Franz Liszt (1811–1886)

Franz Liszt, steel engraving (StadtMuseum Bonn, SMB 2002/47)
Franz Liszt, steel engraving (StadtMuseum Bonn, SMB 2002/47)

Clara Wieck met Franz Liszt in April and May 1838 at the end of her concert tour in Vienna; she had actually seen him before in various salons during her concert tour in Paris in 1832 but the two of them had not encountered at that time yet. Liszt had arrived in Vienna in April 1838 to give a number of concerts, inter alia, a charity concert for the victims of a flood in Pest. Franz Liszt and Clara Wieck stayed at the same hotel and also played together, including four hands, privately, and at soirées. Clara played him her own compositions and also Liszt’s Pacini Fantasia, S. 419, and Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9; Liszt was impressed, as shown in a letter to Marie d’Agoult: “[Her {Clara Wieck’s} compositions are truly remarkable, especially for a woman. They contain a hundred times more inventiveness and real feelings than all former and present fantasias by Thalberg].” Clara Wieck highly appreciated Liszt’s virtuoso skills but, due to this very admiration, temporarily doubted her own skills. Later on, she adopted a more critical attitude towards his eccentric way of playing and partly his lack of faithfulness to the originals.

Friedrich Wieck gave his wife the following account of Liszt’s concert in Vienna on 18th April 1838: “[Who would be able to describe his appearance as a concert performer? After destroying Thalberg’s Érard {piano} in the first piece, he played the Fantasia on a C. Graf {piano}, broke two brass strings, then pulled out himself a second nut wood C. Graf {piano} from a corner and played his Étude and then a second time after breaking two more strings and after telling the audience in a loud voice that ‘it had not been successful, so he would play it again’. When he thus appeared, he vehemently threw his gloves and handkerchief on the floor in front of the piano].”

In 1840, Liszt dedicated his Études d'exécution transcendante d'après Paganini to Clara Schumann. Whilst Liszt always spoke with great respect about Clara Schumann and also promoted Robert Schumann’s works, Clara’s admiration for Liszt decreased more and more. In December 1841, they still performed together at the Leipzig Gewandhaus concert hall, and Liszt’s works were included in her programmes until 1847. A break occurred in June 1848 (albeit not on the part of Liszt): Liszt had been invited to a soirée at the Schumanns’ house in Dresden but arrived two hours late and then called Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet “[typically Leipzig]”. Whilst Robert Schumann resumed the contact with Liszt some time after this incident, Clara Schumann was sorely disappointed. She had already made disparaging remarks about Liszt’s compositions from 1839 and also rejected his stage behaviour and sensationalism. In 1854, when Liszt sent her his Sonata in B minor, which he had dedicated to Robert Schumann, she wrote in her diary: “[Today, Liszt sent me a Sonata dedicated to Robert and some more pieces, together with a polite note. But those pieces are so creepy! Brahms played them to me and I felt really miserable … This is only blind noise – no more healthy thoughts, everything is confused, one cannot see any clear harmonies! And, what is more, I still have to thank him now – this is really awful].”

On the other hand, Liszt’s appreciation of Clara Schumann did not fade. At her request, he even organised a concert for her in Weimar, where, on 27th October 1854, she performed the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, and Liszt conducted the Overture to Manfred, Op. 115, and Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120, all by Robert Schumann. In the same year, Liszt wrote a long essay on Clara and Robert Schumann, which were published in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik [New Journal of Music] in three issues (No. 23 of 1st December 1854, No. 14 of 30th March 1855, and No. 15 of 6th April 1855). After 1856, any meetings of Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann became extremely rare, and from 1860 the detachment increased even further due to the antagonistic positions of the “Brahmsians” and the “New Germans”. In 1884, when working on the publication of Robert Schumann’s youth diaries, Clara Schumann contacted Liszt once again by letter, requesting him to send her any letters for copying. However, Liszt had not kept the letters from and to Robert Schumann, which was certainly one of the reasons why the correspondence between Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann ended in 1884.

Cf. Clara Wieck, Jugendtagebücher 1827‒1840, edited by Gerd Nauhaus and Nancy B. Reich, with the collaboration of Kristin R.M. Krahe, Hildesheim, 2019, pp. 289–290, 293, 373.

Cf. Janina Klassen: Clara Schumann. Musik und Öffentlichkeit, Cologne et al., 2009, pp. 152–155, 351–378.

Cf. Nancy B. Reich: Clara Schumann. The Artist and the Woman, London, 1985, pp. 209–216.

Cf. Wolfgang Seibold: Robert und Clara Schumann in ihren Beziehungen zu Franz Liszt. Im Spiegel ihrer Korrespondenz und Schriften, Part I, Frankfurt am Main et al., 2005.

Cf. Wolfgang Seibold: Robert und Clara Schumann in ihren Beziehungen zu Franz Liszt, Part II, in: Correspondenz 30, edited by Irmgard Knechtges-Obrecht, Düsseldorf, 2007, pp. 6–24.

(Theresa Schlegel, 2020, translated by Th. Henninger)

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