festival. Before they started Chopin found he had not the money to go,
as it had been spent or given to some needy countryman. Hiller did not
like to go alone, and asked if his friend could think of no way out of
the dilemma. At last Chopin took the manuscript of the E flat Valse,
Op. 18, went with it to Pleyel the publisher, and returned with five
hundred francs. They could now go and enjoy the trip they had planned.
In July, 1835, Chopin met his parents at Carlsbad, where his father
had been sent by the Warsaw physicians to take the cure. The young
musician, now famous, had not seen his parents in nearly five years,
and the reunion must have been a happy one. From here he went to
Dresden and Leipsic, meeting Schumann and Mendelssohn. Schumann
admired the young Pole greatly and wrote much about him in his musical
magazine. Mendelssohn considered him a "really perfect virtuoso, whose
piano playing was both original and masterly," but he was not sure
whether his compositions were right or wrong. Chopin also stopped
in Heidelberg on the way to Paris, visiting the father of his pupil
Adolph Gutman. He must have been back in Paris about the middle of
October, for the papers mention that "M. Chopin, one of the most
eminent pianists of our epoch, has just made a tour of Germany, which
has been for him a real ovation. Everywhere his admirable talent
obtained the most flattering reception and excited much enthusiasm."
The story of Chopin's attraction for Marie Wodzinski and his reported
engagement to her, is soon told. During his visit in Dresden, after
leaving his parents in Carlsbad, he saw much of his old friends, Count
Wodzinski and his family. The daughter, Marie, aged nineteen, was
tall and slender, not beautiful but charming, with soft dark hair and
soulful eyes. Chopin spent all his evenings at their home and saw much
of Marie. The last evening the girl gave him a rose, and he composed a
valse for her.
The next summer the two met again at Marienbad, and resumed their
walks, talks and music. She drew his portrait, and one day Chopin
proposed. She assured him she would always remain his friend, but her
family would never consent to their marriage. So that brief romance
An attachment of a different sort was that with Mme. Dudevant, known
in literature as George Sand. Books have been written about this
remarkable woman. The family at Nohant where she had spent her
childhood, where her two children, Maurice and Solange, lived, and
where her husband sometimes came, became distasteful to her; she
wanted to see life. Paris offered it. Although possessing ample means,
she arranged to spend six months in Paris each year, and live on two
hundred and fifty francs a month. She came in 1831. Her _menage_
was of the simplest--three small rooms, with meals from a near-by
restaurant at two francs; she did the washing herself. Woman's attire
was too expensive, so, as she had worn man's attire when riding and
hunting at Nohant, she saw nothing shocking in wearing it in Paris.
Her literary student life, as she called it, now began. She went about
the streets at all times, in all weathers; went to garrets, studios,
clubs, theaters, coffee-houses, everywhere but the _salons_. The
romance of society-life as it was lived in the French capital, were
the studies she ardently pursued. From these studies of life grew the
several novels she produced during the years that followed.
It is said that Chopin met Mme. Sand at a musical matinee, given by
the Marquis of C, where the aristocracy of genius, wealth and beauty
had assembled. Chopin had gone to the piano and was absorbed in an
improvisation, when lifting his eyes from the keys he encountered the
fiery glances of a lady standing near. Perhaps the truer account of
their first meeting is that given by Chopin's pupil Gutman. Mme. Sand,
who had the faculty of subjugating every man of genius she came in
contact with, asked Liszt repeatedly to introduce her.
One morning, early in the year 1837, Liszt called on his brother
artist and found him in good spirits over some new compositions. He
wished to play them to some friends, so it was arranged that a party
of them should come to his rooms that evening. Liszt came with his
special friend, Mme. d'Agoult and George Sand. Afterwards these
meetings were frequently repeated. Liszt poetically describes one such
evening, in his "Life of Chopin."
The fastidious musician was not at first attracted to the rather
masculine-looking woman, addicted to smoking, who was short, stout,
with large nose, coarse mouth and small chin. She had wonderful eyes,
though, and her manners were both quiet and fascinating.
Her influence over Chopin began almost at once; they were soon seen
together everywhere. Sand liked to master a reserved, artistic nature
such as that of the Polish musician. She was not herself musical, but
appreciated all forms of art.
In 1838 Mme. Sand's son Maurice became ill, and she proposed a trip to
Majorca. Chopin went with the party and fell ill himself. There were
many discomforts during their travels, due to bad weather and other
Chopin's health now began to be a source of anxiety to his friends.
He had to be very careful, gave fewer lessons during the season, and
spent his vacations at Nohant. He played rarely in public, though
there were two public concerts in 1841 and '42 at Pleyel's rooms. From
1843 to 1847 he lived quietly and his life was apparently happy. He
was fond of the Sand children, and amused himself with them when at
But the breach, which had started some years before, between Mme. Sand
and Chopin, widened as time passed, and they parted in 1847. It was
the inevitable, of course. Chopin never had much to say about it; Sand
said more, while the students asserted she had killed their beloved
master. Probably it all helped to undermine the master's feeble
health. His father passed away in 1844, his sister also, of pulmonary
trouble; he was lonely and ill himself. He gave his last concert in
Paris, February 16, 1848. Though weak he played beautifully. Some one
said he fainted in the artist's room. The loss of Sand, even though he
had long wearied of her was the last drop.
To secure rest and change, he undertook a trip to London, for the
second and last time, arriving April 21, 1848. He played at different
great houses and gave two matinees, at the homes of Adelaide Kemble
and Lord Falmouth, June 23, and July 7. These were attended by many
titled personages. Viardot Garcia sang. The composer was thin, pale,
and played with "wasted fingers," but the money helped replenish his
Chopin visited Scotland in August of the same year, and stayed with
his pupil Miss Jane Stirling, to whom he dedicated the two Nocturnes,
Op. 55. He played in Manchester, August 28; his playing was rather
weak, but retained all its elegance, finish and grace. He was encored
for his familiar Mazurka, Op. 7, No. 1, and repeated it with quite
different nuances. One survivor of this audience remarked subsequently
in a letter to a friend: "My emotion was so great I was compelled to
retire to recover myself. I have heard all the celebrated stars of
the musical firmament, but never has one left such an impression on my
Chopin returned to London in November, and left England in January
1849. His purse was very low and his lodgings in the Rue Chaillot,
Paris, were represented as costing half their value, the balance being
paid by a Russian Countess, who was touched by his need. The generous
hearted Miss Stirling raised 25,000 francs for the composer, so his
last days were cheered by every comfort. He passed away October 17,
1849, and every writer agrees it was a serene passing. His face was
beautiful and young, in the flower-covered casket, says Liszt,
for friends filled his rooms with blossoms. He was buried from
the Madeleine, October thirtieth. The B flat minor Funeral March,
orchestrated by Reber, was given, and during the service Lefebure
Wely played on the organ the E and B minor Preludes. His grave in Pere
Lachaise is sought out by many travelers who admire his great art. It
is difficult to find the tomb in that crowded White City, but no
doubt all music lovers seek to bring away at least a leaf--as did the
writer--from the earthly resting place of the most ideal pianist and
composer who ever lived.
Chopin was preeminently a composer for the piano. With the exception
of the Trio, Op. 8 and a book of Polish songs, everything he wrote was
for his favorite instrument. There are seventy-one opus numbers in the
list, but often whole sets of pieces are contained in one opus number,
as is the case with the Etudes, of which there are twelve in Op. 10,
and the same in Op. 25. These Etudes take up every phase of piano
technic; each one has a definite aim, yet each is a beautiful finished
work as music. They have been edited and re-edited by the greatest
The twenty-four Preludes were composed before the trip to Majorca,
though they were perfected and polished while there. Written early in
his career, they have a youthful vigor not often found in later
works. "Much in miniature are these Preludes of the Polish poet," says
There are four Impromptus and four Ballades, also four Scherzos. In
them the composer is free, fascinating, often bold and daring. The
great Fantaisie, Op. 49, is an epic poem, much as the Barcarolle is a
poem of love. The two Sonatas, not to mention an early effort in this
form, are among the modern classics, which are bound to appear on the
programs of every great pianist of the present, and doubtless of
the future. The two Concertos are cherished by virtuosi and audience
alike, and never fail to make an instant and lasting appeal.
And think of the eleven Polonaises, those courtly dances, the most
characteristic and national of his works; the fourteen Valses, beloved
of every young piano student the world over; the eighteen Nocturnes,
of starry night music; the entrancing Mazurkas, fifty-two in number.
One marvels, in merely glancing over the list, that the composer, who
lived such a super-sensitive hectic life, whose days were so occupied
with lesson giving, ever had the time to create such a mass of music,
or the energy to write it.
