The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2
Part 2 out of 4
torment even the idolatrous Von Buelow. Riemann says: "Domestic
misunderstandings led, in 1869, to a separation, and Von Buelow left the
city." One of the "domestic misunderstandings" was doubtless the birth
of Siegfried Wagner, June 6, 1869. A speedy divorce and marriage were
imperative. The chief difficulty in the securing of the much desired
divorce was that Cosima must change her religion, or her "religious
profession," to use the more accurate phrase of Mr. Finck, who says
that Wagner in his life with her, had "followed the example of Liszt
and Goethe and other European men of genius, an example the ethics of
which this is not the place to discuss."
Von Buelow secured his divorce in the fall of 1869. He remarried, in
1882, the actress, Marie Schanzer. Wagner and Cosima were married
August 25, 1870. This was the twenty-fifth birthday of King Ludwig, and
Glasenapp comments glowingly upon the meaning of the marriage:
"To the artist, who in the first great rumblings of the war of 1870-71,
greeted the dawn of a new era for his people, the same hour proved to
be the beginning of a new chapter. On Thursday, the 25th of August,
1870, in the Protestant Church of Lucerne, in the presence of two
witnesses, one, the lifelong friend of the Wagner family, Hans Richter,
the other, Miss M.v.M., the wedding of Richard Wagner to Cosima, the
divorced wife of Hans von Buelow, was celebrated.
"There is no other union which Germans ought to deem more holy. None
have ever been entered into with less selfishness, with higher
impersonal sentiments. It united the great homeless one, who had
suffered so much and so long under the heartlessness and unappreciative
neglect of his contemporaries, to a wife, who stood beside the friend
of her father, the ideal of her husband, with cheerful encouragement
_(mit theilnahmvollster Sorge_), until she as well as her husband
realised that she was the one chosen to heal the wounds which the
artist had suffered in his restless wanderings and through numberless
disappointments. The time had arrived when the hand of love prepared
the last and never-to-be-lost home.
"This knowledge gave the noble-minded woman the courage to sever the
ties, which in early youth had tied her to one of our most eminent
artists, and the best of men; to give up herself to her task, to
consecrate her life to him, to be the helpmeet of the man to whom
through friendship and the inner voice of her heart, and the knowledge
of noble duty, she had already belonged. The world did not hesitate to
malign this holiest act of fidelity. Only the small and the low are
overlooked, the high and the great are ever the victims."
Just two months before the marriage, Wagner had written to Frau Wille,
who had invited him and his wife-to-be to visit her, an account of his
feelings in the matter, which is beautiful enough and sincere enough to
quote at some length:
"Certainly we shall come, for you are to be the first to whom we shall
present ourselves as man and wife. To get into this state, great
patience was required; what has been for years inevitable was not to be
brought about until all manner of suffering. Since last I saw you in
Munich, I have not again left my asylum, which, in the meanwhile, has
also become the refuge of her who was destined to prove that I could
well be helped, and that the axiom of many of my friends that I 'could
not be helped' was false! She knew that I could be helped, and she
helped me: she has defied every disapprobation and taken upon herself
every condemnation. She has borne to me a wonderfully beautiful and
vigorous boy, whom I boldly call 'Siegfried': he is now growing,
together with my work, and gives me a new, long life, which at last has
attained a meaning. Thus we get along without the world from which we
had retired entirely. But now listen: you will, I trust, approve of the
sentiment which leads us to postpone our visit until I can introduce to
you the mother of my son as my wedded wife. This will soon be the case,
and before the leaves fall we hope to be in Mariafeld."
A pleasant view of the new domesticity that had come into Wagner's life
is an elaborate surprise he planned for his wife. He composed with
great secrecy the "Siegfried Idyll," that most royal musical welcome
that ever baby had. Hans Richter collected a band of musical
conspirators and rehearsed the work. On the morning of Cosima's
birthday, the orchestra stealthily collected on the steps of the house,
and with Wagner as conductor, and with Hans Richter as trumpeter,
Cosima's thirtieth birthday was ushered in with benevolent auspices,
the child being then a year old. The Idyll itself, as Mr. Finck says,
"is not merely an orchestral cradle-song; it is the embodiment of love,
paternal and conjugal."
A new reward for his long and stormy career was the realisation of the
Bayreuth dream--the building with hands of a material castle in Spain.
Besides this opera-house of his own, to be consecrated to his own
works, Wagner was given a home. He and his wife left the villa at
Triebschen, on the lake at Lucerne, with much regret. For there he had
been able to work in perfect seclusion, under the protection and
forethought of the devoted Cosima. His new villa at Bayreuth he called
"Wahnfried," setting over the door a fresco of mythological figures,
symbolising music and tragedy; in whom are portrayed Cosima Wagner, his
final ideal, and Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient, who had been his first
inspiration, and also figures of Wotan and Siegfried; the former being
the portrait of Franz Betz, the singer of the role, and the latter
being the child Siegfried Wagner. Beneath the frescoes he put the
words: "Hier wo mein Waehnen Frieden fand, Wahnfried sei dieses Haus von
mir benannt,"--which may be Englished: "Here, where my illusions
respite found, 'Illusion-Respite' let this house by me be crowned."
In this home, plain in its exterior, but full of richness within,
Wagner lived at ease with his wife and her four children. Von Buelow,
the father of two of them, had found strength to be true to his first
beliefs in Wagner's art crusade, and to continue his friendship with
the man, though delicacy forbade his entering the home, to which he had
regretfully but gracefully resigned his wife, like Ruskin, though not
for the same reasons. Once he broke forth in his dilemma: "If he were
only some one that I could kill, he would have been dead before this."
But he could not interfere with "the great cause," and even Liszt,
after some estrangement, was reconciled to Wagner.
Here Wagner's existence went tranquilly and busily on for twelve years,
till he was at the threshold of his three-score and ten. And now the
genius, whom we saw but lately juggling with starvation in the slums of
Paris, we find a figure of world-wide fame, with an annual income of
$25,000 and the ability to travel to Italy in a private car. But this
luxury was his last, for his health was on the ebb. And though he took
a suite of twenty-eight rooms in the Palazzo Vendramin, in Venice, with
his wife, his own two children, Siegfried and Eva, aged twelve and
fourteen years, Daniela and Isolde, Cosima's two children by her first
husband, and two teachers, four servants, and many guests, this was but
a splendid sarcophagus; for here Wagner had but less than half a year
to live. Those who would know more of the daily comforts and suffering
of this time, can read it in Perl's book, "Richard Wagner in Venedig."
He suffered constantly more and more from heart trouble and other
torments. One day his servant heard him calling, and, hastening to his
side, found him on a divan writhing in agony; his last words were:
"Call my wife and the doctor." Cosima flew to his aid, but could not
hold back the inevitable. When the doctor came and told her that Wagner
had finished his struggle with the arch-critic, Death, she screamed and
fainted. For twenty-six hours she refused to leave his body or to take
any food, and could be dragged away only when she had fainted from
And now, the erstwhile exile, living on the pittances he could wheedle
from his few disciples, died in the fame of the world. Three kings sent
wreaths to his funeral, and the city of Venice twice asked for the
privilege of giving him a final pageant. But Cosima strangely would
have no ceremony at all, and no music. "She feared it would rend her
heart in twain," says Mr. Finck, "so the procession moved along the
canal in solemn silence, broken only by the tolling of the distant
The railroad station was guarded as for the funeral of a monarch. The
express-train was not stopped at the border of the three countries
through which it passed. When the coffin was taken to the grave in
Bayreuth, it was followed by the two large dogs that had shared, as so
many of their fellows, the goodness of his large heart.
As for the widow, she is still living as I write, and still unwearied
in behalf of his glory. In her he had found that ideal of womankind
which he had so much upheld: instant and dauntless obedience to the
behest of the one great love. When he died he was even then at work
upon a glorification of the sex, and the last sentence that ever flowed
from his pen related to a legend of the Buddhists, granting women a
right to the saintliness previously claimed by men alone.
Once he had written: "Women are the music of life," and of his
"Bruennhilde" he had said: "Never has woman been so glorified as in this
poem." For the reward of this trust in womankind, he had also had the
privilege of saying, "In the hearts of women it has always gone well
with my art."
And in his grave, where he lay, his head rested upon the long blonde
tresses of Cosima, which he had so admired, and which, with final
sacrifice, and as a last tribute, she had sacrificed to bury with him.
TSCHAIKOVSKI, THE WOMAN-DREADER
Had his relations with music been as completely original as his
relations with women, there would be less dispute as to the genius of
this man whom the Germans call a Russian; the Russians, a German. He
was the son of a well-to-do mining and military engineer, who believed
in marriage and made three wives happy--in succession. The young
Tschaikovski was late, like Wagner, in deciding on music, and was
twenty-three before he took up instrumentation.
He was of a passionate nature, but his temper usually struck inward,
and his friend Kashkin said that he "never began a quarrel or defended
himself when attacked." That is not, I believe, a type to fascinate
women for long, and Tschaikovski's moroseness, which bordered on
morbidness and always hovered on the brink of insanity, made it perhaps
fortunate for at least two women that his negotiations with them ended
as they did. And so he drifted--not such a bachelor as Beethoven, yet
quite as wifeless. Unlike Beethoven, who turned from one disappointing
woman to another, Tschaikovski turned to men. Among his friends was
Nikolai Rubinstein, the brother of the more famous pianist, Anton.
Now, Nikolai, like Anton, had tried marriage, and, after two years of
quarrels with his wife's relatives and doubtless with her, had forsworn
the other sex. Incidentally he had taught all day and gambled all
night; so the husband was not the only gainer by the separation.
Nikolai and Tschaikovski set up a menage together for a time.
Tschaikovski, however, had not learned that womankind was not his kind;
so he flirted a little with the beautiful niece of one Tarnovski, for
instance, and with an unknown at a masked ball. But he was chiefly
music-mad and undermined his health by his overwork.
Then in 1868, his father got after him to marry. As long before as
1859, when he was nineteen, he had suffered from an unrequited love.
Now at the age of twenty-eight he cared nothing for petticoats. He had
written his sister a year ago that he was tired of life, and marriage
did not tempt him; he was, said he, "too lazy to woo, too lazy to
support a family, too lazy to endure the responsibility of a wife and
children." But upon this ennui fell an electric spark--from the old
storage-batteries, woman's eyes.
There had come to the Moscow opera a Belgian singer, Desiree Artot, who
was then thirty-three years old, a woman whose pictures make her nearly
beautiful, and who is recorded as a queen of grace and a queen of
dramatic and lyric song. She was witty and magnetic, and Peter
Iljitsch, five years her junior, like another Chopin and another Mary's
lamb, followed her about.
One day he wrote: "She is a charmer; we are friends." Then _tempo
accelerate_; he copied music for her benefit performance; later he
apologised for not writing his brother--he was all monopolised by the
singer. So he went swirling into the current. He tried to keep away;
they met by accident; she reproached him; he promised to call; then his
inveterate timidity palsied him, till Anton Rubinstein had to drag him
to her rooms by force.
Eventually they became engaged. Just as in Weber's case, the composer
demanded that the singer give up her career for his, and she and her
mother objected. She did not want to be merely the wife of her husband;
nor he, merely the husband of his wife. He appealed to his father, who
wrote a nobly generous letter, pleading the woman's right to her own
career: a very gospel of artistic equality.
"You love her: she loves you: and that should settle it, if--Oh, this
wretched if! The beloved Desiree must be altogether noble, since my son
Peter has loved her. He has taste and talent, and would choose a wife
of his own nature. The few years difference in age are of no moment. If
your love is real and substantial, all else is nonsense. She would not
want you to play the servant, and you could compose even if you
travelled with her.
