This etext was produced by John Mamoun with the online distributed proofreaders team of Charles Franks
Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, Volume 1 (1889)
By Richard Wagner; Franz Liszt; Francis Hueffer (translator)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
CORRESPONDENCE OF WAGNER AND LISZT, Volume 1 INFO ABOUT THIS E-TEXT EDITION
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
The German musical genius Richard Wagner (1811-1883) could be considered to be one of the ideological fathers of early 20th century German nationalism. He was well-suited for this role. Highly intelligent, sophisticated, complex, capable of imagining whole systems of humanistic philosophy, and with an intense need to communicate his ideas, he created great operas which, in addition to their artistic merits, served the peculiar role of promoting a jingoistic, chauvenistic kind of Germanism. There are things in his operas that only a German can fully understand, especially if he would like to see his country closed off to outsiders. It is unlikely, however, that Wagner expected these ideas to achieve any popularity. Time and again he rails against philistines, irrational people and politicians in his letters. With great exasperation and often depression he expressed little hope that his country would ever emerge out of its “philistinism” and embrace “rational” ideas such as he propagated. Add to this the great difficulties he had in getting his works performed, and one might assume that he felt himself to be composing, most of the time, to audiences of bricks. Yes, his great, intensely beloved friend Liszt believed in, fully understood, and greatly appreciated Wagner’s works, but Liszt was just one in a million, and even he, as Wagner suggested, associated with a base coterie incapable of assimilating Wagnerian messages. Considering the sorry state of music and intellectualism in Wagner’s time and setting, he surely would have been surprised if his operas and his ideas achieved any wide currency. That he continued to work with intense energy to develop his ideas, to fix them into musical form and to propagate them, while knowing that probably no sizeable population would ever likely take note of them, and while believing that his existence as an underappreciated, rational individual in an irrational world was absurd and futile, is a testimony to the enormous will-power of this “ubermensch.”
The best introduction to this important correspondence of the two great musicians will be found in the following extract from an autobiographical sketch written by Wagner in 1851. It has been frequently quoted, but cannot be quoted too often, describing, as it does, the beginning and the development of a friendship which is unique in the history of art.
“Again I was thoroughly disheartened from undertaking any new artistic scheme. Only recently I had had proofs of the impossibility of making my art intelligible to the public, and all this deterred me from beginning new dramatic works. Indeed, I thought everything was at an end with my artistic creativeness. From this state of mental dejection I was raised by a friend. By the most evident and undeniable proofs he made me feel that I was not deserted, but, on the contrary, understood deeply by those even who were otherwise most distant from me; in this way he gave me back my full artistic confidence.
“This wonderful friend has been to me Franz Liszt. I must enter a little more deeply into the character of this friendship, which, to many, has seemed paradoxical.
“I met Liszt for the first time during my earliest stay in Paris, and at a period when I had renounced the hope, nay, even the wish of a Paris reputation, and, indeed, was in a state of internal revolt against the artistic life I found there. At our meeting Liszt appeared. to me the most perfect contrast to my own being and situation. In this world, to which it had been my desire to fly from my narrow circumstances, Liszt had grown up from his earliest age, so as to be the object of general love and admiration at a time when I was repulsed by general coldness and want of sympathy. In consequence, I looked upon him with suspicion. I had no opportunity of disclosing my being and working to m, and, therefore, the reception I met with on his part was altogether of a superficial kind, as was indeed quite natural in a man to whom every day the most divergent impressions claimed access. My repeated expression of this feeling was afterwards reported to Liszt, just at the time when my “Rienzi” at Dresden attracted general attention. He was surprised to find himself misunderstood with such violence by a man whom he had scarcely known, and whose acquaintance now seemed not without value to him. I am still touched at recollecting the repeated and eager attempts he made to change my opinion of him, even before he knew any of my works. He acted not from any artistic sympathy, but was led by the purely human wish of discontinuing a casual disharmony between himself and another being; perhaps he also felt an infinitely tender misgiving of having really hurt me unconsciously. He who knows the terrible selfishness and insensibility in our social life, and especially in the relations of modern artists to each other, cannot but be struck with wonder, nay, delight, by the treatment I experienced from this extraordinary man.
“This happened at a time when it became more and more evident that my dramatic works would have no outward success. But just when the case seemed desperate Liszt succeeded by his own energy in opening a hopeful refuge to my art. He ceased his wanderings, settled down at the small, modest Weimar, and took up the conductor’s baton, after having been at home so long in the splendour of the greatest cities of Europe. At Weimar I saw him for the last time, when I rested a few days in Thuringia, not yet certain whether the threatening prosecution would compel me to continue my flight from Germany. The very day when my personal danger became a certainty, I saw Liszt conduct a rehearsal of my “Tannhauser”, and was astonished at recognizing my second-self in his achievement. What I had felt in inventing this music he felt in performing it; what I wanted to express in writing it down he proclaimed in making it sound. Strange to say, through the love of this rarest friend, I gained, at the moment of becoming homeless, the real home for my art, which I had longed for and sought for always in the wrong place.
“At the end of my last stay in Paris, when ill, miserable, and despairing, I sat brooding over my fate, my eye fell on the score of my “Lohengrin”, totally forgotten by me. Suddenly I felt something like compassion that this music should never sound from off the death-pale paper. Two words I wrote to Liszt; his answer was the news that preparations for the performance were being made on the largest scale the limited means of Weimar would permit. Everything that men and circumstances could do was done in order to make the work understood. Success was his reward, and with this success he now approaches me, saying, ‘Behold we have come so far; now create us a new work that we may go still further.'”
Wagner’s words, as above quoted, may have seemed an exaggerated tribute of gratitude to many. After reading these letters one comes to the conclusion that they are the expression of a plain fact. It is a well-known French saying that in every love affair there is one person who adores while the other allows himself to be adored, and that saying may, with equal justice, be applied to the many literary and artistic friendships of which, pace the elder D’Israeli, history knows so many examples. Petrarch and Boccaccio, Schiller and Goethe, Byron and Shelley immediately occur to the mind in such a connection; but in none of these is the mutual position of giver and receiver of worshipper and worshipped so distinctly marked as in the case under discussion.
Nature itself, or, at least, external circumstances, had indeed almost settled the matter. In the earlier stages of this friendship the worldly position of the two men was a widely different one. Liszt was at the time perhaps the most famous musician alive, and although he had voluntarily abandoned an active career, he remained the friend of kings and ecclesiastic potentates, and the head and centre of an admiring school of disciples.
Wagner at the same period was, in familiar language–nobody. He had lost his position at the Royal Opera at Dresden through his participation in the revolutionary rising of 1849, and he was an exile from his country. As an artist his antecedents were not very glorious. He had written three operas, all of which had met with fair success, but none of which had taken real hold of the public, and the Court theatres of Germany were naturally not very prone to favour the interests of an outlawed rebel. In spite of this disparity of fortune, it is curious to see how the two men, almost from the first, assume the mutual position already indicated. Liszt, from the beginning, realizes, with a self- abnegation and a freedom from vanity almost unique in history, that he is dealing with a man infinitely greater than himself, and to serve the artistic and personal purposes of that man he regards as a sacred duty.
Wagner’s attitude in the matter will be judged differently by different people, according to the opinion they have of the permanent and supreme value of his work. He simply accepts the position as he finds it. “Here am I,” he may have said to himself, “with a brain teeming with art work of a high and lasting kind; my resources are nil, and if the world, or at least the friends who believe in me, wish me to do my allotted task, they must free me from the sordid anxieties of existence.” The words, here placed in quotation marks, do not actually occur in any of the letters, but they may be read between the lines of many of them. The naivete with which Wagner expresses himself on this subject is indeed almost touching, and it must be owned that his demands for help are, according to English notions at least, extremely modest. A pension of 300 thalers, or about,45 of our money, which he expects from the Grand Duke of Weimar for the performing right of his operas, is mentioned on one occasion as the summit of his desire. Unfortunately, even this small sum was not forthcoming, and Wagner accordingly for a long time depended upon the kindness of his friends and the stray sums which the royalties on his operas brought him as his sole support. He for himself, as he more than once declares, would not have feared poverty, and with the touch of the dramatic element in his nature, which was peculiar to him, would perhaps have found a certain pleasure in going through the world, an artistic Belisarius asking the lovers of his art for their obolus. But he had a wife (his first wife), weak in health, and anxious of mind, and to protect her from every care is his chief desire–a desire which has something beautiful and pathetic in it, and is the redeeming feature of the many appeals for a loan, and sometimes for a present, which occur in these letters.