When one considers the amount of it, the beauty, originality and glory
of it, one must acknowledge Frederic Chopin as one of the greatest
piano geniuses of all time.
In the south of France, near Grenoble, is found a romantic spot, La
Cote Saint-Andre. It lies on a hillside overlooking a wide green and
golden plain, and its dreamy majesty is accentuated by the line of
mountains that bounds it on the southeast. These in turn are crowned
by the distant glory of snowy peaks and Alpine glaciers. Here one of
the most distinguished men of the modern movement in French musical
art, Hector Berlioz, first saw the light, on December 11, 1803.
He was an only son of a physician. His father, a learned man, with
the utmost care, taught his little boy history, literature, geography,
languages, even music. Hector was a most romantic, impressionable
child, who peopled nature with fairies and elves, as he lay under
great trees and dreamed fantastic day dreams. Poetry and romantic
tales were his delight and he found much to feed his imagination in
his father's large library.
His mother's father lived at Meylan, a little village not far from
Grenoble, and there, in this picturesque valley, the family used to
spend a part of each summer.
Above Meylan, in a crevice of the mountain, stood a white house amid
its vineyards and gardens. It was the home of Mme. Gautier and her two
nieces, of whom the younger was called Estelle. When the boy Hector
saw her for the first time, he was twelve, a shy, retiring little
fellow. Estelle was just eighteen, tall, graceful, with beautiful
dusky hair and large soulful eyes. Most wonderful of all, with her
simple white gown, she wore pink slippers. The shy boy of twelve fell
in desperate love with this white robed apparition in pink slippers.
He says himself:
"Never do I recall Estelle, but with the flash of her large dark
eyes comes the twinkle of her dainty pink shoes. To say I loved her
comprises everything. I was wretched, dumb, despairing. By night I
suffered agonies--by day I wandered alone through the fields of Indian
corn, or, like a wounded bird, sought the deepest recesses of my
"One evening there was a party at Mme. Gautier's and various games
were played. In one of them I was told to choose first. But I dared
not, my heart-beats choked me. Estelle, smiling, caught my hand,
saying: 'Come, I will begin; I choose Monsieur Hector.' But, ah, she
"I was thirteen when we parted. I was thirty when, returning from
Italy, I passed through this district, so filled with early memories.
My eyes filled at sight of the white house: I loved her still. On
reaching my old home I learned she was married!"
With pangs of early love came music, that is, attempts at musical
composition. His father had taught him the rudiments of music, and
soon after gave him a flute. On this the boy worked so industriously
that in seven or eight months he could play fairly well. He also
took singing lessons, as he had a pretty soprano voice. Harmony was
likewise studied by this ambitious lad, but it was self taught. He had
found a copy of Rameau's "Harmony" among some old books and spent many
hours poring over those labored theories in his efforts to reduce them
to some form and sense.
Inspired by these studies he tried his hand at music making in
earnest. First came some arrangements of trios and quartettes. Then
finally he was emboldened to write a quintette for flute, two violins,
viola and 'cello. Two months later he had produced another quintette,
which proved to be a little better. At this time Hector was twelve
and a half. His father had set his heart on the boy's following his
footsteps and becoming a doctor; the time was rapidly approaching when
a decision had to be made. Doctor Berlioz promised if his son would
study anatomy and thoroughly prepare himself in this branch of the
profession, he should have the finest flute that could be bought. His
cousin Robert shared these anatomical lessons; but as Robert was a
good violinist, the two boys spent more time over music than over
osteology. The cousin, however, really worked over his anatomy, and
was always ready at the lessons with his demonstrations, while Hector
was not, and thus drew upon himself many a reprimand. However he
managed to learn all his father could teach him, and when he was
nineteen consented to go to Paris, with Robert, and--though much
against his will--become a doctor.
When the boys reached Paris, in 1822, Hector loyally tried to keep his
promise to his father and threw himself into the studies which were
so repugnant to him. He says he might have become a common-place
physician after all, had he not one night gone to the opera. That
night was a revelation; he became half frantic with excitement and
enthusiasm. He went again and again. Learning that the Conservatoire
library, with its wealth of scores, was open to the public, he began
to study the scores of his adored Gluck. He read, re-read and copied
long parts and scenes from these wonderful scores, even forgetting
to eat, drink or sleep, in his wild enthusiasm. Of course, now, the
career of doctor must be given up; there was no question of that. He
wrote home that in spite of father, mother, relations and friends, a
musician he would be and nothing else.
A short time after this the choir master of Saint Roch, suggested that
Hector should write a mass for Innocents' Day, promising a chorus and
orchestra, with ample rehearsals, also that the choir boys would copy
the parts. He set to work with enthusiasm. But alas, after one trial
of the completed work, which ended in confusion owing to the countless
mistakes the boys had made in copying the score, he rewrote the whole
composition. Fearing another fiasco from amateur copyists, the young
composer wrote out all the parts himself. This took three months. With
the help of a friend who advanced funds, the mass was performed at
Saint Roch, and was well spoken of by the press.
The hostility of Hector's family to music as a profession, died down
a bit, owing to the success of the mass, but started up with
renewed vigor when the son and brother failed to pass the entrance
examinations at the Conservatoire. His father wrote that if he
persisted in staying on in Paris his allowance would be stopped.
Lesueur, his teacher, promised to intercede and wrote an appealing
letter, which really made matters worse instead of better. Then
Hector went home himself, to plead his cause in person. He was coldly
received by his family; his father at last consented to his return
to Paris for a time, but his mother forbade it absolutely. In case he
disobeyed her will, she would disown him and never again wished to see
his face. So Hector at last set out again for Paris with no kind look
or word from his mother, but reconciled for the time being with the
rest of the family.
The young enthusiast began life anew in Paris, by being very
economical, as he must pay back the loan made for his mass. He found
a tiny fifth floor room, gave up restaurant dinners and contented
himself with plain bread, with the addition of raisins, prunes
or dates. He also secured some pupils, which helped out in this
emergency, and even got a chance to sing in vaudeville, at the
enormous sum of 50 francs per month!
These were strenuous days for the eager ardent musician. Teaching from
necessity, in order to live, spending every spare moment on composing;
attending opera whenever he got a free ticket; yet, in spite of many
privations there was happiness too. With score under arm, he always
made it a point to follow the performance of any opera he heard. And
so in time, he came to know the sound--the voice as it were, of
each instrument in the orchestra. The study of Beethoven, Weber and
Spontini--watching for rare and unusual combinations of sounds, being
with artists who were kind enough to explain the compass and powers of
their instruments, were the ways and means he used to perfect his art.
When the Conservatoire examinations of 1827, came on, Hector tried
again, and this time passed the preliminary test. The task set for
the general competition was to write music for Orpheus torn by the
Bacchantes. An incompetent pianist, whose duty it was to play over the
compositions, for the judges, could seem to make nothing of Hector's
score. The six judges, headed by Cherubini, the Director of the
Conservatoire, voted against the aspirant, and he was thrown out a
And now came to Berlioz a new revelation--nothing less than the
revelation of the art of Shakespeare. An English company of actors had
come to Paris, and the first night Hamlet was given, with Henrietta
Smithson--who five years later became his wife--as Ophelia.
In his diary Berlioz writes: "Shakespeare, coming upon me unawares,
struck me down as with a thunderbolt. His lightning spirit opened to
me the highest heaven of Art, and revealed to me the best and grandest
and truest that earth can give." He began to worship both the genius
of Shakespeare and the art of the beautiful English actress. Every
evening found him at the theater, but days were spent in a kind of
dumb despair, dreaming of Shakespeare and of Miss Smithson, who had
now become the darling of Paris.
At last this sort of dumb frenzy spent itself and the musician in him
awoke and he returned to his normal self. A new plan began to take
shape in his mind. He would give a concert of his own works: up to
that time no French musician had done so. Thus he would compel her
to hear of him, although he had not yet met the object of his devoted
It was early spring of the year 1828, when he set to work with frantic
energy, writing sixteen hours a day, in order to carry through the
wonderful plan. The concert, the result of so much labor, was given
the last of May, with varying success. But alas, Miss Smithson,
adsorbed in her own affairs, had not even heard of the excitable young
composer who had dared and risked so much to make a name that might
attract her notice.
As Berlioz pere again stopped his allowance, Hector began to write
for musical journals. At first ignorant of the ways of journalism, his
wild utterances were the despair of his friends; later his trenchant
pen was both admired and feared.
For the third time, in June of this year, he entered the Conservatoire
contest, and won a second prize, in this case a gold medal. Two years
later he won the coveted Prix de Rome, which gives the winner five
years' study, free of expense, in the Eternal City.
Before this honor was achieved, however, a new influence came into his
life, which for a time overshadowed the passion for Shakespeare and
Miss Smithson. It happened on this wise.
