The World's Great Men of Music
Part 4 out of 5
It was a struggle, and one less determined than the fourteen-year-old
boy would have given up in despair. He was made of different stuff.
Working alone by himself, he composed a sonata, a quartette and
an aria. At last he ventured to announce the result of his secret
studies. At this news his relatives were up in arms; they judged
his desire for music to be a passing fancy, especially as they knew
nothing of any preparatory studies, and realized he had never learned
to play any instrument, not even the piano.
The family, however, compromised enough to engage a teacher for him.
But Richard would never learn slowly and systematically. His mind shot
far ahead, absorbing in one instance the writings of Hoffmann, whose
imaginative tales kept the boy's mind in a continual state of nervous
excitement. He was not content to climb patiently the mountain;
he tried to reach the top at a bound. So he wrote overtures for
orchestras, one of which was really performed in Leipsic--a marvelous
affair indeed, with its tympani explosions.
Richard now began to realize the need of solid work, and settled down
to study music seriously, this time under Theodor Weinlig, who was
cantor in the famous Thomas School.
In less than six months the boy was able to solve the most difficult
problems in counterpoint. He learned to know Mozart's music, and tried
to write with more simplicity of style. A piano sonata, a polonaise
for four hands and a fantaisie for piano belong to this year. After
that he aspired to make piano arrangements of great works, such as
Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony." Then came his own symphony, which
was really performed at Gewandhaus, and is said to have shown great
Instrumental music no longer satisfied this eager, aspiring boy; he
must compose operas. He was now twenty, and went to Wuerzburg, where
his brother Albert was engaged at the Wuerzburg Theater as actor,
singer and stage manager. Albert secured for him a post as chorus
master, with a salary of ten florins a month.
The young composer now started work on a second opera, the first,
called "The Marriage," was found impracticable. The new work was
entitled "The Fairies." This he finished, and the work, performed
years later, was found to be imitative of Beethoven, Weber, and
Marschner; the music was nevertheless very melodious.
Wagner returned to Leipsic in 1834. Soon there came another impetus
to this budding genius: he heard for the first time the great singer
Wilhelmina Schroeder-Devrient, whose art made a deep impression on
It was a time for rapid impressions to sway the ardent temperament of
this boy genius of twenty-one. He read the works of Wilhelm Heinse,
who depicts both the highest artistic pleasures and those of the
opposite sort. Other authors following the same trend made him believe
in the utmost freedom in politics, literature and morals. Freedom in
everything--the pleasures of the moment--seemed to him the highest
Under the sway of such opinions he began to sketch the plot of
his next opera, "Prohibition of Love" (Liebesverbot), founded on
Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure." This was while he was in Teplitz
on a summer holiday. In the autumn he took a position as conductor
in a small operatic theater in Magdeburg. Here he worked at his new
opera, hoping he could induce the admired Schroeder-Devrient to be his
Wagner remained in this place about two years and finished his opera
there. The performance of it, for which he labored with great zeal,
was a fiasco. The theater, too, failed soon after and the young
composer was thrown out of work. His sojourn there influenced his
after career, as he met Wilhelmina Planer, who was soon to become his
Hearing there was an opening for a musical director at Koenigsberg,
he traveled to that town, and in due course secured the post. Minna
Planer also found an engagement at the theater, and the two were
married on November 24, 1836; he was twenty-three and she somewhat
younger. Kind, gentle, loving, she was quite unable to understand she
was linked with a genius. Wagner was burdened with debts, begun in
Magdeburg and increased in Koenigsberg. She was almost as improvident
as he. They were like two children playing at life, with fateful
consequences. It was indeed her misfortune, as one says, that this
gentle dove was mismated with an eagle. But Minna learned later,
through dire necessity, to be more economical and careful, which is
more than can be said of her gifted husband.
After a year the Koenigsberg Theater failed and again Wagner was out
of employment. Through the influence of his friend Dorn, he secured
a directorship at Riga, Minna also being engaged at the theater. At
first everything went well; the salary was higher and the people among
whom they were placed were agreeable. But before long debts began to
press again, and Wagner was dissatisfied with the state of the lyric
drama, which he was destined to reform in such a wonderful way. He was
only twenty-four, and had seen but little of the world. Paris was the
goal toward which he looked with longing eyes, and to the gay French
capital he determined to go.
When he tried to get a passport for Paris, he found it impossible
because of his debts. Not to be turned from his purpose, he, Minna and
the great Newfoundland dog, his pet companion, all slipped away from
Riga at night and in disguise. At the port of Pillau the trio embarked
on a sailing vessel for Paris, the object of all his hopes. The
young composer carried with him one opera and half of a second
work--"Rienzi," which he had written during the years of struggle in
Magdeburg and Koenigsberg. In Riga he had come upon Heine's version
of the Flying Dutchman legend, and the sea voyage served to make the
story more vital.
He writes: "This voyage I shall never forget as long as I live; it
lasted three weeks and a half, and was rich in mishaps. Thrice we
endured the most violent storms, and once the captain had to put
into a Norwegian haven. The passage among the crags of Norway made a
wonderful impression on my fancy, the legends of the Flying Dutchman,
as told by the sailors, were clothed with distinct and individual
color, heightened by the ocean adventures through which we passed."
After stopping a short time in London, the trio halted for several
weeks in Boulogne, because the great Meyerbeer was summering there.
Wagner met the influential composer and confided his hopes and
longings. Meyerbeer received the poor young German kindly, praised his
music, gave him several letters to musicians in power in Paris, but
told him persistence was the most important factor in success.
With a light heart, and with buoyant trust in the future, though
with little money for present necessities, Wagner and his companions
arrived in Paris in September, 1839. Before him lay, if he had but
known it, two years and a half of bitter hardship and privation;
but--"out of trials and tribulations are great spirits molded."
There were many noted musicians in the French capital at that time,
and many opportunities for success. The young German produced his
letters of introduction and received many promises of assistance from
conductors and directors. Delighted with his prospects he located in
the "heart of elegant and artistic Paris," without regarding cost.
Soon the skies clouded; one hope after another failed. His
compositions were either too difficult for conductors to grasp, or
theaters failed on which he depended for assistance. He became in
great distress and could not pay for the furniture of the apartment,
which he had bought on credit. It was now that he turned to writing
for musical journals, to keep the wolf from the door, meanwhile
working on the score of "Rienzi," which was finished in November, 1840
and sent to Dresden. In later years it was produced in that city.
But the Wagners, alas, were starving in Paris. One of Richard's
articles at this time was called "The End of a Musician in Paris,"
and he makes the poor musician die with the words; "I believe in
God--Mozart and Beethoven." It was almost as bad as this for Wagner
himself. He determined to turn his back on all the intrigues and
hardships he had endured for over two years, and set out for the
homeland, which seemed the only desirable spot on earth.
The rehearsals for "Rienzi" began in Dresden in July 1842. Wagner had
now finished "The Flying Dutchman," and had completed the outline of
"Tannhaeuser," based on Hoffmann's story of the Singers' Contest at the
And now Wagner's star as a composer began to rise and light was seen
ahead. On October 20, 1842 "Rienzi" was produced in the Dresden Opera
House and the young composer awoke the next morning to find himself
famous. The performance was a tremendous success, with singers, public
and critics alike. The performance lasted six hours and Wagner, next
day, decided the work must be cut in places, but the singers loudly
protested: "The work was heavenly," they assured him, "not a measure
could be spared."
With this first venture Wagner was now on the high road to success,
and spent a happy winter in the Saxon capital. He could have gone on
writing operas like "Rienzi," to please the public, but he aimed far
higher. To fuse all the arts in one complete whole was the idea that
had been forming in his mind. He first illustrated this in "The Flying
Dutchman," and it became the main thought of his later works. This
theory made both vocal and instrumental music secondary to the
dramatic plan, and this, at that time, seemed a truly revolutionary
"The Flying Dutchman" was produced at the Dresden Opera House January
2. 1843, with Mme. Schroeder-Devrient as Senta. Critics and public
had expected a brilliant and imposing spectacle like "Rienzi" and were
disappointed. In the following May and June "The Dutchman" was heard
in Riga and Cassel, conducted by the famous violinist and composer,
In spite of the fact that "The Flying Dutchman" was not then a
success, and in Dresden was shelved for twenty years, Wagner secured
the fine post of Head Capellmeister, at a salary of nearly twelve
hundred dollars. This post he retained for seven years, gaining a
great deal of experience in orchestral conducting, and producing
Beethoven's symphonies with great originality, together with much that
was best in orchestral literature.
"Tannhaeuser" was now complete, and during the following summer, at
Marienbad, sketches for "Lohengrin" and "Die Meistersinger" were
made. During the winter, the book being made he began on the music
of "Lohengrin." In March of the exciting year 1848, the music of
"Lohengrin" was finished. There was a wide difference in style between
that work and "Tannhaeuser." And already the composer had in mind a new
work to be called "The Death of Siegfried." He wrote to Franz Liszt,
with whom he now began to correspond, that within six months he would
send him the book of the new work complete. As he worked at the drama,
however, it began to spread out before him in a way that he could not
condense into one opera, or even two; and thus-it finally grew into
the four operas of the "Ring of the Nibelungen."
It must not be imagined that Wagner had learned the lesson of
carefulness in money matters, or that, with partial success he always
had plenty for his needs. He had expensive tastes, loved fine clothing
and beautiful surroundings. Much money, too, was needed to produce new
works; so that in reality, the composer was always in debt. The many
letters which passed between Wagner and Liszt, which fill two large
volumes, show how Liszt clearly recognized the brilliant genius of his
friend, and stood ready to help him over financial difficulties, and
how Wagner came to lean more and more on Liszt's generosity.
Just what part Wagner played in the revolution of 1848 is not quite
clear. He wrote several articles which were radical protests for
freedom of thought. At all events he learned it would be better for
him to leave Dresden in time. In fact he remained in exile from his
country for over eleven years.
Wagner fled to Switzerland, leaving Minna still in Dresden, though in
due time he succeeded in scraping together funds for her to follow him
to Zurich. He was full of plans for composing "Siegfried," while she
continually urged him to write pleasing operas that Paris would
like. Wagner believed the world should take care of him while he was
composing his great works, whereas Minna saw this course meant living
on the charity of friends, and at this she rebelled. But Wagner grew
discouraged over these petty trials, and for five years creative work
was at a standstill.
