American Liszt Society Festival
October 26, 2019
On a dark evening in November, 1841, with the north wind whistling through the bare boughs of the trees, newly-wed Robert and Clara Schumann sat conversing with actor/singer Eduard Genast in the restaurant of Weimar’s Hotel Russischer Hof when they saw a tall, slim person enter the room, his long, light-brown hair swept back from his distinctive, chiseled face. “Bon Soir, Ihr Lieben!” the man called out to them. “Good evening, my dears!” “Liszt!” they replied with one voice. Soon, Liszt and Clara were deeply engrossed in conversation, as Genast and the characteristically taciturn Robert looked on. At one point, Clara admired Liszt’s blue enameled stick-pin, a globe sown with stars and held by a golden eagle’s claw. Liszt, with characteristic gallantry offered it to her as a gift, and would not take no for an answer.
Having just passed his thirtieth birthday, Franz Liszt was paying his first visit to Weimar, “to get to know the territory where the four greatest German poets lived and held sway,” he said — “the place that one gladly terms classical, and with pride calls the German Athens.” All Germany reverenced Weimar’s prestigious heritage as the town of Herder, Wieland, Goethe and Schiller. “This unique town,” Adolf Stahr had called it, “by whose name […] the German feels uplifted by a feeling of national solidarity. And this feeling is the more affecting, in that it rests on the awareness, that in it and in its originators the notion of a humanitarian ideal that embraces all mankind has come to its purest expression.
As every musician was aware, the capital of German letters was also once home to Johann Sebastian Bach, who for nine years had served Duke Wilhelm Ernst’s Capelle und Kammermusik as court organist, and later as Konzertmeister. There, too, Mozart’s protégé Johann Nepumuk Hummel had filled the role of Kapellmeister. After Hummel’s death in 1837, Liszt had considered offering his services to the Weimar court, and it is possible that the idea of an established position in Weimar had not left him. In any case, this small Thuringian town may well have seemed a promising arena for an artist such as Liszt, in whom “the reformation of the art of music through its more intimate union with the art of poetry” had become an artistic creed. On that turbulent night in 1841, Liszt and the Schumanns were still on good terms, and Weimar seemed ripe, in Liszt’s word, for “colonizing.” In the coming years, Liszt’s hillside home in Weimar would become the staging-ground for his audacious challenge to the German musical establishment centered a mere eighty miles away in Leipzig, and the “War of the Romantics” would begin.
In hindsight, Liszt and Weimar — Old-Weimar at least — would seem to have been a contradiction in terms, and, as we know, it didn’t work out as he planned. “The widow’s home of the muses,” as Heine called it, was certainly a strange place for a proudly independent, cosmopolitan virtuoso — a francophone futurist — a romantic of the Byronic persuasion — to set down roots and attempt to revolutionize the culture of a nation that did not yet exist, except as a culture. In its Classical heyday, Mme. de Stael had judged Weimar to be no town at all, but merely a “large château.” Half a century later, in 1854, George Eliot would similarly call it a “huge village rather than a town.” “How could Goethe live in this dull, lifeless village?” she asked. But Liszt was a man of enormous imagination and boundless energy, and what he saw there filled him with a sense of enormous potential. In 1841, the Athens on the Ilm was indeed a backward-looking parochial place, whose cultural and social life revolved around the court of Grand Duke Carl Friedrich and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. But on this visit Liszt formed a sympathetic acquaintance with the Grand Duke’s twenty-three year old son, Carl Alexander, who had grown up under the tutorial spirit of Goethe, and who harbored similar ambitions to return Weimar to its former position as the seat of German culture. The young hereditary Grand Duke would later write that Liszt, “by his personality … joins together a power of intelligence, a vitality of thought, a breadth of education, an energy of will, a distinctiveness of individuality, the likes of which I have never seen.” “I enjoy him endlessly. He is my intellectual champagne.