Ferdinand Hiller, composer, pianist and one of Hector's intimate
friends, fell deeply in love with Marie Moke, a beautiful, talented
girl who, later on, won considerable fame as a pianist. She became
interested in the young French composer, through hearing of his mental
suffering from Hiller. They were thrown together in a school where
both gave lessons, she on the piano and he on the--guitar! Meeting so
constantly, her dainty beauty won a warm place in the affections of
the impressionable Hector. She was but eighteen, while her admirer was
Hiller saw how things were going and behaved admirably. He called it
fate, wished the pair every happiness, and left for Frankfort.
Then came the Prix de Rome, which the poor boy had struggled so long
to win, and now did not care so much for, as going to Italy would mean
to leave Paris. On August 23, 1830, he wrote to a friend:
"I have gained the Prix de Rome. It was awarded unanimously--a thing
never known before. My sweet Ariel was dying of anxiety when I told
her the news; her dainty wings were all ruffled, till I smoothed them
with a word. Even her mother, who does not look too favorably on our
love, was touched to tears.
"On November 1, there is to be a concert at the Theater Italien. I
am asked to write an Overture and am going to take as subject
Shakespeare's Tempest; it will be quite a new style of thing. My great
concert, with the Symphonie Fantastique, will take place November
14, but I must have a theatrical success; Camille's parents insist on
that, as a condition of our marriage. I hope I shall succeed."
These concerts were both successful and the young composer passed from
deepest anxiety to exuberant delight. He wrote to the same friend;
"The Tempest is to be played a second time at the opera. It is new,
fresh, strange, grand, sweet, tender, surprising. Fetis wrote two
splendid articles about it for the Revue Musicale.--My marriage is
fixed for Easter, 1832, on condition that I do not lose my pension,
and that I go to Italy for one year. My blessed Symphonie has done the
The next January Berlioz went home to his family, who were now
reconciled to his choice of music as a profession, and deluged him
with compliments, caresses and tender solicitude. The parents had
fully forgiven their gifted son.
"There is Rome, Signore."
It was true. The Eternal City lay spread out in purple majesty before
the young traveler, who suddenly realized the grandeur, the poetry
of this heart of the world. The Villa Medici, the venerable ancient
palace, centuries old, had been reserved by the Academie of France as
home for her students, whose sole obligation was to send, once a year,
a sample of their work to the Academie in Paris.
When Hector Berlioz arrived in Rome he was twenty-seven, and of
striking appearance. A mass of reddish auburn hair crowned a high
forehead; the features were prominent, especially the nose; the
expression was full of sensitive refinement. He was of an excitable
and ardent temperament, but in knowledge of the world's ways often
simple as a child.
Berlioz, who was welcomed with many humorous and friendly jests on his
appearance among the other students, had just settled down to work,
when he learned that his Ariel--otherwise Marie Moke--had forsaken him
and had married Pleyel. In a wild state of frenzy he would go to Paris
at once and seek revenge. He started, got as far as Nice, grew calmer,
remained at Nice for a month, during which time the Overture to "King
Lear" was written, then returned to Rome by the way of Genoa and
By July 1832, Berlioz had returned to La Cote Saint Andre for a home
visit. He had spent a year in Italy, had seen much, composed a number
of important things, but left Rome without regrets, and found the
familiar landscape near his home more fascinating than anything Italy
The rest of the summer was spent in the beautiful Dauphiny country,
working on the "Damnation of Faust." In the fall he returned to Paris.
The vision of his Ophelia, as he used to call Miss Smithson, was
seldom long absent from his thoughts, and he now went to the house
where she used to live, thinking himself very lucky to be able to find
lodging there. Meeting the old servant, he learned Miss Smithson was
again in Paris, and would manage a new English theater, which was
to open in a few days. But Berlioz was planning a concert of his own
compositions, and did not trust himself to see the woman he had so
long adored until this venture was over. It happened, however, that
some friends induced her to attend the concert, the success of which
is said to have been tremendous. The composer had the happiness of
meeting the actress the same evening. The next day he called on her.
Their engagement lasted nearly a year, opposed by her mother and
sister, and also by Hector's family. The following summer Henrietta
Smithson, all but ruined from her theatrical ventures, and weak from
a fall, which made her a cripple for some years, was married to Hector
Berlioz, in spite of the opposition of their two families.
And now there opened to Berlioz a life of stress and struggle,
inseparable from such a nature as his. At one moment he would be
in the highest heaven of happiness, and the next in the depths of
despair. His wife's heavy debts were a load to carry, but he manfully
did his best to pay them. We can be sure that every work he ever
produced was composed under most trying circumstances, of one kind
or another. One of his happiest ventures was a concert of his own
compositions, given at the Conservatoire on October 22, 1833. Of it he
wrote: "The concert, for which I engaged the very best artists, was a
triumphant success. My musicians beamed with joy all evening, and to
crown all, I found waiting for me a man with long black hair, piercing
eyes and wasted form. Catching my hand, he poured forth a flood of
burning praise and appreciation. It was Paganini!"
Paganini commissioned Berlioz to write a solo for his beautiful Strad.
viola. The composer demurred for a time, and then made the attempt.
While the result was not just what the violinist wished, yet the
themes afterward formed the basis for Berlioz' composition "Childe
The next great work undertaken by Berlioz was the Requiem. It seems
that, in 1836, the French Minister of the Interior set aside yearly,
3,000 francs to be given to a native composer, chosen by the Minister,
to compose a religious work, either a mass or an oratorio, to be
performed at the expense of the Government.
"I shall begin with Berlioz," he announced: "I am sure he could write
a good Requiem."
After many intrigues and difficulties, this work was completed and
performed in a way the composer considered "a magnificent triumph."
Berlioz, like most composers, always wished to produce an opera.
"Benvenuto Cellini" was the subject finally chosen. It took a long
time to write, and perhaps would never have been finished, since
Berlioz was so tied to bread-winning journalistic labors, if a kind
friend--Ernest Legouve--had not offered to lend him two thousand
francs. This loan made him independent for a little time, and gave him
the necessary leisure in which to compose.
The "Harold" music was now finished and Berlioz advertised both this
and the Symphonie Fantastique for a concert at the Conservatoire,
December 16, 1838. Paganini was present, and declared he had never
been so moved by music before. He dragged the composer back on the
platform, where some of the musicians still lingered, and there knelt
and kissed his hand. The next day he sent Berlioz a check for twenty
Berlioz and his wife, two of the most highly strung individuals to be
found anywhere, were bound to have plenty of storm and stress in their
daily life. And so it came about that a separation, at least for a
time, seemed advisable. Berlioz made every provision in his power
for her comfort, and then started out on various tours to make his
compositions known. Concerts were given in Stuttgart, Heckingen,
Weimar, Leipsic, and in Dresden two, both very successful. Others took
place in Brunswick, Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, finishing at Darmstadt,
where the Grand Duke insisted not only on the composer taking the full
receipts for the concert, but, in addition, refused to let him pay any
of the expenses.
And now back in Paris, at the treadmill of writing again. Berlioz had
the sort of mentality which could plan, and also execute, big musical
enterprises on a grand scale. It was proposed that he and Strauss
should give a couple of monster concerts in the Exhibition Building.
He got together a body of 1022 performers, all paid except the singers
from the lyric theaters, who volunteered to help for the love of
It was a tremendous undertaking, and though an artistic success, the
exertion nearly finished Berlioz, who was sent south by his physician.
Resting on the shores of the Mediterranean, he afterwards gave
concerts in Marseilles, Lyons, and Lille and then traveled to Vienna.
He writes of this visit:
"My reception by all in Vienna--even by my fellow-plowmen, the
critics--was most cordial; they treated me as a man and a brother, for
which I am heartily grateful.
"After my third concert, there was a grand supper, at which my friends
presented me with a silver-gilt baton, and the Emperor sent me eleven
hundred francs, with the odd compliment: 'Tell Berlioz I was really
His way now led through Hungary. Performances were given in Pesth and
Prague, where he was royally entertained and given a silver cup.
On returning to Paris, he had much domestic trouble to bear. His wife
was paralyzed and his only son, Louis, wished to leave home and become
a sailor--which he did eventually, though much against the wishes of
The "Damnation of Faust," now finished, was given at the Opera, and
was not a success. Berlioz then conceived the idea of going to Russia
to retrieve his fortunes. With the help of kind friends, who advanced
the money, he was able to carry out the plan. He left for Russia on
February 14, 1847. The visits to both St. Petersburg and Moscow proved
to be very successful financially as well as artistically. To cap the
climax, "Romeo and Juliette" was performed at St. Petersburg. Then the
King of Prussia, wishing to hear the "Faust," the composer arranged to
spend ten days in Berlin: then to Paris and London, where success was
Shadows as well as sunshine filled the next few years. The composer
was saddened by the passing of his father. Then a favorite sister also
left, and last of all his wife passed quietly away, March 3, 1854.