How to meet daily necessities was the all absorbing question. A
kind friend, who greatly admired his music, Otto Wesendonck, made it
possible for him to rent, at a low price, a pretty chalet near Lake
Zurich, and there he and Minna lived in retirement, and here he wrote
many articles explaining his theories.
During the early years at Zurich Wagner's only musical activity was
conducting a few orchestral concerts. Then, one day, he took out the
score of his "Lohengrin," and read it, something he rarely did with
any of his works. Seized with a deep desire to have this opera brought
out, he sent a pleading letter to Liszt, begging him to produce the
work. Liszt faithfully accomplished this task at Weimar, where he was
conducting the Court Opera. The date chosen was Goethe's birthday,
August 28, and the year 1850. Wagner was most anxious to be present,
but the risk of arrest prevented him from venturing on German soil.
It was not till 1861, in Vienna, that the composer heard this the most
popular of all his operas. Liszt was profoundly moved by the beautiful
work, and wrote his enthusiasm to the composer.
Wagner now took up his plan of the Nibelung Trilogy, that is the three
operas and a prologue. Early in 1853 the poem in its new form was
complete, and in February he sent a copy to Liszt, who answered: "You
are truly a wonderful man, and your Nibelung poem is surely the most
incredible thing you have ever done!"
So Wagner was impelled by the inner flame of creative fire, to work
incessantly on the music of the great epic he had planned. And work he
must, in spite of grinding poverty and ill health. It was indeed to be
the "Music of the Future."
After a brief visit to London, to conduct some concerts for the London
Philharmonic, Wagner was back again in Zurich, hard at work on the
"Walkuere," the first opera of the three, as the "Rheingold" was
considered the introduction. By April 1856, the whole opera was
finished and sent to Liszt for his opinion. Liszt and his great
friend, Countess Wittgenstein, studied out the work together, and both
wrote glowing letters to the composer of the deep effect his music
made upon them.
And now came a halt in the composition of these tremendous music
dramas. Wagner realized that to produce such great works, a special
theater should be built, of adaptable design. But from where would the
funds be forthcoming? While at work on the "Walkuere," the stories of
"Tristan" and "Parsifal" had suggested themselves, and the plan of
the first was already sketched. He wrote to Liszt: "As I have never in
life felt the bliss of real love, I must erect a monument to the most
beautiful of all my dreams." The first act of "Tristan and Isolde"
was finished on the last day of the year 1857. In his retreat in
Switzerland, the composer longed for sympathetic, intellectual
companionship, which, alas, Minna could not give him. He found it in
the society of Marie Wesendonck, wife of the kind friend and music
lover, who had aided him in many ways. This marked attention to
another aroused Minna's jealousy and an open break was imminent. The
storm, however, blew over for a time.
In June, 1858, Wagner was seized with a desire for luxury and quiet,
and betook himself to Venice, where he wrote the second act of
"Tristan." Then came the trouble between Wagner and the Wesendoncks
which caused the composer to leave Zurich finally, on August 17, 1859.
Minna returned to Dresden while Wagner went to Paris, where Minna
joined him for a time, before the last break came.
What promised to be a wonderful stroke of good luck came to him here.
His art was brought to the notice of the Emperor, Napoleon III, who
requested that one of his operas should be produced, promising carte
blanche for funds. All might have gone well with music of the accepted
pattern. But "Tannhaeuser" was different, its composer particular as to
who sang and how it was done. The rehearsals went badly, an opposing
faction tried to drown the music at the first performance. Matters
were so much worse at the second performance that Wagner refused to
allow it to proceed. In spite of the Emperor's promises, he had borne
much of the expense, and left Paris in disgust, burdened with debt.
From Paris Wagner went to Vienna, where he had the great happiness of
hearing his "Lohengrin" for the first time. He hoped to have "Tristan"
brought out, but the music proved too difficult for the singers of
that time to learn. After many delays and disappointments, the whole
thing was given up. Reduced now to the lowest ebb, Wagner planned a
concert tour to earn a living. Minna now left him finally; she could
no longer endure life with this "monster of genius." She went back to
her relatives in Leipsic, and passed away there in 1866.
The concert tours extended over a couple of years, but brought
few returns, except in Russia. Wagner became despondent and almost
convinced he ought to give up trying to be a composer. People called
him a freak, a madman and ridiculed his efforts at music making.
And yet, during all this troublesome time, he was at work on his one
humorous opera, "Die Meistersinger." On this he toiled incessantly.
And now, when he was in dire need, and suffering, a marvelous boon was
coming to him, as wonderful as any to be found in fairy tale. A fairy
Prince was coming to the rescue of this struggling genius. This Prince
was the young monarch of Bavaria, who had just succeeded to the throne
left by the passing of his father. The youthful Prince, ardent and
generous, had long worshiped in secret the master and his music.
One of his first acts on becoming Ludwig of Bavaria, was to send for
Wagner to come to his capital at once and finish his life work in
peace. "He wants me to be with him always, to work, to rest, to
produce my works," wrote Wagner to a friend in Zurich, where he had
been staying. "He will give me everything I need; I am to finish my
Nibelungen and he will have them performed as I wish. All troubles
are to be taken from me; I shall have what I need, if I only stay with
The King placed a pretty villa on Lake Starnberg, near Munich, at
Wagner's disposal, and there he spent the summer of 1864. The King's
summer palace was quite near, and monarch and composer were much
together. In the autumn a residence in the quiet part of Munich
was set apart for Wagner. Hans von Buelow was sent for as one of the
conductors; young Hans Richter lived in Munich and later became one of
the most distinguished conductors of Wagner's music.
The Buelows arrived in Munich in the early autumn, and almost at once
began the attraction of Mme. Cosima von Buelow and Wagner. She,
the daughter of Liszt, was but twenty five, of deeply artistic
temperament, and could understand the aims of the composer as no
other woman had yet done. This ardent attraction led later to Cosima's
separation from her husband and finally to her marriage with Wagner.
The first of the Wagner Festivals under patronage of the King, took
place in Munich June 10, 13, 19, and July 1, 1865. The work was
"Tristan and Isolde," perhaps the finest flower of Wagner's genius,
and already eight years old. Von Buelow was a superb conductor and
Ludwig an inspired Tristan. Wagner was supremely happy. Alas, such
happiness did not last. Enemies sprang up all about him. The King
himself could not stem the tide of false rumors, and besought the
composer to leave Munich for a while, till public opinion calmed
down. So Wagner returned to his favorite Switzerland and settled
in Triebschen, near Lucerne, where he remained till he removed to
Bayreuth in 1872.
In 1866, the feeling against Wagner had somewhat declined and the King
decided to have model performances of "Tannhaeuser" and "Lohengrin"
at Munich. The Festival began June 11, 1867. The following year "Die
Meistersinger" was performed--June 21, 1868.
And now the King was eager to hear the "Ring." It was not yet complete
but the monarch could not wait and ordered "Das Rheingold," the
Introduction to the Trilogy, to be prepared. It was poorly given
and was not a success. Not at all discouraged, he wished for "Die
Walkuere," which was performed the following year, June 26, 1870.
It had long been Wagner's desire to have a theater built, in which his
creations could be properly given under his direction. Bayreuth had
been chosen, as a quiet spot where music lovers could come for the
sole purpose of hearing the music. He went to live there with
his family in April, 1872. Two years later they moved into Villa
Wahnfried, which had been built according to the composer's ideas.
Meanwhile funds were being raised on both sides of the water, through
the Wagner Societies, to erect the Festival Theater. The corner stone
was laid on Wagner's birthday--his fifty-ninth--May 22, 1872. It was
planned to give the first performances in the summer of 1876; by that
time Wagner's longed-for project became a reality.
The long-expected event took place in August, 1876. The Festival
opened on the thirteenth with "Das Rheingold," first of the Ring music
dramas. On the following night "Die Walkuere" was heard; then came
"Siegfried" and "Goetterdaemmerung," the third and fourth dramas being
heard for the first time. Thus the Ring of the Nibelungen, on which
the composer had labored for a quarter of a century at last found
a hearing, listened to by Kings and Potentates, besides a most
distinguished audience of musicians from all parts of the world.
At last one of Wagner's dreams was realized and his new gospel of art
One music drama remained to be written--his last. Failing health
prevented the completion of the drama until 1882. The first
performance of this noble work was given on July 26, followed by
fifteen other hearings. After the exertions attending these, Wagner
and his wife, their son Siegfried, Liszt and other friends, went to
Italy and occupied the Vendramin Palace, on the Grand Canal, Venice.
Here he lived quietly and comfortably, surrounded by those he loved.
His health failed more and more, the end coming February 13, 1883.
Thus passed from sight one of the most astonishing musicians of all
time. He lives in his music more vitally than when his bodily presence
was on earth, since the world becomes more familiar with his music as
time goes on. And to know this music is to admire and love it.
Whatever we learn of Cesar Franck endears him to all who would know
and appreciate the beautiful character which shines through his art.
He was always kind, loving, tender, and these qualities are felt in
the music he composed. Some day we shall know his music better. It has
been said of this unique composer: "Franck is enamored of gentleness
and consolation; his music rolls into the soul in long waves, as on
the slack of a moonlit tide. It is tenderness itself."
In Liege, Belgium, it was that Cesar Franck was born, December 10,
1822. Chopin had come a dozen years earlier, so had Schumann, Liszt
and other gifted ones; it was a time of musical awakening.
The country about Liege was peculiarly French, not only in outward
appearance, but in language and sentiment. Here were low hills covered
with pines and beeches, here charming valleys; there wide plains
where the flowering broom flourished in profusion. It was the Walloon
country, and the Francks claimed descent from a family of early
Walloon painters of the same name. The earliest of these painters was
Jerome Franck, born away back in 1540. Thus the name Franck had stood
for art ideals during a period of more than two and a half centuries.
