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Liszt and Beethoven


Franz Liszt about the time 
he met Beethoven

In her book of reminiscences the pianist Ilka Horovitz-Barnay has a little different account of the story of Liszt's meeting with Beethoven. From 1875 she belonged  to the "Liszt circle" and had many opportunities to talk to the great man himself - and here is her account:

The most memorable time I experienced with Liszt was when he told me of his meeting with Beethoven.
"I was about eleven years old" , he began "when my highly esteemed teacher Czerny introduced me to Beethoven. He had long before told him about me and had asked him to hear me play. But Beethoven had aversions against prodigies and for a long time refused to hear me. Finally though he was persuaded by my indefatigable teacher Czerny and said: "Then for God's sake - bring the little rascal".
It was one morning about ten o'clock when we entered the two small rooms of the Schwarzspanierhaus, where Beethoven lived.
(See appendix about the comment: two small rooms)

Beethoven's last apartment - just behind the top of the lamp 
post there are five open windows: This was Beethoven's last 
apartment and there he died on 26th March 1827.

This is a reconstruction of the lay-out of Beethoven's flat in 
Schwarzspanierstrasse - based on what eye-witnesses have told

I was somewhat embarrassed - but Czerny kindly encouraged me. Beethoven was sitting by the window at a long narrow table working. For a moment he looked at us with a serious face, said a couple of quick words to Czerny but turned silent as my dear teacher signaled to me to go to the piano.

The entrance to Beethoven's apartment

First I played a small piece of [Ferdinand] Ries [another pupil of Beethoven]. When I had finished Beethoven asked if I could play a fugue by Bach. I chose the C minor fugue from Wohltemperiertes Klavier. "Can you transpose this fugue", Beethoven asked.
Fortunately I could. After the finishing chord I looked up. Beethoven deep glowing eyes rested upon me - but suddenly a light smile flew over his otherwise serious face. He approached me and stoked me several times over my head with affection.
"Well - I'll be blowed" he whispered, "such a little devil".
Suddenly my courage rose: "May I play one of your pieces?" I asked with audacity.
Beethoven nodded with a smile. I played the first movement of his C major piano concerto [nr. 1]. When I had finished Beethoven stretched out his arms, kissed me on my forehead and said in a soft voice:
"You go on ahead. You are happy! It will be your destiny to bring joy and delight to many people and that is the greatest happiness one can achieve".
Liszt told me this with great emotion; his voice trembled but you could feel what divine joy these simple words had given him. Never did Liszt - the human being - make a greater impression on me. The flamboyant man-of-the-world, the revered artist was gone; this great moment he had experienced in his childhood still resounded in his soul. For a little while he was silent - then he said quietly:
"This was the proudest moment in my life - the inauguration to my life as artist. I tell this very rarely - and only to special friends." 

This is also a great story - and in many ways much more trustworthy than the story from Redoutensaal.  But - there are still some problems. When Liszt was eleven or twelve years old in 1823 Beethoven had not yet moved to Schwarzspanierhaus (where the rooms could not be described as small) - so here we are faced with some serious inaccuracies. Of course Beethoven moved very often - indeed he had had more than sixty apartments during his stay of 35 years in Vienna, which means that he approximately moved every half year. But his last apartment - in the Schwarzspanierhaus became some kind of symbol since it was there he died. Besides more than fifty years had gone and Liszt's memory could be at fault here. But there is perhaps a Salomonic solution to the problem about the two stories. 

It is a historical fact that Franz Liszt made a public appearance in Vienna on Sunday 13th April 1823 and in the Redoutensaal (although the great Beethoven biographer - Thayer - claims that Liszt's first public appearance in Vienna was on 1st January the same year). But the same Thayer writes that Liszt had been presented to Beethoven in his apartment a few days earlier where Liszt's father, Anton Schindler and of course Czerny had been present. There is an entry in a Conversation Book which, because of the handwriting and the courtly language, was probably written by the father. They also asked Beethoven for an original theme - to be placed in a sealed envelope - for Liszt to extemporize over in Redoutensaal. So - there is a good deal of truth in both stories - they may just have been interpolated. 

But it seems very unlikely that Beethoven attended the recital in Redoutensaal. In one edition of Anton Schindler's reminiscences he says that Beethoven was there and in the next edition he says that he wasn't. According to Schindler the reception of Liszt in Beethoven's apartment had been unfriendly - but unfortunately Schindler is just so untrustworthy. Pity - since he was very close to Beethoven - even acting as his secretary - but after the composer's death he burnt a lot of the invaluable Conversation Books and changed a lot of entries in them, so perhaps his real name ought to have been Schwindler. He was obviously also jealous of Czerny's position with Beethoven since he writes about Liszt: "It is a pity he is in the hands of Czerny". 

Anton Schindler (1795-1864)

It also seems improbable that Beethoven would have given the famous kiss on the boy's forehead in public - even (according to another expert; Ludwig Nohl) - lifting the boy up to do so; Beethoven was 1 meter and 68 centimeter high so it would have been easier to bend that little to kiss a twelve year old boy. Everybody in the hall would also have known at this time that Beethoven was completely deaf and thereby being unable to hear what the boy had played, but in his own apartment he would have been able to watch Liszt's playing following his fingers on the keyboard with his eyes and from that have made an opinion about his talent. 

So there are still some "loose ends" in connection with the story - but the impression the meeting made upon Liszt - that is what really matters today. 

But reading about incidents like this certainly has its moments - with eye-witnesses fighting among each other about what the real truth was and so-called experts contradicting themselves - not only once but several times. With sources like that - musical research will certainly never become boring! 


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