"I lived with your mother for twenty-one years and all that time loved
with the passion of youth, and respected and adored her as a saint. If
your desired one has the character of your mother, whom you so
resemble, there should be no talk of future coolness and doubt. You
know well that artists have no home; they belong to the whole world.
Why worry whether you live at Moscow or St. Petersburg? She should not
leave the stage, nor should you abandon your career. True, our future
is known only to God, but why should you foresee that you will be
robbed of your career? Be her servant, but an independent servant. Do
you truly love her and for all time? I know your character, my dear
son, but alas, I do not know you, dear sweetheart; I know your
beautiful soul and good heart through him. It might be well for you
both to test your love; not by jealousy--God forbid!--but by time. Wait
and ask each other, 'Do I really love him? Do I truly love her? Will he
(or she) share with me the joys and sorrows of life unto the grave?'"
Good father, good sage, gallant old man! But neither of the troubled
lovers proved worthy of such golden philosophy. Desiree's travels took
her away. Their parting must have been cold, for in January, 1869,
Tschaikovski wrote his brother a letter, excitedly referring to the
acceptance of his opera, and coldly hinting that his love affair would
probably come to nothing. We remember how calmly Mozart once wrote of
his operatic triumph and how passionately of his love.
The same month a telegram informed Tschaikovski that his fiancee had
very suddenly become engaged to a singer in her own troupe, the Spanish
baritone, Padilla y Ramos, who was two years younger even than
Tschaikovski. The singers were married at Sevres, September 15, 1869.
Tschaikovski, on receiving the first news, seemed "more surprised than
pained." He was still flirting desperately with grand opera. A year
later he heard that Desiree was returning to sing at Moscow. He wrote
"She is coming here and I cannot avoid meeting her. The woman has cost
me many a bitter hour, and yet I feel myself drawn toward her with such
inexplicable sympathy, that I wait her coming with feverish
At her performance he sat in the pit with his friend Kashkin, who says
he was terribly excited, and kept his opera-glasses fastened on her
always, though he must have been almost blinded by the tears that
streamed down his cheeks. The two did not meet, however, for seven
years, and then unexpectedly. He called at Nikolai Rubinstein's office
in the Conservatory; he was told to wait in the anteroom. After a time,
a lady came out. "Tschaikovski leaped to his feet and turned white. The
woman gave a little cry of alarm, and confusedly fumbled for the door.
Finding it at last, she fled without speaking."
In 1888 Tschaikovski went to Berlin. There Desiree was the idol of the
court and public. They met now as friends. He and Edvard Grieg called
at her house, and he wrote in his diary:
"This evening is counted among the most agreeable recollections of my
sojourn in Berlin. The personality and the art of this singer are as
irresistibly bewitching as ever."
_Requiescat in pace_! She had taught him the pangs of disprised love,
but she had escaped misery, and she seems to have lived happily ever
afterward with a husband who won eminence equal to hers as a singer. As
for Tschaikovski, he had already revenged himself in kind--in worse
kind--upon the sex, which had really attracted him only once.
In the year 1875 Tschaikovski's nerves had gone to pieces from overwork
and his mode of life. For months he was not allowed to write down a
note. And now, I think some one must have prescribed marriage as a cure
for his ills. There followed that strange affair which was a riddle as
late as the time Miss Newmarch's biography appeared in 1900; a solution
was then hoped from a sealed document left by Kashkin, and not to be
opened till the year 1927. Tschaikovski himself had looked over his own
diary, and had been so terrified at what he read that he destroyed a
great portion of it before his death in 1893. In 1902, however, his
brother Modeste began the publication of a very elaborate and complete
biography, which partially clears the riddle. This is what we learn
In 1875 Tschaikovski was a wreck. In 1876 he suddenly wrote his
brother: "I have resolved to marry--the resolve is beyond recall;" and
again: "The result of my thought is the firm resolve to marry with
whomsoever it may be." His photograph at this time has a worn, hunted
look, and he has become addicted to cold baths, of which his new plan
was the coldest of all.
In May, 1877, his friend Kashkin suspected him of being engaged. In
July, Kashkin was amazed to find him married. Just once Kashkin saw the
couple together. Then Tschaikovski grew very distant to his friends and
eccentric in his manner; a little later he fled to Moscow, and in a few
days came word that he was dangerously ill. Later there were threats of
suicide, but it was all a mystery.
We know now that late in June, 1877, Tschaikovski announced definitely
to his brother Anatol, that he was engaged to, and would soon marry,
Antonina Ivanovna Miljukova. He said little of the girl, except that
she was not very young and was very poor; she was free from scandal,
however, and she loved him deeply. He hoped the marriage would be
happy; and he asked the father's blessing. The father's letter showed
an enthusiasm the son's lacked.
Before Anatol could reach Moscow, Tschaikovski was Benedick--July 6,
1877, he being then within three years of forty. The curious details of
the courtship are told by the composer himself in a letter to Frau von
Meek, a wealthy idolatress of his genius, with whom he had one of those
affairs called Platonic, and of whom more later. To her he wrote:
"One day I received a letter from a girl I had known for some time. I
learned from it that she loved me. The letter was couched in such warm,
frank terms that I concluded to answer it--something I have always
avoided doing in previous cases of this sort. Without rehearsing the
details of this correspondence I must mention that the result of the
letters was that I followed the wish of my future wife and called to
see her. Why did I do this? Now it seems to me that some invisible
power forced me to it. At our meeting I assured her that in return for
her love I could give her nothing but sympathy and gratitude. But later
I reproached myself for the carelessness of my action. If I did not
love her and did not wish to incite her further love for me, why did I
call on her and how could all this end? By the following letter I saw
that I had gone too far; that if I now turned from her suddenly it
would make her unhappy and possibly drive her to a tragic fate.
"So the weighty alternative posed itself: Either I got my liberty at
the cost of a life, or I married. The latter was my only possible
choice. So one evening I went to see her, declared openly that I could
not love her, but that I would always be her grateful friend; I
described minutely my character, the irritability, the unevenness of my
temperament, my diffidence--finally my financial condition. Then I
asked her if she wished to be my wife. Naturally her answer was 'yes.'
The fearful agonies which I have experienced since that night are not
to be expressed in words. This is only natural. To live for
thirty-seven years in congenital antipathy to marriage, and then
suddenly to be made a bridegroom through the sheer force of
circumstances, without being in the least charmed by the bride--that is
something horrible! In order to get back my senses and accustom myself
to the thought of the future, I decided to go to the country for a
month. This I did. I console myself with the thought that no one can
escape his fate, and my meeting with that girl was fatality. My
conscience is clear. If I marry without loving, it is because
circumstances have forced this upon me. I cannot do otherwise.
Carelessly I surrendered at her first confession of love. I should not
have answered her at all."
Under such auspices, the marriage took place. It is hard to say whom we
should pity the more, husband or wife; and which we should count the
more insane. That which is technically called a honeymoon lasted a week
in this case. In ten days the husband is writing his fellow-Platonist,
Frau von Meck, that he is uncertain about his happiness, but positive
that he cannot compose. He and his wife pay a little visit to her
mother; then they return "home," only to part. The unwilling bridegroom
must be alone to recuperate. He writes Frau von Meck:
"I leave in an hour. A few days more of this, and I swear I should have
In ten days he is strong enough to think of his wife again; in his
solitude he begins work on what he mentions to Frau von Meck as "our
He goes hunting in the woods, while the lonely bride hunts furniture
for their home. By the middle of September, Tschaikovski is brave
enough to return; he is pleased to find a home of his own, with all
clean and neat. For a few days, even a robbery by servants, and the
necessity his wife is under to go to the police-court, do not disturb
him, or, at least, so he writes. But hardly more than a week can he
stand his wife's society. He determines to kill himself, and stands up
to his chin in the ice-cold river, afraid to drown himself, and yet
hoping to catch a fatal pneumonia.
His old frenzy seized him; insanity beckoned to him again. Alleging
that a telegram had called him to St. Petersburg, he fled from his
home, September 24, 1877.
His brother met him at the St. Petersburg station, and hardly knew him.
Taken to the nearest hotel, he went into hysterics, and was unconscious
for forty-eight hours. The doctor said travel was necessary. The wife
was provided for, and, leaving her forever, Tschaikovski fled to
foreign countries barely in time to save his sanity. To the last he
absolved the poor wretched woman of any slightest blame for his
behaviour. His brother, in a biography, completely frank up to this
point, now grows reticent, except to release the wife of all blame. So
you must satisfy your curiosity by imagining some abnormal state of
mind, which you will regard cynically or pityingly, as your manner of
The last touch to this tragedy was the sordid tinge of poverty. The
wretched man alone in Switzerland was without means. Now Frau von Meck,
with great secrecy, offered him an annual income of 6,000 rubles--about
$4,500--purely in payment, she said, of the delight his music had given
her. He accepted a gift so graciously and gracefully made. Tschaikovski
was thenceforth an institution fully endowed.
Modeste says that without this relief from anxiety Tschaikovski would
have died. He wrote to the benefactress: "Let every note from my pen
henceforth be dedicated to you."
This was not the first time she had aided him. A strange, notable
woman, she; a true phenomenon--or a phenomena, as one would be tempted
to say who had even less Greek than I or Shakespeare, if such an one
Nadeschda Filaretovna, being poor, had married a poor railway engineer;
they lived carefully, and raised eleven children. A railroad investment
brought them a sudden wealth, soaring into the millions. In 1876 she
lost her husband, but all of the children and the riches remained to
keep her busy. She lived in almost complete seclusion.
Tschaikovski's strenuous music penetrated her solitude and her heart.
The stories of his small income touched her. She planned schemes to
fill his purse, ordering arrangements of music and paying for them
munificently. Yet she would not receive the composer personally, and
when they met in public they did not speak or exchange a glance.
In Du Maurier's perfect romance, Peter Ibbetson and the Duchess of
Towers lived their hearts out in a dream-world. So Frau von Meck and
Peter Iljitsch lived theirs in a letter-world.
In 1877, before his marriage, learning of his financial troubles, she
had offered to pay him well for a composition. He had said he could not
conscientiously degrade his art for a price. So she paid his debts to
the extent of three thousand roubles. This he could accept. These
theories of art!
It was to her that he unburdened in his letters the wild scheme of his
marriage. It was to her that he poured out his soul in endless letters
not yet publishable entire. Their life apart seems to have been
continued to the end. During his last years, after a period of travel,
he lived almost a hermit, dying in 1893, only three years over fifty.
Whatever posterity may do with his music, he has left a life-story of
strange perplexities, in which apparent frenzies of effeminacy and
hysteria, of passionate terror and helplessness at self-control fall in
strange contrast with the temper of his music, which at its gentlest is
masculinely gentle and at its fiercest is virile to the point of the
I am haunted by the vision of that poor Antonina Ivanovna, helpless to
keep silence in her love, and winning her bridegroom only to find, like
Elsa, that her Lohengrin could not give her his Heart. And almost more
harrowing is the vision of the composer, with womanish generosity,
giving himself to the one that asked, and finding that love cannot
follow the mere placing of a wedding-ring. So he stands in the icy
river, and its gloom and cold are no more bitter than the despair in
his own mad heart. It is Abelard and Heloise without the love of
Abelard or the joy Heloise knew for a while at least.
THE HEART OF A VIOLINIST
"From this did Paganini comb the fierce
Electric sparks, or to tenuity
Pull forth the inmost wailing of the wire?--
No catgut could swoon out so much of soul!"