With all these sorrows Berlioz was at times nearly beside himself. But
as he became calmer he decided, after half a year, to wed a woman who
had been of great assistance to him in his work for at least fourteen
The remaining span of Berlioz' life was outwardly more peaceful and
happy. He continued to travel and compose. Everywhere he went he was
honored and admired.
Among his later compositions were the Te Deum, "Childhood of Christ,"
"Lelio," "Beatrice and Benedict" and "The Trojans."
At last, after what he called thirty years of slavery, he was able
to resign his post of critic. "Thanks to 'The Trojans,' the wretched
quill driver is free!"
A touching episode, told in his vivid way, was the meeting, late in
life, with his adored Estelle of the pink shoes. He called on her and
found a quiet widow, who had lost both husband and children. They
had a poignant hour of reminiscence and corresponded for some time
Hector Berlioz passed away March 8, 1869. The French Institute sent a
deputation, the band of the National Guard played selections from his
Funeral Symphony; on the casket lay wreaths from the Saint Cecilia
Society, from the youths of Hungary, from Russian nobles and from the
town of Grenoble, his old home.
The music of Berlioz is conceived on large lines, in broad masses of
tone color, with new harmonies and imposing effects. He won a noble
place in art through many trials and hardships. His music is the
expression, the reflection of the mental struggles of a most intense
nature. The future will surely witness a greater appreciation of its
merits than has up to now been accorded it.
Franz Liszt, in his day the king of pianists, a composer whose
compositions still glow and burn with the fire he breathed into them;
Liszt the diplomat, courtier, man of the world--always a conqueror!
How difficult to tell, in a few pages, the story of a life so complex
A storm outside: but all was warmth and simple comfort in the large
sitting-room of a steward's cottage belonging to the small estate of
Raiding, in Hungary.
It was evening and father Liszt, after the labors of the day were
over, could call these precious hours his own. He was now at the old
piano, for with him music was a passion. He used all his leisure time
for study and had some knowledge of most instruments. He had taught
himself the piano, indeed under the circumstances had become quite
proficient on it. To-night he was playing something of Haydn, for he
greatly venerated that master. Adam Liszt made a striking figure as
he sat there, his fine head, with its mass of light hair, thrown back,
his stern features softened by the music he was making.
At a table near sat his wife, her dark head with its glossy braids
bent over her sewing. Hers was a sweet, kindly face, and she endeared
herself to every one by her simple, unassuming manners.
Quite near the old piano stood little Franz, not yet six. He was
absolutely absorbed in the music. The fair curls fell about his
childish face and his deep blue eyes were raised to his father,
as though the latter were some sort of magician, creating all this
When the music paused, little Franz awoke as from a trance.
"Did you like that, Franzerl?" asked his father, looking down at him.
The child bent his curly head, hardly able to speak.
"And do you want to be a musician when you grow up?" Franzerl
nodded, then, pointing to a picture of Beethoven hanging on the wall,
exclaimed with beaming eyes: "I want to be such a musician as he is!"
Adam Liszt had already begun to teach his baby son the elements of
music, at the child's earnest and oft-repeated request. He had no real
method, being self-taught himself, but in spite of this fact Franz
made remarkable progress. He could read the notes and find the keys
with as much ease as though he had practised for years. He had a
wonderful ear, and his memory was astonishing. The father hoped his
boy would become a great musician, and carry out the dream which he
had failed to realize in himself.
Little Franz was born in the eventful year of 1811,--the "year of the
comet." The night of October 21, the night of his birth, the tail
of the meteor seemed to light up the roof of the Liszt home and was
regarded as an omen of destiny. His mother used to say he was always
cheerful, loving, never naughty but most obedient. The child seemed
religious by nature, which feeling was fostered by his good mother. He
loved to go to church on Sundays and fast days. The midnight mass on
Christmas eve, when Adam Liszt, carrying a lantern, led the way to
church along the country road, through the silent night, filled the
child's thoughts with mystic awe.
Those early impressions have doubtless influenced the creations of
Liszt, especially that part of his "Christus" entitled "Christmas
Before Franz was six, as we have seen, he had already begun his
musical studies. If not sitting at the piano, he would scribble
notes--for he had learned without instruction how to write them long
before he knew the letters of the alphabet, or rudiments of writing.
His small hands were a source of trouble to him, and he resorted to
all kinds of comical expedients, such as sometimes playing extra notes
with the tip of his nose. Indeed his ingenuity knew no bounds, when it
came to mastering some musical difficulty.
Franz was an open minded, frank, truth-loving child, always ready
to confess his faults, though he seemed to have but few. Strangely
enough, though born an Hungarian, he was never taught to speak his
native tongue, which indeed was only used by the peasants. German, the
polite language of the country, was alone used in the Liszt home.
The pronounced musical talent of his boy was a source of pride to Adam
Liszt, who spoke of it to all his friends, so that the little fellow
began to be called "the artist." The result was that when a concert
was to be given at the neighboring Oldenburg, Adam was requested to
allow his wonder child to play.
When Franz, now a handsome boy of nine, heard of the concert, he was
overjoyed at the prospect of playing in public. It was a happy day for
him when he started out with his father for Oldenburg. He was to play
a Concerto by Reis, and a Fantaisie of his own, accompanied by the
orchestra. In this his first public attempt Franz proved he possessed
two qualities necessary for success--talent and will. All who heard
him on this occasion were so delighted, that Adam then and there made
arrangements to give a second concert on his own account, which was
attended with as great success as the first.
The father had now fully made up his mind Franz was to be a musician.
He decided to resign his post of steward at Raiding and take the boy
to Vienna for further study.
On the way to Pressburg, the first stop, they halted to call at
Eisenstadt, on Prince Esterhazy. The boy played for his delighted
host, who gave him every encouragement, even to placing his castle at
Pressburg at his disposal for a concert. The Princess, too, was most
cordial, and gave the boy costly presents when they left.
At Pressburg Adam Liszt succeeded in arranging a concert which
interested all the Hungarian aristocracy of the city. It was given
in the spacious drawing-rooms of the Prince's palace, and a notable
audience was present. Little Franz achieved a triumph that night,
because of the fire and originality of his playing. Elegant women
showered caresses upon the child and the men were unanimous that such
gifts deserved to be cultivated to the utmost without delay.
When it was learned that father Liszt had not an ample purse, and
there would be but little for Franz's further musical education, six
Hungarian noblemen agreed to raise a subscription which would provide
a yearly income for six years. With this happy prospect in view, which
relieved him of further anxiety, the father wrote to Hummel, now in
employ of the Court at Weimar, asking him to undertake Franz's musical
education. Hummel, though a famous pianist, was of a grasping nature;
he wrote back that he was willing to accept the talented boy as a
pupil, but would charge a louis d'or per lesson!
As soon as the father and his boy arrived in Vienna, the best teachers
were secured for Franz. Carl Czerny was considered head of the piano
profession. Czerny had been a pupil of Beethoven, and was so overrun
with pupils himself, that he at first declined to accept another. But
when he heard Franz play, he was so impressed that he at once promised
to teach him. His nature was the opposite of Hummel's, for he was most
generous to struggling talent. At the end of twelve lessons, when Adam
Liszt wished to pay the debt, Czerny would accept nothing, and for the
whole period of instruction--a year and a half--he continued to teach
At first the work with such a strict master of technic as Czerny, was
very irksome to the boy, who had been brought up on no method at all,
but was allowed free and unrestrained rein. He really had no technical
foundation; but since he could read rapidly at sight and could glide
over the keys with such astonishing ease, he imagined himself already
a great artist. Czerny soon showed him his deficiencies; proving to
him that an artist must have clear touch, smoothness of execution and
variety of tone. The boy rebelled at first, but finally settled down
to hard study, and the result soon astonished his teacher. For Franz
began to acquire a richness of feeling and beauty of tone wonderful
for such a child. Salieri became his teacher of theory. He was now
made to analyze and play scores, also compose little pieces and short
hymns. In all these the boy made fine progress.
He now began to realize he needed to know something besides music,
and set to work by himself to read, study and write. He also had
great opportunity, through his noble Hungarian patrons, to meet the
aristocracy of Vienna. His talents, vivacity and grace, his attractive
personality, all helped to win the notice of ladies--even in those
early days of his career.
After eighteen busy months in Vienna, father Liszt decided to bring
his boy out in a public concert. The Town Hall was placed at his
disposal and a number of fine artists assisted. With beaming face and
sparkling eyes, the boy played with more skill, fire and confidence
than he had ever done before. The concert took place December 1, 1822.