Liszt was only too willing to give, but his means were extremely limited. He had realized large sums during his artistic career; but he was liberal almost to a fault, and poor artists, inundated Hungarian peasants, and the Beethoven monument at Bonn profited a great deal more by his successes than he did himself. What little remained of his savings had been settled upon his aged mother and his three children, and at the time here alluded to his only fixed income was the salary of less than [pounds] 200, which he derived from the Weimar Theatre. This explanation he himself gives to Wagner, in answer to the following remarkable sentence in one of that master’s letters:–“I once more return to the question, can you let me have the 1,000 francs as a gift, and would it be possible for you to guarantee me the same annual sum for the next two years?” The 1,000 francs was forthcoming soon afterwards, but poor Liszt had to decline the additional obligation for two other years.
The above passage is quoted as an instance of many others, and one must admire the candour of Wagner’s widow, who has not suppressed a single touch in the picture of this beautiful friendship. But Liszt’s help was not limited to material things. What was infinitely more valuable to Wagner, and what excited his gratitude to even more superlative utterance, was the confidence which Liszt showed in his genius, and without which, it is no exaggeration to say, Wagner’s greatest works would probably have remained unwritten.
The first performance of “Lohengrin” at Weimar, which was really the starting-point of his fame, has already been alluded to. Every further step in his career was watched and encouraged by the loving sympathy of Liszt, and when Wagner, overpowered by the grandeur and difficulties of his “Nibelungen” scheme, was on the point of laying down the pen, it was Liszt who urged him to continue in his arduous task, and to go on in spite of all discouragement.
It must not, however, be thought that Wagner alone derived benefits from this remarkable friendship. Not only did he in his turn encourage Liszt in the career of a composer of great and novel works, but he distinctly raised the intellectual and artistic level of his friend. Liszt’s nature was of a noble, one may say, ideal kind, but he had lived in dangerous surroundings, and the influence of the great world and of the glaring publicity in which a virtuoso moves, had left its trace on his individuality. Here, then, the uncompromising idealism, the world-defying artistic conviction of Wagner, served as a tonic to his character. If the reader will refer to Letter 21, or at least to that portion of it which has been vouchsafed by Madame Wagner, he will see how necessary the administration of such a tonic was to a man who even at that time could think it necessary to deprecate the “superideal” character of “Lohengrin”, and to advise in a scarcely disguised manner that the Knight of the Grail should be brought a little more within the comprehension of ordinary people. All the more beautiful is it to see how Liszt is ultimately carried away by the enthusiasm of his great friend, how he also defies the world, and adopts the device “L’art pour l’art” as his guiding principle. Altogether the two friends might have said to each other in the words of Juliet:–
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.” A few words should be said of the spirit in which the translator has undertaken his extremely difficult task. There are in these pages many things which are of comparatively little interest to the English reader,–allusions to circumstances and persons with which he cannot be expected to be familiar, especially as the latter are frequently veiled by initials. There is no doubt that judicious omissions might have made these pages more readable and more amusing. But then such a book as this is not meant to amuse. It is almost of a monumental character, and his deep respect for that character has induced the translator to produce its every feature,–a remark which applies to manner no less than to matter. In consequence, not a line has been omitted, and the manners and mannerisms of the writers have been preserved as far as the difference of the two languages would allow. Such effusions of German enthusiasm as “dearest, best, most unique of friends,” “glorious, great man,” and the italics which both Wagner and Liszt employ with a profusion of which any lady might be proud, have been scrupulously preserved. These slight touches give a racy flavour to the letters; and although they may occasionally call forth a smile, they will, no doubt, be appreciated by those who with Sterne “can see the precise and distinguishing marks of national character more in these nonsensical minutiae than in the most important matters of state.”
That the task of reproducing these minutiae without doing too much violence to the English idiom was an extremely difficult one, the experienced reader need not be told. Liszt, it is true, writes generally in a simple and straightforward manner, and his letters, especially those written in French, present no very great obstacles; but with Wagner the case is different. He also is plain and lucid enough where the ordinary affairs of life are concerned, but as soon as he comes upon a topic that really interests him, be it music or Buddhism, metaphysics or the iniquities of the Jews, his brain gets on fire, and his pen courses over the paper with the swiftness and recklessness of a race-horse, regardless of the obstacles of style and construction, and sometimes of grammar. His meaning is always deep, but to arrive at that meaning in such terrible letters, for example, as those numbered 27, 35, 107, 255, and many others, sometimes seems to set human ingenuity at defiance. It would of course have been possible, by disentangling dove-tailed sentences and by giving the approximate meaning where the literal was impossible, to turn all this into fairly smooth English. But in such a process all the strength and individual character of the original would inevitably have been lost. What I have endeavoured to do is to indicate the diction which a man of Wagner’s peculiar turn of mind would have used, if he had written in English instead of in German.
To sum up, this translation of the correspondence is intended to be an exact facsimile of the German original. To supply notes and a serviceable index, to give a clue to the various persons who are hidden under initials–all this must be left to another occasion, provided always that the Wagner family consents to such a course, and that the interest shown by English readers in the work as it stands holds out sufficient inducement to so toilsome a piece of work.
CORRESPONDENCE OF WAGNER AND LISZT, VOLUME 1 (OF A 2-VOLUME SET)
If I take the liberty to trouble you with these lines, I must in the first instance rely solely on the great kindness with which you received me during your last short stay in Paris in the late autumn of last year, when Herr Schlesinger casually introduced me to you. There is, however, still another circumstance which encourages me to this step: My friend Heinrich Laube, the author, wrote to me last summer from Carlsbad that he had there made the acquaintance of one of your countrymen, who boasted of being your friend; that he had spoken to that gentleman of me and my plans, and engaged his interest in me to such an extent that he (the gentleman) of his own accord promised to introduce me to YOU, as he was on the point of starting for another watering-place, where he would be sure to meet you.
You observe, dear sir, with what remote and uncertain contingencies I am obliged to connect my great hope; you observe how anxiously I cling to feeble possibilities to attain a priceless boon. Was that promise ever fulfilled, and could it have been? My eternally unlucky star almost forbids me to believe it. The question, however, I owed to myself, and all I ask for at present is the honour of a Yes or a No!
With full admiration, your most devoted
25, RUE DU HELDER, PARIS, March 24th, 1841.
At last you are within safe reach of me, and I take this long- desired opportunity to gain you, as far as is in my power, for our scheme of celebrating Weber’s memory by a worthy monument to be erected in Dresden. You are just on the point of crowning your important participation in the erection of the Beethoven monument; you are for that purpose surrounded by the most important musicians of our time, and in consequence are in the very element most favourable to the enterprise which of late has been resumed chiefly through my means. As no doubt you heard at the time, we have transferred Weber’s remains to the earth of his German home. We have had a site for the intended monument assigned to us close to our beautiful Dresden theatre, and a commencement towards the necessary funds has been made by the benefit performances at the Dresden, Berlin, and Munich theatres. These funds, however, I need scarcely mention, have to be increased considerably if something worthy is to be achieved, and we must work with all our strength to rouse enthusiasm wherever something may still be done. A good deal of this care I should like to leave to you, not, you may believe me, from idleness, but because I feel convinced that the voice of a poor German composer of operas, compelled to devote his lifelong labour to the spreading of his works a little beyond the limits of his province, is much too feeble to be counted of importance for anything in the world. Dear Herr Liszt, take it well to heart when I ask you to relieve me of the load which would probably be heaped on me by the reproach that I had compromised our dear Weber’s memory, because it was none other than I, weak and unimportant as I am, who had first mooted this celebration. Pray, do what you can in order to be helpful to our enterprise, for gradually, as I observe the vulgar indifference of our theatres, which owe so much to Weber, I begin to fear that our fund might easily remain such as it is at present, and that would be tantamount to our having to commence with very inadequate means the erection of a monument which doubtless would have turned out better if a more important personality had started the idea.
I add no more words, for to you I have probably said enough. The committee of which I am a member will apply to you with proper formality. Would that you could let us have a gratifying answer, and that my application might have contributed a little towards it!
With true esteem and devotion, I am yours,
MARIENBAD, August 5th, 1845
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,
On and off I hear that you remember me very kindly and are intent upon gaining friends for me; and I could have wished that, by staying in Dresden a little longer, you had given me an opportunity of thanking you personally and enjoying your company. As I perceive more and more that I and my works, which as yet have scarcely begun to spread abroad, are not likely to prosper very much, I slowly familiarize myself with the thought of turning to account your friendly feeling towards me a little, and, much as I generally detest the seeking and making of opportunities, I proceed with perfect openness to rouse you up in my favour. There is at Vienna, where you happen to be staying, a theatrical manager, P.; the man came to me a year ago, and invited me to produce “Rienzi” at his theatre in the present spring. Since then I have not been able to hear again from him, but as our “Tichatschek” goes to his theatre in May for an extensive starring engagement, and thereby the possibility of a good representation of “Rienzi” would be given, the backing out on the part of this P. begins to make me angry. I presume that he, who is personally stupid, has been subsequently set against my opera by his conductor, N. For this Capellmeister N. has himself written an opera, which, because our King had heard it and disliked it elsewhere, was not produced at Dresden, and the wretched man probably thinks he owes me a grudge for it, although I had no influence whatever in the matter. However trivial such considerations may be in themselves, they and similar ones largely furnish the real cause why works like mine occasionally die in Germany; and as Vienna for pecuniary reasons, apart from anything else, is of importance to me, I go straight to you, most esteemed friend, to ask that you will set Manager P.’s head right, in favour of an early performance of my “Rienzi” at his theatre. Pray do not be angry with me.