Revisiting Weimar the next year, Liszt was bigger than the Beatles. His astounding feat earlier that year of giving twenty-one different programs in fewer than ten weeks had sent musical Germany into a full-blown case of what Heine called “Lisztomania.” Liszt accepted Carl Alexander’s appointment to the post of Court Kapellmeister in Extraordinary Service, a largely honorary post that committed him to annual visits, but otherwise left him free to pursue his extensive travels as a virtuoso. In January 1844, Liszt wrote to his partner Marie d’Agoult:
Under the late Grand Duke Carl-August, Weimar was a new Athens. Let us dream today of building a new Weimar. Let us renew openly and boldly the traditions of Carl-August. Let us allow talents to move more freely in their sphere. Let us colonize as much as possible.
In February 1847, while performing in Kiev, Liszt met the Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein — the beginning of a long-standing affair, which precipitated his retirement, at age 35, from the concert stage. The next year, Liszt abandoned what he called his “traveling-circus life,” and settled in the Athens on the Ilm to devote himself to composition, teaching, and the spiritual life, and to take up in earnest the project that he had contemplated in the seven years since that dark, stormy night’s conversation with the Schumanns in Weimar’s Hotel Russischer Hof.
With Mendelssohn’s death in November, 1847, and with the ubiquitous revolutions of 1848, mid-19th century Germany would experience a caesura in its musical and cultural life. The times were imbued with the Hegelian concept of Fortschritt, progress, and, unavoidably, Parteistreit, partisanship.
“The word ‘Progress’ resounds in our time more and more often, louder and louder, more and more vehemently,” wrote J. C. Lobe in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. “One can hardly pass a day without hearing that our time is the time of progress. In the fields of politics, religion, science and industry, and perhaps the most these days in the field of music, it is said to be so.
All who pronounce this phrase count themselves members of the progressive party. He who does not join in the daily incantation of this phrase […] will be summarily disposed of by the epithet: he is a pedant. Progressive party, then, and pedantic party! Who would gladly be counted among the latter; who would not rather belong to the former? In the beginning of this Year of Salvation 1848, I shout to the world as loudly as I can: I am for progress.”
Pedantic party. That would be the Leipzigers. Leipzig was, of course, associated with Mendelssohn and Schumann, Moscheles, Hauptmann and David, and a certain sober, didactic attitude toward music, encapsulated in Seneca’s motto which was emblazoned on the proscenium at the Gewandhaus: res severa est verum gaudium — “A serious matter is true joy,” or perhaps the other way around: “true joy is a serious matter.” Leipzig was also, of course, home to Germany’s first music conservatory, which seems constructive and innocuous enough, but the idea that music could be taught like any common trade was something of a hot potato in those days, and for some, like a certain “K. Freethought” the fact that the new musical institution seemed dominated by Jews — that is, the “people of the Book,” who reverenced the past and were perceived as slick imitators of an authentic tradition — was anathema.
Liszt, focused as he was on the future, and imbued with the concept progress, had little sympathy for the Leipzigers and what he called their “musical graveyard.”[xi] “If, at the time of my settling [in Weimar] in 48, I had wanted to attach myself to the posthumous party in music — to join in their hypocrisy, stroke their prejudices, etc.,” Liszt wrote in 1860, “given my previous connections with the principal bigwigs of that side, nothing would have been easier. […] My conviction was too sincere, my belief in the present and the future of art too keen, and at the same time too positive, for me to have been able to accept the vain formulaic rebukes of our pseudo-classicists, who attempt to say that art has lost its way, that art is lost. The waves of the spirit are not like those of the sea, and it is not said to them: ‘thus far and no farther!’ — on the contrary: ‘the spirit bloweth where it listeth,’ and the art of this century has as much right to speak its piece as that of previous times — and without fail it will do so.
“A Very Agitated Evening”
On June 9, 1848, on his way to settling in Weimar, Liszt arrived unexpectedly at the Schumanns’ home in Dresden. As they had not seen one another in nearly seven years, the Schumanns received Liszt with delight, though with no little consternation when he expressed his wish to hear some of Schumann’s chamber music later that evening. While Robert took Liszt to visit Wagner, Clara had but a few hours to gather the musicians and guests for the evening’s festivities. Liszt, for his part, made other plans for the early part of the evening.