On January 12, 1823, Franz repeated his success in another concert,
again at the Town Hall.
It was after this second concert that Franz's reputation reached the
ears of Beethoven, always the object of the boy's warmest admiration.
Several times Franz and his father had tried to see the great master,
but without success. Schindler was appealed to and promised to do his
best. He wrote in Beethoven's diary, as the master was quite deaf:
"Little Liszt has entreated me to beg you to write him a theme for
to-morrow's concert. He will not break the seal till the concert
begins. Czerny is his teacher--the boy is only eleven years old. Do
come to his concert, it will encourage the child. Promise me you will
It was the thirteenth of April, 1823. A very large audience filled the
Redouten Saal. When Franz stepped upon the platform, he perceived the
great Beethoven seated near. A great joy filled him. Now he was to
play for the great man, whom all his young life he had worshiped from
afar. He put forth every effort to be worthy of such an honor. Never
had he played with such fire; his whole being seemed thrilled--never
had he achieved such success. In the admiration which followed,
Beethoven rose, came upon the platform, clasped the boy in his arms
and kissed him repeatedly, to the frantic cheers of the audience.
The boy Franz Liszt had now demonstrated that already at eleven years
old, he was one of the leading virtuosi of the time; indeed his great
reputation as a pianist dates from this third Vienna concert. The
press praised him highly, and many compared him to the wonderful
genius, Mozart. Adam Liszt wished him now to see more of the world,
and make known his great talents, also to study further. He decided
to take the boy to Paris, for there lived the celebrated composer,
Cherubini, at that time Director of the Paris Conservatoire.
On the way to Paris, concerts were given in various cities. In Munich
he was acclaimed "a second Mozart." In Strassburg and Stuttgart he had
Arrived in Paris, father and son visited the Conservatoire at once,
for it would have been a fine thing for the boy to study there for
a time, as it was the best known school for counterpoint and
composition. Cherubini, however, refused to even read the letters
of recommendation, saying no foreigner, however talented, could be
admitted to the French National School of Music. Franz was deeply
hurt by this refusal, and begged with tears to be allowed to come, but
Cherubini was immovable.
However they soon made the acquaintance of Ferdinand Paer, who offered
to give the child lessons in composition.
Franz made wonderful progress, both in this new line of study, and
in becoming known as a piano virtuoso. Having played in a few of the
great houses, he soon found himself the fashion; everybody was anxious
for "le petit Litz" as he was called, to attend and play at their
soirees. Franz thus met the most distinguished musicians of the day.
When he played in public the press indulged in extravagant praise,
calling him "the eighth wonder of the world," "another Mozart," and
the like. Of course the father was overjoyed that his fondest hopes
were being realized. Franz stood at the head of the virtuosi, and
in composition he was making rapid strides. He even attempted an
operetta, "Don Sancho," which later had several performances.
The eminent piano maker, Erard, who had a branch business in London
and was about to start for that city, invited Liszt to accompany
him and bring Franz. They accepted this plan, but in order to save
expense, it was decided that mother Liszt, who had joined them in
Paris, should return to Austria and stay with a sister till the
projected tours were over.
Franz was saddened by this decision, but his entreaties were useless;
his father was stern. The separation was a cruel one for the boy. For
a long time thereafter the mere mention of his mother's name would
In May, 1824, father and son, with Erard, started for England, and on
June 21 Franz gave his first public concert in London. He had already
played for the aristocracy in private homes, and had appeared at
Court by command of King George IV. The concert won him great success,
though the English were more reserved in their demonstrations, and not
like the impulsive, open-hearted French people. He was happy to return
to Paris, after the London season, and to resume his playing in the
The next spring, accompanied by his father, he made a tour of the
French provinces, and then set out for a second trip to England. He
was now fourteen; a mere boy in years, but called the greatest pianist
of the day. He had developed so quickly and was so precocious that
already he disliked being called "le petit Litz," for he felt himself
full grown. He wished to be free to act as he wished. Adam, however,
kept a strict watch on all his movements, and this became irksome to
the boy, who felt he was already a man.
But father Liszt's health became somewhat precarious; constant
traveling had undermined it. They remained in Paris quietly, till the
year 1826, when they started on a second tour of French cities
till Marseilles was reached, where the young pianist's success was
Returning to Paris, Franz devoted much of his time to ardent study of
counterpoint, under Anton Reicha. In six months' study he had mastered
the difficulties of this intricate art.
Adam Liszt and Franz spent the winter of 1826-7 in Switzerland, the
boy playing in all important cities. They returned to Paris in the
spring, and in May, set out again for England on a third visit. Franz
gave his first concert in London on June ninth and proved how much he
had gained in power and brilliancy. Moscheles, who was present,
wrote: "Franz Liszt's playing surpasses in power and the overcoming of
difficulties anything that has yet been heard."
The strain of constant travel and concert playing was seriously
telling on the boy's sensitive, excitable nature. He lost his sunny
gaiety, grew quiet, sometimes almost morose. He went much to church,
and wanted to take orders, but his father prevented this step.
Indeed the father became alarmed at the boy's pale face and
changed condition, and took him to the French watering place of
Boulogne-sur-Mer. Here both father and son were benefited by the
sea baths and absolute rest. Franz recovered his genial spirits and
constantly gained in health and strength.
But with Adam Liszt the gain was only temporary. He was attacked with
a fever, succumbed in a few days and was buried at Boulogne. The loss
of his father was a great blow to Franz. He was prostrated for days,
but youth at last conquered. Aroused to his responsibilities, he began
to think for the future. He at once wrote his mother, telling her what
had happened, saying he would give up his concert tours and make a
home for her in Paris, by giving piano lessons.
Looking closer into his finances, of which he had no care before,
Franz found the expenses of his father's illness and death had
exhausted their little savings, and he was really in debt. He decided
to sell his grand piano, so that he should be in debt to no one. This
was done, every one was paid off and on his arrival in Paris his old
friend Erard invited him to his own home till the mother came.
It was a sweet and happy meeting of mother and son, after such a
long separation. The two soon found a modest apartment in the Rue
As soon as his intention to give lessons became known, many
aristocratic pupils came and found him a remarkable teacher. Among his
new pupils was Caroline Saint Cricq, youngest daughter of Count Saint
Cricq, then Minister of the Interior, and Madame his wife.
Caroline, scarcely seventeen, the same age as her young teacher, was
a beautiful girl, as pure and refined as she was talented. Under the
eyes of the Countess, the lessons went on from month to month, and the
mother did not fail to see the growing attachment between the young
people. But love's young dream was of short duration. The Countess
fell ill and the lessons had to be discontinued. Caroline did not see
her devoted teacher till all was over.
There was now another bond between them, the sympathy over the loss
of their dear ones. The Count had requested that the lessons should be
resumed. But when the young teacher remained too long in converse with
his pupil after the lessons, he was dismissed by the Count, and all
their sweet intercourse came to an abrupt end.
Mme. Liszt did all she could to soothe the grief and despair of her
son. For days and weeks he remained at home, neglecting his piano and
his work. He again thought of the church with renewed ardor and told
his mother he now had decided to become a monk. His spirits sank very
low; he became ill, unable to leave the house and it was reported
everywhere he had passed away.
Again he rallied and his strong constitution conquered. As strength
slowly returned, so also did his activity and love of life.
During his long convalescence he was seized with a great desire for
knowledge, and read everything he could lay hands on. He would often
sit at the piano, busying his fingers with technic while reading a
book on the desk before him. He had formerly given all his time to
music and languages; now he must know literature, politics, history
and exact sciences. A word casually dropped in conversation, would
start him on a new line of reading. Then came the revolution of 1830.
Everybody talked politics, and Franz, with his excitable spirits,
would have rushed into the conflict if his mother had not restrained
With all this awakening he sought to broaden his art, to make his
instrument speak of higher things. Indeed the spirit must speak
through the form. This he realized the more as he listened to the
thrilling performances of that wizard of the violin, Paganini,
who appeared in Paris in 1831. This style of playing made a deep
impression on Liszt. He now tried to do on the piano what Paganini
accomplished on the violin, in the matter of tone quality and
intensity. He procured the newly published Caprices for violin and
tried to learn their tonal secrets, also transcribing the pieces for
Liszt became fast friends with the young composer, Hector Berlioz,
and much influenced by his compositions, which were along new harmonic
lines. Chopin, the young Polish artist, now appeared in Paris, playing
his E minor Concerto, his Mazurkas and Nocturnes, revealing new phases
of art. Chopin's calm composure tranquilized Liszt's excitable nature.
From Chopin, Liszt learned to "express in music the poetry of the
aristocratic salon." Liszt ever remained a true and admiring friend of
the Pole, and wrote the poetic study sketch of him in 1849.
