Robert Schumann from the perspective of the young Alfred Meißner

1846, in Hiller’s parlour in Dresden, Hiller adorned with the “most beautiful nieces since Mazarin”

[…] Well, things were much more entertaining at Ferdinand Hiller’s place! This fine,sophisticated, and laid-back man, an excellent pianist, active as a musician in all spheres inthe spirit of Mendelssohn, had settled in Dresden a few years earlier and received on Wednesdays in his parlour everyone that would practise the arts or otherwise bear a famous name. To be introduced there was a clear distinction and offered the opportunity to meet everyone that Dresden had to offer in terms of local and passing through notabilities. Some evenings, all the rooms were truly packed and nearly every one of the attendees bore a famous name in some field. It was not an exclusively German parlour, French was also spoken a lot; the hostess, an excellent singer who had only recently bidden farewell to the stage in order to follow her husband, was Polish, beautiful, young, with half-Slavic charms. She had the mostbeautiful eyes. Three or four splendid beauties were grouped around her, some relatives spending longer or shorter periods in Dresden. Since Mazarin, nobody seems to have had such beautiful nieces as Ferdinand Hiller. They also all managed to marry into unusual spheres thanks to their beauty: one of them became Countess Kolowrat, the other one the wife of the French writer Ernst Feydeau, etc.

Berthold Auerbach was staying as a guest in Hiller’s house. He had just experienced great success with the first collection of his Schwarzwälder Dorfgeschichten [Tales of Villages inthe Black Forest], after his previous novels had passed nearly unnoticed. He had put forward the admonition that a morally uplifting power rests in the simple country folk with their unpretentious humanity. He had now finished his novellas “Die Sträflinge” [“The Convicts”] and “Die Frau Professorin” [“The Professor”] and was at that time working on a script “Schrift und Volk” [“Writing and the People”]. His manner of composition was conspicuously tessellated. During the long walks which we took into the surroundings of Dresden, he used to constantly carry a little book with him where he would fix immediately every thought arising to him in the course of the debate. His own observations and those inspired by others thus gradually grew into a book.

One day, some forty or fifty chairs were put up in Hiller’s parlour, invitations had been sent out to all sides, and Auerbach was supposed to read from his “Professor”. This is how we made the acquaintance of Lorle, the most perfect portrait he had ever drawn, his most perfect creation, lively, genuine in all her traits, moving, enchanting, and partly of tragic grandeur, such as in Lorle’s farewell. Berthold Auerbach later on sought to enlarge his form but this was not to his advantage. His strength was not in the composition but in his touchingly simple, plain and paternal manner of telling stories. By striving to use accomplished techniques, he himself impaired his noblest qualities. His own muse was like this Lorle who lost her charm in an urban environment.

It was said once again that Robert Schumann had arrived from Leipzig to visit Dresden.“Nun, das ist schön, daß Du da bist,” [“Well, it is nice to have you here,”] Hiller told him laughingly on seeing him again. “Da werden wir uns tüchtig ausschweigen können.” [“So we will be able to keep mightily silent.”]  To me, who had carried in my heart the deepest admiration and reverence for Schumann since my boyhood years, this joke seemed utterlyirreverent. In the meantime, I soon got to know the master’s strange introversion myself. He was simply the most reticent person I had ever seen, the reason being either that the subjectsof most of the talks seemed too irrelevant to him, or that to him, who was also such a brilliant writer, conventional expressions seemed insufficient. In Hiller’s parlour, hiding amongst a crowd of guests, he would spend whole evenings without even uttering ten words. I also recall a boat trip on the river Elbe when the women were singing songs composed by him but hewould just stay at the helm in silence, every now and then humming to himself with pursed lips and staring at the sunset. He only lived inside himself and in a wonderfully sounding world which he carried within himself.

On behalf of the Project Management of the Schumann Network digitally entered for the Schumann Portal by Petra Sonntag, StadtMuseum Bonn, February 2013 from: Alfred Meißner: Geschichte meines Lebens [History of my Life], Volume I, 3rd unchanged edition, Vienna and Teschen: publisher Verlag der k.k. Hofbuchhandlung Karl Prochaska, 1884, p. 164 ff.

Translation: Th. Henninger

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