--_Browning, "Red Cotton Night-Cap Country_."
Many people have based their idea of the moral status of musicians and
the moral effects of music upon a certain work by Tolstoi, who is no
more eminent as a crusader in the fields of real life and real fiction,
than he is incompetent as a critic of art. His novel, "The Kreutzer
Sonata," is musically a hopeless fallacy. And Tolstoi's claim, that
Beethoven must have written it under the inspiration of a too amorous
mood, is pretty well answered by the fact that Beethoven, who was so
liberal of his dedications to women, whenever they had inspired him,
dedicated this work to two different violinists, both men.
It is said that he first inscribed it to George Augustus Polgreen
Bridgetower, a mulatto violinist, who, being lucky enough to be born in
Europe, was not ostracised from paleface society. This can be only too
well proved by the fact that Beethoven--who spelled the man's name
"Brischdower"--after dedicating the sonata to him, found that the
Africo-European had been his successful rival in one of those
numberless flirtations of his, in which Beethoven always came out
second. Indignant at his dusky rival's success, Beethoven erased his
name from the title-page and substituted that of Rudolphe Kreutzer. The
curious thing about this great piece of music, known to fame as the
"Kreutzer Sonata," is that Beethoven had never seen Kreutzer, and that
Kreutzer never played the sonata.
I have not discovered whether or no Kreutzer was married; he probably
was, for he died insane. A German composer, Conradin Kreutzer, with
whom he might be confused, had a daughter whom he trained as a singer.
As for Bridgetower, he married and had a daughter.
But speaking of violinists, what would become of them if there never
had been makers of violins, especially such luthiers as the Amati? Yet
all I know of the Amati is that they formed a dynasty, and doubtless
fell in love on occasion, though how, or when, I do not learn.
The great Antonio Stradivari, however, began his love-making like David
Copperfield, by falling in love with a woman ten years his senior, when
he was only seventeen. She was Francesca Capra; her husband had been
assassinated three years before, leaving her a child. The boy
Stradivari and the widow were married July 4, 1667, and on December
23d, a daughter named Julia was born. Francesca bore Stradivari six
children. Her second child was a son named after her, Francesco; but
Francesco died in infancy, and the name, in spite of the omen, was
given to the next son, who followed his father's profession, but never
married. The next child was a daughter, who died a spinster; the next
was a son, who became a priest, and the next a son, who died a
bachelor. The failure of all their children to marry does not indicate
a particularly happy home-life, but this is mere speculation. We only
know that Stradivari's first wife died, after a marriage lasting
A year and a half later Stradivari married a girl fifteen years his
junior; Antonia Zambelli was, indeed, born the very year Francesca's
first husband had been assassinated. Antonia bore Stradivari five
children: a daughter, who died at the age of twenty; a son, who died in
infancy; a son, who died at twenty-four; a son, who became a priest and
lasted seventy-seven years, and, finally, a son, Paolo, the only child
of Stradivari that seems to have married, and certainly the only one
who handed down the family name. How happy Antonia was with her
husband, we do not know. "As rich as Stradivari," became a proverb. She
died at the age of seventy-three, and Stradivari survived her less than
one year; this may have been because he was overcome with grief; or
because he was already nearly ninety years of age.
In the workshop of Stradivari was a fiddle-maker named Andreas
Guarnieri, who had two sons, Pietro and Giuseppe, who had a son named
Pietro, and a more famous cousin named Giuseppe, who was a dissipated
genius, and blasphemously gave himself the nickname, "del Gesu." Of him
there is a pretty fable, that once being sent to prison for debt, he
won over the jailer's daughter, and she brought him stealthily wood and
implements with which he made the so-called "prison fiddles," of whose
curious shape Charles Reade said: "Such is the force of genius that I
believe in our secret hearts we love these impudent fiddles best; they
are so full of chic." As Giuseppe called himself "Gesu," so there was
a member of the famous violin-making family of Guadagnini who was
called "John the Baptist," and of whom I only know that he belonged to
a large family.
But to turn from these unsatisfactory violin makers to violin players:
I know nothing of the great Corelli's personal history; his pupil
Geminiani is said to have led a life full of romance. Philidor spent
his years chiefly in the intrigues of chess-playing. The great Tartini,
whom the devil visited in the dream he immortalised in his famous
Sonata del Diavolo, had a checkerboard career. As a young university
student he fell in love with a niece of Cardinal Cornaro, and married
her in secret. Like Romeo, his romance brought him separation and
exile. His parents cast him off; the cardinal made his life unsafe. He
fled from Padua, and took up the violin to save him from starvation.
"And some have greatness thrust upon them."
One day, as he was playing at the monastery where he was in retirement,
the wind blew aside a curtain just as a fellow townsman was passing. He
took home the news, and by this time resentment had died out so much,
that Tartini and his young wife were permitted to resume their romance.
They went to Venice. Later his ambition for the violin caused them to
separate, but finally they returned to Padua to live. Burney says that
his wife was "of the Xantippe sort." His love story somewhat suggests
that of Desmarets, who also had to flee for his life in consequence of
a secret marriage, and who was twenty-two years appeasing the wrath of
the aristocratic family.
A contemporary violinist and composer was Benedetto Marcello, whose
melodramatic affair has been described by Crowest and may be quoted
here, with full permission to believe as much of it as you please.
"Marcello was the victim of a hopeless passion for a beautiful lady,
Leonora Manfrotti, and on the occasion of her marriage to Paolo
Seranzo, a Venetian of high rank, Marcello was unwise enough to send
her a rose and a billet-doux containing words more complimentary to the
lady's beauty than to her taste in the choice of a husband. This
epistle, coming to Seranzo's notice, caused him so violent a fit of
jealousy that he tormented his young wife by supervision and suspicion
to such an extent that she actually sank under his ill-treatment and
died. Her body was laid out in state in the church 'Dei Frari,' and
here Marcello seeing it, learned the ill effects of his rash passion.
He fell into a state of melancholy madness, and at last, having with
the craft and ingenuity of a madman succeeded in stealing the body of
his love, he conveyed it to a ruined crypt in one of the neighbouring
islands, which, bearing the reputation of being haunted, was seldom
visited by any one. Here, watched only by a faithful old nurse, he sat
day and night watching the dead form of Leonora, singing and playing to
it as though by the force of music he would recall her to life.
"Long ere this, Venice, and indeed Italy, was full of excitement at the
composition of some unknown musician (no other than Marcello). Among
other admirers of this music was Eliade, twin sister of Leonora, and
resembling her so closely that even friends could scarcely distinguish
her. Eliade had even been effected to insensibility by the strain of
the unknown, and hearing one day a gondola pass, in which a voice was
singing one of the songs which was an especial favourite, in such a way
as she had never heard it sung before, she followed and traced the
gondola to the deserted island. A visit to this island resulted in a
meeting with the old nurse, and a few explanations. The ingenious woman
contrived to take advantage of a short absence of Marcello, and,
substituting the living sister for the dead one, awaited the mad
musician. This time, however, his usual invocation was not in vain: as
he called on Leonora to awake, a living image arose from the coffin,
and Marcello, restored to happiness by the delusion, was quite content
with the exchange when he found out that, although the lady was not
Leonora, she was a devoted admirer of his musical skill, and professed
an 'affinity of soul' for him, in which her sister had been wanting.
Their happiness was short-lived, for Marcello died a few years after
This has a faint resemblance to the romance of "The Quick or the Dead,"
with a certain vice-versation.
To come back to earth: The eminent violinist, Spohr, and his pupil,
Francis Eck, made an extensive concert-tour together, in which they
rivalled each other almost more in their rapid series of amorous
adventures, than in their more legitimate concert work. While in St.
Petersburg, Eck met the daughter of one of the members of the Imperial
Orchestra, and began a flirtation, which she took so seriously that her
father gave him the alternative of matrimony or Siberia. After some
hesitation he chose matrimony. Had he foreseen the sequel, he would
doubtless have greatly preferred Siberia, for his wife was a virago,
and collaborated with his ill-health to guide him to the madhouse.
Spohr may have profited by Eck's experience, when some years later he
met the beautiful and brilliant Dorette Scheidler; she was eighteen
years old, and played that most becoming instrument, the harp, as well
as the piano and violin. They appeared together in a court concert, and
on the way to her home, in the carriage, he made the not particularly
original proposition: "Shall we thus play together for life?" She, with
hardly more originality, wept her consent upon his shoulder. They were
married without delay, and began a series of very successful
concert-tours. They seem to have been happy together for twenty-six
years, and they reared a large family. Her death in 1832 broke down his
health for several months. But two years later, he then being fifty, he
married the skilful pianist, Marianne Pfeiffer, over twenty years his
junior. They also made a brilliant concert-tour together.
PAGANINI, THE INFERNAL
Paganini, as everybody knows, sold his soul to the devil for fame. He
made the best of the gamble, as he usually did when he gambled; for the
poor, innocent Lucifer got only a fourth-rate soul, while Paganini
secured a fame that will not be surpassed while fiddlers fiddle.
Gambling was not Paganini's only vice. In spite of the fact that he
will always be almost as famous for his multiplex ugliness as for his
skill, women found him fascinating, and kept him busy. When he was only
seventeen, a beautiful dame of Bologna abducted him and held him
prisoner in her country chateau, as once Liszt, his rival in technical
fame, was kept a few months. Can there be any secret technical virtue
in being kidnapped thus? The fair Bolognese kept Paganini captive for
three years in this retreat, where he fed upon scenery, love, and
music. For her sake he practised her favourite instrument, the guitar,
and worked miracles with it as with the violin. At the age of twenty,
Paganini broke the spell and resumed his gipsying, persuading the
public, and not without reason, that he was aided by magic. He lived
for many years with the singer, Antonia Bianchi, who bore him a son,
Achille, whom he legitimised. Antonia was devotion itself, until she
was gradually driven to a jealousy that was almost fiendish, and led to
a separation. Paganini himself tells this story:
"Antonia was constantly tormented by the most fearful jealousy. One
day, she happened to be behind my chair when I was writing some lines
in the album of a great pianist, and, when she read the few amiable
words I had composed in honour of the artist, to whom the book
belonged, she tore it from my hands, demolished it on the spot. So
fearful was her rage, she would have assassinated me."
When he died, he left his son a fortune of $400,000. Surely this sum
alone proves the justice of the popular belief that he had sold himself
to the devil, and, knowing it, none can doubt the story Liszt quotes in
one of his essays concerning the G string of Paganini's violin: "It was
the intestine of his wife, whom he had killed with his own hands."
There is no record of the secret marriage, but there is record enough
of the superhuman power of the melodies he drew from that string.
DE BERIOT, SONTAG, AND MALIBRAN
Among the chief contemporaries of Paganini was De Beriot. When he was
not quite thirty, he found himself in Paris at the time of the deadly
vocal feud between Sontag and Malibran. The rivalry of the two singers
was ended by the influence of music. One night, singing together the
duet from "Semiramide," each was so overcome at the beauty of the
other's voice and art, that they embraced and became friends.
De Beriot had an equally strange experience with the two women. He fell
madly in love with Sontag, slight, blue-eyed and blonde as she was, and
then only twenty-five. But De Beriot paid his court in vain, because at
this time Sontag was engaged to the young diplomat, Count Rossi; as it
would have hurt his influence to be engaged to the child of strolling
players, the engagement was kept secret, until the count could persuade
the King of Prussia to grant her a patent of nobility. When they were
married, she gave up the stage, and travelled from court to court with
her husband, singing only for charity. As her brother said: "Rossi made
my sister happy, in the best sense of the word. To the day of their
death they loved each other as on their wedding-day."