I have ventured to send you through Meser the scores of my “Rienzi” and “Tannhauser,” and wish and hope that the latter will please you better than the former.
Let me thank you sincerely for the great kindnesses you have shown me. May your sentiments remain always the same towards
Your faithfully devoted
DRESDEN, March 22nd, 1846
Herr Halbert tells me you want my overture to Goethe’s “Faust.” As I know of no reason to withhold it from you except that it does not please me any longer, I send it to you, because I think that in this matter the only important question is whether the overture pleases you. If the latter should be the case, dispose of my work; only I should like occasionally to have the manuscript back again.
You will now have to go through capellmeister agonies of the first quality; so I can imagine, and my opera is just the kind of thing for that to one who takes a loving interest in it. Learn to know these sufferings; they are the daily bread I eat. May God give you strength and joy in your hard work.
From my heart yours,
DRESDEN, January 30th, 1848
MOST EXCELLENT FRIEND,
You told me lately that you had closed your piano for some time, and I presume that for the present you have turned banker. I am in a bad state, and like lightning the thought comes to me that you might help me. The edition of my three operas has been undertaken by myself; the capital I have borrowed in various quarters; I have now received notice to repay all the money, and I cannot hold out another week, for every attempt to sell my copyrights, even for the bare outlay, has in these difficult times proved unsuccessful. From several other causes the matter begins to look very alarming to me, and I ask myself secretly what is to become of me. The sum in question is 5,000 thalers; after deducting the proceeds that have already come in and without claim to royalties, this is the money that has been invested in the publication of my operas. Can you get me such a sum? Have you got it yourself, or has some one else who would pay it for the love of you? Would it not be interesting if you were to become the owner of the copyright of my operas? My friend Meser would continue the business on your account as honestly as he has done on mine; and a lawyer could easily put the thing in order. And do you know what would be the result? I should once more be a HUMAN BEING, a man for whom existence would be possible, an artist who would never again in his life ask for a shilling, and would only do his work bravely and gladly. Dear Liszt, with this money you will buy me out of slavery! Do you think I am worth that sum as a serf? Let that be known soon to
Your most devoted
DRESDEN, June 23rd, 1848
BEST OF FRIENDS,
Here am I fighting for death or life, and do not know what the end will be. I have written to my lawyer to tell him of my last hope: that by your energetic interference my affairs may possibly be arranged. Your name will go far in the transaction, but your person still farther; let me have the latter for a day, but very soon. According to news which has reached me here, I shall next Wednesday or Thursday have to undertake a journey which will keep me away from Dresden for a fortnight. Performances of my operas I cannot, for that and other reasons, offer you. Could you make up your mind to come here very quickly even without the expectation of one of my operas? If I offer you no performances, you shall, on the other hand (that is my most ardent wish), possess all my operas as your hereditary property. Do come! Your personality will do much good, more than my personality will be able to do all my life; for I cannot help myself.
Best greetings, excellent friend!
DRESDEN, July 1st, 1848
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,
Last night I wrote to Herr von Villen and asked him to talk over and arrange with your lawyer and Herr Meser the affair of the scores, and then to let me have a positive and precise answer. I cannot possibly come to Dresden for the present. May God grant that the state of your affairs turn out to be such as to enable me to offer you my small and much-enfeebled services, being, as I am,
Your sincere and devoted admirer and friend,
WEYMAR, July 4th, 1848
BEST OF FRIENDS,
Cordial greetings, and best thanks for the many and manifold troubles you have taken on my behalf.
I had promised Princess Wittgenstein news as to the performance of my “Tannhauser;” but I cannot for the present give you any other than that the opera will not be performed either Sunday or Monday, as I had promised, owing chiefly to the indisposition of Tichatschek. Even if he were well, it could not take place, as we have first of all to satisfy a “star,” Formes. Probably “Tannhauser” will not be possible till about a week later.
In any case I hope soon to see you again, and am glad accordingly. May I ask you to remember me to the Princess?
I am wholly yours,
DRESDEN, September 6th, 1848
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,
Although I dare scarcely hope that you can act upon it, I hasten to let you know that “Tannhauser” is announced for performance here on Sunday next, September 24th.
On Friday, 22nd, there will be a jubilee concert of our orchestra in celebration of its existence for three hundred years, and on that occasion a piece of my latest opera, “Lohengrin,” will, amongst other things, be heard. According to a previous arrangement, I consider it my duty to let you know this, and should certainly be very glad to welcome you, and perhaps Princess Wittgenstein (to whom please give my best compliments), on these occasions, although I must fear that my news may come at an inconvenient moment.
Yours with all my heart,
DRESDEN, September 19th, 1848
MOST ESTEEMED FRIEND,
Cordial greetings, and best thanks for the kind remembrance in which you hold me. For a long time I have felt it my duty to write to you. Lord knows why I have never done so. May it not be too late even today.
Will you really in this evil time undergo the nuisance of tackling my “Tannhauser”? Have you not yet lost your courage in this arduous labour, which only in the luckiest case can be grateful? “In the luckiest case,” I say, for only if the actors, especially of the principal parts, are equal to their most difficult task, if the unaccustomed nature of that task does not frighten them and cripple their good intentions, only then the lucky case can happen of the performance being comprehensible and effective. If one circumstance gives me hope of success, it is that you have undertaken the task. You can do many, many things; of that I am persuaded.
I am very glad you are settled in Weimar, and I hope that not only Weimar, but you, will profit by it. At least, we shall remain near each other.
I live in a very humbled condition and without much hope. I depend on the goodwill of certain people. Every thought of enjoying life I have abandoned, but–let me tell you this for your comfort–I am alive in spite of it all, and do not mean to let any one kill me so easily.
Remember me kindly to Herr von Zigesar, who has written to me very courteously. The points mentioned in his letter have, I hope, been settled verbally by Herr Genast, especially that about the honorarium, which I am willing to give up altogether. Please remember me also to Herr Genast, and let me soon have some news of you.
I remain in cordial devotion yours,
DRESDEN, January 14th, 1849
(TO HERR VON ZIGESAR)
HIGHLY ESTEEMED SIR,
Accept my most hearty thanks for your kind letter, which has given me much joy. I confess that I scarcely thought this the time to gain sympathy for my works, less on account of the present political commotion, than because of the absence of all real earnestness, which has long ago disappeared from the public interest in the theatre, giving way to the most shallow desire for entertainment. You yourself are anxious about the reception of my opera at the hands of the Weimar public, but as at the same time you evince your sympathy for that work so cordially, you will, I may hope, agree with me when I openly charge your excellent predecessors with the responsibility for your being obliged to suspect the public of an ill-regulated and shallow taste. For as we educate a child, so he grows up, and a theatrical audience is equally subject to the effects of training. But I am unjust in accusing Weimar of a fault which during the last generation has invaded all the theatres in the world, the more so as I lay myself open to the suspicion of doing so in the self-conceited interest of a work which perhaps for different reasons, derivable from intrinsic faults, may be exposed to the displeasure of the public. However that may be, your care for my work is in the circumstances all the more gratifying and meritorious, and I offer you my most cordial thanks. The pleasure of a visit to you at Weimar I am compelled, for reasons connected with my local affairs, to leave to another time. That the performance of my opera would not answer my expectations is the least thing I fear; for from firm conviction I have the most favourable opinion of what diligence and good- will can do, while I know, on the other hand, how little without these two the amplest resources can achieve for true art. As I can be certain of these chief requirements at your theatre, I feel justified in offering to you, all others concerned, and especially my friend Liszt, my best thanks in advance; and no excessive anxiety shall trouble me. I sincerely wish that the exalted lady whose birthday is to be celebrated will think the success of your labour worthy of acknowledgment.
With much esteem, I have the honour to remain
Yours most sincerely,
DRESDEN, February 8th, 1849
Herr von Zigesar has lately written to you to say with how much zeal and with what ever-increasing admiration and sympathy we are studying your “Tannhauser.” If you could make it possible to come over for the last rehearsal on the 15th and attend the performance on the 16th, we should all be truly delighted. Let me know the day before, because of engaging a room, etc.
Cordial thanks for sending me the “Faust” overture.
Hoping to see you soon,
Your sincerely devoted
February 9th, 1849
DEAR FRIEND LISZT,
From all I hear you have recently added to the unequalled successes of your former life and artistic activity a new one, which probably is not inferior to the foremost of its predecessors, and in many respects perhaps surpasses them all. Do you suppose I cannot judge of this from a distance? Hear if I can.