When Cesar and his brother were small children, the father, a man
of stern and autocratic nature--a banker, with many friends in the
artistic and musical world--decided to make both his sons professional
His will had to be obeyed, there was no help for it. In the case of
Cesar, however, a musician was what he most desired to become, so that
music study was always a delight.
Before he was quite eleven years old, his father took him on a tour of
Belgium. It looked then as though he had started on a virtuoso career,
as the wonder children--Mozart, Chopin, Thalberg, Liszt and others who
had preceded him, had done. The future proved, however, that Cesar's
life work was to be composing, teaching and organ playing, with a
quiet life, even in busy Paris, instead of touring the world to make
known his gifts.
During this youthful tour of Belgium, he met a child artist, a year
or two older than himself, a singer, also touring as a virtuoso. The
little girl was called Pauline Garcia, who later became famous as Mme.
Pauline Viardot Garcia.
When Cesar was twelve he had learned what they could teach him at
the Liege Conservatory, and finished his studies there. His father,
ambitious for the musical success of his sons, emigrated with
his family to Paris, in 1836. Cesar applied for entrance to the
Conservatoire, but it was not until the following year, 1837, that he
gained admission, joining Leborne's class in composition, and becoming
Zimmermann's pupil in piano playing. At the end of the year the boy
won a prize for a fugue he had written. In piano he chose Hummel's
Concerto in A minor for his test, and played it off in fine style.
When it came to sight reading, he suddenly elected to transpose the
piece selected a third below the key in which it was written, which he
was able to do at sight, without any hesitation or slip.
Such a feat was unheard of and quite against the time-honored rules of
competition. And to think it had been performed by an audacious
slip of a boy of fifteen! The aged Director, none other than Maestro
Cherubini, was shocked out of the even tenor of his way, and declared
that a first prize could not be awarded, although he must have
realized the lad deserved it. To make amends, however, he proposed
a special award to the audacious young pianist, outside the regular
competition, to be known as "The Grand Prize of Honor." This was the
first time, and so far as is known, the only time such a prize has
Cesar Franck won his second prize for fugue composition in 1839. Fugue
writing had become so natural and easy for him, that he was able to
finish his task in a fraction of the time allotted by the examiners.
When he returned home several hours before the other students had
finished, his father reproached him roundly for not spending more time
on the test upon which so much depended. With his quiet smile the boy
answered he thought the result would be all right. And it was! The
next year he again secured the first prize for fugue; this was in July
1840. The year following he entered the organ contest, which was a
surprise to the examiners.
The tests for organ prizes have always been four. First, the
accompaniment of a plain chant, chosen for the occasion; second, the
performance of an organ piece with pedals; third, the improvising of
a fugue; fourth, improvising a piece in sonata form. Both the
improvisations to be on themes set by the examiners. Cesar at once
noticed that the two themes could be combined in such a way that one
would set off the other. He set to work, and soon became so absorbed
in this interweaving of melodies that the improvisation extended to
unaccustomed lengths, which bewildered the examiners and they decided
to award nothing to such a tiresome boy. Benoist, teacher of this
ingenious pupil, explained matters with the result that Cesar was
awarded a second prize for organ.
He now began to prepare for the highest honor, the Prix de Rome. But
here parental authority interfered. For some unexplained reason, his
father compelled him to leave the Conservatoire before the year was
up. It may have been the father desired to see his son become a famous
virtuoso pianist and follow the career of Thalberg and Liszt. At any
rate he insisted his boy should make the most of his talents as a
performer and should also compose certain pieces suitable for public
playing. To this period of his life belong many of the compositions
for piano solo, the showy caprices, fantaisies and transcriptions.
Being obliged to write this kind of music, the young composer sought
for new forms in fingering and novel harmonic effects, even in his
most insignificant productions. Thus among the early piano works, the
Eclogue, Op. 3, and the Ballade, Op. 9, are to be found innovations
which should attract the pianist and musician of to-day.
His very first compositions, a set of three Trios, Op. 1, were
composed while he was still at the Conservatoire, and his father
wished them dedicated "To His Majesty, Leopold I, King of the
Belgians." He wished to secure an audience with the King and have his
son present the composition to his Majesty in person. It may have
been for this reason he withdrew the boy so suddenly from the
Conservatoire. However this may have been, the Franck family returned
to Belgium for two years. At the end of that time, they all returned
to Paris, with almost no other resources than those earned by the
two young sons, Josef and Cesar, by private teaching and concert
And now began for Cesar Franck that life of regular and tireless
industry, which lasted nearly half a century. This industry was
expressed in lesson-giving and composing.
One of the first works written after his return to Paris, was a
musical setting to the Biblical story of "Ruth." The work was given
in the concert room of the Conservatoire, on January 4, 1846, when the
youthful composer was twenty-three. The majority of the critics
found little to praise in the music, which, they said, was but a poor
imitation of "Le Desert," by David. One critic, more kindly disposed
than the others, said: "M. Cesar Franck is exceedingly naive, and this
simplicity we must confess, has served him well in the composition of
his sacred oratorio of 'Ruth.'" A quarter of a century later, a second
performance of "Ruth" was given, and the same critic wrote: "It is
a revelation! This score, which recalls by its charm and melodic
simplicity Mehul's 'Joseph,' but with more tenderness and modern
feeling, is certainly a masterpiece."
But alas, hard times came upon the Franck family. The rich pupils, who
formed the young men's chief clientele, all left Paris, alarmed by the
forebodings of the revolution of 1848. Just at this most inopportune
moment, Cesar decided to marry. He had been in love for some time
with a young actress, the daughter of a well-known tragedienne, Madame
Desmousseaux, and did not hesitate to marry in the face of bad times
and the opposition of his parents, who strongly objected to his
bringing a theatrical person into the family.
Cesar Franck was then organist in the church of Notre Dame de Lorette,
and the marriage took place there, February 22, 1848, in the very
thick of the revolution. Indeed, to reach the church, the wedding
party were obliged to climb a barricade, helped over by the
insurgents, who were massed behind this particular fortification.
Soon after the wedding, Franck, having now lost his pupils--or most
of them--and being continually blamed by his father, whom he could no
longer supply with funds, decided to leave the parental roof and set
up for himself in a home of his own. Of course he had now to work
twice as hard, get new pupils and give many more lessons. But with all
this extra labor, he made a resolve, which he always kept sacredly,
which was to reserve an hour or two each day for composition, or for
the study of such musical and literary works as would improve and
elevate his mind. Nothing was ever allowed to interfere with this
resolution, and to it we owe all his great works.
Franck made his first attempt at a dramatic work in 1851, with a
libretto entitled "The Farmer's Man." As he must keep constantly at
his teaching during the day, he devoted the greater part of the night
to composition. He worked so hard that the opera, begun in December
1851, was finished in two years, but he paid dearly for all this extra
labor. He fell ill--a state of nervous prostration--and was unable for
some time to compose at all.
It was indeed a time of shadows for the young musician, but the skies
brightened after a while. He had the great good fortune to secure the
post of organist and choir master in the fine new basilica of Sainte
Clothilde, which had lately been erected, and which had an organ
that was indeed a masterpiece. This wonderful instrument kept all its
fulness of tone and freshness of timbre after fifty years of use. "If
you only knew how I love this instrument," Father Franck used to say
to the cure of Sainte Clothilde; "it is so supple beneath my fingers
and so obedient to all my thoughts."
As Vincent d'Indy, one of Franck's most gifted and famous pupils,
"Here, in the dusk of this organ-loft, which I can never think of
without emotion, he spent the best part of his life. Here he came
every Sunday and feast day--and toward the end of his life, every
Friday morning too, fanning the fire of his genius by pouring out his
spirit in wonderful improvisations, which were often far more lofty in
thought than many skilfully elaborated compositions. And here, too,
he must have conceived the sublime melodies which afterward formed the
groundwork of his 'Beatitudes.'"
"Ah, we knew it well, we who were his pupils, the way up to that
thrice-blessed organ loft, a way as steep and difficult as that which
the Gospels tell us leads to Paradise. But when we at last reached the
little organ chamber, all was forgotten in the contemplation of that
rapt profile, the intellectual brow, from which seemed to flow without
effort a stream of inspired melody and subtle, exquisite harmonies."
Cesar Franck was truly the genius of improvisation. It is said no
other modern organist, not excepting the most renowned players, could
hold any comparison to him in this respect. Whether he played for the
service, for his pupils or for some chosen musical guest, Franck's
improvisations were always thoughtful and full of feeling. It was a
matter of conscience to do his best always. "And his best was a sane,
noble, sublime art."
For the next ten years Franck worked and lived the quiet life of a
teacher and organist; his compositions during this time were organ
pieces and church music. But a richer inner life was the outgrowth of
this period of calm, which was to blossom into new, deeper and more
profoundly beautiful compositions.
One of these new works was "The Beatitudes." For years he had had the
longing to compose a religious work on the Sermon on the Mount. In
1869, he set to work on the poem, and when that was well under way,
began to create, with great ardor, the musical setting.
In the very midst of this absorbing work came the Franco-Prussian war,
and many of his pupils must enter the conflict, in one way or another.
Then early in 1872, he was appointed Professor of Organ at the
Conservatoire, which was an honor he appreciated.
The same year, while occupied with the composition of the
"Beatitudes," he wrote and completed his "Oratorio of the Redemption."
After this he devoted six years to the finishing of the "Beatitudes,"
which occupied ten years of his activity, as it was completed in 1879.
A tardy recognition of his genius by the Government granted him the
purple ribbon as officer of the Academy, while not until five or six
years later did he receive the ribbon of a Chevalier of the Legion of
In consequence of this event his pupils and friends raised a fund
to cover expenses of a concert devoted entirely to the master's
compositions. These works were given--conducted by Pasdeloup:
Symphonic Poem--"Le Chasseur Maudit," Symphonic Variations, piano
and orchestra, Second Part of "Ruth." Part II was conducted by the
composer and consisted of March and Air de Ballet, with chorus, from
"Hulda" and the Third and Eighth Beatitudes.
The Franck Festival occurred January 30, 1887, and was not a very
inspiring performance. The artist pupils of the master voiced to him
their disappointment that his works should not have been more worthily
performed. But he only smiled on them and comforted them with the
words: "No, no, you are too exacting, dear boys; for my part I am
No wonder his pupils called him "Father Franck," for he was ever kind,
sympathetic and tender with them all.