The party started badly, with Liszt nowhere to be seen. After more than an hour of waiting, the disappointed guests began to make music without him. As they reached the last page of Beethoven’s “Ghost” trio, Liszt “stormed in the door,” two hours late. He seemed to enjoy the ensuing performance of Schumann’s trio, but his host’s quintet he belittled as too “Leipzigerisch.” “No, no, my dear Schumann, this is not the real thing,” he is reported to have said. “It is only Kapellmeister music.” After dinner, Liszt sat down to play Carnaval, in Clara’s words, “so disgracefully badly […] that I was really ashamed to have to stand there and listen, and not to be able to leave the room immediately, as Bendemann did.” When he finished playing, Liszt gave an after-dinner speech, declaring that new trails were being blazed for music everywhere, and even that which a few years before had evoked the admiration of the world was already Rococo. He tactlessly praised the music of Meyerbeer at the expense of the recently-deceased Mendelssohn, heedless of Schumann’s well-known aversion to Meyerbeer’s music and his esteem for his departed friend. Schumann flew into a rage, seizing Liszt by the shoulder and shouting: “And Mendelssohn? Is he also Rococo? Meyerbeer is a runt compared to Mendelssohn, who was an artist who made an effect, not only in Leipzig, but throughout the entire world, and Liszt should shut up.” After more similar abuse, Schumann retreated to his bedroom. Liszt made an attempt to downplay the event, but eventually gave up and left the party, saying to Clara as he departed “Tell your husband that there is only one man from whom I would so calmly accept words such has he has just said to me.” Liszt drove home with Wagner in a state of “amused embarrassment.” Wagner wrote: “I have seldom seen Liszt so boisterously cheerful as on this night, in which, clothed only in a thin tailcoat against the severe cold, he alternately accompanied me and concertmaster Schubert home.” Later, Liszt admitted to Lina Ramann that they had “suffered through a very agitated evening together — which was my fault.” “It wounded Robert too deeply for him ever to be able to forget it,” Clara wrote afterward, saying of Liszt: “I have broken with him for all eternity.”
Schumann and Liszt eventually re-established personal relations, though the former cordiality never returned. A year later, in May of 1849, Schumann was still smarting from Liszt’s assessment of his music when Liszt inquired through Carl Reineke whether he might perform Schumann’s Faust at Weimar’s upcoming Goethe celebration. Schumann replied, alluding to Faust: “But, dear friend, wouldn’t the composition perhaps be too Leipzigerisch for you? Or do you indeed hold Leipzig to be a miniature Paris, in which one can also accomplish something?” He then went on to defend himself and Leipzig against Liszt’s criticisms that Leipzigers were concerned only with perpetuating dead forms, and that their music consequently sounded too much alike. “Seriously — I might have expected something different from you, who knows so many of my compositions, than to lump them all together, expressing such a judgment of a whole life in art. […] And, truly, those who were together in Leipzig weren’t so bad after all, — Mendelssohn, Hiller, Bennet, et al. — we could hold our own with the Parisians, Viennese, and Berliners. […] So much for your comment, which was unjust and insulting. For the rest, let us forget the evening — a word is not an arrow — and the main thing is to strive forward.” Liszt replied: “Highly honored friend, above all, allow me to repeat to you what, after a long time, you should actually know best beside me: that no one admires and respects you more sincerely than my humble self. Certainly, we can find a time to have a friendly discussion about the meaning of a work, a man, or indeed a city […]”
Liszt once told August Göllerich: “Marschner, who was very undiplomatic, once said to me: ‘So, you are now in Weimar! I suppose there is not much there to do?’ ‘Oh,’ I replied, ‘I’ll make something for myself to do.’” Among the first things that he made for himself to do was to stage the premiere of Wagner’s Lohengrin, an event that drew the young assistant concertmaster from Leipzig — Mendelssohn’s former protégé and virtual stepchild — Joseph Joachim. Joachim was overwhelmed with Lohengrin, and delighted with Liszt. After a few days of making music together, he accepted Liszt’s proffer of the position of Konzertmeister of the Weimar Hofkapelle, making him the first person to hold that title since Johann Sebastian Bach.