No theatre in the world has so far thought it advisable to perform my opera “Tannhauser” four years after its production; it was left to you to settle down for a time from your world-wide travels at a small court theatre, and at once to set to work so that your much-tried friend might at last get on a little. You did not talk or fuss; you yourself undertook the unaccustomed task of teaching my work to the people. Be sure that no one knows as well as I what it means to bring such a work to light in existing circumstances. Who the deuce does not conduct operatic rehearsals nowadays? You were intent not only upon giving the opera, but upon making it understood and received with applause. That meant to throw yourself into the work body and soul, to sacrifice body and soul, to press and exert every fibre of the body, every faculty of the soul, towards the one aim of not only producing your friend’s work, but of producing it splendidly and to his advantage. You had to be sure that it would succeed, for only with a view to success had you begun the work; and therein lies the force of your character and of your ability–you have succeeded. If I have judged your beautiful action rightly, if I have understood you, I hope you will understand me too when, in words as brief and precise as was your action, I say to you,
I THANK you, dear friend!
You, however, wished not only to benefit my work, but to benefit me as well; you know that my position is that of a somewhat hemmed-in, forsaken, solitary man. You desired to make friends for me, and had a sufficiently good opinion of my work to think that the spreading of it abroad would gain friends for me. Dear friend, by that very means you have at this moment lifted me up as by a charm. It is not to complain, but merely to convince you of the force of that impression, when I tell you that just now, in the very week when you gave my “Tannhauser” at Weimar, our manager insulted me in so gross a manner that for several days I was discussing with myself whether I should bear any longer to be exposed to such infamous treatment for the bite of bread that my service here gives me to eat, and whether I should not rather throw up art and earn my bread as a labourer, to be at least free from the despotism of malignant ignorance. Thank God! The news from Weimar and Tichatschek’s greetings and accounts have again strengthened me. I once more have courage to suffer.
This also I owe to you!
D.V.–I shall soon see you again, dear, worthy, helpful friend. Last week it was impossible to ask my tormentor for a short leave of absence; otherwise I should have liked to come, if only to spend a few cheerful and animated hours with you and to tell you the delight I feel in you. In the meantime be satisfied with this. It comes from my fullest heart, and tears are in my eyes.
From Herren von Zigesar, Biedenfeld, and Genast I simultaneously received letters of joyfullest and friendliest import; I answer them all at once by making you my interpreter, and through you greet those gentlemen with all my heart. Hold me dear as before. I give to you in return what is in me, and what therefore I call my own.
God bless you, dear Liszt.
DRESDEN, February 20th, 1849
So much do I owe to your bold and high genius, to the fiery and magnificent pages of your “Tannhauser,” that I feel quite awkward in accepting the gratitude you are good enough to express with regard to the two performances I had the honour and happiness to conduct. However that may be, your letter has given me the liveliest pleasure of friendship. I thank you with all my heart for the thanks you proffer me. Once for all, number me in future amongst your most zealous and devoted admirers; far or near, count on me and dispose of me.
Herren Zigesar, Genast, and Biedenfeld have described to you in detail the impression which your masterpiece has made on our public. In the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung you will find a few lines I have sent to Brockhaus by his demand. Biedenfeld has put the little article into shape. I shall send you by post the article that appeared in our Gemeindeblatt, where is also printed the prologue of Schober, who had the sense to turn “Tannhauser” to good account. Talking of people with good sense, do you know what I mean to do? No more nor less than to appropriate for the piano, after my fashion, the overture of “Tannhauser and” the whole scene “O du mein holder Abendstern” of the third act. As to the former, I believe that it will meet with few executants capable of mastering its technical difficulties, but the scene of the “Abendstern” should be within easy reach of second-class pianists.
If you will propose to Meser to have it engraved, or if you will allow me to dispose of it for the benefit of H. or Sch., I should like to have it published soon. Perhaps, if you have no objection, I should dispose of it in favour of an album for which my assistance has been asked for the last two months–the album published by the “Ladies’ Society for the German Fleet.” In vain I told them that I suffered from a drought of both manuscripts and ideas; they would not leave me alone; and I have just received another letter from a nice lady, who gives it me nicely.
Write to me as to the destination you prefer for your “Abendstern;” and when we meet, I shall have the impertinence to play you with my two hands your overture, such as I have prepared it for my particular use.
Remember me very affectionately to Tichatschek; he has been an admirable artist and a charming comrade and friend. It will be a true pleasure to me to see him here again in the month of May, according to his promise. If you could on the same occasion dispose of a few days, we should be only too happy to see you. In the meantime, dearest friend, believe me from my heart and soul your devoted admirer and friend,
February 26th, 1849
P.S.–A very beautiful and accomplished hand wishes to add a few lines to this letter; if you have found if tedious to read me, you could have no better compensation.
Allow me, dear sir, to add another voice to the chorus of admiration which sings “Gloria” to the author of the double poem of “Tannhauser.” If others have more right than I to speak to you of the sublime artistic expression which you have given to such deep emotions, I yet venture to tell you how souls lost in the crowd who chant to themselves your “Sangerkrieg” are penetrated by your harmonies, which contain all the fine and delicate shades of idea, sentiment, and passion.
We had hoped to see you for a moment at Weimar, and I clung to that hope all the more as I wanted to express to you my thanks for the kindness you showed me during my stay at Dresden. Let me add to these the other thanks which I owe you for the wonderful moments during which I listened to your melodies, expressive of the fascinating charms of the sirens who dwell on the banks of our imagination, and of those piercing cries wrung from us by the extinction of the perfumes of their enchanted home,–for those thoughts which elevate us in their humility, that despair which throws us “without fear against swords, when the soul is pierced by a very different sword of grief,” those elegies which one whispers only to the evening star, those prayers which bear away the soul on their wings.
Grant, sir, that the thoughts which so much passion and beauty awake in hearts knowing what strange secrets lie hidden in passion, and adoring splendour and beauty, may reach you and tell you how deep is the admiration which this master work will excite at all times and everywhere in those who have once visited these resplendent and dolorous regions of the soul.
Believe, above all, in the admiration which has been given to you here, and which we should be so happy to express to you personally. I am amongst those most desirous of seeing you, sir, and of repeating from mouth to mouth the expression of the admiring and devoted sentiments of which I ask you to be a thousand times assured.
February 25th, 1849
A thousand thanks for your letter! We are going on nicely together. If the world belonged to us, I believe we should do something to give pleasure to the people living therein. I hope we two at least shall agree with each other; let those who will not go with us remain behind,–and thus be our alliance sealed!
What shall I do with the beautiful letter I received together with your own? Have I really so pleased your esteemed friend with my feeble work that she thought it worth while to give me such great and unexpected joy in return? She indeed has fully effected her purpose, but I can scarcely credit that my work alone should have produced a similar impression upon the spirituelle Princess; and I am probably right in surmising that here also my friend Liszt has wooed for me with his wondrous fire. However that may be, I feel too silly today to thank your esteemed friend otherwise than through your medium, through your mouth, and therefore I pray you with all my power to express my gratitude to her as fervently, as joyfully, as you are able. Will you grant me this favour?
Before I knew anything about your intention, several years ago, when I was writing the overture, I wondered whether I should ever hear it played by you. I should never have mentioned it to you, for in such matters one must not be too forward, but now that I hear you are employed in making this piece your own, after your own fashion, I must tell you that I feel as if a wonderful dream were realized. Is it possible? Why not? All is possible to you. About the “Abendstern,” dear friend, do exactly as you like. I have spoken to Meser about it, and he will write to you at once to place himself at your disposal; but if you prefer another way of publication, do exactly as you like. In any case I feel highly flattered by your proposal.
Today I read the account of my opera in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung of which you speak; by its tenor Herr von Biedenfeld has once more obliged me very, very much; express to him my best thanks, dearest friend! I must also beg to convey my great and deeply felt gratitude to the artists who have deserved well of me by their successful zeal. To how many and how deeply have I reason to be grateful! I am looking forward to May, when I shall be with you in any case; I will then speak from my full heart as loudly as my breast will let me. Till May, then!
God bless you, dearest, best, of friends! Best remembrances to Zigesar and Genast. I throw myself at the feet of the Princess.
For ever your most grateful
DRESDEN, March lst, 1849
(TO HERR O. L. B. WOLFF)
It was impossible for me to write to you from Rorschach (where I arrived only yesterday) and to return your passport. Half an hour after the arrival of the steamer the express coach started for Zurich; and I felt bound to take advantage of it, as I had made up my mind to cut this journey as short as possible by avoiding unnecessary delay. Unfortunately I got on but slowly. From Coburg I could not start for Lichtenfels till early on Saturday, but fortunately I got through everywhere without notice, at Lindau only, where I arrived at midnight, they asked for my passport at the gate. The next morning I received it back without difficulty, but unfortunately it had on it a vise for Switzerland, adorned with which I am compelled to return it to Dr. Widmann. I hope that his political experience will understand this addition to his passport.
