|In the famous Wagner-Liszt correspondence, Liszt writes from Weimar, under date of April 8, 1853, "Daily the Princess greets me with the lines 'Nicht Gut, noch Geld, noch Göttliche Pracht.'" The lines are from "Götterdämmerung," the whole passage being -
"Nor goods, nor gold, nor godlike splendor;
Nor house, nor home, nor lordly state;
Nor hollow contracts of a treach'rous race,
Its cruel cant, its custom and decree.
Blessed, in joy and sorrow,
Let love alone be."
The lady who according to Liszt daily greeted him with these significant lines was the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. Since 1848 she and her young daughter Marie had been living with Liszt at the Altenburg in Weimar. She remained there until 1860, twelve years, when she went to Rome, whither, in due time, Liszt followed her, to make the Eternal City one of his homes for the rest of his life. His last letter to her is dated July 6, 1886, the year and month of his death, so that for a period of nearly forty years he enjoyed the personal and intellectual companionship of this remarkable woman. Their relations form one of the great love romances of the last century.
[Illustration: Franz Liszt.
Painting by Ary Scheffer.]
Liszt's letters to the Princess, written in French and still untranslated, are in four volumes. They were published by the Princess's daughter, Princess Marie Hohenlohe, as a tribute to Liszt the musician and the man. They teem with his musical activities - information regarding the numerous celebrities with whom he was intimate, the musicians he aided, his own great works. But their rarest charm to me lies in the fact that from them the careful reader can glean the whole story of the romance of Liszt and Carolyne, from its very beginnings to his death.
We know the fascinating male figure in this romance - the extraordinary combination of unapproached virtuoso, great composer, and man of the world; but who was the equally fascinating woman?
Carolyne von Iwanowska was born near Kiew, Russian Poland, in February, 1819. When she still was young her parents separated, and she divided her time between them. Her mother possessed marked social graces, travelled much, was a favorite at many courts, and, as a pupil of Rossini's in singing, was admired by Spontini and Meyerbeer, and was sought after in the most select salons, including that of Metternich, the Austrian chancellor. From her Carolyne inherited her charm of manner.
Intellectually, however, she was wholly her father's child; and he was her favorite parent. He was a wealthy landed proprietor, and in the administration of his estates, he frequently consulted her. Moreover he had an active, studious mind, and he found in her an interested companion in his pursuits. Often they sat up until late into the night discussing various questions, and both of them - smoking strong cigars!
In 1836 her hand was asked in marriage by Prince Nicolaus von Sayn-Wittgenstein. She thrice refused, but finally accepted him at her father's instigation. The prince was a handsome but otherwise commonplace man, and not at all the husband for this charming, mentally alert and finely strung woman. The one happiness that came to her through this marriage was her daughter Marie.
Liszt came to Kiev on a concert tour in February, 1847. He announced a charity concert, for which he received a contribution of one hundred rubles from Princess Carolyne. He already had heard other, but she had been described to him as a miserly and peculiar person. The gift surprised him the more for this. He called on her to thank her, found her a brilliant conversationalist, was charmed with her in every way, and concluded that what the gossips considered peculiarities were merely the evidences of an original and positive mentality. Upon the woman, who was in revolt against the restraints of an unhappy married life, Liszt, from whose eyes shone the divine spark, who was as much au fait in the salon as at the piano, and who already had been worshipped by a long succession of women, made a deep impression. Thus they were drawn to each other at this very first meeting.
When, a little later, Liszt took her into his confidence regarding his ambition to devote more time to composition, and communicated to her his idea of composing a symphony on Dante's "Divine Comedy" with scenic illustrations, she offered to pay the twenty thousand thalers which these would cost. Liszt subsequently changed his mind regarding the need of scenery to his "Dante," but the Princess's generous offer increased his admiration for her. It was a tribute to himself as well as to his art, and an expression of her confidence in his genius as a composer (shared at that time by but few) which could not fail to touch him deeply. It at once created a bond of artistic and personal sympathy between them. She was carried away by his playing, and the programme of his first concert which she attended was treasured by her, and after her death, forty years later, was found among her possessions by her daughter.