Joachim would also become the first, and one of the most prominent, of Liszt’s avant-garde circle of young Turks, who, in the clubby anti-philistine youth culture of the day, came to call themselves the “Murls” — assuming aliases such as “Murl Ali Pascha” — Joachim’s nom de guerre. We read in Bülow’s letters of great festive dinners, lasting until well after midnight. There were endless speeches and toasts, many in verse — and because they were Germans, they kept all their receipts, which can be viewed in the Weimar Goethe-Schiller Archive. They would have a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape with dinner, and finish with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot — each. Fanny Lewald painted an unforgettable picture of Liszt’s musical mentorship and of the ambiance at the Altenburg, Liszt’s Weimar home:
At that time, he was surrounded by students and young musicians who have all become masters: the very youthful concertmaster Joseph Joachim, Hans von Bülow, Cossmann, Singer, Winterberger, Voss and a few others; and, quite aside from the great musical enjoyment provided by the collaboration of these young men, enthusiastically attached to Liszt, it was a joy to see with what love and devotion he observed and led them, how he took pleasure in their ability, how warmheartedly he praised them when they pleased him—I think I can still hear the tone of his voice, with which he called out to them: ‘Bravo, Joachim! Bravo, Hans! Je ne pourrais pas faire mieux!’—and how he then, turning to the listeners, asked: ‘Isn’t that so? You don’t find that everywhere.”
Indeed not — though such occasions did not occur regularly. For a host of reasons including the Princess’s ill health, Liszt was not often present in Weimar. He was often gone for months at a time, and a disappointed Joachim wrote to Hiller that it was only the intermittent association with Liszt that held him in the sleepy village. Joachim and Bülow filled their time with practicing, playing Beethoven sonatas, taking long walks in the Ilm park, and teaching each other Spanish. Together with Bernhard Cossmann, Peter Cornelius, and the other Joseph Joachim — Joseph Joachim Raff — among others, they formed a tight-knit group of Lisztian disciples — a brotherhood that would eventually step before the public as the “Musicians of the Future” and later, in journalist Franz Brendel’s fraught term the “New German School,” waging, in Bülow’s phrase “a war of extirpation against Mendelssohnism,” against “Mendelssohn preservation institutions,” and against what he called the “bastards of mercantilism and of musical Judaism.” We know that this was hurtful to Joachim, a Jew who had spent important formative years in Leipzig as a virtual member of Mendelssohn’s household, and who idolized Mendelssohn as a second father and mentor. The anti-Mendelssohnian and frequently anti-Semitic attitudes of the Murls and their associates would play a large part in Joachim’s eventual break from the group.
Because of their later inimical relationship, the details of Joachim’s time with Liszt in Weimar remain somewhat obscure. We know that, for Liszt, Joachim was both a pupil and a colleague. They often played together, and shared thoughts and criticisms on music. When, with Liszt’s help and blessing, Joachim left Weimar in January, 1853, and entered into a new position as Konzertmeister to the King of Hanover, Joseph was still a devoted Murl. His position in Hanover was subsidiary to Kapellmeister Heinrich Marschner, who, compared with Liszt, was a stodgy conservative in matters musical. In his early Hanover days, living apart and lonely, Joachim completed one of his most significant works: the Hamlet Overture, which Liszt admired, and which predates Liszt’s own Hamlet by five years. In sending the manuscript to Liszt, Joachim wrote:
I hope that the work will tell you […] that you, my Master, have been constantly present in my mind. […] I was very much alone. The contrast between the atmosphere that, through your activity, is ceaselessly filled with new sounds, and an air that has been made utterly tone-rigid by the rule of a phlegmatic northerner from the time of the Restoration [Marschner] is too barbaric! Wherever I looked, no one who shared my aspirations; no one except the Phalanx of like-minded friends in Weimar. The yawning gulf between the most intense desire and the impossibility of its fulfilment filled me with despair. I turned to Hamlet.
Ironically, it was this very work with which Joachim would introduce himself to Schumann as a composer, leading to his eventual split with Liszt. Liszt continued to encourage and advocate for Joachim, and when the Murls assembled for the famous music festival in Karlsruhe in October, 1853, Joachim, Murl Ali Pascha, was both a featured soloist and Liszt’s trusted assistant. In the lead-up to the festival, Joachim wrote to Liszt:
They will be, I think, beautiful days in Karlsruhe; to see the “Weimar School” assembled in full and joyful activity will be for me more than a merely musical festival, and I hope that we young comrades will take away with us a marvelous stimulus to new activity, as we certainly bring with us the warmest joy!