Luckily then I am in Switzerland. To your counsel and your active aid, dear friends, I owe my safety. The four days’ journey in a frightful heat had, however, brought my blood to such a state of excitement, that I found it impossible to go on without risking a stroke of apoplexy. Moreover, I hope to employ my stay at Zurich in obtaining a passport for France. One of my early friends has been residing here for a long time; today I expect him back from a pleasure trip, and I hope he will do what is necessary to save me the long detour by Geneva.
To my wife I write at length, and my request to you to communicate this news to my friends is therefore for the present limited to our Liszt. Greet my preserver and sovereign liege many thousand times, and assure him of my firm resolution to do all that is in my power to please him. The journey has freshened and roused my artistic courage, and I have quite made up my mind as to what I have to accomplish in Paris. I do not think much of fate, but I feel that my late adventures have thrown me into a path where I must do the most important and significant things which my nature can produce. Even four weeks ago I had no idea of that which now I recognize to be my highest task; my deep-rooted friendship for Liszt supplies me with strength from within and without to perform that task; it is to be our common work. More of this soon!
Liszt will shortly receive a parcel of scores, etc., from my wife; let him open it. The score of “Lohengrin” I want him to try at some leisure; it is my last and ripest work. As yet I have not shown it to any artist, and therefore have not been able to learn from any one what impression it produces. How curious I am to hear Liszt about it! As soon as he has finished looking through it, I want him to forward it at once to Paris, along with the other scores and books of words. Perhaps some acquaintance going to Paris will take them. The copy of the score of the “Flying Dutchman” is meant for the Weimar theatre; this and the book of words let Liszt therefore take from the parcel and keep back.
That wonderful man must also look after my poor wife. I am particularly anxious to get her out of Saxony, and especially out of that d—-d Dresden. Therefore I have hit upon the idea of finding for her and her family a modest but cheerful refuge somewhere in the Weimar territory, perhaps on one of the grand- ducal estates, where, with the remainder of what is saved of our goods and chattels, she might prepare a new home for herself, and perhaps for me also–in the future. May my friend succeed in this!
Thanks, cordial thanks, to you for the great kindness you have shown to me! My memorials of it are so numerous that I cannot put my hand in my pocket without being reminded of the thoughtfulness and sympathy of friend Wolff. May my future be your reward!
Cordial greetings to Dr. Widmann, as whose double I have acted for four days; I return him to himself in his integrity, which I hope will not a little conduce to his perfect well-being. Best thanks to him!
And thanks, thanks also, to your dear wife and mother! The blessings of one saved are with them. Farewell, dear friend!
You will soon hear more from your
ZURICH, March 20th, 1849
MY DEAR FRIEND,
To you [In this and all the subsequent letters the familiar “Du” (“Thou”) instead of the formal “Sie” (“You”) is adopted.-TR.] I must turn if my heart is once more to open itself, and I am in need of such heart-comfortings; that I cannot deny. Like a spoiled child of my homeland, I exclaim, “Were I only home again in a little house by the wood and might leave the devil to look after his great world, which at the best I should not even care to conquer, because its possession would be even more loathsome than is its mere aspect!”
Your friendship–if you could understand what it is to me! My only longing is to live with my wife always near you. Not Paris nor London–you alone would be able to hammer out what good there may be in me, for you fire me to the best efforts.
From Zurich you had news of me through Wolff. Switzerland did me good, and there I found an old friend of my youth, to whom I could talk much about you. It was Alexander Mueller, whom you too know, a worthy and amiable man and artist. At Zurich also I read your article on “Tannhauser” in the Journal des Debats. What have you done in it? You wished to describe my opera to the people, and instead of that you have yourself produced a true work of art. Just as you conducted the opera, so have you written about it: new, all new, and from your inner self. When I put the article down, my first thoughts were these: “This wonderful man can do or undertake nothing without producing his own self from his inner fullness he can never be merely reproductive; no other action than the purely productive is possible to him; all in him tends to absolute, pure production, and yet he has never yet concentrated his whole power of will on the production of a great work. Is he, with all his individuality, too little of an egoist? Is he too full of love, and does he resemble Jesus on the Cross, Who helps every one but Himself? “
Ah, dear friend, my thoughts of you and my love of you are still too enthusiastic; I can only exclaim and rejoice when I think of you. Soon I hope to grow stronger, so that my selfish enthusiasm may allow me to give utterance to my anxiety for you. May Heaven grant me the power to do full justice to the love I have for you; as yet I live too much on your love for me, and mine vents itself in useless exclamations. I hope soon to gather the necessary strength from the intercourse with those who love you as I do; and truly you have friends!
I arrived in Paris soon after the publication of your article. We know better than any one that this was an accident, of which you had not in the least thought when you wrote and dispatched the article. But this accident has at once given a distinct colour to my position in Paris, and–our friend M. considers that colour as black as possible. Dear Liszt, you ought to clear your mind as to this man. But why do I talk? Should not you have found out long ago that natures like that of M. are strictly opposed to yours and mine? Should not you have found out long ago that the only tie possible between you and M. was effected by magnanimity on your side and by prudence on his? Where the two threads of this woof met, there deception was possible for a time, but I believe that you gave way to that magnanimous deception with amiable intent. M. is thoroughly little, and unfortunately I do not meet a man who has the slightest doubt about it.
Honestly speaking, I am unable to engage in a drama of intrigue a la Verre d’Eau; if this were the only way open to me, I should pack my bundle tomorrow and settle down in a German village; work I will as much as I can, but to sell my ware in this market is impossible to me. Artistic affairs here are in so vile a condition, so rotten, so fit for decay, that only a bold scytheman is required who understands the right cut. Dearest friend, apart from all political speculation, I am compelled to say openly that in the soil of the anti-Revolution no art can grow, neither perhaps could it for the present in the soil of the Revolution, unless care were taken–in time. To speak briefly, tomorrow I shall begin a searching article on the theatre of the future for some important, political journal. I promise you to leave politics on one side as much as possible, and therefore shall not compromise you or any one else; but as far as art and the theatre are concerned you must, with a good grace, allow me to be as red as possible, for a very determined colour is the only one of use to us. This, I think, is my most prudent course to adopt, and he who advises it for prudential reasons as the most effective one is none other than your representative Belloni. He tells me that here I want money as much as M. or really more than M., or else I must make myself feared. Well, money I have not, but a tremendous desire to practice a little artistic terrorism. Give me your blessing, or, better still, give me your assistance. Come here and lead the great hunt; we will shoot, and the hares shall fall right and left.
I do not expect to reach the goal here so very soon but must prepare myself. A libretto of Scribe or Dumas I cannot set to music. If I ever do reach the right goal in this Parisian hunt, I shall not compass it in the common way; I must in that case create something new, and that I can achieve only by doing it all myself. I am on the look-out for a young French poet sufficiently congenial to give himself up to my idea. My subject I shall arrange myself, and he must then write his French verses as spontaneously as possible; to anything else I could not agree.
During these slow preparations I shall have to occupy my leisure with London; I am ready to go there as soon as possible to do all in my power for the performance of my works. As to this I expect your friendly command.
I thank you from all my heart for Belloni; he is an able, honest, and very active man; every day he calls for me to show me the proper way to Parisian glory.
This is the cheerful part of my news; otherwise this horrible Paris presses on me with a hundredweight. Often I bleat like a calf for its stable and for the udder of its life-giving mother. How lonely I am amongst these people! My poor wife! I have had no news as yet, and I feel deathly soft and flabby at every remembrance. Let me soon have good news of my wife! With all my courage, I am often the most miserable coward. In spite of your generous offers, I frequently consider with a deadly terror the shrinking of my cash after my doubly prolonged journey to Paris. I feel again as I did when I came here ten years ago, and when thievish longings would often get hold of me on watching the dawn of the hot days that were to shine on my empty stomach. Ah, how this vulgarest of cares degrades man!
But one piece of news will rouse everything in me again, especially if the little Weimar has remained faithful to me. One single piece of good news, and I float once more on the top of the ocean waves.
My dear, glorious friend, take me such as this abominableParis has excited me today. I do not thank you; I call you blessed. Greet the dear Princess, greet the small knot of my friends, and tell them that you hope I shall do well. Soon you will hear more of me. Be happy and remember me.
PARIS, June 5th, 1849
(Have you received the scores, and shall I see some of them here by-and-bye?)
I have been with your mother, and she has given me uncommon pleasure; she is a healthy woman! I shall call on her again. She sends you best greetings.