During the later years of Cesar Franck's earthly existence, he
produced several masterpieces. Among them the Violin Sonata, composed
for Eugene and Theophile Ysaye, the D minor Symphony, the String
Quartet, the two remarkable piano pieces, Prelude, Chorale and Fugue,
Prelude, Aria and Finale, and finally the Three Chorales for organ,
his swan song. His health gradually declined, due to overwork and an
accident, and he passed quietly away, November 8, 1890.
Chabrier, who only survived Franck a few years, ended his touching
remarks at the grave with these words:
"Farewell, master, and take our thanks, for you have done well. In you
we salute one of the greatest artists of the century, the incomparable
teacher, whose wonderful work has produced a whole generation of
forceful musicians and thinkers, armed at all points for hard-fought
and prolonged conflicts. We salute, also, the upright and just man,
so humane, so distinguished, whose counsel was sure, as his words were
It has been truly said that great composers cannot be compared one
with another. Each is a solitary star, revolving in his own orbit.
For instance it is impossible to compare Wagner and Brahms; the former
could not have written the German Requiem or the four Symphonies any
more than Brahms could have composed "Tristan." In the combination of
arts which Wagner fused into a stupendous whole, he stands without a
rival. But Brahms is also a mighty composer in his line of effort,
for he created music that continually grows in beauty as it is better
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833. The house at 60
Speckstrasse still stands, and doubtless looks much as it did seventy
years ago. A locality of dark, narrow streets with houses tall and
gabled and holding as many families as possible. Number 60 stands in
a dismal court, entered by a close narrow passage. A steep wooden
staircase in the center, used to have gates, closed at night.
Jakob and Johanna lived in the first floor dwelling to the left. It
consisted of a sort of lobby or half kitchen, a small living room
and a tiny sleeping closet--nothing else. In this and other small
tenements like it, the boy's early years were spent. It certainly was
an ideal case of low living and high thinking.
The Brahms family were musical but very poor in this world's goods.
The father was a contra bass player in the theater; he often had to
play in dance halls and beer gardens, indeed where he could. Later he
became a member of the band that gave nightly concerts at the Alster
Pavillion. The mother, much older than her husband, tried to help out
the family finances by keeping a little shop where needles and thread
Little Johannes, or Hannes as he was called, was surrounded from his
earliest years by a musical atmosphere, and must have shown a great
desire to study music. We learn that his father took him to Otto
Cossel, to arrange for piano lessons. Hannes was seven years old, pale
and delicate looking, fair, with blue eyes and a mass of flaxen hair.
The father said:
"Herr Cossel, I wish my son to become your pupil; he wants so much
to learn the piano. When he can play as well as you do it will be
Hannes was docile, eager and quick to learn. He had a wonderful memory
and made rapid progress. In three years a concert was arranged for
him, at which he played in chamber music with several other musicians
of Hamburg. The concert was both a financial and artistic success. Not
long after this, Cossel induced Edward Marxsen, a distinguished master
and his own teacher, to take full charge of the lad's further musical
training. Hannes was about twelve at the time.
Marxsen's interest in the boy's progress increased from week to week,
as he realized his talents. "One day I gave him a composition of
Weber's," he says. "The next week he played it to me so blamelessly
that I praised him. 'I have also practised it in another way,' he
answered, and played me the right hand part with the left hand." Part
of the work of the lessons was to transpose long pieces at sight;
later on Bach's Preludes and Fugues were done in the same way.
Jakob Brahms, who as we have seen was in very poor circumstances, was
ready to exploit Hannes' gift whenever occasion offered. He had the
boy play in the band concerts in the Alster Pavillion, which are
among the daily events of the city's popular life, as all know who are
acquainted with Hamburg, and his shillings earned in this and similar
ways, helped out the family's scanty means. But late hours began to
tell on the boy's health. His father begged a friend of his, a wealthy
patron of music, to take the lad to his summer home, in return for
which he would play the piano at any time of day desired and give
music lessons to the young daughter of the family, a girl of about his
Thus it came about that early in May, 1845, Hannes had his first taste
of the delights of the country. He had provided himself with a small
dumb keyboard, to exercise his fingers upon. Every morning, after he
had done what was necessary in the house, Hannes was sent afield by
the kind mistress of the household, and told not to show himself till
dinner time. Perhaps the good mistress did not know that Hannes had
enjoyed himself out of doors hours before. He used to rise at four
o'clock and begin his day with a bath in the river. Shortly after this
the little girl, Lischen, would join him and they would spend a couple
of hours rambling about, looking for bird's nests, hunting butterflies
and picking wild flowers. Hannes' pale cheeks soon became plump and
ruddy, as the result of fresh air and country food. Musical work
went right on as usual. Studies in theory and composition, begun with
Marxsen, were pursued regularly in the fields and woods all summer.
When the summer was over and all were back in Hamburg again, Lischen
used to come sometimes to Frau Brahms, of whom she soon grew very
fond. But it troubled her tender heart to see the poor little flat so
dark and dreary; for even the living room had but one small window,
looking into the cheerless courtyard. She felt very sorry for her
friends, and proposed to Hannes they should bring some scarlet runners
to be planted in the court. He fell in with the idea at once and it
was soon carried out. But alas, when the children had done their part,
the plants refused to grow.
Johannes had returned home much improved in health, and able to play
in several small concerts, where his efforts commanded attention.
The winter passed uneventfully, filled with severe study by day and
equally hard labor at night in playing for the "lokals." But the next
summer in Winsen brought the country and happiness once more.
Hannes began to be known as a musician among the best families of
Winsen, and often played in their homes. He also had the chance to
conduct a small chorus of women's voices, called the Choral Society of
Winsen. He was expected to turn his theoretical studies to account by
composing something for this choir. It was for them he produced his
"A B C" song for four parts, using the letters of the alphabet. The
composition ended with the words "Winsen, eighteen-hundred seven and
forty," sung slowly and fortissimo. The little piece was tuneful and
was a great favorite with the teachers, from that day to this.
The boy had never heard an opera. During the summer, when Carl Formes,
then of Vienna, was making a sensation in Hamburg, Lischen got her
father to secure places and take them. The opera was the "Marriage
of Figaro." Hannes was almost beside himself with delight. "Lischen,
listen to the music! there was never anything like it," he cried over
and over again. The father, seeing it gave so much pleasure, took the
children again to hear another opera, to their great delight.
But the happy summer came to an end and sadness fell, to think
Johannes must leave them, for he had found many kind friends in
Winsen. He was over fifteen now and well knew he must make his way as
a musician, help support the family, and pay for the education of his
brother Fritz, who was to become a pianist and teacher. There was a
farewell party made for him in Winsen, at which there was much music,
speech making and good wishes for his future success and for his
return to Winsen whenever he could.
Johannes made his new start by giving a concert of his own on
September 21, 1848. The tickets for this concert were one mark; he
had the assistance of some Hamburg musicians. In April next, 1849, he
announced a second concert, for which the tickets were two marks. At
this he played the Beethoven "Waldstein Sonata," and the brilliant
"Don Juan Fantaisie." These two works were considered about the top
of piano virtuosity. Meanwhile the boy was always composing and still
with his teacher Marxsen.
The political revolution of 1848, was the cause of many refugees
crowding into Hamburg on their way to America. One of these was the
violinist, Edward Remenyi, a German Hungarian Jew, whose real name
was Hofmann. But it seemed Remenyi was really in no haste to leave
Hamburg. Johannes, engaged as accompanist at the house of a wealthy
patron, met the violinist and was fascinated by his rendering of
national Hungarian music. Remenyi, on his side, saw the advantage of
having such an accompanist for his own use. So it happened the two
played together frequently for a time, until the violinist disappeared
from Germany, for several years. He reappeared in Hamburg at the close
of the year 1852. He was then twenty-two, while Brahms was nineteen.
It was suggested that the two musicians should do a little concert
work together. They began to plan out the trip which became quite
a tour by the time they had included all the places they wished to
The tour began at Winsen, then came Cella. Here a curious thing
happened. The piano proved to be a half tone below pitch, but Brahms
was equal to the dilemma. Requesting Remenyi to tune his violin a
half tone higher, making it a whole tone above the piano, he then,
at sight, transposed the Beethoven Sonata they were to play. It was
really a great feat, but Johannes performed it as though it were an
every day affair.
The next place was Luneburg and there the young musician had such
success that a second concert was at once announced. Two were next
given at Hildesheim. Then came Leipsic, Hanover and after that Weimer,
where Franz Liszt and his retinue of famous pupils held court. Here
Johannes became acquainted with Raff, Klindworth, Mason, Pruekner and
other well-known musicians.
By this time his relations with Remenyi had become somewhat irksome
and strained and he decided to break off this connection. One morning
he suddenly left Weimar, and traveled to Goettingen. There he met
Joseph Joachim, whom he had long wished to know, and who was the
reigning violinist of his time. Without any announcement, Johannes
walked in on the great artist, and they became fast friends almost
at once. Joachim had never known what it was to struggle; he had had
success from the very start; life had been one long triumph, whereas
Johannes had come from obscurity and had been reared in privation. At
this time Johannes was a fresh faced boy, with long fair hair and deep
earnest blue eyes. Wuellner, the distinguished musician of Cologne,
thus describes him: "Brahms, at twenty, was a slender youth, with
long blond hair and a veritable St. John's head, from whose eyes shone
energy and spirit."
Johannes was at this time deeply engaged on his piano Sonata in F
minor, Op. 5. He had already written two other piano sonatas, as yet
little known. The Op. 5, is now constantly heard in concert rooms,
played by the greatest artists of our time.