The Karlsruhe Musikfest was the second joint outing of the Lisztian school outside of the then relatively sympathetic environment of Weimar itself (the first occurred the previous year in Ballenstedt), and an early demonstration of Liszt’s conducting, and as such was seen as a pivotal event. Joachim played his own first violin concerto (not the second — “Hungarian” — as Alan Walker reports) — a rather Lisztian one-movement work — with the Bach Chaconne on the second festival day, lacking, as Richard Pohl noted in his review, the then-customary Mendelssohn accompaniment. He also functioned, without particular distinction, as Liszt’s assistant conductor. Liszt’s conducting was roundly castigated, and the festival itself received largely poor reviews.
From Karlsruhe, a company of Murls including Liszt, Joachim, Bülow, Peter Cornelius, Richard Pohl and Dionys Pruckner embarked on a pilgrimage to Basel to visit Wagner, whom they greeted in the restaurant of the Three Kings Hotel with a choral rendition of the King’s summons trumpet fanfare from Lohengrin. During their visit, Wagner read to them an early version of the Ring of the Nibelung poem, and Liszt performed the Hammerklavier Sonata. Before leaving Basel, the Murls and “Richard the Lion Heart” drank a toast and agreed to address one another with the familiar “Du.”
Afterward, Liszt wrote to Joachim: “Wagner said to me ‘I thank you most especially, that you brought Joachim to me in Basel’ — You can be assured that Wagner is very cordially disposed toward you.” “Wagner took a great fancy to me,” Joachim recalled later, “and I said to him, ‘whenever [the Ring] comes out, I must play in the orchestra.”
Though Joachim was then, by all evidence, a happy Murl, a letter from Schumann hints at the beginning of what Wagner later called Joachim’s “inimical attitude” with regard to himself and Liszt: In one of the most famous incidents in music history, Joachim had recently introduced Schumann to the young Brahms, and Schumann, like Joachim, was promptly smitten. Schumann wrote to Joachim: “Now, I believe that Johannes is the true Apostle, who shall write revelations, which the many Pharisees, like those of old, shall not decipher, even in centuries to come; only the other Apostles understand him, and perhaps Judas Iscariot, who may confidently lecture on the Ilm. All this is only for the Apostle Joseph.” “Judas,” of course, refers here to Liszt. The betrayed one was most likely not Schumann, however, but Schumann’s friend of hallowed memory, and Joachim’s beloved surrogate father, Felix Mendelssohn. These were the conditions under which Schumann came out of retirement as a critic to pen his incendiary “New Paths” article, introducing the previously unknown Brahms to the musical public.
“Dear Comrade-in-Arms,” Schumann wrote to Joachim shortly thereafter — “Since I sent a few 20-pound shells into the enemy’s camp a few days ago, peace has been more or less preserved. I heard only yesterday that another comrade-in-arms had been secretly approached by the enemy, who wished to blow me up by means of an underground mine…” Though outwardly relishing the fight, Schumann nevertheless seemed mostly glad to have found in this temporary peace the artistic stimulation and companionship that his young friends willingly provided.
In his last lucid months, Schumann was gathering a circle of his own — an actual Davidsbund, the members of which he named along with Brahms in his famous “New Paths” article — and girding for a righteous struggle against the Phalanx of the Musicians of the Future. The Apostle Joseph, hitherto the Murl Ali Pascha, was clearly an important ally in his defensive struggle. Given Schumann’s messianic attitude, it was inevitable that Joseph would soon find himself having to choose between two conflicting schools — and two powerful, conflicting mentors. Which was it to be?