It is nearly four weeks since my wife left me, and I have not yet had the least news of her. My grief and depression are great. I must gain another home and hearth; otherwise all is over with me. My heart is greater than my sense. With Belloni I have been in close consultation, and we have formed the following opinion and the resolution derived therefrom:–
In Paris I can do no good at present; my business is to write an opera for Paris; for anything else I am unfit. This object cannot be attained by storm; in the most favourable case I shall achieve the poem in half a year, and the performance in a year and a half. In Paris without a home, or–which is the same–peace of heart, I can do no work; I must find a new place where I am at home and can make up my mind to remain at home. For such a place I have selected Zurich. I have written to my wife to come there with her youngest sister, with the remnants of our household goods, so as once more to be united to me. I have a friend there, Alexander Mueller, who will assist me in furnishing as cheap a home as is to be had. As soon as I can, I shall go there from this place. When I have my wife again, I shall forthwith and gladly set to work. The sketch of a subject for Paris I shall send from there to Belloni, who will arrange about a French version by Gustave Vaez. In October he may have finished his work, and then I shall for a short time leave my wife for Paris, and shall try every possible means to obtain a commission for the setting of the said subject. I may perhaps on the same occasion perform some of my music, and after that shall return to Zurich to set about the composition. Meanwhile I shall employ my time in setting to music my latest German drama, “The Death of Siegfried.” Within half a year I shall send you the opera completed.
I must commence some genuine work, or else perish; but in order to work I want quiet and a home. With my wife and in pleasant Zurich I shall find both. I have one thing in view, and one thing I shall always do with joy and pleasure–work, i.e., write operas. For anything else I am unfit; play a part or occupy a position I cannot, and I should deceive those whom I promised to undertake any other task.
You friends must get me some small yearly allowance, just sufficient to secure for me and my wife a quiet existence in Zurich, as for the present I am not allowed to be near you in Germany. I talked to you in Weimar of a salary of three hundred thalers which I should wish to ask of the Grand Duchess for my operas, alterations of the same, and the like. If perhaps the Duke of Coburg and possibly even the Princess of Prussia were to add something, I would willingly surrender my whole artistic activity to these three protectors as a kind of equivalent, and they would have the satisfaction of having kept me free and ready for my art. I cannot ask for myself nor find the proper form for the necessary agreement, but you can, and you and your intercession will succeed. Possible revenues from the opera I shall write for Paris I might then entirely devote to the payment of the debts I left in Dresden.
Dear Liszt, have I spoken plainly enough?
With the confidence of one entirely helpless, I further ask, Make it possible to let me have some money soon, so that I may leave here, go to Zurich, and exist there till I receive the desired salary. You are the best judge as to what I want for this. Whether my wife when, in accordance with my ardent prayer, she thinks of starting for Zurich, will be able to raise the necessary funds, I unfortunately cannot tell. Would you kindly ask her soon whether she wants anything? Write to her care of Eduard Avenarius, Marienstrasse, Leipzig.
Goodness, how I always try not to weep! My poor wife!
The best I can bring forth, I will bring forth,–all, all! But to battle about in this great world is impossible for me. Let me once more be at home somewhere!
I was unable to write more today; do not be angry on that account. But I know your kindness, and trust in it implicitly.
Take a thousand greetings from your
(The scores my wife could bring to me at Zurich, could she not?)
(I had hoped to get some money from Berlin through Tichatschek; unfortunately nothing has arrived, and I cannot in any way relieve you, although I do not know where you are to get the money.)
Excuse me for applying to you again so soon. At last I received a letter from my wife, and many pangs of conscience were again roused by it. More than all, it lies heavy on my heart today that I have asked you to intercede with several royal personages for a salary for me. I had forgotten–to say nothing of my immediate past–that my sufficiently public participation in the Dresden rising has placed me towards those royal personages in a position which must make them think of me as one opposed to them on principle, and this perhaps will make it appear strange that now, when the collapse of that rising has reduced me to poverty, I turn for help to them of all others. My position is all the more painful because I can take no steps to free myself from the suspicion of such sentiments without incurring the worse suspicion of meanness and cowardice. You personally I may assure that the feeling manifested by my undisguised sympathy with the Dresden rising was very far from the ridiculously fanatical notion that every prince is an object of active hatred. If I concurred in this strange fanaticism, I should naturally have had scruples in approaching the Grand Duchess at Weimar with perfect openness. Before you, I trust, I need not defend myself; you know the bitter source of my discontent, which sprang from the condition of my beloved art, which I nourished with passion, and which finally I transferred to every other field, the connection of which with the ground of my deep dissatisfaction I had to acknowledge. From this feeling came the violent longing which finds its expression in the words, “There must be a change; thus it cannot remain.” That now, taught by the experience of my participation in that rising, I could never again mix myself up with a political catastrophe, I need not say; every reasonable person must know it. What rejoices me, and what I may safely affirm, is that in all my aims I have once more become entirely an artist. But this I cannot possibly tell the princes at the moment when I am about to claim their assistance. What would they think of me! A general and public declaration also would bring me nothing but disgrace. It would have to appear as an apology, and an apology in the only correct sense time and my life alone can tender, not a public declaration, which in the present threatening circumstances and in my helplessness must needs appear cowardly and low.
I am sure you will agree with my view of the matter, and I surmise that already you have found yourself in a very awkward position towards the Grand Duchess on my account. My wife, who still thinks it necessary to live on amongst the dregs of Dresden vulgarity, tells me a thousand unpleasant things which in the eyes of miserable creatures make me appear much more compromised by the revolution than I really am. This feeling towards me is probably spread far and wide, and therefore may have affected the Weimar court. I can well imagine that you think it at present inadvisable to raise your voice for me at a court which, with a natural prejudice, at first sight recognizes in me only the political revolutionary, and forgets the artistic revolutionary whom at bottom it has learnt to love.
How far you will think it good to comply with my application of yesterday in such circumstances you will best decide for yourself. Is it possible that our princes nowadays should be magnanimous enough to exercise a beautiful, old privilege, unmoved by the currents of the time and without weighing conditions? Think this over; perhaps you have more confidence than I.
My wife suffers, and is embittered; for her I hope everything from time. I asked you yesterday to inquire of her as to the pecuniary aid she may need; I ask you today not to do so-not now. If you will do me a kindness, send me a little money, so that I can get away,–anywhere, perhaps after all to Zurich, to my old friend Mueller. I should like to be at rest, so as to write the scenario for Paris; I don’t feel up to much just now. What should I do in London? I am good for nothing, except perhaps writing operas, and that I cannot do in London.
Best greetings to any one who will accept them from me; there will not be many. Farewell, dear, much-troubled friend. Could I but make you returns!
Your most faithful
REUIL, June 19th, 1849
With the contents of your letter No. 2 I agree more than with No. 1. For the present it would not be very diplomatic to knock at battered doors. Later on, when you stand revealed as a made fellow, even as you are a created one, protectors will easily be found; and if I can serve you then as a connecting and convenient instrument, I shall be quite at your disposal with my whole heart and with a certain slight savoir-faire. But a period of transition you cannot avoid, and Paris is for everything and before everything a necessity to you. Try to make it possible that your “Rienzi” (with a few modifications intended for the Paris public) is performed in the course of next winter. Pay a little court to Roger and Madame Viardot. Roger is an amiably intelligent man, who will probably fall in love with the part. I think, however, that in any case you will have to spare him a little more than Tichatschek, and will have to ease his task by some abbreviations. Also do not neglect Janin, who, I feel sure, will give you a helping hand, and whose influence in the press can secure the early performance of the opera.
In a word, very dear and very great friend, make yourself possible in possible conditions, and success will assuredly not fail you. Vaez and A. Royer will be of great assistance to you both for the translation and rearrangement of “Rienzi” and for the design of your new work. Associate and concur with them strictly for the realization of that plan from which you must not swerve:–
1. To give “Rienzi” during the winter of 1850 at the Paris Opera, whence it will take its flight to all the theatres of Germany, and perhaps of Italy. For Europe wants an opera which for our new revolutionary epoch will be what “La Muette de Portici” was for the July revolution, and “Rienzi” is conceived and written for those conditions. If you succeed in introducing into it a slight element of relief, were it only by means of stage machinery or of the ballet, success is certain.
2. To write a new work for the winter of ’51 in collaboration with Vaez and A. Royer, who know all the mysteries of success. In the interval you cannot do better than take a good position in the musical press. Forgive me for this suggestion, and manage so that you are not of necessity placed in a hostile position towards things and people likely to bar your road to success and fame. A truce to political commonplaces, socialistic stuff, and personal hatreds! On the other hand, good courage, strong patience, and flaming fire, which latter it will not be difficult for you to provide, with the volcanoes you have in your brain! Your idea of retiring to Zurich for some time in order to work more at ease seems good, and I have charged Belloni to remit to you three hundred francs for traveling expenses. I hope that Madame Wagner will be able to join you, and before the autumn I shall let you have a small sum which will keep you afloat.
Kindly let me know whether I shall send your works to Madame Wagner, and at what address.
The admirable score of “Lohengrin” has interested me profoundly; nevertheless I fear at the performance the superideal colour which you have maintained throughout. Perhaps you will think me an awful Philistine, dear friend, but I cannot help it, and my sincere friendship for you may authorize me to tell you. . . . [The letter breaks off here in the original edition.-TR.]