But political troubles ruined the count's fortunes, and it seemed
necessary for the countess to return to the stage. Now again the court
wished to separate diplomacy from the drama played on the open stage.
Rossi was told that he might retain his ambassadorship if he would
formally separate from his wife, at least until she could again leave
the stage. But Rossi believed that it was his turn to make a sacrifice,
and could not bear a separation; so he resigned, and travelled with his
wife. They came to America, and in Mexico the cholera ended her
beautiful life at the age of forty-nine.
It was into this ideal romance that De Beriot had wandered unwittingly
in 1830. It was fortunate that he could not prevail against the noble
Count Rossi, even though his failure caused him pain. It almost cost
him his health, and he suffered so obviously that his friends were
alarmed. Among those endeavouring to console him was Madame Malibran,
whom people, who like exclusive superlatives, have been pleased to
select as the greatest singer in the history of music. Like Sontag, she
was the child of stage people, and, indeed, had made her first
appearance at the age of five.
In 1826 she, and that wonderful assembly, the Garcia family, had found
themselves in New York, where an old French merchant, supposed to be
rich, married her. It is certain that Malibran married the old merchant
for his money--a thing so common that one cannot stop to express
indignation. The horrible thing is that, as it turned out, the old man
had also an eye to the weather. He had hoped to stave off bankruptcy by
marrying the prosperous singer. He succeeded in getting neither her
money nor her heart, for she left him within a year and returned to
Here, then, we find her again, with her rival Sontag out of the way,
and Sontag's lover to console. She furnished him with contrast enough,
for she differed from Sontag in these respects, that she was only
twenty-two, she was a contralto, dark and Spanish, and was known to be
married. Her consolation of De Beriot was complete. They lived together
the rest of her life, touring in concerts occasionally, with enormous
financial success, she creating an immortal name as an operatic singer,
and he as a violinist. In 1831 they built a palatial home in the
suburbs of Brussels, where they spent the time when they were not
travelling. She bore him a son and a daughter, the latter dying in
Meanwhile, she was trying to divorce her husband, who was now living in
Paris. The freedom was a long while coming, and it was 1836 before the
Gordian knot was cut. On March 26th of the same year, she and De Beriot
were married. The very next month, in London, she was thrown from a
horse and more severely injured than she realised. As soon as she
could, she resumed her concerts; brain-fever attacked her. She died at
the age of twenty-eight.
Two hours after her death, De Beriot hastened away to make sure of the
possession of the wealth this young woman had already heaped up. He did
not wait for the funeral, and all Europe was scandalised. But it is
claimed in his defence that he had been devoted to her, and during her
illness had never left her side, and that his mercenary haste was due
to his fear that a moment's delay might give Monsieur Malibran a chance
to claim her property, and thus rob the child she had borne De Beriot
of his inheritance. Those who know the peculiar attitude the French law
takes toward the property of a wife, can understand the difficulty of
In any case, the child was saved from poverty or from the necessity of
professionalism in later life, though he was a distinguished pianist.
As for De Beriot, after the success of his mission he returned to the
country home and remained in seclusion, not playing again in public for
one year. Two years later he married Fraeulein Huber, the daughter of a
Vienna magistrate and the adopted ward of a prince. De Beriot travelled
little after this, and lived to be sixty-eight years old. He died in
blindness that had been creeping on him for the last eighteen years of
AN OMNIBUS CHAPTER
"Passions are like dogs: the big ones need more food than the little
ones."--HENRY T. FINCK, "_Romantic Love and Personal Beauty_."
There is both temptation and material enough for as many musical love
stories, as there are novels in the handwriting of Sir Walter Scott,
but this being a limited work, the covers already begin to bulge and
creak, and it will be necessary to crowd into one swift mail-coach such
other composers as we can hardly afford to leave behind.
In some cases, this summary treatment is all the easier because little
or nothing is known of their love affairs, while in others it will be
purely a case of regretful omission. It is the chief difficulty and the
chief regret, whom and what to omit. There are composers whom to
neglect argues oneself ignorant, yet who composed no love affair of
immortal charm. There are composers of whom few ever heard, whose
_magnum opus_ was some romance that still makes the heart-strings
tingle by the acoustic law of sympathetic vibration. For example, there
are two old crusading troubadours.
You never heard, perhaps, of Geoffrey Rudel, who "died for the charms
of an imaginary mistress." He fell in love with the Countess of
Tripoli, never having seen her. He loved the very fame of her beauty.
He set sail for the East, and endured the agonies of travel of those
days. Whether anticipation was better than realisation, we cannot know
to-day, having no portrait of the countess; but at least anticipation
was more fatal, for it wrought him into such a fever, that when at last
Tripoli was reached, he was carried ashore dying. The countess had
heard of his pilgrimage, and had hastened to greet him, only to be
permitted to clasp his hand and to hear him gasp, with his last breath:
"Having seen thee, I die satisfied."
There is a distressing ambiguity about the troubadour's last words.
And so there was the other troubadour, the Chatelain Regnault de Coucy.
His mistress was a married woman, whom he left to go to the Third
Crusade. In the inveterate siege of Acre, he was mortally wounded
before those odious Paynim walls; but, with his dying breath, he begged
that his heart be taken from his breast and sent home to her who had
owned it. The stupid messenger, arriving at home, betrayed to the
husband what it was he had been charged to deliver, and the husband
chose a most mediaeval revenge: he had the heart of the troubadour
cooked and placed before his wife. When she had eaten, he told her what
sweetmeat it was she had so relished. Thereafter, she starved herself
to death. The same story is told of the troubadour Guillem de
Cabestanh; but it is good enough to repeat.
There was another old troubadour, Pierre Vidal, of whom an ancient
biographer wrote that he "sang better than any man in the world, and
was one of the most foolish men who ever lived, for he believed
everything to be just as it pleased him and as he would have it be."
But the biographer contradicted his own beautiful portrait by telling
how poor Pierre sang once too well to a married woman, whose husband
took him, jailed him, and pierced his linnet tongue.
If we cannot omit these troubadours, how can we overlook Martin Luther,
whose musical attainments the skeptics are wont to minimise, as others
deny his claim to that magnificent ejaculation: "Who loves not wine,
women, and song remains a fool his whole life long." No one claims that
Luther wrote his own compositions, but that he dictated them to trained
musicians who wrote down, and then wrote up such melodies as he played
upon the flute. But whatsoever may be the truth of his position as a
composer, no one can deny him either a passion for music or a domestic
romance. The runaway monk told the truth, when he said: "I married a
When he was forty-one, with his connivance, a number of nuns fled, or
were abducted, from a convent. One of them, Catherina von Bora, found
an asylum in Luther's own home. After looking about for a good husband
for her, at the end of a year he married her himself. She was then
twenty-six years old. The married life of the jovial reformer was
happy; but when he died, he left her so poor that she was obliged to
take in boarders, until she met her death by the same means that had
brought her marriage,--a runaway.
The earlier English composers have not been without their heart
interests. We have already pried into Purcell's romance. Old John Bull,
at the age of forty-four, could give up his professorship to marry
"Elizabeth Walker, of the Strand, maiden, being about twenty-four,
daughter of ---- Walker, citizen of London, deceased, she attending
upon the Right Honourable Lady Marchioness of Winchester." Four years
later, he became the chief of the prince's music, with the splendid
salary of L40 a year.
Sir William Sterndale loved a Mary Wood, and wrote an overture called
"Marie des Bois," and after this atrocious pun, married the poor girl
in 1844, and they lived happily ever after, or at least for thirty
Those other oldsters, Blow, Byrd, and Playford, were married men; and
Arne, the composer of "Rule Britannia," married, at the age of
twenty-six, Cecilia Young, an eminent singer in Haendel's company, and
the daughter of an organist. She continued to sing, and he to write
music for her. At the age of sixty-eight he died, singing a hallelujah.
Whether she echoed his sentiments we are not told, but she lived
seventeen years longer.
Balfe married a German singer, Rosen, who afterward sang in some of his
One of the few other British composers who attained distinction was
John Field, who, like Balfe, was Dublin-born. He was the inventor of
Chopin's Nocturne. The story is told that he had a pupil from whom he
could not collect his bills. Finally in sheer despair he proposed, and,
when she accepted him, found his only revenge in telling everybody he
met that he had only married her to escape the necessity of giving her
further lessons, which she would never pay for. The story seems to be,
however, neither true nor well-found, for in spite of his awkwardness
and the hard life he led at the hands of his teacher Clementi, who made
him serve as a combined salesman of pianos and a concert virtuoso, he
was said to have married a Russian lady of rank and wealth. She was
really a Frenchwoman named Charpentier whom he had met in Moscow. She
was a professional pianist, and bore him a son; then she left him, and
changed her name, as did even the son. He was one of the many composers
who should have been kept in a cage.
CLEMENTI, HUMMEL, STEIBELT
As for Clementi, he was chiefly notable for his miserly qualities, by
which he rendered miserable three successive wives.
The pianist Hummel, whom I always place with Clementi in a sort of
musical Dunciad, is credited with having won a courtship duel against
Beethoven, in which Clementi as the winner--or was it the
loser?--married the woman.
Another rival of Beethoven's in public esteem was Daniel Steibelt,
forgotten as a virtuoso, but not to be forgotten for his splendid vices
which range from kleptomania up, or down as you wish. He married a
young and beautiful woman, who doubtless deserved her fate, since we
are told that she was a wonderful performer on the tambourine. He
succeeded to the post of Boieldieu, the eminent opera composer, who
began life under poor matrimonial auspices, seeing that his mother was
a milliner, from whom his father managed to escape by means of an easy
divorce law issued by the French Revolutionists.
BOIELDIEU AND GRETRY
The father married again, but with what success, I do not know. But at
any rate, his son followed his example and married Clotilde Mafleuray,
a dancer, who made him as unhappy as possible. It was said that he was
so wretched that he took to flight secretly; but it is known that his
departure was mentioned in a theatrical journal in good season. None
the less, though the flight may not have been surreptitious, it may
well be credited to domestic misery. He buried himself in Russia for
eight years, which may be placed in music's column of loss. Returning
to Paris then, he found a clear field for the great success that
followed. Soon after, in 1811, he formed an attachment with a woman who
bore him a son in 1816. Her tenderness to the composer is highly
praised; she must have given him devotion indeed, for he married her in
1827, eleven years after the birth of their son, who became also a
worthy composer. At the age of fifty-four, consumption and the
bankruptcy of the Opera Comique, and the expulsion of the king who had
pensioned him, broke down his health. He lived five years longer.
All I know of the domestic affairs of the great French opera-writer
Gretry is that he left three daughters, one of whom, Lucille, had a
one-act opera successfully produced when she was only thirteen years
old, and who was precocious enough to make an unhappy marriage and end
it in death by the time she was twenty-three.
HEROLD AND BIZET
The Frenchman Herold, son of a good musician, made ballet-music
artistic while he paced the dance of death with consumption, and died
in his forty-second year, a month after his masterpiece, "Le Pre aux
Clercs," had been produced and had wrung from him the wail: "I am going
too soon; I was just beginning to understand the stage." He had married
Adele Elise Rollet four years before, and she had borne him three
children, the eldest of whom became a Senator; the next, a daughter,
married well, and the third, a promising musician, died of his father's
disease at twenty.