Joachim was gradually seduced away from the Weimar circle by Schumann; Clara Schumann, Brahms, Bettina von Arnim and Bettina’s daughter Gisela, with whom Joseph was obsessively in love, unquestionably exercised an equally strong sway. Liszt was well aware of their collective influence, and wrote a rather pathetic letter to Joachim in July, 1856, even as Schumann lay dying:
Franz Liszt to Joseph Joachim
Weimar, July 10, 1856
“These few words should recall to you my true, heartfelt, and deeply respectful friendship, dearest Joachim. If others of your close friends should seek to call this friendship into question, then let their efforts be in vain — let us remain faithful and true, as befits a pair of fellows like us. Härtel has probably sent my things, or “unthings” to you in Hannover. If they do not appeal to you, this should not be an apple of discord in our friendship. Goethe says it is a great mistake when one thinks more of oneself than one is, or values oneself less than one is worth. I want to avoid this mistake; therefore I view my achievements, and those things that I might still achieve very objectively. […] Now, Sapperment, if you do not still know that you are dear to me, then the Devil take your fiddle!”
“Joachim found it difficult to believe that Schumann should have any enemies,” wrote Frederick Niecks, “and perhaps he had as few as any man can expect to have; but his ways were at times liable to give offence, and his friendships were not all free from friction.” Personal frictions aside, however, and even allowing for mental illness, Schumann clearly had legitimate artistic differences with Liszt. The dispute between Schumann and Liszt was much more than a personal flare-up. In the Hegelian philosophy of “progress” that characterized mid-nineteenth century attitudes and that played such a central role in Liszt’s Weimar project, the old — the historic — was not a repertoire to be kept alive and perpetuated — but something to be superceded — at best, a tradition to be built upon. This thinking ran directly counter to the attitude of the Leipzigers and the Leipzig Conservatory, where the masterworks of the past were regarded, in Spinoza’s term, sub specie aeternitatis — from the aspect of eternity, which is to say as timeless, immutable, distillations of musical truth. Shortly before his suicide attempt, Schumann wrote this apologia to Richard Pohl who, writing under the pseudonym ‘Hoplit’, was one of the principal advocates for the ‘progressive’ cause:
I had no idea that you were ‘Hoplit’. For I do not particularly harmonize with his and his party’s Liszt-Wagnerian enthusiasm. Those whom they take to be musicians of the future I consider musicians of the present, and those whom they take as musicians of the past (Bach, Handel, Beethoven) seem to me the best musicians of the future. I can never regard spiritual beauty in its most beautiful form as ‘a superseded standpoint’ [‘einen überwundenen Standpunkt’]. Does R. Wagner possess this [beauty]? And what of Liszt’s genial achievements—where are they hiding? In his desk, perhaps? Does he perhaps wish to wait for the future because he fears he is not understood now? I cannot harmonize with this Lisztian enthusiasm.
What Schumann was objecting to here (his use of the term ‘superseded standpoint’ is telling) was specifically the Hegelian notion of teleological progress as applied to the art of music. Schumann was not a well man, and his unstated fear, at this time of great personal and psychic distress, was surely that his own legacy—his music and his writings—would soon also be dismissed as expresssions of a ‘superseded standpoint’. In his defense, he wrote to Pohl: “My dear Mr. Hoplit! Humor is the main thing, and then, what you fail to see in my compositions… is love. I will use these two essentials in order to shrug off what you have done to me. … Do not seek answers in philosophical expressions or in subtle distinctions. The fellow with a free, sincere soul has understood more of music than did the shrewdly thoughtful Kant.”
In the end, the influence of Joachim’s new friends proved irresistible. Joachim’s famous 1857 letter to Liszt in which he permanently divorced himself from the Weimar circle, is a scathing expression of his distaste for Liszt’s music. “I am completely unresponsive [unzugänglich] to your music; it contradicts everything which from my early youth I have taken as mental nourishment from the spirit of our great masters. Were it possible to imagine that I could ever be robbed of, that I should ever have to relinquish, that which I have learned to love and honor in their creations, that which I feel to be music, your sounds would not fill for me any of the vast and annihilating desolation.”
Joachim’s harsh letter is hard to defend. Understandably, people commonly focus on his judgment of Liszt’s compositions. But what is overlooked by most readers is the actual basis of his argument, the reason he gives for wishing to separate himself from Liszt and his followers. This argument is the same as Schumann’s. It was not simply that he disliked the music; it was that the Music of the Future was being held up as a replacement for the masterworks of the past, which he regarded as expressions of timeless truth that could not be superceded — a kind of Torah and Talmud, if you will, to be cherished, contemplated and endlessly re-interpreted.