Thanks to your intercession, I have been able to fly to the friendly place from which I write to you today. I should trouble you unnecessarily were I to tell you all that latterly has passed through my heart; perhaps you will guess it. Belloni has taken care of me with the greatest kindness and consideration; there are, however, things in which no friend in the world can be of assistance. One thing more by way of explanation: during my journey through Switzerland and on my arrival in Paris, I met with some Saxon refugees in a position which induced me to assist them in your name. I shall not be tempted again.
I hope to find some rest and collectedness for the completion of my intended Paris work in the intimate intercourse with a dear friend who is also a friend of yours–Alexander Mueller. About “Rienzi” and the plans which you have commended to us regarding that opera, Belloni will give you details in so far as the purely practical part of the matter is concerned. He thinks it impossible, especially at first, to place it at the Grand Opera. I, as an artist and man, have not the heart for the reconstruction of that to my taste superannuated work, which, in consequence of its immoderate dimensions, I have had to remodel more than once. I have no longer the heart for it, and desire from all my soul soon to do something new instead. Besides, the erection of an operatic theatre in Paris is imminent where only foreign works are to be produced; that would be the place for Rienzi, especially if some one else would occupy himself with it. I want you to decide about this as soon as you have heard our reasons. I have settled everything with Gustave Vaez as regards the external part of our common enterprise. The work, which I shall now take in hand at once, will, I hope, soon open to him and to you my inner view of the matter. Heaven grant that in this also we may understand each other or at least come to an understanding. Only from the one deep conviction which is the essence of my mental being can I draw inspiration and courage for my art, for only through this conviction can I love it; if this conviction were to separate me from my friends, I should bid farewell to art–and probably turn clodhopper.
By all accounts I am in fine repute with you! The other day, I hear, I was accused, together with another person, of having set fire to the old Dresden opera house. All right. My dear wife lives in the midst of this slough of civic excellence and magnanimity. One thing grieves me deeply; it wounds me to the very bone: I mean the reproach frequently made to me that I have been ungrateful to the King of Saxony. I am wholly made of sentiment, and could never understand, in the face of such a reproach, why I felt no pangs of conscience at this supposed ingratitude. I have at last asked myself whether the King of Saxony has committed a punishable wrong by conferring upon me undeserved favours, in which case I should certainly have owed him gratitude for his infringement of justice. Fortunately my consciousness acquits him of any such guilt. The payment of 1,500 thalers for my conducting, at his intendant’s command, a certain number of bad operas every year, was indeed excessive; but this was to me no reason for gratitude, but rather for dissatisfaction with my appointment. That he paid me nothing for the best I could do does not oblige me to gratitude; that when he had an opportunity of helping me thoroughly he could not or dared not help me, but calmly discussed my dismissal with his intendant, quieted me as to the dependence of my position on any act of grace. Finally, I am conscious that, even if there had been cause for any particular gratitude towards the King of Saxony, I have not knowingly done anything ungrateful towards him; proof of this I should be able to furnish. Pardon, dear friend, this unpleasant deviation; unfortunately I am not yet again in that stage of creating which shuts out anything but the present and the future from my cognizance. My spirit still writhes too violently under the impression of a past which, alas! continues wholly to occupy my present. I am still bent on justification, and that I wish to address to no one but you.
As soon as I have anything ready I shall send it to you. For the present I must urgently ask you to forward me here at once the scores and other literary tools which my wife has sent to you. I want to get into some kind of swing again so that the bell may ring. Be good enough to give the parcel to a carrier to be forwarded here by express conveyance (care of Alexander Muller, Zurich).
Muller greets you most cordially. He will write to you soon to inform you of the success of Herr Eck, the instrument-maker, whose company is doing very well.
Dear Liszt, do not cease to be my friend; have patience with me, and take me as I am. A thousand compliments to the Princess, and thank her in my name for the kind memory she has preserved of me; she may find it difficult to remain my friend.
Be healthy and happy, and let me soon hear some of your works, even as I promise you on my part. Farewell, and take my cordial thanks for your constancy and friendship.
ZURICH, July 9th, 1849
MY DEAR LISZT,
Are you in a good temper? Probably not, as you are just opening a letter from your plaguing spirit. And yet it is all the world to me that you should be in a good temper just today, at this moment! Fancy yourself at the most beautiful moment of your life, and thence look upon me cheerfully and benevolently, for I have to proffer an ardent prayer. I receive today a letter from my wife, unfortunately much delayed in the post. It touches me more than anything in the world; she wants to come to me, and stay with me, and suffer with me once more all the ills of life. Of a return to Germany, as you know well yourself, I must not for the present think; therefore our reunion must take place abroad. I had already told her that the hoped-for assistance from Weimar would come to nothing; this she will easily understand and bear. But in order to carry out her idea to come to me, she and I lack no less than all. To get away from Dresden in the most difficult circumstances she wants money; quite lately she told me she had to pay sixty-two thalers without knowing where to get it. She will now have to pack and send to me the few things we have saved; she must leave something for the immediate wants of her parents, whom formerly I kept entirely. She then has to travel to Zurich with her sister, and I must at least be able to offer her the bare necessaries of life for the beginning. At this moment I can offer her nothing in the world. I live at present only on the remainder of the money which I received from you through Belloni before my departure from Paris. But, dear friend, I take care not to be a burden to you alone, and this care is partly the reason why I have not yet thoroughly set to work, although the anxiety about my wife is chiefly to blame. I have again tried hard to get paying work and assistance, so that I might ease your burden, and in the worst case need only ask you to assist me again for my journey to Paris in the autumn. But now in this moment of the most painful joy at the imminent return of my wife–now I know of no one but you to whom to apply with the firm hope of seeing my wishes speedily accomplished. You therefore I implore by all that is dear to you to raise and collect as much as you possibly can, and to send it, not to me, but to my wife, so that she may have enough to get away and to join me with the assurance of being able to live with me free from care for some time at least. Dearest friend, you care for my welfare, my soul, my art. Once more restore me to my art! I do not cling to a home, but I cling to this poor, good, faithful woman, to whom as yet I have caused almost nothing but grief, who is of a careful, serious disposition, without enthusiasm, and who feels herself chained for ever to such a reckless devil as myself. Restore her to me; by doing so you will give me all you can wish for me, and, believe me, for that I shall be grateful to you, yea grateful!
You will see how quickly I shall turn out things. My preparations for Paris, the pamphlet, and even two sketches for subjects will be ready and on their way next month. Where I cannot agree with you I shall win you over to me; that I promise, so that we may always go hand in hand and never separate. I will obey you, but give me my poor wife; arrange it so that she may come cheerfully, with some confidence, soon and quickly. Alas! this, in the language of our dear nineteenth century, means, Send her as much money as you can possibly get. Yes, such is my nature; I can beg, I could steal, to cheer up my wife, were it only for a little while. Dear, good Liszt, see what you can do! Help me, help me, dear Liszt. Farewell, and–help me!
Write straight to my wife: Minna Wagner, Friedrich-strasse No. 20, Dresden.
In answer to your letter, I have remitted one hundred thalers to your wife at Dresden. This sum has been handed to me by an admirer of “Tannhauser”, whom you do not know, and who has specially asked me not to name him to you.
With Y. B., who paid me a visit yesterday, I talked over your position at length. I hope his family will take an active interest in your affairs.
All the scores (excepting the overture to “Faust”) I sent to Zurich last week. The separation from your “Lohengrin” was difficult to me. The more I enter into its conception and masterly execution, the higher rises my enthusiasm for this extraordinary work. Forgive my wretched pusillanimity if I still have some doubt as to the wholly satisfactory result of the performance.
Permit me one question: Do you not think it advisable to add to “Tannhauser” a dedication (post scriptum) to the Lord of Wartburg, H.R.H. Carl Alexander, Hereditary Grand Duke of Saxe- Weymar-Eisenach?
If you agree to this, have a very simple plate to that effect engraved, and send me in advance, together with your next letter, a few lines to the Hereditary Grand Duke, which I shall hand to him at once. For the present you must expect no special donation in return, but the sympathy of the prince for your masterpiece fully justifies this attention.
Friendly greetings to Alexander Muller, to whom I am still very grateful for his friendly reception at Zurich. If you should see J. E., assure him of my sincere interest in his further welfare. He is an honest, able, excellent man.
Hold me in kind remembrance, even as I am cordially devoted to you.
WEYMAR, July 29th, 1849
P.S.–Be careful in your articles in the newspapers to omit all political allusions to Germany, and leave royal princes alone. In case there should be an opportunity of paying Weymar a modest compliment en passant, give free vent to your reminiscences with the necessary kid gloves.