Bizet, like Herold, died soon after his masterpiece was done. Three
months after "Carmen's" first equivocal success, Bizet was dead, not of
a broken heart, as legend tells, but of heart-disease. Six years before
he had married Genevieve, the daughter of his teacher, the composer
Halevy. In his letters to Lacombe he frequently mentions her, saying in
May, 1872: "J'attends un _baby_ dans deux ou trois semaines." His wife,
he said, was "marvellously well," and a happy result was expected--and
achieved, for in 1874 he sends Lacombe the greetings "des Bizet, pere,
mere, et enfant." He began an oratorio with the suggestive name of
"Sainte Genevieve," which his death interrupted. His widow told Gounod
that Bizet had been so devoted that there was not a moment of their six
years' life she would not gladly live over again.
Cesar Franck married and left a son. At his funeral Chabrier said, "His
family, his pupils, his immortal art: viola all his life!" But Auber,
though too timid to marry or even to conduct his own works, was brave
enough to earn the name of a "devotee of Venus."
THE PASSIONS OF BERLIOZ
Some of the most eminent musicians were strictly literary men, to whom
music was an avocation.
Thus Robert Schumann was an editor, who whiled away his leisure writing
music that almost no one approved or played for many years. Richard
Wagner was well on in life before his compositions brought him as much
money as his writing. Hector Berlioz was a prominent critic, whose
excursions into music brought him unmitigated abuse and ridicule. The
list might be multiplied.
The tempestuous Berlioz was in love at twelve. The girl was eighteen;
her name was Estelle, and he called her "the hamadryad of St. Eynard."
Years later she had grown vague in his memory, and he could only say,
"I have forgot the colour of her hair; it was black I think. But
whenever I remember her I see a vision of great brilliant eyes and of
pink shoes." When he was fifty-seven years old, he found her again and
his old love revived. But before that time there was much life to live.
And he lived it at a _tempo presto con fuoco_.
He went to Paris, which was a cyclone of conflict for him. At the age
of twenty-seven he won the Prix de Rome and went for three years to
Italy, not without the amorous adventures suitable to that sky.
Returning to Paris, he found the city in a spasm of enthusiasm over
Shakespeare, especially over the Irish actress Smithson, whom he had
worshipped from afar, before he had gone to Rome, thinking that he only
worshipped Shakespeare through the prophetess. The remembrance of her
had inspired him to write his "Lelio" in Italy. When he was again in
Paris, he gave a concert, played the kettle-drums for his own symphony,
and through a friend managed to secure the attendance of Miss Smithson.
She recognised in him the stranger who had dogged her steps in the
years before. The poet Heine was at the concert, and his description of
the scene is as follows:
"It was thus I saw him for the first time, and thus he will always
remain in my memory. It was at the Conservatoire de Musique when a big
symphony of his was given, a bizarre nocturne, only here and there
relieved by the gleam of a woman's dress, sentimentally white,
fluttering to and fro--or by a flash of irony, sulphur yellow. My
neighbour in my box pointed out to me the composer, who was sitting at
the extremity of the hall in the corner of the orchestra playing the
"'Do you see that stout English woman in the proscenium? That is Miss
Smithson; for nearly three years Berlioz has been madly in love with
her, and it is this passion that we have to thank for the wild symphony
we are listening to to-day.'
"Every time that her look met his, he struck his kettle-drum like a
Then he married the plump enchantress and knew a brief happiness. But
he gradually woke to the fact that the dowry she brought him was mainly
ill-luck, bad temper, and a monument of debts which she acquired by a
new series of Shakespeare performances under her own management. By
this time Paris had forgotten the barbarian Shakespeare and ridiculed
the former queen of the stage. Then Madame Berlioz fell from a carriage
and broke her leg. This took her permanently from the stage, where she
was no longer a success. A few managerial ventures brought her a
handsome bankruptcy. Berlioz gave benefit concerts and wrote fiendishly
for the papers to pay her debts, and always provided for her. But there
was no more happiness for the two, though there was a child. I have
said that Miss Smithson brought Berlioz a dowry of bad luck and bad
temper. The worldly goods with which Berlioz had her endowed, were no
better. He had begun the marriage with "300 francs borrowed from a
friend and a new quarrel with my parents." He also contributed a temper
which is one of the most brilliant in history.
A few years after the birth of their child, his wife grew jealous, and
accused him of loving elsewhere. He reasoned that he might as well have
the game, if he must have the blame, and thereafter a travelling
companion attended him when he surreptitiously eloped with his music,
and his clothes. In his "Memoires," he paints a dismal picture of his
wife's ill health, her jealous outbreaks, the final separation, and her
eventual death. Then he married again. "I was compelled to do so," is
his suggestive explanation. His new experiment was hardly more
successful; but in eight years his wife was dead.
He found some consolation for his manifold troubles in Liszt's Princess
Sayn-Wittgenstein, and wrote her many letters which La Mara published
under the title of "The Apotheosis of Friendship."
Then at Lyons he met again Her of the pink slippers, now Madame
Fournier, and a widow. He was fifty-seven and she still six years his
elder. He grew ferociously sentimental over her, and almost fainted
when he shook her hand. He tried to reconstruct from the victim of
three-and-sixty years the pink-slippered hamadryad who had haunted him
all his life. He wrote of the meeting:
"I recognised the divine stateliness of her step; but oh, heavens, how
changed she was! her complexion faded, her hair gray. And yet at the
sight of her my heart did not feel one moment's indecision; my whole
soul went out to its idol as though she were still in her dazzling
loveliness. Balzac, nay, Shakespeare himself, the great painter of the
passions, never dreamt of such a thing." [For that reason the
novelty-mad Berlioz tried it. He wrote to her:] "I have loved you. I
still love you. I shall always love you. I have but one aim left in the
world, that of obtaining your affection."
But it was not alone her physical self that had grown old; her
heart-beat, too, was _andante_. She consented to exchange letters; her
pen could correspond with him, but not her passion. She wrote him: "You
have a very young heart. I am quite old. Then, sir, I am six years your
elder, and at my age I must know how to deny myself new friendships."
So Berlioz went his way. His disapproval of Liszt and Wagner alienated
the friendship of even the princess, and his stormy career ended at the
age of sixty-six.
Charles Gounod wrote as amorous music as ever troubled a human heart.
Like Liszt he was a religious mystic, and Vernon Blackburn has said
that the women who used to attend Gounod's concerts of sacred music
"used to look upon them as a sort of religious orgy."
The details of Gounod's picturesque affairs have been denied us. And
the translator of his "Memoires" regrets that he not only kept silence
on these points, but seems to have destroyed all the documents. His
"Memoires" are disappointing in every way. Even his references to his
marriage are about as thrilling as a page from a blue book. His account
of his love and his wedding are on this ground really worth quoting, as
a curiosity of literature, it being observed how little he has to say
of romance, how much of his relatives-in-law.
"_Ulysse_ was produced the 18th of June, 1852. I had just married a few
days before, a daughter of Zimmerman the celebrated professor of the
piano at the Conservatory, and to whom is due the fine school from
which have come Prudent, Marmontel, Goria, Lefebure-Wely, Ravina,
Bizet, and many others. I became by this alliance the brother-in-law of
the young painter Edouard Dubufe, who was already most ably carrying
his father's name, the heritage and reputation which his own son
Guilliaume Dubufe, promises brilliantly to maintain."
Even to his friend, Lefuel he wrote:
"I am going to be married the next month to Mlle. Anna Zimmerman. We
are all perfectly satisfied with this union which seems to offer the
most reliable assurances of lasting happiness. The family is excellent
and I have the good luck to be loved by all its members."
He mentions briefly in later pages that his father-in-law died a year
after his marriage, and that two years later he lost his sister-in-law,
to whom he gives several lines of a cordial praise, which he singularly
denies his wife, though he states that a year after the marriage she
bore him a girl child, who died at birth, and that four years later she
bore him a son. On the afternoon of this day he was to conduct a very
important concert; when he returned, he found himself a father. He is
here generous enough to say: "On the morning of the day when my son was
born, my brave wife had the force to conceal from me her sufferings."
When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, Gounod took refuge in London,
and there wrote his "Gallia." The soprano role was taken by a certain
Georgina Thomas, who had married Captain Weldon of the 18th Hussars. When
she met Gounod, she was some thirty-three years old, having been born in
1837. She took up professional singing for the sake of charity, and
Gounod and she became romantically attached. She helped him train his
choir, established an orphanage at her residence for poor children with
musical inclinations, and published songs by Gounod and others,
including herself, the proceeds going to the aid of her orphanage. At
this time she claimed to have acquired the ownership of certain works
of his. Gounod thought, he said, that he had found in her "an apostle
of his art and a fanatic for his works," but he also found that her
charity had an excellent business foundation, for, when their love
affair came to an end, she claimed her property in his compositions.
He refused to acknowledge her right, and when she clung to his
"Polyeucte," he rewrote it from memory. She sued him for damages, and
the English courts ordered him to pay to his former hostess $50,000.
But he evaded payment by staying in France. Mrs. Weldon was also a
composer, and she had edited in 1875 Gounod's autobiography and certain
of his essays with a preface by herself. The lawsuit as usual exposed
to public curiosity many things both would have preferred to keep
secret, and was a pitiful finish generally to what promised to be a
most congenial alliance. The love affair began like a novel and ended
like a cash-book.
As for the Italians, we know that Paesiello, who was a famous intriguer
against his musical rivals, was a devoted husband whose wife was an
invalid and who died soon after her death. Cherubini married
Mademoiselle Cecile Turette, when he was thirty-five, and the marriage
was not a success. He left a son and two daughters. Spontini, one of
whose best operas was based on the life of that much mis-married
enthusiast for divorce, John Milton, took to wife a member of the Erard
family. In the outer world Spontini was famous for his despotism, his
jealousy, his bad temper, and his excessive vanity. None of these
qualities as a rule add much to home comfort, and yet, it is said that
he lived happily with his wife. We may feel sure that some of the bad
light thrown on his character is due purely to the jealousy of rivals,
when we consider his domestic content, his ardent interest in the
welfare of Mozart's widow and children, and the great efforts he made
to secure subscriptions for the widow's biography of Mozart.
Furthermore, Spontini in his later years, when deafness saddened his
lot, deserted the halls of fame and the palaces of royalty, where he
had been prominent, and retired with his wife to the little Italian
village where he had been born of the peasantry. And there he spent
years founding schools and doing other works for the public good. He
died there in the arms of his wife, at the age of seventy-five; having
had no children, he willed his property to the poor of his native
It is strange how much wrong we do to the geniuses of the second rate,
when they happen to be rivals of those whom we have voted geniuses of
the first rate; for the Piccinnis and the Salieris and the Spontinis,
who chance to fight earnestly against Glucks, Mozarts, and others,
often show in their lives qualities of the utmost sweetness and
sincerity, equalling that of their more successful rivals in the
struggle for existence.
For instance, there is Salieri, who was accused of poisoning Mozart, a
monstrous slander, which Salieri bitterly regretted and answered by
befriending Mozart's son and securing him his first appointment. When
Salieri was young and left an orphan, he was befriended by a man, who
later died, leaving his children in some distress. Salieri took care of
the family and educated the two daughters as opera singers. His
generosity was shown in numberless ways, and if by mishap he did not
especially approve of Mozart, he was on most cordial terms with Haydn
and Beethoven. He gave lessons and money to poor musicians; he loved
nature piously; was exuberant; was devoted to pastry and sugar-plums,
but cared nothing for wine. All I know of his married life is that when
he was fifty-five he lost his son, and two years later his wife, and he
was never the same thereafter. It is a shame to slander him as men do.
THE GRAND ROSSINI
One of the most remarkably successful men of his century was Rossini,
son of a village inspector of slaughter-houses, and a baker's daughter.