Read in its entirety, Joachim’s letter is not only brutally frank, but also upright and respectful; one hopes, for Liszt’s sake, that Joachim was sincere, and that Liszt believed him when he concluded: “whatever you think of these lines, believe one thing of me: that for everything that you were for me, for all the often undeserved warmth that you had for me in Weimar, for everything that I often sought to absorb and learn from your divine gifts, I shall never cease to carry deep in my heart the full, faithful memory of a grateful student.”
Still, it must have come to Liszt as a great defeat. It ended their friendship. Not long after Joachim’s letter, Clara Schumann wrote to her brother Woldemar Bargiel:
Clara Schumann to Woldemar Bargiel
Munich, 15 November 1857
…I had beautiful days in Dresden with Joachim, who played more beautifully, more wonderfully than ever. His tones often sounded celestial! Indeed, I never hear the man without feeling uplifted…
Liszt’s meeting with him shows clearly that the two of them cannot get along for one more minute, (artistically, that goes without saying) I mean personally…
Once, when Schneider played glorious things on the organ, the most beautiful pieces of Bach, and Joachim exclaimed “what heavenly music,” Liszt replied: “Hm, bones!” Joachim to that: “Listen here, I prefer that to gelatin.” Liszt disappeared quickly thereafter.
In his maturity, Joachim became a powerful arbiter of 19th-century musical tastes, and he became famous for his hostile attitude toward the Weimar circle, which eventualy became known as the “New German School.” Nevertheless, even late in his life, Joachim found much to admire in the music of Wagner, whom he was said to despise, and he very much loved Berlioz — the music and the man. But the break with Liszt would take a long time to heal.
Liszt’s pupil Alexander Siloti writes, without giving a date, of a private meeting between the two at which he was present:
“It was a day on which there were no lessons, and I was standing with Liszt by the piano, talking, when a lacquey interrupted us to announce Joseph Joachim. I made a move to go away, but Liszt stopped me, saying: “Stay here. This will interest you because it is in a sense a historic meeting between us.” Liszt then explained to me in a few words that he had done a great deal for Joachim… and that Joachim had not behaved very well to him. A minute later the door opened and Joachim came in. He threw himself into Liszt’s arms saying: “How glad I am to see you!” Liszt, with the manner of one who is anxious to ward off apologies or explanations, said: “All right, all right! Never mind about all that. Tell me how you are getting on yourself, and what great things you have been doing.” Then began a conversation in which Joachim had only to reply while Liszt interrogated. It was so evident from Liszt’s manner what he meant that I as an onlooker almost pitied Joachim. The conversation lasted about fifteen minutes, and in this quarter-of-an-hour it became evident to Joachim — and to me — that Liszt was not offended, that he had forgiven everything, and only regarded Joachim with the esteem due to a great artist. Just as he was leaving Liszt said: “Now you are here, why not stop and see what our playing is like?” He then made me play. I realized in a half-conscious way that at that moment I stood to represent a school which Joachim would hardly recognise, and I played with special pleasure and Stimmung. It seemed to me that Joachim was glad of the music, if only that it enabled him to sit in silence beside the man to whom he owed so much.”
A public reconciliation between the two masters occurred very late — at a reception for Liszt at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in April, 1886 — captured in an illustration for The Graphic. It is an iconic tableau. The two great rivals — the aged Liszt and his virile, middle-aged former protégé, clasping hands before an assembly of luminary onlookers, in reality, some 400 in number. Liszt died three months later, after a long and historic life in music.
Joachim once wrote: “Only the meaningless passes away. That which is and was once deeply alive has the power to be for eternity.” In contrast, Liszt wrote: “The waves of the spirit are not like those of the sea, and it is not said to them: ‘thus far and no farther!’ — on the contrary: ‘the spirit bloweth where it listeth,’ and the art of this century has as much right to speak its piece as that of previous times.”
We, living in the 21st century, need no longer see a contradiction in these two assertions, and, happily, we can revel in this great festival of masterworks by Liszt, Schumann, and others, preserving, studying, and performing their inspirations, as we carry the art of music — our great art — into the future.