Liszt was now twenty-three. Broadened and chastened by all he had
passed through, he resumed his playing in aristocratic homes. He also
appeared in public and was found to be quite a different artist from
what the Parisians had previously known. His bold new harmonies in
his own compositions, the rich effects, showed a deep knowledge of
his art. He had transcribed a number of Berlioz's most striking
compositions to the piano and performed them with great effect.
The handsome and gifted young artist was everywhere the object of
admiration. He also met George Sand, and was soon numbered among that
wonderful and dangerous woman's best friends. Later he met the young
and beautiful Countess Laprunarede, and a mutual attraction ensued.
The elderly Count, her husband, pleased with the dashing young
musician, invited him to spend the winter at his chateau, in
Switzerland, where the witty Countess virtually kept him prisoner.
The following winter, 1833-34, when the salons opened again, Liszt
frequented them as before. He was in the bloom of youth and fame, when
he met the woman who was to be linked with his destiny for the next
We have sketched the childhood and youth of this wonderful artist up
to this point. We will pass lightly over this decade of his career,
merely stating briefly that the lady--the beautiful Countess d'Agoult,
captivated by the brilliant talents of the Hungarian virtuoso, left
her husband and child, and became for ten years the faithful companion
of his travels and tours over Europe. Many writers agree that Liszt
endeavored to dissuade her from this attraction, and behaved as
honorably as he could under the circumstances. A part of the time
they lived in Switzerland, and it was there that many of Liszt's
compositions were written.
Of their three children, the boy died very young. Of the girls,
Blandine became the wife of Emile Ollivier, a French literary man and
statesman. Her sister, Cosima, married first Hans von Buelow and later
In 1843 Liszt intended to take Madame with him to Russia, but instead,
left her and her children in Paris, with his mother, as the Countess
was in failing health. His first concert, in St. Petersburg, realized
the enormous sum of fifty thousand francs--ten thousand dollars.
Instead of giving one concert in Moscow, he gave six. Later he played
in Bavaria, Saxony and other parts of Germany. He then settled in
Weimar for a time, being made Grand Ducal Capellmeister. Then, in
1844-45, longing for more success, he toured Spain and Portugal.
A generous act was his labor in behalf of the Beethoven monument, to
be erected in the master's birthplace, Bonn. The monument was to be
given by subscriptions from the various Princes of Germany. Liszt
helped make up the deficit and came to Bonn to organize a Festival in
honor of the event. He also composed a Cantata for the opening day of
the Festival, and in his enthusiasm nearly ruined himself by paying
the heavy expenses of the Festival out of his own pocket.
The political events of 1848 brought him back to Weimar, and he
resumed his post of Court Music Director. He now directed his energies
toward making Weimar the first musical city of Germany. Greatly
admiring Wagner's genius, he undertook to perform his works in Weimar,
and to spread his name and fame. Indeed it is not too much to say that
without Liszt's devoted efforts, Wagner would never have attained his
vogue and fame. Wagner himself testified to this.
While living in Weimar, Liszt made frequent journeys to Rome and to
Paris. In 1861 there was a rumor that the object of his visits to
Rome was to gain Papal consent to his marriage with the Princess
Sayn-Wittgenstein. During a visit to Rome in 1864, the musician was
unable to resist longer the mysticism of the church. He decided to
take orders and was made an Abbe.
Since that time, Abbe Franz Liszt did much composing. He also
continued to teach the piano to great numbers of pupils, who flocked
to him from all parts of the world. Many of the greatest artists now
before the public were numbered among his students, and owe much of
their success to his artistic guidance.
In 1871, the Hungarian Cabinet created him a noble, with a yearly
pension of three thousand dollars. In 1875, he was made Director of
the Academy at Budapest. In addition, Liszt was a member of nearly all
the European Orders of Chivalry.
Franz Liszt passed away August 1, 1886, in the house of his friend,
Herr Frohlich, near Wagner's Villa Wahnfried, Bayreuth, at the age of
seventy-five. As was his custom every summer, Liszt was in Bayreuth,
assisting in the production of Wagner's masterpieces, when he
succumbed to pneumonia. Thus passed a great composer, a world famous
piano virtuoso, and a noble and kindly spirit.
For the piano, his chosen instrument, Liszt wrote much that was
beautiful and inspiring. He created a new epoch for the virtuoso. His
fifteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, B minor Sonata, Concert Etudes and many
transcriptions, appear on all modern programs, and there are many
pieces yet to be made known. He is the originator of the Symphonic
Poem, for orchestra; while his sacred music, such as the Oratorio
"Christus," and the beautiful "Saint Elizabeth," a sacred opera, are
monuments to his great genius.
In the little hamlet of Le Roncole, at the foot of the Apeninnes,
a place that can hardly be found on the map, because it is just a
cluster of workmen's houses, Giuseppe Verdi, one of the greatest
operatic composers, was born, October 9, 1813.
There were great wars going on in Europe during that time. When
Giuseppe was a year old, the Russian and Austrian soldiers marched
through Italy, killing and destroying everywhere. Some of them came
to Le Roncole for a few hours. All the women and children ran to the
church and locked themselves in for safety. But these savage men had
no respect for the house of God. They took the hinges off the doors
and rushing in murdered and wounded the helpless ones. Luigia Verdi,
with the baby Giuseppe in her arms, escaped, ran up a narrow staircase
to the belfry, and hid herself and child among some old lumber. Here
she stayed in her hiding place, until the drunken troops were far away
from the little village.
The babe Giuseppe was born among very poor, ignorant working
people, though his father's house was one of the best known and most
frequented among the cluster of cottages. His parents Carlo Verdi
and Luigia his wife, kept a small inn at Le Roncole and also a little
shop, where they sold sugar, coffee, matches, spirits, tobacco and
clay pipes. Once a week the good Carlo would walk up to Busseto, three
miles away, with two empty baskets and would return with them filled
with articles for his store, carrying them slung across his strong
Giuseppe Verdi who was to produce such streams of beautiful,
sparkling music,--needing an Act of Parliament to stop them, as once
happened,--was a very quiet, thoughtful little fellow, always good and
obedient; sometimes almost sad, and seldom joined in the boisterous
games of other children. That serious expression found in all of
Verdi's portraits as a man was even noticeable in the child. The only
time he would rouse up, was when a hand organ would come through the
village street; then he would follow it as far as his little legs
would carry him, and nothing could keep him in the house, when he
heard this music. Intelligent, reserved and quiet, every one loved
In 1820, when Giuseppe was seven years old, Carlo Verdi committed a
great extravagance for an innkeeper; he bought a spinet for his son,
something very unheard of for so poor a man to do.
Little Giuseppe practised very diligently on his spinet. At first he
could only play the first five notes of the scale. Next he tried
very hard to find out chords, and one day was made perfectly happy
at having sounded the major third and fifth of C. But the next day
he could not find the chord again, and began to fret and fume and
got into such a temper, that he took a hammer and tried to break
the spinet in pieces. This made such a commotion that it brought his
father into the room. When he saw what the child was doing, he gave a
blow on Giuseppe's ear that brought the little fellow to his senses
at once. He saw he could not punish the good spinet because he did not
know enough to strike a common chord.
His love of music early showed itself in many ways. One day he
was assisting the parish priest at mass in the little church of
Le Roncole. At the moment of the elevation of the Host, such sweet
harmonies were sounding from the organ, that the child stood perfectly
motionless, listening to the beautiful music, all unconscious of
everything else about him.
"Water," said the priest to the altar boy. Giuseppe, not hearing him,
the priest repeated the call. Still the child, who was listening to
the music, did not hear. "Water," said the priest a third time and
gave Giuseppe such a sharp kick that he fell down the steps of the
altar, hitting his head on the stone floor, and was taken unconscious
into the sacristy.
After this Giuseppe was allowed to have music lessons with
Baistrocchi, the organist of the village church. At the end of a
year Baistrocchi said there was nothing more he could teach his young
pupil, so the lessons came to an end.
Two years later, when old Baistrocchi died, Giuseppe, who was then
only ten, was made organist in his place. This pleased his parents
very much, but his father felt the boy should be sent to school, where
he could learn to read and write and know something of arithmetic.
This would have been quite impossible had not Carlo Verdi had a good
friend living at Busseto, a shoemaker, named Pugnatta.
Pugnatta agreed to give Giuseppe board and lodging and send him to
the best school in the town, all for a small sum of three pence a day.
Giuseppe went to Pugnatta's; and while he was always in his place in
school and studied diligently, he still kept his situation as organist
of Le Roncole, walking there every Sunday morning and back again to
Busseto after the evening service.