[Illustration: Liszt at the piano.]
If it was not love at first sight between these two, it must have been nearly that. Liszt came to Kiew in February, 1847. The same month Carolyne invited him to visit her at one of her country seats, Woronince. Brief correspondence already had passed between them. To his fifth note he adds, as a postscript, "I am in the best of humor~.~.~. and find, now that the world contains Woronince, that the world is good, very good!"
The great pianist continued his tour to Constantinople. When he writes to the Princess from there, he already "is at her feet." Later in the same year he is hers "heart and soul." Early the following year he quotes for her these lines from "Paradise Lost:"
"For contemplation he, and valour formed,
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him!"
She presents him with a baton set with jewels; he writes to her about the first concert at which he will use it. He transcribes Schubert's lovely song, "My sweet Repose, My Peace art Thou," and tells her that he can play it only for her. At the same time their letters to each other are filled with references to public affairs and literary, artistic and musical matters. They are the letters of two people of broad and cultivated taste, who are drawn to each other by every bond of intellect and sentiment. Is it a wonder that but little more than a year after they met, the Princess decided to burn her bridges behind her and leave her husband? Through his friend, Prince Felix Lichnowsky, Liszt arranged that they should meet at Krzyzanowitz, one of the Lichnowsky country seats in Austrian Silesia. "May the angel of the Lord lead you, my radiant morning star!" he exclaims. At the same time he has an eye to the practical side of the affair, and describes the place as just the one for their meeting point, because Lichnowsky will be too busy to remain there, and there will not be a soul about, save the servants.
It was shortly before the revolution of 1848. To gain permission to cross the border, the Princess pretended to be bound for Carlsbad, for the waters.
Liszt's valet met her and her daughter as soon as they were out of Russia, took them to Ratibor, where they were received by Lichnowsky, who conducted them to Liszt. After a few days at this place of meeting, they went to Graz, where they spent a fortnight in another of the Lichnowsky villas. Among the miscellaneous correspondence of Liszt is a letter from Graz to his friend Franz von Schober, councillor of legation at Weimar, where Liszt was settled as court conductor. In it he describes the Princess as "without doubt an uncommonly and thoroughly brilliant example of soul and mind and intelligence (with a prodigious amount of esprit as well). You readily will understand," he adds, "that henceforth I can dream very little of personal ambition and of a future wrapped up in myself. In political relations serfdom may have an end; but the dominion of one soul over another in the spirit region - should that not remain indestructible?" - Oh, Liszt's prophetic soul! Thereafter his life was shaped by this extraordinary woman, for weal and, it must be confessed, for reasons which will appear later, partly for woe.
The Grandduchess of Weimar took the Princess under her protection, and she settled at Weimar in the Altenburg, while Liszt lived in the Hotel zum Erbprinzen. Many tender missives passed between them. "Bonjour, mon bon ange!" writes Liszt. "On vous aime et vous adore du matin au soir et du soir au matin." - "On vous attend et vous bénit, chčre douce lumičre de mon âme!" - "Je suis triste comme toujours et toutes les fois que je n'entends pas votre voix - que je ne regarde pas vos yeux."
[Illustration: The Princess Carolyne in her later years at Rome.]
One of the billets relates to an incident that has become historic. Wagner had been obliged, because of his participation in the revolution, to flee from Dresden. He sought refuge with Liszt in Weimar, but, learning that the Saxon authorities were seeking to apprehend him, decided to continue his flight to Switzerland. He was without means and, at the moment, Liszt, too, was out of funds. In this extremity, Liszt despatched a few lines to the Princess. "Can you send me by bearer sixty thalers? Wagner is obliged to flee, and I am unable at present to come to his aid. Bonne et heureuse nuit." The money was forthcoming, and Wagner owed his safety to the Princess. This is but one instance in which, at Liszt's instigation, she was the good fairy of poor musicians. About a year after the Princess settled in the Altenburg, Liszt, too, took up his residence there. From that time until they left it, it was the Mecca of musical Europe. Thither came Von Bülow and Rubinstein, then young men; Joachim and Wieniawski; Brahms, on his way to Schumann, who, as the result of this visit from Brahms, wrote the famous article hailing him as the coming Messiah of music; Berlioz, and many, many others. The Altenburg was the headquarters of the Wagner propaganda. From there came material and artistic comfort to Wagner during the darkest hours of his exile and poverty.