In disposition Hannes was kindly and sincere; as a youth merry and
gay. A friend in Duesseldorf, where he now spent four weeks, thus
"He was a most unusual looking young musician, hardly more than a boy,
in his short summer coat, with his high-pitched voice and long fair
hair. Especially fine was his energetic, characteristic mouth, and his
earnest, deep gaze. His constitution was thoroughly healthy; the most
strenuous mental exercise hardly fatigued him and he could go to sleep
at any hour of the day he pleased. He was apt to be full of pranks,
too. At the piano he dominated by his characteristic, powerful, and
when necessary, extraordinarily tender playing." Schumann, whom he now
came to know in Duesseldorf, called him the "young eagle--one of the
elect." In fact Schumann, in his musical journal, praised the young
musician most highly. And his kindness did not stop there. He wrote to
Hannes' father, Jakob Brahms, in Hamburg, commending in glowing terms
his son's compositions. This letter was sent to Johannes and the
result was the offering of some of his compositions to Breitkopf and
Haertel for publication. He had already written two Sonatas, a Scherzo,
and a Sonata for piano and violin. The Sonata in C, now known as Op.
I, although not his first work, was the one in which he introduced
himself to the public. For, as he said: "When one first shows one's
self, it is to the head and not to the heels that one wishes to draw
Johannes made his first appearance in Leipsic, as pianist and
composer, at one of the David Quartet Concerts, at which he played his
C major Sonata and the Scherzo. His success was immediate, and as a
result, he was able to secure a second publisher for his Sonata Op. 5.
And now, after months of traveling, playing in many towns and meeting
with many musicians and distinguished people, Johannes turned his
steps toward Hamburg, and was soon in the bosom of the home circle.
It is easy to imagine the mother's joy, for Hannes had always been the
apple of her eye, and she had kept her promise faithfully, to write
him a letter every week. But who shall measure the father's pride and
satisfaction to have his boy return a real musical hero?
The concert journey just completed was the bridge over which Johannes
Brahms passed from youth to manhood. With the opening year of 1854, he
may be said to enter the portals of a new life.
He now betook himself to Hanover, to be near his devoted friend
Joachim, plunged into work and was soon absorbed in the composition
of his B major Piano Trio. Later Schumann and his charming wife, the
pianist, came to Hanover for a week's visit, which was the occasion
for several concerts in which Brahms, Joachim and Clara Schumann took
part. Soon after this Schumann's health failed and he was removed to
a sanatorium. In sympathy for the heavy trial now to be borne by Clara
Schumann, both young artists came to Duesseldorf, to be near the wife
of their adored master, Robert Schumann. There they remained and by
their encouragement so lifted the spirits of Frau Clara that she was
able to resume her musical activities.
Johann had been doing some piano teaching when not occupied with
composition. But now, on the advice of his musical friends, he decided
to try his luck again as a concert pianist. He began by joining Frau
Clara and Joachim in a concert at Danzig. Each played solos. Johann's
were Bach's "Chromatic Fantaisie" and several manuscript pieces of
his own. After this the young artist went his own way. He played with
success in Bremen, also in Hamburg. It is said he was always nervous
before playing, but especially so in his home city. However all passed
off well. He now settled definitely in Hamburg, making musical trips
to other places when necessary.
Robert Schumann rallied for a while from his severe malady, and hopes
were held out of his final recovery. Frau Clara, having her little
family to support, resumed her concert playing in good earnest, and
appeared with triumphant success in Vienna, London and many other
cities. When possible Brahms and Joachim accompanied her. Then
Schumann's malady took an unfavorable turn. When the end was near,
Brahms and Frau Clara went to Endenich and were with the master till
all was over. On July 31, 1856, a balmy summer evening, the mortal
remains of the great composer were laid to rest in the little cemetery
at Bonn, on the Rhine. The three chief mourners were: Brahms--who
carried a laurel wreath from the wife--Joachim and Dietrich.
Frau Schumann returned to Duesseldorf the next day, accompanied by
Brahms and Joachim. Together they set in order the papers left by the
composer, and assisted the widow in many little ways. A little later
she went to Switzerland to recover her strength, accompanied by
Brahms and his sister Elise. A number of weeks were spent in rest and
recuperation. By October the three musicians were ready to take up
their ordinary routine again. Frau Clara began practising for her
concert season, Joachim returned to his post in Hanover, and Johann
turned his face toward Hamburg, giving some concerts on the way, in
which he achieved pronounced success.
The season of 1856-7, was passed uneventfully by Brahms, in composing,
teaching and occasional journeys. He may be said to have had four
homes, besides that of his parents in Hamburg. In Duesseldorf, Hanover,
Goettingen and Bonn he had many friends and was always welcome.
It may be asked why Brahms, who had the faculty of endearing himself
so warmly to his friends, never married. It is true he sometimes
desired to found a home of his own, but in reality the mistress of
his absorbing passion was his art, to which everything else remained
secondary. He never swerved a hair's breadth from this devotion to
creative art, but accepted poverty, disappointment, loneliness and
often failure in the eyes of the world, for the sake of this, his true
Johannes was now engaged as conductor of a Choral Society in Detmold,
also as Court Pianist and teacher in the royal family. The post
carried with it free rooms and living, and he was lodged at the Hotel
Stadt Frankfort, a comfortable inn, exactly opposite the Castle, and
thus close to the scene of his new labors.
He began his duties by going through many short choral works of the
older and modern masters. With other musicians at Court much chamber
music was played, in fact almost the entire repertoire. The young
musician soon became a favorite at Court, not only on account of his
musical genius but also because of the general culture of his mind.
He could talk on almost any subject. "Whoever wishes to play well must
not only practise a great deal but read many books," was one of his
favorite sayings. One of his friends said, of meetings in Brahms'
rooms at night, when his boon companions reveled in music: "And how
Brahms loved the great masters! How he played Haydn and Mozart! With
what beauty of interpretation and delicate shading of tone. And then
his transposing!" Indeed Johann thought nothing of taking up a new
composition and playing it in _any_ key, without a mistake. His score
reading was marvelous. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, all seemed to flow
naturally from under his fingers.
The post in Detmold only required Brahms' presence a part of the year,
but he was engaged for a term of years. The other half of the year
was spent in Hamburg, where he resumed his activities of composing and
teaching. The summer after his first winter in Detmold was spent
in Goettingen with warm friends. Clara Schumann was there with her
children, and Johann was always one of the family--as a son to her.
He was a famous playfellow for the children, too. About this time
he wrote a book of charming Children's Folk Songs, dedicated to the
children of Robert and Clara Schumann. Johann was occupied with his
Piano Concerto in D minor. His method of working was somewhat like
Beethoven's, as he put down his ideas in notebooks. Later on he formed
the habit of keeping several compositions going at once.
The prelude to Johann's artistic life was successfully completed. Then
came a period of quiet study and inward growth. A deeper activity was
to succeed. It opened early in the year 1859, when the young musician
traveled to Hanover and Leipsic, bringing out his Concerto in D minor.
He performed it in the first named city, while Joachim conducted the
orchestra. It was said the work "with all its serious striving,
its rejection of the trivial, its skilled instrumentation, seemed
difficult to understand; but the pianist was considered not merely a
virtuoso but a great artist of piano playing."
The composer had now to hurry to Leipsic, as he was to play with the
famous Gewandhaus orchestra. How would Leipsic behave towards this new
and serious music? Johann was a dreamer, inexperienced in the ways
of the world; he was an idealist--in short, a genius gifted with an
"imagination, profound, original and romantic." The day after the
concert he wrote Joachim he had made a brilliant and decided failure.
However he was not a whit discouraged by the apathy of the Leipsigers
toward his new work. He wrote: "The Concerto will please some day,
when I have made some improvements, and a second shall sound quite
It has taken more than half a century to establish the favor of the
Concerto, which still continues on upward wing. The writer heard the
composer play this Concerto in Berlin, toward the end of his life.
He made an unforgettable figure, as he sat at the piano with his long
hair and beard, turning to gray; and while his technic was not of
the virtuoso type, he created a powerful impression by his vivid
After these early performances of the Concerto, Johann returned
to Hamburg, to his composing and teaching. He, however, played the
Concerto in his native city on a distinguished occasion, when Joachim
was a soloist in Spohr's Gesang-Scene, Stockhausen in a magnificent
Aria, and then Johann, pale, blond, slight, but calm and self
controlled. The Concerto scored a considerable success at last, and
the young composer was content.
In the autumn of this year, Johann paid his third visit to Detmold,
and found himself socially as well as musically the fashion. It was
the correct thing to have lessons from him and his presence gave
distinction to any assemblage. But Johann did not wish to waste his
time at social functions; when obliged to be present at some of these
events he would remain silent the entire evening, or else say sharp
or biting things, making the hosts regret they had asked him. His
relations with the Court family, however, remained very pleasant.
Yet he began to chafe under the constant demands on his time, and the
rigid etiquette of the little Court. The next season he definitely
declined the invitation to revisit Detmold, the reason given was that
he had not the time, as he was supervising the publication of a number
of his works. Brahms had become interested in writing for the voice,
and had already composed any number of beautiful vocal solos and part
We are told that Frau Schumann, Joachim and Stockhausen came
frequently to Hamburg during the season of 1861, and all three made
much of Johannes. All four gave concerts together, and Johannes took
part in a performance of Schumann's beautiful Andante and Variations,
for two pianos, while Stockhausen sang entrancingly Beethoven's
Love Songs, accompanied by Brahms. On one occasion Brahms played his
Variations on a Handel Theme, "another magnificent work, splendidly
long, the stream of ideas flowing inexhaustibly. And the work was
wonderfully played by the composer; it seemed like a miracle. The
composition is so difficult that none but a great artist can attempt
it." So wrote a listener at the time. That was in 1861. We know this
wonderful work in these days, for all the present time artists perform
it. At each of Frau Schumann's three appearances in Hamburg during the
autumn of this year, she performed one of Brahms' larger compositions;
one of them was the Handel Variations.
Although one time out of ten Johann might be taciturn or sharp,
the other nine he would be agreeable, always pleased--good humored,
satisfied, like a child with children. Every one liked his earnest
nature, his gaiety and humor.
Johann had had a great longing to see Vienna, the home of so many
great musicians; but felt that when the right time came, the way would
open. And it did. Early in September, 1862, he wrote a friend: "I am
leaving on Monday, the eighth, for Vienna. I look forward to it like a
He felt at home in Vienna from the start, and very soon met the
leading lights of the Austrian capital. On November 16, he gave his
first concert, with the Helmesberger Quartet, and before a crowded
house. It was a real success for "Schumann's young prophet." Although
concert giving was distasteful, he appeared again on December 20, and
then gave a second concert on January 6, 1863, when he played Bach's
Chromatic Fantaisie, Beethoven's Variations in C minor, his own Sonata
Op. 5, and Schumann's Sonata OP. 11.