I herewith send you my last finished work; it is a new version of the original article which I sent to Paris last week to have it translated for the feuilleton of the National. Whether you will be pleased with it I do not know, but I feel certain that your nature is at one with me. I hope you will find in it nothing of the political commonplaces, socialistic balderdash, or personal animosities, against which you warned me; but that, in the deepest depth of things, I see what I see, is entirely owing to the circumstance that my own artistic nature and the sufferings it has to go through have opened my eyes in such a manner that death alone can close them again. I look forward either to an entirely useless existence, or to an activity which responds to my inmost being, even if I have to exercise it afar from all external splendour. In the former case I should have to think of abbreviating that existence.
Please address and send the manuscript, together with the enclosed letter, to the publisher Otto Wigand in Leipzig. Perhaps I shall succeed in drawing from my inferior literary faculty some small support for my existence. Since my last letter, which I posted at the same time with my stormy petition to you, I have had no news from my wife, and am slightly tortured accordingly.
From a letter written by Baron Schober to Eck at Zurich, I see with great pleasure that your prospects are cheerful, and that you are resolved to settle in Weimar. I presume that the excellent Princess is also happy and well. Heaven be thanked! Whether you ought to show her my manuscript I am not quite certain; in it I am so much of a Greek that I have not been able quite to convert myself to Christianity. But what nonsense I talk! As if you were not the right people! Pardon me.
Farewell, dear, unique friend! Remember me in kindness.
ZURICH, August 4th, 1849
Have you been good enough to see about the forwarding to me of my scores and writings? I am anxious at not having seen anything of them.
A thousand thanks for your letter, and for kindly taking care of my wife. The unknown donor is wrong in wishing to be hidden from me. Thank him in my name.
The day before yesterday I sent you a long article; probably you have read it. I am glad that I can agree to your wish to dedicate “Tannhauser” to the Grand Duke without the slightest abnegation of my principles, for I hope you will see that I care for something else than the stupid political questions of the day.
It would be best if you could have the dedication page and the special copy done through Meser, in which case you might also, if necessary, promise to bear the trifling expense, for of that copyright not a single note is mine. I hope you like the verses. Will you put the letter to the Grand Duke in an addressed envelope?
Oh, my friends, if you would only give me the wages of a middling mechanic, you would have pleasure in my undisturbed work, which should all be yours.
Thanks for sending the scores. “Lohengrin” will be especially useful to me, for I hope to pawn the score here for some hundreds of florins, so as to have money for myself and my wife for the next few months.
Your doubts as to a satisfactory effect of the performance of the opera have frequently occurred to me. I think, however, that if the performance is quite according to my colour, the work– including even the end–will be all right. One must dare.
Muller and Eck were delighted by your greetings, and return them with enthusiasm.
Dear, good Liszt, I also thank you most cordially for all the care you take of me. Consider that I can give you nothing better in return than the best I can accomplish. Give me perfect peace, and you shall be satisfied. I hope my wife will be here soon; then you shall soon have good news of me.
Farewell, and continue to be my friend.
ZURICH, August 7th, 1849
MY DEAR FRIEND,
After a silence of several months, I cannot address you without first of all thanking you once more with all my heart for the friendly assistance which enabled me to have my poor wife back again. By this assistance my wife made it possible to preserve and bring with her some favourite trifles of our former household and, before all, my grand piano. We are settled here as well as possible; and after a long interruption, full of pain and unrest, I am once more able to think of the execution of my great artistic plans for the future.
After this final reunion with my much-tried wife, nothing could have given me greater pleasure than to learn about the produce of your artistic activity. The pieces written by you for the centenary of Goethe’s birth I have now seen in the pianoforte score, and have occupied myself with them attentively. With all my heart I bid you welcome, and am glad–especially also in sympathy with your friend–that you behave so valiantly in this field of honour, selected by you with glorious consistency. What I felt most vividly, after my acquaintance with these compositions, was the desire to know that you were writing an opera or finishing one already begun. The aphoristic nature of such tasks as those set you by this Goethe celebration must involuntarily be transferred to the artistic production, which therefore cannot attain to perfect warmth. Creative power in music appears to me like a bell, which the larger it is is the less able to give forth its full tone, unless an adequate power has set it in motion. This power is internal, and where it does not exist internally it does not exist at all. The purely internal, however, cannot operate unless it is stimulated by something external, related to it and yet different. Creative power in music surely requires this stimulus no less than does any other great artistic power; a great incitement alone can make it effective. As I have every reason to deem your power great, I desire for it the corresponding great incitement; for nothing here can be arbitrarily substituted or added: genuine strength can only create from necessity. Wherever in the series of your pieces Goethe himself incites your strength, the bell resounds with its natural full tone, and the clapper beats in it as the heart does in the body. If you had been able to ring the whole “Faust”-bell (I know this was impossible), if the detached pieces had had reference to a great whole, then that great whole would have thrown on the single pieces a reflex which is exactly the certain something that may be gained from the great whole, but not from the single piece. In single, aphoristic things we never attain repose; only in a great whole is great power self- contained, strong, and therefore, in spite of all excitement, reposeful. Unrest in what we do is a proof that our activity is not perfectly self-contained, that not our whole power, but only a detached particle of that power, is in action. This unrest I have found in your compositions, even as you must have found it too often in mine without better cause. With this unrest I was, however, better pleased than if comfortable self-contentment had been their prominent feature. I compare it to the claw by which I recognize the lion; but now I call out to you, Show us the complete lion: in other words, write or finish soon an opera.
Dear friend, look upon me with an earnest but kind glance! All the ills that have happened to me were the natural and necessary consequences of the discord of my own being. The power which is mine is quite unyielding and indivisible. By its nature it takes violent revenge when I try to turn or divide it by external force. To be wholly what I can be, and therefore, no doubt, should be, is only possible for me if I renounce all those external things which I could gain by dint of the aforesaid external force. That force would always make me fritter away my genuine power, would always conjure up the same evils. In all I do and think I am only artist, nothing but artist. If I am to throw myself into our modern publicity, I cannot conquer it as an artist, and God preserve me from dealing with it as a politician. Poor and without means for bare life, without goods or heritage, as I am, I should be compelled to think only of acquisition; but I have learnt nothing but my art, and that I cannot possibly use for the purpose of acquiring nowadays; I cannot seek publicity, and my artistic salvation could be brought about one day only by publicity seeking me. The publicity for which alone I can work is a small nucleus of individuals who constitute my whole publicity at present. To these individuals, therefore, I must turn, and put the question to them whether they love me and my art-work sufficiently to make it possible for me, as far as in them lies, to be myself, and to develop my activity without disturbance. These individuals are not many, and they live far from each other, but the character of their sympathy is an energetic one. Dear friend, the question with me is bare life. You have opened Paris to me, and I most certainly do not refuse it; but what I have to choose and to design for that place cannot be chosen and designed in a moment; I must there be some one else and yet necessarily remain the same. All my numerous sketches are adapted only to treatment by myself, and in the German language. Subjects which I should have been prepared to execute for Paris (such as “Jesus of Nazareth”) turn out to be impossible for manifold reasons when I come to consider closely the practical bearings of the thing, and I must therefore have time and leisure to wait for inspiration, which I can expect only from some remote region of my nature. On the other hand, the poem of my “Siegfried” lies before me. After not having composed a note for two years, my whole artistic man is impelled towards writing the music for it. What I could possibly hope for from a Paris success would not even be able to keep me alive; for, without being thoroughly dishonest, I should have to hand it over to my creditors.
The question, then, is, How and whence shall I get enough to live? Is my finished work “Lohengrin” worth nothing? Is the opera which I am longing to complete worth nothing? It is true that to the present generation and to publicity as it is these must appear as a useless luxury. But how about the few who love these works? Should not they be allowed to offer to the poor suffering creator–not a remuneration, but the bare possibility of continuing to create?
To the tradesmen I cannot apply, nor to the existing nobility– not to human princes, but to princely men. To work my best, my inmost salvation, I am not in a position to rely on merit, but on grace. If we few in this villainous trading age are not gracious towards each other, how can we live in the name and for the honour of art?
Dear friend, you, I believe, are the only one on whom I can implicitly rely. Do not be frightened! I have tried to relieve you of the burden of this exclusive reliance; I have turned elsewhere, but in vain. From H. B., about whom you wrote to me, I have heard nothing, and am glad from my heart that I have not. Dear Liszt, let us leave the TRADESMEN alone once for all. They are human and even love art, but only as far as BUSINESS will allow.
Tell me; advise me! Hitherto my wife and I have kept ourselves alive by the help of a friend here. By the end of this month of October our last florins will be gone, and a wide, beautiful world lies before me, in which I have nothing to eat, nothing to warm myself with. Think of what you can do for me, dear, princely man! Let some one buy my “Lohengrin,” skin and bones; let some one commission my “Siegfried.” I will do it cheaply! Leaving our old plan of a confederation of princes out of the question, can you not find some other individuals who would join together to help me, if YOU were to ask them in the proper manner? Shall I put in the newspaper “I have nothing to live on; let him who loves me give me something”? I cannot do it because of my wife; she would die of shame. Oh the trouble it is to find a place in