Wendelin Weissheimer, a German orchestral leader, a friend of Liszt and Wagner, and of many other notable musicians of his day, has given in his reminiscences (which should have been translated long ago) a delightful glimpse of life at the Altenburg. He describes a dinner at which Von Bronsart, the composer, and Count Laurencin, the musical writer, were the other guests. At table the Princess did the honors "most graciously," and her "divinity," Franz Liszt, was in "buoyant spirits." After the champagne, the company rose and went upstairs to the smoking-room and music salon, which formed one apartment, "for with Liszt, smoking and music-making were, on such occasions, inseparable." One touch in Weissheimer's description recalls the Princess's early acquired habit of smoking.
"He [Liszt] always had excellent Havanas, of unusual length, ready, and they were passed around with the coffee. The Princess also had come upstairs. When Liszt sat down at one of the two pianos, she drew an armchair close up to it and seated herself expectantly, also with one of the long Havanas in her mouth and pulling delectably at it. We others, too, drew up near Liszt, who had the manuscript of his 'Faust' symphony open before him. Of course he played the whole orchestra; of course the way in which he did it was indescribable; and - of course we all were in the highest state of exaltation. After the glorious 'Gretchen' division of the symphony, the Princess sprang up from the armchair, caught hold of Liszt and kissed him so fervently that we all were deeply moved. [In the interim her long Havana had gone out.]"
The years which Liszt passed with the Princess at the Altenburg, and when he was most directly under her influence, were the most glorious in his career. Besides the "Faust" symphony, he composed during this period the twelve symphonic poems, thus originating a new and highly important musical form, which may be said to bear, in their liberation from pedantry, the same relation to the set symphony that the music drama does to opera; the "Rhapsodies Hongroises;" his piano sonata and concertos; the "Graner Messe;" and the beginnings of his "Christus" and "Legend of the Holy Elizabeth." The Princess ordered the household arrangements in such a way that the composer should not be disturbed in his work. No one was admitted to him without her visé; she attended to the voluminous correspondence which, with a man of so much natural courtesy as Liszt, would have occupied an enormous amount of his time. He was the acknowledged head of the Wagner movement, at that time regarded as nothing short of revolutionary; he was looked upon as the friend of all progressive propaganda in his art; to play for Liszt, to have his opinion on performance or composition, was the ambition of every musical celebrity, or would-be one; his cooperation in innumerable concerts and music festivals was sought for. His was a name to conjure with. Between him and these assaults on his almost proverbial kindness stood the Princess, and the list of his great musical productions during this period, to say nothing of his literary work, like the rhapsody on Chopin, is the tale of what the world owes her for her devotion. The relations between Liszt and the Princess were frankly acknowledged, and by the world as frankly accepted, as if they were two exceptional beings in whom one could pardon things which in the case of ordinary mortals would mean social ostracism. The nearest approach to this situation was that of George Eliot and Lewes. But with Liszt and his Princess the world, possibly after the fashion of the Continent, was far more lenient, and their lives in their outward aspects were far more brilliant. No exalted mind in literature, music, art or science passed through Weimar, or came near it, without being drawn to the Altenburg as by a magnet. There seems to have been within its walls an almost uninterrupted intellectual revel, or, to use a trite expression, which here is most apt, a steady feast of reason and flow of soul. The sojourn of Liszt and the Princess in the Altenburg was a "golden period" for Weimar, a revival of the time when Goethe lived there and reflected his glory upon it.
[Illustration: The Altenburg,
Weimar, where Liszt and Carolyne lived.]