Once, while the husband was in jail on account of his political
sympathies, the mother became a burlesque singer, and when the father
was released, he joined the troupe as a horn-player. Rossini was left
in the care of a pork-butcher, on whom he used to play practical jokes.
He always took life easily, this Rossini. At the age of sixteen he was
already a successful composer, and had begun that dazzling career which
mingled superhuman laziness with inhuman zeal. Among his first
acquaintances were the Mombelli family, of whom he said in a letter
that the girls were "ferociously virtuous."
In 1815, he then being twenty-three, he first met the successful prima
donna Isabella Colbran, who was then thirty years old and had been
singing for fourteen years on the stage. She was still beautiful,
though her voice had begun to show signs of wear. Rossini seems to have
fallen in love with her art and herself, and he wrote ten roles for
her. It was she who persuaded him away from comic to tragic opera. The
political changes of the period soon changed her from public favourite
to a public dislike, and Rossini, disgusted with his countrymen,
married her and left Italy. It was said that he married her for her
money, because she was his elder and was already on the wane in public
favour, and yet owned a villa and $25,000 a year income. However that
may be, it was a brilliant match for the son of the slaughter-house
inspector, and the wedding took place in the palace of a cardinal, the
Archbishop of Bologna. As one poet wrote, in stilted Latin:
"A remarkable man weds a remarkable woman. Who can doubt that their
progeny will be remarkable?"
It might have been, for all we know, had there been any progeny, but
there was not. It is pleasant to note that Rossini's ancient parents
were at the wedding. Then the couple went to Vienna, where Carpani
wrote of Colbran's voice: "The Graces seemed to have watered with
nectar each of her syllables. Her acting is notable and dignified, as
becomes her important and majestic beauty."
In 1824 they were called to London. Here they were on terms of great
intimacy with the king. In this one season the two made $35,000.
Rossini complained that the singer was paid at a far higher rate than
the composer; besides, she sang excruciatingly off the key and had
nothing left but her intellectual charms. From England Rossini went to
equal glory to France. At the early age of forty-three, he took a
solemn vow to write no more music, a vow he kept almost literally. In
1845, his wife, then being sixty years of age, died. Two years later he
married Olympe Pelissier, who had been his mistress in Paris and had
posed for Vernet's "Judith." Rossini was a great voluptuary, and was
prouder of his art in cooking macaroni than of anything else he could
do. But much should be forgiven him in return for his brilliant wit and
the heroism with which he kept his vow, however regrettable the vow.
Of Bellini, that great treasurer for the hand-organists, a story has
been told as his first romance. According to this, when he was a
conservatory student at Naples, he called upon a fellow student and
took up a pair of opera glasses, proceeding to take that interest in
the neighbours that one is prone to take with a telescope. On the
balcony of the opposite house he saw a beautiful girl; the
opera-glasses seemed to bring her very near, but not near enough to
reach. So, after much elaborate management he became her teacher of
singing, and managed to teach her at least to love him. But the family
growing suspicious that Bellini was instructing her in certain elective
studies outside the regular musical curriculum, his school was closed.
Then a little opera of his had some success, and he asked for her hand.
His proposal was received with Neapolitan ice, and the lovers were
separated, to their deep gloom. When he was twenty-four, another opera
of his made a great local triumph, and he applied again, only to be
told that "the daughter of Judge Fumaroli will never be allowed to
marry a poor cymbal player." Later his success grew beyond the bounds
of Italy, and now the composer of "La Sonnambula" and "Norma" was
worthy of the daughter of even a judge; so the parents, it is said,
reminded him that he could now have the honour of marrying into their
family. But he was by this time calm enough to reply that he was wedded
to his art.
This conclusion of the romance reminds one of Handel--a thing which
Bellini very rarely does. He died when he was only thirty-three years
of age, and at that age Handel had not written a single one of the
oratorios by which he is remembered. In fact, he did not begin until he
was fifty-five with the success which made him immortal. It was the
irony of fate that Bellini should have died so young, while a brother
of his who was a fourth-rate church composer lived for eighty-two
The virtues of senescence are seen in the case of Verdi, who did some
of his greatest work at the age when most musicians are ready for the
old ladies' home. His first love affair has been the subject of an
opera, like Stradella's. In fact it has much of the garish misery of
the Punchinello story. Verdi was very poor as a child, and was educated
by a charitable institution. He was greatly befriended by his teacher,
Barezzi, in whose house he lived, and like Robert Schumann, he showed
his gratitude by falling in love with the daughter; Margarita was her
name. But Barezzi interpreted the role of father-in-law in a manner
unlike that of Wieck, and to the youth to whom he had given not only
instruction, but funds for his study and board and lodging while in
Milan, he gave also his daughter, when the time came in 1836, Verdi
being then twenty-three years old. Two years later, the composer left
his home town of Busseto with one wife, two children, and three or four
MSS. He settled in Milan. He was a long time getting his first opera
produced, and it was not until 1839 that it made its little success,
and he was engaged to write three more. He chose a comic libretto for
the first, and then troubles began not to rain but to pour upon him.
But let Verdi tell his own story:
"I lived at that time in a small and modest apartment in the
neighbourhood of the Porta Ticinese, and I had my little family with
me, that is to say my young wife and our two little children. I had
hardly begun my work when I fell seriously ill of a throat complaint,
which compelled me to keep my bed for a long time. I was beginning to
be convalescent, when I remembered that the rent, for which I wanted
fifty ecus, would become due in a few days. At that time if such a sum
was of importance to me, it was no very serious matter; but my painful
illness had not allowed me to provide it in time, and the state of
communications with Busseto (in those days the post only went twice a
week) did not leave me the opportunity of writing to my excellent
father-in-law Barezzi to enable him to send the necessary funds. I
wished, whatever trouble it might give to me, to pay my lodging on the
day fixed, and although much annoyed at being obliged to have recourse
to a third person, I nevertheless decided to beg the engineer Pasetti
to ask Merelli on my behalf for the fifty ecus which I wanted, either
in the form of an advance under the conditions of my contract, or by
way of loan for eight or ten days, that is to say the time necessary
for writing to Busseto and receiving the said sum.
"It is useless to relate here how it came about that Merelli, without
any fault on his part, did not advance me the fifty ecus in question.
Nevertheless, I was much distressed at letting the rent day of the
lodgings go by. My wife then, seeing my annoyance, took a few articles
of jewelry which she possessed, and succeeded, I know not how, in
getting together the sum necessary, and brought it to me. I was deeply
touched at this proof of affection, and promised myself to return them
all to her, which, happily, I was able to do with little difficulty,
thanks to my agreement.
"But now began for me the greatest misfortunes. My 'bambino' fell ill
at the beginning of April, the doctors were unable to discover the
cause of his ailment, and the poor little thing, fading away, expired
in the arms of his mother, who was beside herself with despair. That
was not all. A few days after my little daughter fell ill in turn, and
her complaint also terminated fatally. But this even was not all. Early
in June my young companion herself was attacked by acute brain fever,
and on the 19th of June, 1840, a third coffin was carried from my
"I was alone!--alone! In the space of about two months, three loved
ones had disappeared for ever. I had no longer a family. And, in the
midst of this terrible anguish, to avoid breaking the engagement I had
contracted, I was compelled to write and finish a comic opera!
"'Un Giorno di Regno' did not succeed. A share of the want of success
certainly belongs to the music, but part must also be attributed to the
performance. My soul, rent by the misfortunes which had overwhelmed me,
my spirit, soured by the failure of the opera, I persuaded myself that
I should no longer find consolation in art, and formed the resolution
to compose no more! I even wrote to the engineer Pasetti (who since the
fiasco of 'Un Giorno di Regno' had shown no signs of life) to beg him
to obtain from Merelli the cancelling of my contract."
This story is sad enough, Heaven knows, without the melodramatic frills
that have been put upon it. You will read in certain sketches, and even
Mr. Elbert Hubbard has enambered the fable in one of his "Little
Journeys," that Verdi's wife was ill during the performance of the
opera, that the first act was a great success, and he ran home to tell
her. The second act was also successful, and he ran home again, not
noting that his wife was dying of starvation. The third act, and he was
hissed off the stage, and flew home, only to find his wife dead. The
chief objection to the story is the fact that his wife died on the 19th
of June, 1840, and the opera was not produced until the 5th of
September that same year. But it is tragic enough that he should have
been compelled to write a comic opera under the anguish that he felt at
the loss of his two children and his wife, and that his reward should
have been even then a dismal fiasco.
He was dissuaded from his vow to write no more, and it was in a driving
snow-storm that his friend Merelli decoyed him to a field, in which so
much fame was awaiting him.
This Merelli had first become interested in Verdi from overhearing the
singer Signora Strepponi praising Verdi's first opera. This was before
the failure of the comic opera and the annihilation of Verdi's family.
When Merelli had at length decoyed Verdi back to composition, his next
work, "Nabucco," was a decided success, the principal part being taken
by this same Strepponi. She had made her debut seven years before, and
was a singer of dramatic fire and vocal splendour, we are told. Her
enthusiasm for Verdi's work not only fastened the claim of operatic art
upon him, but won his interest in her charms also, and Verdi and she
were soon joined in an alliance, which after some years was legalised
and churched. She shortly after left the stage without waiting to "lag
superfluous" there. Thenceforward she shared with Verdi that life of
quiet retirement from the world in which he played the patriarch and
the farmer, breeding horses and watching the harmonies of nature with
almost more enthusiasm than the progress of his art.
So much for the Italian opera composers. How do the Germans compare?
The old composer Hasse, like Rossini, being himself the most popular
composer of the day, married one of the most popular singers of her
time, and scored a double triumph with her. This was the famous
Mendelssohn's friend, Carl Zelter, was a busy lover, as his
autobiography makes plain. One of his flirtations was with an artistic
Jewess, with whom he quarrelled and from whom he parted, because they
could not agree upon the art of suicide as outlined in Goethe's then
new work, "The Sorrows of Werther."
Albert Lortzing was married before he was twenty, and lived busily as
singer, composer, and instrumentalist, travelling here and there with a
family that increased along with his debts. It was not till after his
death, and then by a public subscription, that his family knew the end
Similarly the public came to the aid of Robert Franz, before his death,
thanks to Liszt and others. For Franz, who had married the song
composer, Marie Hinrichs, lost his hearing and drifted to the brink of
despair before a series of concerts rescued him from starvation.
Heinrich Marschner was married three times, his latter two wives being
vocalists. Thalberg married a daughter of the great singer Lablache;
she was the widow of the painter Boucher, whose exquisite confections
every one knows. They had a daughter, who was a singer of great gifts.
Meyerbeer in 1825 lost his father, whom he loved to the depth of his
large heart. At the father's death-bed he renewed an old love with his
cousin, Minna Mosson, and they were betrothed. Niggli says she was "as
sweet as she was fair." Two years later he married her. She bore him
five children, of whom three, with the wife, survived him and inherited
his great fortune.
Josef Strauss, son of a saloon-keeper, married Anna Streim, daughter of
an innkeeper. After she had borne him five children, they were divorced
on the ground of incompatibility. How many children did they want for
compatibility's sake? Their son Johann married Jetty Treffy in 1863;
she was a favourite public singer, and her ambition raised him out of a
mere dance-hall existence to the waltz-making for the world. When she
died he paid her the exquisite compliment of choosing another singer,
before the year was over, for the next waltz. Her name was Angelica
Joachim Raff fell in love with an actress named Doris Genast, and
followed her to Wiesbaden in 1856; he married her three years later,
and she bore him a daughter.