His pay as organist was very small, but he also made a little money
playing for weddings, christenings and funerals. He also gained a few
lire from a collection which it was the habit of artists to make at
harvest time, for which he had to trudge from door to door, with a
sack upon his back. The poor boy's life had few comforts, and this
custom of collections brought him into much danger. One night while
he was walking toward Le Roncole, very tired and hungry, he did not
notice he had taken a wrong path, when suddenly, missing his footing,
he fell into a deep canal. It was very dark and very cold and his
limbs were so stiff he could not use them. Had it not been for an old
woman who was passing by the place and heard his cries, the exhausted
and chilled boy would have been carried away by the current.
After two years' schooling, Giuseppe's father persuaded his friend,
Antonio Barezzi of Busseto, from whom he was in the habit of buying
wines and supplies for his inn and shop,--to take the lad into his
warehouse. That was a happy day for Giuseppe when he went to live with
Barezzi, who was an enthusiastic amateur of music. The Philharmonic
Society, of which Barezzi was the president, met, rehearsed and gave
all its concerts at his house.
Giuseppe, though working hard in the warehouse, also found time to
attend all the rehearsals of the Philharmonics, and began the task
of copying out separate parts from the score. His earnestness in this
work attracted the notice of the conductor, Ferdinando Provesi, who
began to take great interest in the boy, and was the first one to
understand his talent and advised him to devote himself to music. A
Canon in the Cathedral offered to teach him Latin, and tried to make a
priest of him, saying, "What do you want to study music for? You
have a gift for Latin and it would be much better for you to become a
priest. What do you expect from your music? Do you think that some
day you will become organist of Busseto? Stuff and nonsense! That can
A short time after this, there was a mass at a chapel in Busseto,
where the Canon had the service. The organist was unable to attend,
and Verdi was called at the last moment to take his place. Very much
impressed with the unusually beautiful organ music, the priest, at the
close of the service desired to see the organist. His astonishment was
great when he saw his scholar whom he had been seeking to turn from
the study of music. "Whose music did you play?" he asked. "It was most
"Why," timidly answered the boy, "I had no music, I was playing
extempore--just as I felt."
"Ah, indeed," replied the Canon; "well I am a fool and you cannot do
better than to study music, take my word for it."
Under the good Provesi, Verdi studied until he was sixteen and made
such rapid progress that both Provesi and Barezzi felt he must be sent
to Milan to study further. The lad had often come to the help of his
master, both at the organ and as conductor of the Philharmonic. The
records of the society still have several works written by Verdi at
that time--when he was sixteen--composed, copied, taught, rehearsed
and conducted by him.
There was an institution in Busseto called the Monte di Pieta, which
gave four scholarships of three hundred francs a year, each given for
four years to promising young men needing money to study science or
art. Through Barezzi one of these scholarships was given to Verdi, it
being arranged that he should have six hundred francs a year for two
years, instead of three hundred francs for four years. Barezzi himself
advanced the money for the music lessons, board and lodging in Milan
and the priest gave him a letter of introduction to his nephew, a
professor there, who received him with a hearty welcome, and insisted
upon his living with him.
Like all large music schools, there were a great many who presented
themselves for admittance by scholarship and only one to be chosen.
And Verdi did not happen to be that one, Basili not considering his
compositions of sufficient worth. This was not because Verdi was
really lacking in his music, but because Basili had other plans. This
did not in the least discourage Giuseppe, and at the suggestion of
Alessando Rolla, who was then conductor of La Scala, he asked Lavigna
to give him lessons in composition and orchestration.
Lavigna was a former pupil of the Conservatoire of Naples and an able
composer. Verdi showed him some of the same compositions he had shown
Basili. After examining them he willingly accepted the young aspirant
as a pupil.
Verdi spent most of his evenings at the home of the master, when
Lavigna was not at La Scala and there met many artists. One night it
chanced that Lavigna, Basili and Verdi were alone, and the two masters
were speaking of the deplorable result of a competition for the
position of Maitre di Capelle and organist of the Church of San
Giovanni di Monza. Out of twenty-eight young men who had taken part
in the competition, not one had known how to develop correctly the
subject given by Basili for the construction of a fugue. Lavigna, with
a bit of mischief in his eyes, began to say to his friend:--"It is
really a remarkable fact. Well, look at Verdi, who has studied fugue
for two short years. I lay a wager he would have done better than your
eight and twenty candidates."
"Really?" replied Basili, in a somewhat vexed tone.
"Certainly. Do you remember your subject? Yes, you do? Well, write it
Basili wrote and Lavigne, giving the theme to Verdi, said:
"Sit down there at the table and just begin to work out this subject."
Then the two friends resumed their conversation, until Verdi, coming
to them said simply: "There, it is done."
Basili took the paper and examined it, showing signs of astonishment
as he continued to read. When he came to the conclusion he
complimented the lad and said: "But how is it that you have written a
double canon on my subject?"
"It is because I found it rather poor and wished to embellish
it," Verdi replied, remembering the reception he had had at the
In 1833 his old master Provesi died. Verdi felt the loss keenly, for
Provesi was the one who first taught him music and who showed him how
to work to become an artist. Though he wished to do greater things, he
returned to Busseto to fulfill his promise to take Provesi's place as
organist of the Cathedral and conductor of the Philharmonic, rather
big positions to fill for a young man of twenty.
And now Verdi fell in love with the beautiful Margherita, the oldest
daughter of Barezzi, who did not mind giving his daughter to a poor
young man, for Verdi possessed something worth far more than money,
and that was great musical talent. The young people were married in
1836, and the whole Philharmonic Society attended.
About the year 1833-34 there flourished in Milan a vocal society
called the Philharmonic, composed of excellent singers under the
leadership of Masini. Soon after Verdi came to the city, the Society
was preparing for a performance of Haydn's "Creation." Lavigna, with
whom the young composer was studying composition, suggested his pupil
should attend the rehearsals, to which he gladly agreed. It seems that
three Maestri shared the conducting during rehearsals. One day none of
them were present at the appointed hour and Masini asked young Verdi
to accompany from the full orchestral score, adding, "It will be
sufficient if you merely play the bass." Verdi took his place at the
piano without the slightest hesitation. The slender, rather shabby
looking stranger was not calculated to inspire much confidence.
However he soon warmed to his work, and after a while grew so excited
that he played the accompaniment with the left hand while conducting
vigorously with the right. The rehearsal went off splendidly, and
many came forward to greet the young conductor, among them were
Counts Pompeo Belgiojoso and Remato Borromes. After this proof of his
ability, Verdi was appointed to conduct the public performance, which
was such a success that it was repeated by general request, and was
attended by the highest society.
Soon after this Count Borromes engaged Verdi to write a Cantata for
chorus and orchestra, to honor the occasion of a marriage in the
family. Verdi did so but was never paid a sou for his work. The next
request was from Masini, who urged Verdi to compose an opera for
the Teatro Filodramatico, where he was conductor. He handed him a
libretto, which with a few alterations here and there became "Oberto,
Conte di San Bonifacio." Verdi accepted the offer at once, and being
obliged to move to Busseto, where he had been appointed organist,
remained there nearly three years, during which time the opera was
completed. On returning to Milan he found Masini no longer conductor,
and lost all hope of seeing the new opera produced. After long waiting
however, the impressario sent for him, and promised to bring out the
work the next season, if the composer would make a few changes. Young
and as yet unknown, Verdi was quite willing. "Oberto" was produced
with a fair amount of success, and repeated several times. On the
strength of this propitious beginning, the impressario, Merelli, made
the young composer an excellent offer--to write three operas, one
every eight months, to be performed either in Milan or in Vienna,
where he was impressario of both the principal theaters. He promised
to pay four thousand lire--about six hundred and seventy dollars--for
each, and share the profits of the copyright. To young Verdi this
seemed an excellent chance and he accepted at once. Rossi wrote a
libretto, entitled "Proscritto," and work on the music was about to
begin. In the spring of 1840, Merelli hurried from Vienna, saying he
needed a comic opera for the autumn season, and wanted work begun on
it at once. He produced three librettos, none of them very good. Verdi
did not like them, but since there was no time to lose, chose the
least offensive and set to work.
The Verdis were living in a small house near the Porta Ticinesa; the
family consisted of the composer, his wife and two little sons. Almost
as soon as work was begun on the comic opera, Verdi fell ill and was
confined to his bed several days. He had quite forgotten that the rent
money, which he always liked to have ready on the very day, was due,
and he had not sufficient to pay. It was too late to borrow it, but
quite unknown to him the wife had taken some of her most valuable
trinkets, had gone out and brought back the necessary amount. This
sweet act of devotion greatly touched her husband.