And yet - convention is the result of the concentrated essence of the experience of ages; and no one seems able to break through it without the effort leaving a scar. It cast its shadow even over the life at the Altenburg. There remained one great longing to the Princess, the nonfulfilment of which was as a void in her soul. She yearned to bear the name of the man she adored. During the twelve years of their Weimar sojourn she battled for it, but in vain. Then she transferred the battlefield to Rome.
Her husband, a Protestant, had found no difficulty in securing a divorce from her. She was an ardent Roman Catholic, and the church stood in her way, her own relatives, who had been scandalized at her flight, being active in invoking its opposition. She went to Rome in the spring of 1860, to press her suit at the very centre of churchly authority. Liszt remained in Weimar awaiting word from her. It took her more than a year to secure the Papal sanction. Then, when everything seemed auspiciously settled and her marriage with Liszt a certainty, her enthusiasm led her to take a step which, at the very last moment, proved fatal to her long-cherished hope.
Had she returned at once to Weimar, her union with Liszt undoubtedly would have taken place. But no. In her joy she must go too far. In Rome, there where the marriage had been interdicted, there where she had successfully overcome opposition to it, there it should take place. Her triumph should be complete.
Liszt was sent for. His last two letters to her before their meeting in Rome are dated from Marseilles in October, 1861. The marriage was to take place October 22, his fiftieth birthday. He writes her from the Hotel des Empereurs, himself "plus heureux que tous les empereurs du monde!" and again, "Mon long exil va finir." Yet it was only just beginning!
He arrived in Rome on October 20. All arrangements for the ceremony in the San Carlo al Corso had been made. Then, by a strange fatality, it chanced that several of the Princess's relations, who were most bitter against her, entered upon the scene. Of all times, they happened to be in Rome at this critical moment, and, getting wind of the impending marriage, they entered a violent protest. When, on the evening of the 21st, Liszt was visiting the Princess, a Papal messenger called and announced that His Holiness had decided to forbid the ceremony until he could look into the matter more fully, and requested from her a resubmission of the documents bearing on the case.
To the Princess, then on the threshold of realizing her most cherished hopes, this was the last stroke. Her over-wrought nature saw in it a Judgment of Heaven. She refused to resubmit the papers; and even, when a few years later, Prince Wittgenstein died and she was free, she regarded marriage with Liszt as opposed by the Divine will. A strain of mysticism, nurtured by busy ecclesiastics, developed itself in her; she became possessed of the idea that she was a chosen instrument in the Church's hands to further its interests; and with feverish, desperate energy she devoted herself to literary work as its champion. She had her own press, which set up each day's work and showed it to her in proof the next. She did not leave Rome except on one occasion, and then for less than a day, during the remaining twenty-six years of her life.
It has been hinted more than once that the Princess's course was not as completely governed by religious mysticism as might be supposed - that her sensitive nature had divined in Liszt an unexpressed opposition to the marriage, as if, possibly, he did not wish to be tied down to her, yet felt bound in honor, because of the sacrifices she had made for him, to appear to share her hope. La Mara (Marie Lipsius), the editor of the Liszt letters and whose interesting notes form the connecting links in the correspondence, does not take this view. It is noticeable, however, although Liszt and the Princess saw each other frequently whenever he was in Rome, and he became an abbé probably through her influence, that while in some of his letters to her in later years there are notes of regret, those written after the crisis in Rome breathe an intellectual rather than a personal affinity.
Be this as it may, it was a tragedy in his life as well as in her own. Practically the rest of his life was divided, each year, between Budapest, at the Conservatory there; Weimar, but no longer at the Altenburg; and Rome, but not at the Princess's residence, Piazza di Spagna. Thus he had three homes - none of which was home. The "golden period" of his life, as well as the Altenburg itself, where others now were installed, were dim shadows of the past. Liszt was the "grand old man" of the piano, and is a great figure among composers; but whoever knows the story of the last years of his life, sees him a wandering and pathetic figure. He died at Bayreuth in July, 1886; Carolyne survived him less than a year. The literary work of her twenty-six years in Rome probably will be forgotten; it will be the linking of her name with Liszt, and its association with the "golden period" of Weimar, that will cause her to be remembered.