The Russian Glinka was sent travelling in search of health. He liked
Italian women much and many, but it was in Berlin that he made his
declarations to a Jewish contralto, for whose voice he wrote six
studies. But he married Maria Petrovna Ivanof, who was young, pretty,
quarrelsome, and extravagant. She brought along also a dramatic
mother-in-law, and he set out again for his health. His wife married
again, and the scandal of the whole affair preyed on him so that he
went to Paris and sought diversion recklessly along the boulevards.
His countryman, Anton Rubinstein, married Vera Tschekonanof in 1865.
She accompanied him on his first tour, but after that, not.
The Bohemian composer Smetana married his pupil, Katharine Kolar; he
was another of those whose happiness deafness ruined. He was
immortalised in a composition as harrowing as any of Poe's stories, or
as Huneker's "The Lord's Prayer in B," the torment of one high note
that rang in his head unceasingly, until it drove him mad.
Among the beautiful figures, whom the critical historian tries to drive
back into that limbo, where an imaginary Homer flirts with a fabulous
Pocahontas, we are asked to place the alleged one love of Schubert's
life. Few composers have been so overweighted with poverty or so gifted
with loneliness as Franz Schubert. His joy was spasmodic and short, but
his sorrow was persistent and deep.
He, who sang so many love songs, could hardly be said to have been in
any sense a lover. Once he wrote of himself as a man so wrecked in
health, that he was one "to whom the happiness of proffered love and
friendship is but anguish; whose enthusiasm for the beautiful threatens
to vanish altogether." Of his music he wrote, that the world seemed to
like only that which was the product of his sufferings, and of his
songs he exclaimed: "For many years I sang my Lieder. If I would fain
sing of love, it turned to pain; or if I would sing of pain, it turned
to love. Thus I was torn between love and sorrow."
He had a few flirtations, and one or two strong friendships, but the
thought of marriage seems to have entered his mind only to be rejected.
In his diary he wrote:
"Happy is he who finds a true friend; happier still is he who finds in
his wife a true friend. To the free man at this time, marriage is a
frightful thought: he confounds it either with melancholy or low
sensuality." One of his first affairs of the heart was with Theresa
Grob, who sang in his works, and for whom he wrote various songs and
other compositions. But he also wrote for her brother, and besides, she
married a baker. Anna Milder, who had been a lady's maid, but became a
famous singer and married a rich jeweller and quarrelled with Beethoven
and with Spontini, was a sort of muse to Schubert, sang his songs in
public, and gave him much advice.
Mary Pachler was a friend of Beethoven's, and after his death seems to
have turned her friendship to Schubert, with great happiness to him.
But the legendary romance of Schubert's life occurred when he was
twenty-one, and a music teacher to Carolina Esterhazy. He first fell in
love with her maid, it is said, and based his "Divertissement a
l'Hongroise" on Hungarian melodies he heard her singing at her work.
There is no disguising the fact that Schubert, prince of musicians, was
personally a hopeless little pleb. He wrote his friend Schober in 1818
of the Esterhazy visit: "The cook is a pleasant fellow; the housemaid
is very pretty and often pays me a visit; the butler is my rival."
Mozart also ate with the servants in the Archbishop's household, though
it ground him deep.
But Schubert was too homely even for a housemaid, so in despair he
turned to the young countess and loved her--they say, till death. Once,
she jokingly demanded why he had never dedicated anything to her, and
the legend says he cried: "Why should I, when everything I write is
The purveyors of this legend disagree as to the age of the young
countess; some say she was seventeen, and some that she was eleven,
while those who disbelieve the story altogether say that she was only
seven years old. But now you have heard the story, and you may take it
or leave it. There is some explanation for the belief that Schubert did
not dare to love or declare his love, and some reason to believe that
his reticence was wise and may have saved him worse pangs, in the fact
that he was only one inch more than five feet high, and yet fat and
awkward; stoop-shouldered, wild-haired, small-nosed, big-spectacled,
thick-lipped, and of a complexion which has been called pasty to the
point of tallowness. Haydn, however, almost as unpromising, was a great
slayer of women. But Schubert either did not care, or did not dare.
He reminds one of Brahms, a genial giant, who was deeply devoted in a
filial way to Clara Schumann after the death of Schumann, but who never
married, and of whom I find no recorded romance.
ROBERT SCHUMANN AND CLARA WIECK
"I am not satisfied with any man who despises music. For music is a
gift of God. It will drive away the devil and makes people cheerful.
Occupied with it, man forgets all anger, unchastity, pride, and other
vices. Next to theology, I give music the next place and highest
By a little violence to chronology, I am putting last of all the story
of Schumann's love-life, because it marks the highest point of musical
If music have any effect at all upon character, especially upon the
amorous development and activity of character, that effect ought to be
discoverable--if discoverable it is--with double distinctness where two
musicians have fallen in love with each other, and with each other's
music. There are many instances where both the lovers were musically
inclined, but in practically every case, save in one, there has been a
great disparity between their abilities.
The whimsical Fates, however, decided to make one trial of the
experiment of bringing two musicians of the first class into a sphere
of mutual influence and affection. The result was so beautiful, so
nearly ideal, that--needless to say--it has not been repeated. But
while the experiment has not been duplicated, the story well merits a
repetition, especially in view of the fact that the woman's side of the
romance has only recently been given to the public in Litzmann's
biography, only half of which has been published in German and none in
There can surely be no dispute that Robert Schumann was one of the most
original and individual of composers, and one of the broadest and
deepest-minded musicians in the history of the art. Nor can there be
any doubt that Clara Wieck was one of the richest dowered musicians who
ever shed glory upon her sex. Henry T. Finck was, perhaps, right, when
he called her "the most gifted woman that has ever chosen music as a
Robert Schumann showed his determined eccentricity before he was born,
for surely no child ever selected more unconventional parents. Would
you believe it? It was the mother who opposed the boy's taking up music
as a career! the father who wished him to follow his natural bent! and
it was the father who died while Schumann was young, leaving him to
struggle for years against his mother's will!
Not that Frau Schumann was anything but a lovable and a most beloved
mother. Robert's letters to her show a remarkable affection even for a
son. Indeed, as Reissmann says in his biography:
"As in most cases, Robert's youthful years belonged almost wholly to
his mother, and indeed her influence chiefly developed that pure
fervour of feeling to which his whole life bore witness; this, however,
soon estranged him from the busy world and was the prime factor in that
profound melancholy which often overcame him almost to suicide."
Frau Schumann wished Robert to study law, and sent him to the
University at Leipzig for that purpose and later to Heidelberg. He was
not the least interested in his legal studies, but loved to play the
piano, and write letters, and dream of literature, to idolise Jean Paul
Richter and to indulge a most commendable passion for good cigars. He
was not dilatory at love, and went through a varied apprenticeship
before his heart seemed ready for the fierce test it was put to in his
In 1827, he being then seventeen years old, we find him writing to a
schoolfellow a letter of magnificent melancholy; the tone of its
allusions to a certain young woman reminds one of Chopin's early love
letters. How sophomoric and seventeen-year-oldish they sound!
"Oh, friend! were I but a smile, how would I flit about her eyes! ...
were I but joy, how gently would I throb in all her pulses! yea, might
I be but a tear, I would weep with her, and then, if she smiled again,
how gladly would I die on her eyelash, and gladly, gladly, be no more."
"My past life lies before me like a vast, vast evening landscape, over
which faintly quivers a rosy kiss from the setting sun."
He bewails two dissipated ideals. One, named "Liddy," "a narrow-minded
soul, a simple maiden from innocent Eutopia; she cannot grasp an idea."
And yet she was very beautiful, and if she were "petrified," every
critic would pronounce her perfection. The boy sighs with that
well-known senility of seventeen:
"I think I loved her, but I knew only the outward form in which the
roseate tinted fancy of youth often embodies its inmost longings. So I
have no longer a sweetheart, but am creating for myself other ideals,
and have in this respect also broken with the world."
Again he looks back upon his absorbing passion for a glorious girl
called "Nanni," but that blaze is now "only a quietly burning sacred
flame of pure divine friendship and reverence."
A month after this serene resignation he goes to Dresden, and finds his
heart full of longing for this very "Nanni." He roves the streets
looking under every veil that flutters by him in the street, in the
hope that he might see her features; he remembers again "all the hours
which I dreamed away so joyfully, so blissfully in her arms and her
love." He did not see her, but later, to his amazement, he stumbles
upon the supposedly finished sweetheart "Liddy." She is bristling with
"explanations upon explanations." She begs him to go up a steep mountain
alone with her. He goes "from politeness, perhaps also for the sake of
adventure." But they are both dumb and tremulous and they reach the peak
just at sunset. Schumann describes that sunset more gaudily than ever
chromo was painted. But at any rate it moved him to seize Liddy's hand
and exclaim, somewhat mal-a-propos: "Liddy, such is our life."
He plucked a rose and was about to give it to her when a flash of
lightning and a cloud of thunder woke him from his dreams; he tore the
rose to pieces, and they returned home in silence.
In 1828, at Augsburg, he cast his affectionate eyes upon Clara von
Kurer, the daughter of a chemist; but found her already engaged. It was
now that he entered the University at Leipzig to study law. The wife of
Professor Carus charmed him by her singing and inspired various songs.
At her house he met the noted piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, and thus
began an acquaintance of strange vicissitude and strange power for
torment and delight.
Wieck, who was then forty-three, chiefly lived in the career of his
wonder-child, a pianist, Clara Josephine Wieck. She had been born at
Leipzig on September 13, 1819, and was only nine years old, and nine
years younger than Schumann, when they met. She made a sensational
debut in concert the same year. And, child as she was, she excited at
once the keenest and most affectionate admiration in Schumann. He did
not guess then how deeply she was doomed to affect him, but while she
was growing up his heart seemed merely to loaf about till she was ready
For a time he became Wieck's pupil, hoping secretly to be a pianist,
not a lawyer. He dreamed already of storming America with his
In 1829, while travelling, he wrote his mother, "I found it frightfully
hard to leave Leipzig at the last. A girl's soul, beautiful, happy, and
pure, had enslaved mine." But this soul was not Clara's. A few months
later, he made a tour through Italy, and wrote of meeting "a beautiful
English girl, who seemed to have fallen in love, not so much with
myself as my piano playing, for all English women love with the head--I
mean they love Brutuses, or Lord Byrons, or Mozart and Raphaels."
Surely one of the most remarkable statements ever made, and
appropriately demolished by the very instances brought to substantiate
it, for, to the best of my knowledge, Mozart, Brutus, and Raphael had
affairs with other than English women; and so did, for the matter of
that, Lord Byron.
A week later Schumann wrote from Venice, whither he had apparently
followed the English beauty:
"Alas, my heart is heavy ... she gave me a spray of cypress when we
parted.... She was an English girl, very proud, and kind, and loving,
and hating ... hard but so soft when I was playing--accursed
The wound was not mortal. A little later, and he was showing almost as
much enthusiasm in his reference to his cigars. "Oh, those cigars!" We
find him smoking one at five A.M., on July 30th, at Heidelberg. He had
risen early to write, "the most important letter I have ever written,"
pleading ardently with his mother to let him be a musician. She decided
to leave the decision concerning her son's future to Wieck, who,
knowing Schumann's attainments and promise, voted for music. Schumann,
wild with delight and ambition, fled from Heidelberg and the law. He
went to Mainz on a steamer with many English men and women, and he
writes his mother, "If ever I marry, it will be an English girl." He
did not know what was awaiting him in the home of Wieck, whose house he
entered as pupil and lodger, almost as a son.