Johann returned home in May, and shortly after was offered the post
of Conductor of the Singakademie, which had just become vacant. He had
many plans for the summer, but finally relinquished them and sent an
acceptance. By the last of August he was again in Vienna.
Now followed years of a busy musical life. Brahms made his
headquarters in Vienna, and while there did much composing. The
wonderful Piano Quintette, one of his greatest works, the German
Requiem, the Cantata Rinaldo and many beautiful songs came into being
during this period. Every little while concert tours and musical
journeys were undertaken, where Brahms often combined with other
artists in giving performances of his compositions. A series of three
concerts in Vienna in February and March, 1869, given by Brahms and
Stockhausen, were phenomenally successful, the tickets being sold
as soon as the concerts were announced. The same series was given in
Budapest with equal success.
Early in the year 1872, when our composer was nearly forty, we find
him installed in the historic rooms in the third floor of Number 4
Carl's Gasse, Vienna, which were to remain to the end of his life
the nearest approach to an establishment of his own. There were three
small rooms. The largest contained his grand piano, writing table, a
sofa with another table in front of it. The composer was still
smooth of face and looked much as he did at twenty, judging from his
pictures. It was not until several years later, about 1880, that
he was adorned by the long heavy beard, which gave his face such a
The year 1874, was full of varied excitement. Many invitations
were accepted to conduct his works in North Germany, the Rhine,
Switzerland, and other countries. A tour in Holland in 1876, brought
real joy. He played his D minor Concerto in Utrecht and other cities,
conducted his works and was everywhere received with honors. But the
greatest event of this year was the appearance of his first Symphony.
It was performed for the first time from manuscript in Carlsruhe and
later in many other cities. In this work "Brahms' close affinity with
Beethoven must become clear to every musician, who has not already
perceived it," wrote Hanslick, the noted critic.
We have now to observe the unwearied energy with which Brahms, during
the years that followed added one after another to his list, in each
and every branch of serious music; songs, vocal duets, choral and
instrumental works. In the summer of 1877 came the Second Symphony. In
1879 appeared the great Violin Concerto, now acclaimed as one of the
few masterpieces for that instrument. It was performed by Joachim at
the Gewandhaus, Leipsic, early in the year. There were already four
Sonatas for Piano and Violin. The Sonata in G, the Rhapsodies Op. 79
and the third and fourth books of Hungarian Dances, as duets, were the
publications of 1880. He now wrote a new Piano Concerto, in B flat,
which he played in Stuttgart for the first time, November 22, 1881. In
1883 the Third Symphony appeared, which revealed him at the zenith of
his powers. This work celebrated his fiftieth birthday.
The Fourth Symphony was completed during the summer of 1885. Then came
the Gipsy Songs.
From 1889 onward, Brahms chose for his summer sojourn the town of
Ischl, in the Salzkammergut. The pretty cottage where he stayed was
on the outskirts of the town, near the rushing river Traun. He always
dined at the "Keller" of the Hotel Elizabeth, which was reached by
a flight of descending steps. In this quiet country, among mountain,
valley and stream, he could compose at ease and also see his friends
at the end of the day.
A visit to Italy in the spring of 1890, afforded rest, refreshment and
many pleasant incidents.
The "Four Serious Songs," were published in the summer of 1896. At
this time Brahms had been settled in his rooms at Ischl scarcely a
fortnight when he was profoundly shaken by news of Clara Schumann's
death. She passed peacefully away in Frankfort, and was laid beside
her husband, in Bonn, May 24. Brahms was present, together with many
musicians and celebrities.
The master felt this loss keenly. He spent the summer in Ischl as
usual, composing, among other things, the Eleven Choral Preludes. Most
of these have death for their subject, showing that his mind was taken
up with the idea. His friends noticed he had lost his ruddy color and
that his complexion was pale. In the autumn he went to Carlsbad for
After six weeks he returned to Vienna, but not improved, as he had
become very thin and walked with faltering step. He loved to be with
his friends, the Fellingers, as much as possible, as well as with
other friends. He spent Christmas eve with them, and dined there the
next day. From this time on he grew worse. He was very gentle the last
months of his life, and touchingly grateful for every attention shown
him. Every evening he would place himself at the piano and improvise
for half an hour. When too fatigued to continue, he would sit at the
window till long after darkness had fallen. He gradually grew weaker
till he passed peacefully away, April 3, 1897.
The offer of an honorary grave was made by the city of Vienna, and
he has found resting place near Beethoven and Mozart, just as he had
Memorial tablets have been placed on the houses in which Brahms lived
in Vienna, Ischl and Thun, also on the house of his birth, in Hamburg.
"_From every point of view Grieg is one of the most original
geniuses in the musical world of the present or past. His
songs are a mine of melody, surpassed in wealth only by
Schubert, and that only because there are more of Schubert's.
In originality of harmony and modulation he has only six
equals. Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Wagner and Liszt. In
rhythmic invention and combination he is inexhaustible, and as
orchestrator he ranks among the most fascinating_."
HENRY T. FINCK
Edward Hargarup Grieg, "the Chopin of the North," was a unique
personality, as well as an exceptional musician and composer. While
not a "wonder child," in the sense that Mozart, Chopin and Liszt were,
he early showed his love for music and his rapt enjoyment of the music
of the home circle. Fortunately he lived and breathed in a musical
atmosphere from his earliest babyhood. His mother was a fine musician
and singer herself, and with loving care she fostered the desire for
it and the early studies of it in her son. She was his first teacher,
for she kept up her own musical studies after her marriage, and
continued to appear in concerts in Bergen, where the family lived.
Little Edward, one of five children, seemed to inherit the mother's
musical talent and had vivid recollections of the rhythmic animation
and spirit with which she played the works of Weber, who was one of
her favorite composers.
The piano was a world of mystery to the sensitive musical child. His
baby fingers explored the white keys to see what they sounded like.
When he found two notes together, forming an interval of a third, they
pleased him better than one alone. Afterwards three keys as a triad,
were better yet, and when he could grasp a chord of four or five tones
with both hands, he was overjoyed. Meanwhile there was much music to
hear. His mother practised daily herself, and entertained her musical
friends in weekly soirees. Here the best classics were performed with
zeal and true feeling, while little Edward listened and absorbed music
in every pore.
When he was six years old piano lessons began. Mme. Grieg proved a
strict teacher, who did not allow any trifling; the dreamy child found
he could not idle away his time. As he wrote later: "Only too soon it
became clear to me I had to practise just what was unpleasant. Had I
not inherited my mother's irrepressible energy as well as her musical
capacity, I should never have succeeded in passing from dreams to
But dreams were turned into deeds before long, for the child tried to
set down on paper the little melodies that haunted him. It is said he
began to do this at the age of nine. A really serious attempt was
made when he was twelve or thirteen. This was a set of variations for
piano, on a German melody. He brought it to school one day to show one
of the boys. The teacher caught sight of it and reprimanded the young
composer soundly, for thus idling his time. It seems that in school he
was fond of dreaming away the hours, just as he did at the piano.
The truth was that school life was very unsympathetic to him,
very narrow and mechanical, and it is no wonder that he took every
opportunity to escape and play truant. He loved poetry and knew
all the poems in the reading books by heart; he was fond, too, of
declaiming them in season and out of season.
With the home atmosphere he enjoyed, the boy Grieg early became
familiar with names of the great composers and their works. One of
his idols was Chopin, whose strangely beautiful harmonies were just
beginning to be heard, though not yet appreciated. His music must have
had an influence over the lad's own efforts, for he always remained
true to this ideal.
Another of his admirations was for Ole Bull, the famous Norwegian
violinist. One day in summer, probably in 1858, when Edward was
about fifteen, this "idol of his dreams" rode up to the Grieg home on
horseback. The family had lived for the past five years at the fine
estate of Landaas, near Bergen. The great violinist had just returned
from America and was visiting his native town, for he too was born in
Bergen. That summer he came often to the Griegs' and soon discovered
the great desire of young Edward for a musical career. He got the boy
to improvise at the piano, and also to show him the little pieces he
had already composed. There were consultations with father and mother,
and then, finally, the violinist came to the boy, stroked his cheek
and announced; "You are to go to Leipsic and become a musician."
Edward was overjoyed. To think of gaining his heart's desire so easily
and naturally; it all seemed like a fairy tale, too good to be true.
The Leipsic Conservatory, which had been founded by Mendelssohn, and
later directed for a short time by Schumann, was now in the hands of
Moscheles, distinguished pianist and conductor. Richter and Hauptmann,
also Papperitz, taught theory; Wenzel, Carl Reinecke and Plaidy,
Some of these later gained the reputation of being rather dry and
pedantic; they certainly were far from comprehending the romantic
trend of the impressionable new pupil, for they tried to curb his
originality and square it with rules and customs. This process was
very irksome, for the boy wanted to go his own gait.
Among his fellow students at the Conservatory were at least a half
dozen who later made names for themselves. They were: Arthur Sullivan,
Walter Bache, Franklin Taylor, Edward Dannreuther and J.F. Barnett.
All these were making rapid progress in spite of dry methods. So
Edward Grieg began to realize that if he would also accomplish
anything, he must buckle down to work. He now began to study with
frantic ardor, with scarcely time left for eating and sleeping. The
result of this was a complete breakdown in the spring of 1860, with
several ailments, incipient lung trouble being the most serious.
Indeed it was serious enough to deprive Grieg of one lung, leaving him
for the remainder of his life somewhat delicate.
When his mother learned of his illness, she hurried to Leipsic and
took him back to Bergen, where he slowly regained his health. His
parents now begged him to remain at home, but he wished to return to
Leipsic. He did so, throwing himself into his studies with great zeal.
In the spring of 1862, after a course of four years, he passed his
examinations with credit. On this occasion he played some of his
compositions--the four which have been printed as Op. 1--and achieved
success, both as composer and pianist.