And now sudden sorrow swept over the little family. At the beginning
of April one of the little boys fell ill. Before the doctors could
understand what was the matter, the little fellow breathed his last
in the arms of his desperate mother. A few days after this, the other
child sickened and died. In June the young wife, unable to bear the
strain, passed away and Verdi saw the third coffin leave his door
carrying the last of his dear ones. And in the midst of these crushing
trials he was expected to compose a comic opera! But he bravely
completed his task. "Un Giorno di Regno" naturally proved a dead
failure. In the despondency that followed, the composer resolved to
give up composition altogether. Merelli scolded him roundly for such
a decision, and promised if, some day, he chose to take up his pen
again, he would, if given two months' notice, produce any opera Verdi
At that time the composer was not ready to change his mind. He could
not live longer in the house filled with so many sad memories, but
moved to a new residence near the Corsia di Servi. One evening on
the street, he ran against Merelli, who was hurrying to the theater.
Without stopping he linked his arm in that of the composer and made
him keep pace. The manager was in the depths of woe. He had secured
a libretto by Solera, which was "wonderful, marvelous, extraordinary,
grand," but the composer he had engaged did not like it. What was to
be done? Verdi bethought him of the libretto "Proscritto," which Rossi
had once written for him, and he had not used. He suggested this
to Merelli. Rossi was at once sent for and produced a copy of the
libretto. Then Merelli laid the other manuscript before Verdi. "Look,
here is Solera's libretto; such a beautiful subject! Take it home and
read it over." But Verdi refused. "No, no, I am in no humor to read
"It won't hurt you to look at it," urged Merelli, and thrust it into
the coat pocket of the reluctant composer.
On reaching home, Verdi pulled the manuscript out and threw it on the
writing table. As he did so a stanza from the book caught his eye; it
was almost a paraphrase from the Bible, which had been such a solace
to him in his solitary life. He began to read the story and was more
and more enthralled by it, yet his resolution to write no more was
not altered. However, as the days passed there would be here a line
written down, there a melody--until at last, almost unconsciously the
opera of "Nabucco" came into being.
The opera once finished, Verdi hastened to Merelli, and reminded him
of his promise. The impressario was quite honorable about it, but
would not agree to bring the opera out until Easter, for the season of
1841-42, was already arranged. Verdi refused to wait until Easter,
as he knew the best singers would not then be available. After many
arguments and disputes, it was finally arranged that "Nabucco" should
be put on, but without extra outlay for mounting. At the end
of February 1842, rehearsals began and on March ninth the first
performance took place.
The success of "Nabucco" was remarkable. No such "first night" had
been known in La Scala for many years. "I had hoped for success," said
the composer, "but such a success--never!"
The next day all Italy talked of Verdi. Donizetti, whose wealth of
melodious music swayed the Italians as it did later the English,
was so impressed by it that he continually repeated, "It is fine,
With the success of "Nabucco" Verdi's career as a composer may be
said to have begun. In the following year "I Lombardi" was produced,
followed by "Ernani." Then came in quick succession ten more operas,
among them "Attila" and "Macbeth."
In 1847, we find Verdi in London, where on July 2, at Her Majesty's
Theater, "I Masnadieri" was brought out, with a cast including
Lablanche, Gardoni, Colletti, and above all Jenny Lind, in a part
composed expressly for her. All the artists distinguished themselves;
Jenny Lind acted admirably and sang her airs exquisitely, but the
opera was not a success. No two critics could agree as to its merits.
Verdi left England in disgust and took his music to other cities.
The advantage to Verdi of his trips through Europe and to England is
shown in "Rigoletto," brought out in Vienna in 1851. In this opera
his true power manifests itself. The music shows great advance in
declamation, which lifts it above the ordinary Italian style of that
time. With this opera Verdi's second period begins. Two years later
"Trovatore" was produced in Rome and had a tremendous success.
Each scene brought down thunders of applause, until the very walls
resounded and outside people took up the cry, "Long live Verdi,
Italy's greatest composer! Vive Verdi!" It was given in Paris in 1854,
and in London the following year. In 1855, "La Traviata" was produced
in Vienna. This work, so filled with delicate, beautiful music, nearly
proved a failure, because the consumptive heroine, who expires on the
stage, was sung by a prima donna of such extraordinary stoutness that
the scene was received with shouts of laughter. After a number of
unsuccessful operas, "Un Ballo in Maschera" scored a success in Rome
in 1859, and "La Forza del Destino," written for Petrograd, had a
recent revival in New York.
When Rossini passed away, November 13, 1868, Verdi suggested a requiem
should be written jointly by the best Italian composers. The work was
completed, but was not satisfactory on account of the diversity of
styles. It was then proposed that Verdi write the entire work himself.
The death of Manzoni soon after this caused the composer to carry out
the idea. Thus the great "Manzoni Requiem" came into being.
In 1869, the Khedive of Egypt had a fine opera house built in Cairo,
and commissioned Verdi to write an opera having an Egyptian subject,
for the opening. The ever popular "Aida" was then composed and brought
out in 1871, with great success. This proved to be the beginning of
the master's third period, for he turned from his earlier style which
was purely lyric, to one with far more richness of orchestration.
Verdi had now retired to his estate of Sant'Agata, and it was supposed
his career as composer had closed, as he gave his time principally
to the care of his domain. From time to time it was rumored he was
writing another opera. The rumor proved true, for on February 5, 1887,
when Verdi was seventy-four years old, "Otello" was produced at La
Scala, Milan, amid indescribable enthusiasm. Six years later the
musical world was again startled and overjoyed by the production of
another Shakespearean opera, "Falstaff," composed in his eightieth
year. In all, his operas number over thirty, most of them serious, all
of them containing much beautiful music.
At Sant'Agata the master lived a quiet, retired life. The estate was
situated about two miles from Busseto, and was very large, with a
great park, a large collection of horses and other live stock. The
residence was spacious, and the master's special bedroom was on the
first floor. It was large, light and airy and luxuriously furnished.
Here stood a magnificent grand piano, and the composer often rose in
the night to jot down the themes which came to him in the silence of
the midnight hours. Here "Don Carlos" was written. In one of the upper
rooms stood the old spinet that Verdi hacked at as a child.
Verdi was one of the noblest of men as well as one of the greatest of
musical composers. He passed away in Milan, January 27, 1901, at the
age of eighty-eight.
One of the most gigantic musical geniuses the world has yet known was
Richard Wagner. Words have been exhausted to tell of his achievements;
books without number have been written about him; he himself, in
his Autobiography, and in his correspondence, has told with minutest
detail how he lived and what his inner life has been. What we shall
strive for is the simple story of his career, though in the simple
telling, it may read like a fairy tale.
Richard Wagner first saw the light on May 22, 1813, in Leipsic. Those
were stirring times in that part of the world, for revolution was
often on the eve of breaking out. The tiny babe was but six months
old when the father passed away. There were eight other children, the
eldest son being only fourteen. The mother, a sweet, gentle little
woman, found herself quite unable to support her large family of
growing children. No one could blame her for accepting the hand of her
husband's old friend, Ludwig Geyer, in less than a year after the
loss of her first husband. Geyer was a man of much artistic talent,
an actor, singer, author and painter. He thought little Richard might
become a portrait painter, or possibly a musician, since the child had
learned to play two little pieces on the piano.
Geyer found employment in a Dresden theater, so the family removed to
that city. But he did not live to see the blossoming of his youngest
step-son's genius, as he passed away on September 30, 1821, when the
child was eight years old.
Little Richard showed wonderful promise even in those years of
childhood. At the Kreuzschule, where his education began, he developed
an ardent love for the Greek classics, and translated the first twelve
books of the Odyssey, outside of school hours. He devoured all stories
of mythology he could lay hands on, and soon began to create vast
tragedies. He revelled in Shakespeare, and finally began to write
a play which was to combine the ideas of both Hamlet and King Lear.
Forty-two persons were killed off in the course of the play and had
to be brought back as ghosts, as otherwise there would have been no
characters for the last act. He worked on this play for two years.
Everything connected with the theater was of absorbing interest to
this precocious child. Weber, who lived in Dresden, often passed their
house and was observed with almost religious awe by little Richard.
Sometimes the great composer dropped in to have a chat with the
mother, who was well liked among musicians and artists. Thus Weber
became the idol of the lad's boyhood, and he knew "Der Freischuetz"
almost by heart. If he was not allowed to go to the theater to
listen to his favorite opera, there would be scenes of weeping and
beseeching, until permission was granted for him to run off to the
In 1827 the family returned to Leipsic, and it was at the famous
Gewandhaus concerts that the boy first heard Beethoven's music. He
was so fired by the Overture to "Egmont," that he decided at once to
become a musician. But how--that was the question. He knew nothing of
composition, but, borrowing a treatise on harmony, tried to learn the
whole contents in a week.