Here he worked like a fiend at his theory and practice. He suffered
from occasional attacks of the most violent melancholy, obsessions of
inky gloom, which kept returning upon him at long intervals. But when
he threw off the spell, he was himself again, and could write to his
mother of still new amours:
"I have filled my cup to the brim by falling in love the day before
yesterday. The gods grant that my ideal may have a fortune of 50,000."
In 1830 he flirted with the beautiful Anita Abegg; her name suggested
to him a theme for his Opus I, published in 1831, and based upon the
notes A-B-E-G-G. He apologised to his family for not dedicating his
first work to them, but explained that it was not good enough. It is
published with an inscription to "Pauline, Comtesse d'Abegg," a
disguise which puzzled his family, until he explained that he himself
was the "father" of the "Countess" d'Abegg.
It was two years before he confessed another flirtation. In 1833, he
went to Frankfort to hear Paganini, and there it was a case of "pretty
girl at the willow-bush--staring match through opera-glasses--champagne."
The next year he was torn between two admirations. One, the daughter of
the German-born American consul at Liepzig,--her name was Emily List;
she was sixteen, and he described her "as a thoroughly English girl, with
black sparkling eyes, black hair, and firm step; and full of intellect,
and dignity, and life."
The other was Ernestine von Fricken, daughter--by adoption, though this
he did not know--of a rich Bohemian baron. Of her he wrote:
"She has a delightfully pure, child-like mind, is delicate and
thoughtful, deeply attached to me and everything artistic, and
uncommonly musical--in short just such a one as I might wish to have
for a wife; and I will whisper it in your ear, my good mother, if the
Future were to ask me whom I should choose, I would answer
unhesitatingly, 'This one,' But that is all in the dim distance; and
even now I renounce the prospect of a more intimate relationship,
although, I dare say, I should find it easy enough."
Ernestine, like Robert, was a pupil and boarder at the home of the
Wiecks. She and Robert had acted as godparents to one of Wieck's
children, possibly Clara's half-sister, Marie, also in later years a
prominent pianist and teacher.
The affair with Ernestine grew more serious. In 1834 he wrote a letter
of somewhat formal and timid devotion to her. A little later, with fine
diplomacy, he also wrote a fatherly letter to her supposed father,
praising some of the baron's compositions with certain reservations,
and adding, as a _coup de grace_, the statement that he himself was
writing some variations on a theme of the baron's own.
The same month Ernestine and Robert became engaged. He was deeply,
joyously fond of her, and he poured out his soul to her friend, who was
also a distinguished musician, Henrietta Voigt. To her he wrote of
"Ernestine has written to me in great delight. She has sounded her
father by means of her mother; and he gives her to me! Henrietta, he
gives her to me! do you understand that? And yet I am so wretched; it
seems as though I feared to accept this jewel, lest it should be in
unworthy hands. If you ask me to put a name to my grief I cannot do it.
I think it is grief itself; but alas, it may be love itself, and mere
longing for Ernestine. I really cannot stand it any longer, so I have
written to her to arrange a meeting one of these days. If you should
ever feel thoroughly happy, then think of two souls who have placed all
that is most sacred to them in your keeping, and whose future happiness
is inseparably bound up with your own."
This Madame Voigt, who died at the age of thirty-one, once said that on
a beautiful summer evening, she and Schumann, after playing various
music, had rowed out in a boat, and, shipping the oars, had sat side by
side in complete silence--that deathlike silence which so often
enveloped Schumann even in the circles of his friends at the taverns.
When they returned after a mute hour, Schumann pressed her hand and
exclaimed, "Today we have understood each other perfectly."
It was under Ernestine's inspiration, which Schumann called "a perfect
godsend," that he fashioned the various jewels that make up the music
of his "Carneval," using for his theme the name of Ernestine's
birthplace, "Asch," which he could spell in music in two ways:
A-ES-C-H, or AS-C-H, for ES is the German name for E flat, while AS is
our A flat and H our B natural. He was also pleased to note that the
letters S-C-H-A were in his own name.
While all this flirtation and loving and getting betrothed was going on
in the home of Wieck, there was another member of the same household,
another pupil of the same teacher, who was not deriving so much delight
from the arrangement. Through it all, a great-eyed, great-hearted,
greatly suffering little girl of fifteen was learning, for the first
time, sorrow. This was Clara Wieck, who was already electrifying the
most serious critics and captivating the most cultured audiences by the
maturity of her art, already winning an encore with a Bach fugue,--an
unheard-of miracle. As Wieck wrote in the diary, which he and his
daughter kept together, "This marked a new era in piano music." At the
age of twelve, she played with absolute mastery the most difficult
music ever written.
But her public triumph made her only half-glad, for she was watching at
home the triumph of another girl over the youth she loved. Can't you
see her now in her lonely room, reeling off from under her fleet
fingers the dazzling arpeggios, while the tears gather in her eyes and
fall upon her hands?
Four years later she could write to Schumann:
"I must tell you what a silly child I was then. When Ernestine came to
us I said, 'Just wait till you learn to know Schumann, he is my
favorite of all my acquaintances,' But she did not care to know you,
since she said she knew a gentleman in Asch, whom she liked much
better. That made me mad; but it was not long before she began to like
you better and it soon went so far that every time you came I had to
call her. I was glad to do this since I was pleased that she liked you.
But you talked more and more with her and cut me short; that hurt me a
good deal; but I consoled myself by saying it was only natural since
you were with me all the time; and, besides, Ernestine was more
grown-up than I. Still queer feelings filled my heart, so young it was,
and so warmly it beat even then. When we went walking you talked to
Ernestine and poked fun at me. Father shipped me off to Dresden on that
account, where I again grew hopeful, and I said to myself, 'How pretty
it would be if he were only your husband,'"
From Dresden, Clara wrote to "Lieber Herr Schumann," a quizzical letter
advising him to drink "less Bavarian beer; not to turn night into day;
to let your girl friends know that you think of them; to compose
industriously, and to write more in your paper, since the readers wish
Schumann, unconsciously to himself, had given Clara reason enough to
persuade a child of her years that he loved her more than he did, or
more than he thought he did. He thought he was interested only in the
marvellous child-artist. He found in the musical newspaper which he
edited an opportunity to promulgate his high opinion of her. It is
needless to say that the praises he lavished in print, would be no more
cordial than those he bestowed on her in the privacy of the home. For
he and she seemed to be as son and daughter to old Wieck, who was also
greatly interested in the critical ideals of Schumann, and joined him
zealously in the organisation and conducting of the _Neue Zeitschrift
fuer Musik_. This, Schumann made the most wonderfully catholic and
prophetic critical organ that ever existed for art; and in the editing
of it he approved himself to posterity as a musical critic never
approached for discriminating the good from the bad; for daring to
discover and to acclaim new genius without fear, or without waiting for
death to close the lifelong catalogue or to serve as a guide for an
estimate. For some time Wieck joined hands and pen with Schumann in
this great cause, till gradually his fears for the career of the
jealously guarded Clara caused a widening rift between the old man and
Clara was to Schumann first a brilliant young sister, for whom he
prophesied such a career as that of Schubert, Paganini, and Chopin, and
for whom he cherished an affectionate concern. Yet as early as 1832,
when she was only thirteen, and he twenty-two, he could write to his
"Dear honoured Clara," "I often think of you, not as a brother of his
sister, or merely in friendship, but rather as a pilgrim thinking of a
distant shrine." He began to dedicate compositions to her, and he took
her opinion seriously. His Opus 5, written in 1833, was based on a
theme by Clara, and, according to Reissman, showed a feeling of
"reverence for her genius rather than of love."
He began also to publish most enthusiastic criticisms of her concerts,
calling her "the wonder-child," and "the first German artist," one who
"already stands on the topmost peak of our time." He even printed
verses upon her genius. In a letter to Wieck, in 1833, he says, "It is
easy to write to you, but I do not feel equal to write to Clara." She
was still, however, the child to him; the child whom he used to
frighten with his gruesome ghost-stories, especially of his
"Doppelgaenger," a name, Clara afterwards took to herself. Child as she
was, he watched her with something of fascination, and wrote his
"Clara is as fond of me as ever, and is just as she used to be of old,
wild and enthusiastic, skipping and running about like a child, and
saying the most intensely thoughtful things. It is a pleasure to see
how her gifts of mind and heart keep developing faster and faster, and,
as it were, leaf by leaf. The other day, as we were walking back from
Cannovitz (we go for a two or three hours' tramp almost every day), I
heard her say to herself: 'Oh, how happy I am! how happy!' Who would
not love to hear that? On this same road there are a great many useless
stones lying about in the middle of the footpath. Now, when I am
talking, I often look more up than down, so she always walks behind me
and gently pulls my coat at every stone to prevent my falling; meantime
she stumbles over them herself."
What an allegory of womanly devotion is here!
Gradually Schumann let himself write to Clara a whit more like a lover
than a brother, with an occasional "Longingly yours." He begged her to
keep mental trysts with him, and, acknowledging a composition she had
dedicated to him, he hinted:
"If you were present, I would press your hand even without your
father's leave. Then I might express a hope that the union of our names
on the title-page might foreshadow the union of our ideas in the
future. A poor fellow like myself cannot offer you more than that....
Today a year ago we drove to Schleusig, how sorry I am that I spoiled
your pleasure on that occasion."
Of this last, we can only imagine some too ardent compliment, or
perhaps some subjection to one of his dense melancholies. In the very
midst of his short infatuation with Ernestine von Fricken, he is still
corresponding with Clara. Their tone is very cordial, and, knowing the
sequel, it is hard not to read into them perhaps more than Schumann
meant. The letters could hardly have seemed to him to be love letters,
since he writes to Clara that he has been considering the publication
of their correspondence in his "Zeitschrift," though he was probably
not serious at this, seeing that he also plans to fill a balloon with
his unwritten thoughts and send it to her, "properly addressed with a
"I long to catch butterflies to be my messengers to you. I thought of
getting my letters posted in Paris, so as to arouse your curiosity and
make you believe that I was there. In short a great many quaint notions
came to my head and have only just been dispersed by a postilion's
horn; the fact is, dear Clara, that the postilion has much the same
effect upon me as the most excellent champagne."
Here is perhaps the secret of much of his correspondence; the pure
delight of letting his "fingers chase the pen, and the pen chase the
ink." The aroma of the ink-bottle has run away with how many brains.
He wants to send her "perfect bales of letters," he prefers to write
her at the piano, especially in the chords of the ninth and the
thirteenth. He paints her a pleasant portrait of herself in a letter
which, he says, is written like a little sonata, "namely, a chattering
part, a laughing part, and a talking part."
Clara seemed from his first sight of her to exercise over him a curious
mingling of profound admiration and of teasing amusement. He portrays
her vividly to herself in such words as these:
"Your letter was yourself all over. You stood before me laughing and
talking; rushing from fun to earnest as usual, diplomatically playing
with your veil. In short, the letter was Clara herself, her double."
All these expressions of tenderness and fascinations were ground enough
for the child Clara to build Spanish hopes upon, but in the very same
letter Schumann could refer to that torment of Clara's soul, Ernestine,
and speak of her as "your old companion in joy and sorrow, that bright
star which we can never appreciate enough."
A change, however, seems to have come over Ernestine. Clara found her
taciturn and mistrustful, and when the Baron von Fricken came for her,
Wieck himself wrote in the diary, "We have not missed her; for the last
six weeks she has been a stranger in our house; she had lost completely
her lovable and frank disposition." He compares her to a plant, which
only prospers under attention, but withers and dies when left to
itself. He concludes, "The sun shone too sharply upon her, _i.e._,
But the sun seemed to withdraw from the flower it had scorched. During
her absence, Ernestine wrote to Schumann many letters, chiefly
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