After a summer spent quietly with his parents at Landaas, he began
to prepare for coming musical activities. The next season he gave
his first concert in Bergen, at which the piano pieces of Op. 1, Four
Songs for Alto, and a String Quartet were played. With the proceeds
of this concert he bought orchestral and chamber music, and began to
study score, which he had not previously learned to do. In the spring
of 1863--he was hardly twenty then--he left home and took up his
residence in Copenhagen, a much larger city, offering greater
opportunities for an ambitious young musician. It was also the home of
Niels W. Gade, the foremost Scandinavian composer.
Of course Grieg was eager to meet Gade, and an opportunity soon
occurred. Gade expressed a willingness to look at some of his
compositions, and asked if he had anything to show him. Edward
modestly answered in the negative. "Go home and write a symphony," was
the retort. This the young composer started obediently to do, but the
work was never finished in this form. It became later Two Symphonic
Pieces for Piano, Op. 14.
Two sources of inspiration for Grieg were Ole Bull and Richard
Nordraak. We remember that Ole Bull was the means of influencing his
parents to send Edward to Leipsic. That was in 1858. Six years later,
when Ole Bull was staying at his country home, near Bergen, where
he always tried to pass the summers, the two formed a more intimate
friendship. They played frequently together, sonatas by Mozart and
others, or trios, in which Edward's brother John played the 'cello
parts. Or they wandered together to their favorite haunts among
mountains, fjords or flower clad valleys. They both worshiped nature
in all her aspects and moods, and each, the one on his instrument, the
other in his music, endeavored to reproduce these endless influences.
Richard Nordraak was a young Norwegian composer of great talent, who,
in his brief career, created a few excellent works. The two musicians
met in the winter of 1864 and were attracted to each other at once.
Nordraak visited Grieg in his home, where they discussed music and
patriotism to their hearts' content. Nordraak was intensely patriotic,
and wished to see the establishment of Norse music. Grieg, who had
been more or less influenced by German ideas, since Leipsic days,
now cast off the fetters and placed himself on the side of Norwegian
music. To prove this he composed the Humoresken, Op. 6, and dedicated
them to Nordraak. From now on he felt free to do as he pleased in
music--to be himself.
In 1864 Grieg became engaged to his cousin, Nina Hargerup, a slender
girl of nineteen, who had a lovely voice and for whom he wrote many of
his finest songs. He returned to Christiania from a visit to Rome, and
decided to establish himself in the Norwegian capital. Soon after his
arrival, in the autumn of 1856, he gave a concert, assisted by his
fiancee and Mme. Norman Neruda, the violinist. The program was made
up entirely of Norwegian music, and contained his Violin Sonata Op.
8, Humoresken, Op. 6, Piano Sonata, Op. 7. There were two groups of
songs, by Nordraak and Kjerulf respectively. The concert was a
success with press and public and the young composer's position seemed
assured. He secured the appointment of Conductor of the Philharmonic
Society, and was quite the vogue as a teacher. He married Nina
Hargerup the following June, 1867, and they resided in Christiania for
the next eight years.
Grieg could not endure "amateurish mediocrity," and made war upon it,
thus drawing jealous attacks upon himself. His great friend and ally,
Nordraak, passed away in 1868, and the next year his baby daughter,
aged thirteen months, the only child he ever had, left them.
In spite of these discouragements, some of his finest compositions
came into being about this period of his life. Songs, piano pieces and
the splendid Concerto followed each other in quick succession.
Another satisfaction to Grieg was a most sympathetic and cordial
letter from Liszt on making acquaintance with his Sonata for violin
and piano, Op. 8, which he praised in high terms. He invited Grieg
to come and visit him, that they might become better acquainted. This
unsolicitated appreciation from the famous Liszt was a fine honor
for the young composer, and was the means of inducing the Norwegian
Government to grant him an annuity. This sum enabled him the following
year, to go to Rome and meet Liszt personally.
He set out on this errand in October, and later wrote his parents of
his visits to Liszt. The first meeting took place at a monastery near
the Roman Forum, where Liszt made his home when in town.
"I took with me my last violin Sonata, the Funeral March on the death
of Nordraak and a volume of songs. I need not have been anxious, for
Liszt was kindness itself. He came smiling towards me and said in the
most genial manner:
"'We have had some little correspondence, haven't we?'
"I told him it was thanks to his letters that I was now here. He eyed
somewhat hungrily the package under my arm, his long, spider-like
fingers approaching it in such an alarming manner that I thought it
advisable to open at once. He turned over the leaves, reading through
the Sonata. He had now become interested, but my courage dropped to
zero when he asked me to play the Sonata, but there was no help for
"So I started on his splendid American Chickering grand. Right in the
beginning, where the violin starts in, he exclaimed: 'How bold that
is! Look here, I like that; once more please.' And where the violin
again comes in _adagio_, he played the part on the upper octaves with
an expression so beautiful, so marvelously true and singing, it made
me smile inwardly. My spirits rose because of his lavish approval,
which did me good. After the first movement, I asked his permission to
play a solo, and chose the Minuet, from the Humoresken."
At this point Grieg was brave enough to ask Liszt to play for him.
This the master did in a superb manner. To go on with the letter:
"When this was done, Liszt said jauntily, 'Now let us go on with
the Sonata'; to which I naturally retorted, 'No thank you, not after
"'Why not? Then give it to me, I'll do it.' And what does Liszt do?
He plays the whole thing, root and branch, violin and piano; nay more,
for he plays it fuller and more broadly. He was literally over the
whole piano at once, without missing a note. And how he did play! With
grandeur, beauty, unique comprehension.
"Was this not geniality itself? No other great man I have met is like
him. I played the Funeral March, which was also to his taste. Then,
after a little talk, I took leave, with the consciousness of having
spent two of the most interesting hours of my life."
The second meeting with Liszt took place soon after this. Of it he
writes in part:
"I had fortunately received the manuscript of my Concerto from
Leipsic, and took it with me. A number of musicians were present.
"'Will you play?' asked Liszt. I answered in the negative, as you
know I had never practised it. Liszt took the manuscript, went to the
piano, and said to the assembled guests: 'Very well, then, I will show
you that I also cannot.' Then he began. I admit that he took the
first part too fast, but later on, when I had a chance to indicate the
tempo, he played as only he can play. His demeanor is worth any price
to see. Not content with playing, he at the same time converses,
addressing a bright remark now to one, now to another of his guests,
nodding from right to left, particularly when something pleases him.
In the Adagio, and still more in the Finale, he reached a climax, both
in playing and in the praise he bestowed.
"When all was over, he handed me the manuscript, and said, in a
peculiarly cordial tone: 'Keep steadily on; you have the ability,
and--do not let them intimidate you!'
"This final admonition was of tremendous importance to me; there
was something in it like a sanctification. When disappointment and
bitterness are in store for me, I shall recall his words, and the
remembrance of that hour will have a wonderful power to uphold me in
days of adversity."
When Edward Grieg was a little over thirty, in the year 1874, the
Norwegian Government honored him with an annuity of sixteen hundred
crowns a year, for life. Another good fortune was a request from the
distinguished poet, Henrik Ibsen, to produce music for his drama of
With the help of the annuity Grieg was able to give up teaching and
conducting and devote himself to composition. He left Christiania,
where he and Mme. Grieg had resided for eight years, and came back
for a time to Bergen. Here, in January 1874, Ibsen offered him the
proposition of writing music for his work, for which he was arranging
a stage production.
Grieg was delighted with the opportunity, for such a task was very
congenial. He completed the score in the autumn of 1875. The first
performance was given on February 24, 1876, at Christiania. Grieg
himself was not present, as he was then in Bergen. The play proved
a real success and was given thirty-six times that season, for which
success the accompanying original and charming music was largely
Norway is a most picturesque country, and no one could be more
passionately fond of her mountains, fjords, valleys and waterfalls
than Edward Grieg. For several years he now chose to live at Lofthus,
a tiny village, situated on a branch of the Hardanger Fjord. It
is said no spot could have been more enchanting. The little study,
consisting of one room, where the composer could work in perfect
quiet, was perched among the trees above the fjord, with a dashing
waterfall near by. No wonder Grieg could write of the "Butterfly," the
"Little Bird," and "To the Spring," in such poetical, vivid harmonies.
He had only to look from his window and see the marvels of nature
A few years later he built a beautiful villa at Troldhaugen, not
far from Bergen, where he spent the rest of his life. Some American
friends who visited them in 1901, speak of the ideal existence of
the artist pair. Grieg himself is described as very small and frail
looking, with a face as individual, as unique and attractive as his
music--the face of a thinker, a genius. His eyes were keen and blue;
his hair, almost white, was brushed backward like Liszt's. His hands
were thin and small; they were wonderful hands and his touch on the
piano had the luscious quality of Paderewski's. Mme. Grieg received
them with a fascinating smile and won all hearts by her appearance and
charm of manner. She was short and plump, with short wavy gray hair
and dark blue eyes. Her sister, who resembled her strongly, made up
the rest of the family. Grieg called her his "second wife" and they
seemed a most united family.
Here, too, Grieg had his little work cabin away from the house, down
a steep path, among the trees of the garden. In this tiny retreat he
composed many of his unique pieces.
As a pianist, there are many people living who have heard Grieg play,
and all agree that his performance was most poetical and beautiful. He
never had great power, for a heavy wagon had injured one of his hands,
and he had lost the use of one of his lungs in youth. But he always
brought out lyric parts most expressively, and had a "wonderfully
crisp and buoyant execution in rhythmical passages." He continued to
play occasionally in different cities, and with increased frequency
made visits to England, France and Germany, to make known his
compositions. He was in England in the spring of 1888, for on May
3, the London Philharmonic gave almost an entire program of Grieg's
music. He acted in the three-fold capacity of composer, conductor and
pianist. It was said by one of the critics: "Mr. Grieg played his
own Concerto in A minor, after his own manner; it was a revelation."
Another wrote; "The Concerto is very beautiful. The dreamy charm of
the opening movement, the long-drawn sweetness of the Adagio, the
graceful, fairy music of the final Allegro--all this went straight
to the hearts of the audience. Grieg as a conductor gave equal
satisfaction. It is to be hoped the greatest representative of 'old
Norway' will come amongst us every year."
