Liszt Meets Beethoven

``I was about eleven years old when my respected teacher Czerny took me to see Beethoven. Already a long time before, he had told Beethoven about me and asked him to give me a hearing some day. However, Beethoven had such an aversion to infant prodigies that he persistently refused to see me. At last Czerny, indefatigable, persuaded him, so that, impatiently, he said ``Well, bring the rascal to me, in God's name''. It was about ten o'clock in the morning when we entered the two small rooms in the Schwarzspanierhaus where Beethoven was living at the time, myself very shy, Czerny kind and encouraging. Beethoven was sitting at a long, narrow table near the window, working. For a while he scrutinised us grimly, exchanged a few hurried words with Czerny and remained silent when my good teacher called me to the piano. The first thing I played was a short piece by Ries. When I had finished, Beethoven asked me if I could play a fugue by Bach. I chose the Fugue in C minor from the Well-tempered Clavichord. ``Could you transpose this fugue at once into another key?'' Beethoven asked me. Fortunately, I could. After the final chord, I looked up. The Master's darkly glowing gaze was fixed upon me penetratingly. Yet suddenly a benevolent smile broke up his gloomy features, Beethoven became quite close, bent over me, laid his hand on my head and repeatedly stroked my hair. ``Devil of a fellow'' he whispered, ``such a young rascal!'' I suddenly plucked up courage ``May I play something of yours now?'' I asked cheekily. Beethoven nodded with a smile. I played the first movement of the C major Concerto. When I had ended, Beethoven seized both my hands, kissed me on the forehead and said gently ``Off with you! You are a happy fellow, for you will give happiness and joy to many other people. There is nothing better or greater than that''

This event in my life has remained my greatest pride, the palladium for my whole artistic career. I speak of it very rarely and only to my intimate friends.''


Liszt lived on a pinnacle of blaséness that the rest of us cannot even imagine. (Picasso had something of the same: in his later years he could take a party of friends out to a restaurant, and pay off the restauranteur by doing a doodle on the bill.) And in this story, even through the vile translation (I found this in Michael Hamburger's wonderful book: Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations. Hamburger does not quote a source for this text and I can't believe the translation is his) and the obvious anecdote-ising that Liszt has done to it (are we really to believe that he only mentioned this to his intimates..?) one can partly see why. If the greatest moment of your life happened to you when you were eleven, then you really don't give a damn. About anything. Once the Tsar was talking to his neighbour during a recital of Liszt's. Liszt pointedly stopped playing, and when the Tsar told him to continue, Liszt replied ``Music herself must be silent when Nicholas speaks''.
Liszt made a lot of money, and gave a lot of it away, had lots of ideas and squandered most of them too. One of the great minds of the nineteenth century.

And what about Beethoven's remark, italicised above?


(And little me, I'm three handshakes from Grillparzer, and therefore four from these two gentlemen.)
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