Grieg did return the next year and appeared with the Philharmonic,
March 14, 1889. The same critic then wrote:
"The hero of the evening was unquestionably Mr. Grieg, the heroine
being Madame Grieg, who sang in her own unique and most artistic
fashion, a selection of her husband's songs, he accompanying with
great delicacy and poetic feeling. Grieg is so popular in London, both
as composer and pianist, that when he gave his last concert, people
were waiting in the street before the doors from eleven in the
morning, quite as in the old Rubinstein days."
In only a few cities did the artist pair give their unique piano and
song recitals. These were: Christiania, Copenhagen, Leipsic, Rome,
Paris, London and Edinburgh. They were indeed artistic events, in
which Nina Grieg was also greatly admired. While not a great singer,
it was said she had the captivating abandon, dramatic vivacity and
soulful treatment of the poem, which reminded of Jenny Lind.
Mme. Grieg made her last public appearance in London in 1898. After
that she sang only for her husband and his friends. Grieg's sixtieth
birthday, June 15, 1903, was celebrated in the cities of Scandanavia,
throughout Europe and also in America: thus he lived to see the
recognition of his unique genius in many parts of the world.
Grieg was constantly using up his strength by too much exertion. To a
friend in 1906, he wrote: "Yes, at your age it is ever hurrah-vivat.
At my age we say, sempre diminuendo. And I can tell you it is not easy
to make a beautiful diminuendo." Yet he still gave concerts, saying
he had not the strength of character to refuse. Indeed he had numerous
offers to go to America, which he refused as he felt he could not
endure the sea voyage. Always cheerful, even vivacious, he kept up
bravely until almost the end of his life, but finally, the last of
August, 1907, he was forced to go to a hospital in Bergen. On the
night of September 3, his life ebbed away in sleep.
The composer who through his music had endeared himself to the whole
world, was granted a touching funeral, at which only his own music
was heard, including his Funeral March, which he had composed for his
friend Nordraak. The burial place is as romantic as his music. Near
his home there is a steep cliff, about fifty feet high, projecting
into the fjord. Half way up there is a natural grotto, which can only
be reached by water. In this spot, chosen by Grieg himself, the urn
containing his ashes was deposited some weeks after the funeral. Then
the grotto was closed and a stone slab with the words "Edward Grieg"
cut upon it, was cemented in the cliff.
PETER ILYITCH TSCHAIKOWSKY
Russian composers and Russian music are eagerly studied by those
who would keep abreast of the time. This music is so saturated with
strong, vigorous life that it is inspiring to listen to. Its rugged
strength, its fascinating rhythms, bring a new message. It is
different from the music of other countries and at once attracts by
its unusual melodies and its richness of harmony.
Among the numerous composers of modern Russia, the name of Peter
Ilyitch Tschaikowsky stands out most prominently. This distinctive
composer was born on April 28, 1840, in Votinsk, where his father, who
was a mining engineer, had been appointed inspector of the mines
at Kamsko-Votinsk. The position of manager of such important mines
carried with it much luxury, a fine house, plenty of servants and an
ample salary. Thus the future young musician's home life was not one
of poverty and privation, as has been the lot of so many gifted ones,
who became creators in the beautiful art of music.
Peter Ilyitch was less than five years old when a new governess came
into the family, to teach his elder brother Nicholas and his cousin
Lydia. As a little boy he was apt to be untidy, with buttons missing
and rumpled hair. But his nature was so affectionate and sympathetic
that he charmed every one with his pretty, loving ways. This natural
gift he always retained. The governess was a very superior person and
her influence over her young charges was healthful and beneficial. The
child Peter was most industrious at his lessons; but for recreation
often preferred playing the piano, reading, or writing poetry, to
playing with other children.
When Peter was eight, the family moved to St. Petersburg, and the two
younger boys were sent to boarding school. The parting from his home
but especially from his mother--though he saw her once a week--nearly
broke his heart. Such a school was no place for a sensitive,
high-strung boy like Peter, who needed the most tender fostering care.
The work of the school was very heavy, the hours long. The boys often
sat over their books till far into the night. Besides the school
work, Peter had music lessons of the pianist Philipov, and made rapid
progress. At this time music in general excited the boy abnormally;
a hand organ in the street would enchant him, an orchestra strangely
agitated him. He seemed to live at a high strung, nervous tension, and
had frequent ailments, which kept him out of school.
In 1849 the father secured another appointment, this time at Alapaiev,
a little town, where, though there was not so much luxury, the family
tried to revive the home life of Votinsk.
No one at Alapaiev seemed to take any interest in the boy Peter's
music. He was really making great progress, for he had learned much in
the lessons he had taken in St. Petersburg. He studied many pieces by
himself, and often improvised at the piano. His parents did nothing
to further his musical education; this may have been because they
were afraid of a return of the nervous disorders that the quiet of the
present home surroundings had seemed to cure.
From the fact that the father had held government appointments, his
sons were eligible for education at the School of Jurisprudence. Peter
was accordingly entered there as a scholar, and completed his course
at the age of nineteen. In those nine years the child Peter developed
into maturity. During this period he suffered the loss of his mother,
a handsome and very estimable woman, whom he adored with passionate
devotion, and from whom he could never bear to be separated.
While attending the Law School, music had to be left in the
background. His family and companions only considered it as a pastime
at best, and without serious significance; he therefore kept his
aspirations to himself. The old boyish discontent and irritability,
which were the result of his former nervous condition, had now given
place to his natural frankness of character and charm of manner, which
attracted all who came in contact with him.
In 1859, when Peter had finished his studies at the School of
Jurisprudence, he received an appointment in the Ministry of Justice,
as clerk of the first class. This would have meant much to some young
men, but did not greatly impress Peter, as he did not seem to take his
work very seriously. During the three years in which he held the post,
he followed the fashion of the day, attended the opera and theater,
meanwhile receiving many impressions which molded his character and
tastes. The opera "Don Giovanni," Mozart's masterpiece, made a deep
impression upon him, also the acting of Adelaide Ristori and the
singing of Lagrona.
The new Conservatoire of Music was founded at St. Petersburg in 1862,
with Anton Rubinstein as director, and Tschaikowsky lost no time in
entering as a pupil, studying composition and kindred subjects with
Professor Zaremba. His progress was so rapid in the several branches
he took up--piano, organ and flute--that Rubinstein advised him to
make music his profession, and throw his law studies to the winds.
Thanks to Rubinstein, he secured some pupils and also engagements as
accompanist. Meanwhile he worked industriously at composition, and one
of his pieces was a Concert Overture in F, scored for small orchestra.
In 1865 he took his diploma as a musician and also secured a silver
medal for a cantata. One year after this the Moscow Conservatoire
was founded, with Nicholas Rubinstein at its head. The position
of Professor of Composition and Musical History was offered to
Tschaikowsky, then only twenty-six. It was a flattering offer for so
young a man, when many older heads would have liked to secure such
an honor. He moved to Moscow, and retained his position in the
Conservatoire for at least twelve years, in the meantime making many
friends for himself and his art, as his fame as a composer grew. One
of these friends was the publisher Jurgenson, who was to play rather
an important part in the composer's life, through accepting and
putting forth his compositions.
During those first years in Moscow, Tschaikowsky made his home with
Nicholas Rubinstein. His life was of the simplest, his fare always so.
Later on when money was more abundant, and he had his own house in the
country, he lived with just the same simplicity. One would think that
all this care and thought for expense would have taught him the value
of money. Not at all. He never could seem to learn its value, never
cared for it, and never could keep it. He liked to toss his small
change among groups of street boys, and it is said he once spent his
last roubles in sending a cablegram to von Buelow in America, to thank
him for his admirable performance of his first Piano Concerto. Often
his friends protested against this prodigality, but it was no use to
protest, and at last they gave up in despair.
Soon after he began his professorship in Moscow, he composed a Concert
Overture in C minor. To his surprise and disappointment, Rubinstein
disapproved of the work in every way. This was a shock, after the lack
of encouragement in St. Petersburg. But he recovered his poise, though
he made up his mind to try his next work in St. Petersburg instead of
Moscow. He called the new piece a Symphonic Poem, "Winter Daydreams,"
but it is now known as the First Symphony, Op. 13. About the end of
1866, he started out with it, only to be again rebuffed and cast down.
The two men whose good opinion he most desired, Anton Rubinstein and
Professor Zaremba, could find nothing good in his latest work, and
the young composer returned to Moscow to console himself with renewed
efforts in composition. Two years later the "Winter Daydreams"
Symphony was produced in Moscow with great success, and its author
was much encouraged by this appreciation. He was, like most composers,
very sensitive to criticism and had a perfect dread of controversy.
Efforts to engage him in arguments of this sort only made him withdraw
Tschaikowsky held the operas of Mozart before him as his ideal. He
cared little for Wagner, considering his music dramas to be built on
false principles. Thus his first opera, "Voivoda," composed in 1866,
evidently had his ideal, Mozart, clearly in mind. It is a somewhat
curious fact that Tschaikowsky, who was almost revolutionary in other
forms of music, should go back to the eighteenth century for his ideal
of opera. Soon after it was completed "Voivoda" was accepted to be
produced at the Moscow Grand Theater. The libretto was written by
Ostrowsky, one of the celebrated dramatists of the day. The first
performance took place on January 30, 1869. We are told it had several
performances and considerable popular success. But the composer was
dissatisfied with its failure to win a great artistic success, and
burnt the score. He did the same with his next work, an orchestral
fantaisie, entitled "Fatum." Again he did the same with the score of
a complete opera, "Undine," finished in 1870, and refused at the St.
Petersburg Opera, where he had offered it.
"The Snow Queen," a fairy play with music, was the young Russian's
next adventure; it was mounted and produced with great care, yet it
failed to make a favorable impression. But these disappointments did
not dampen the composer's ardor for work. Now it was in the realm of
chamber music. Up to this time he had not seemed to care greatly
for this branch of his art, for he had always felt the lack of tone
coloring and variety in the strings. The first attempt at a String
Quartet resulted in the one in D major, Op. 11. To-day, fifty years
after, we enjoy the rich coloring, the characteristic rhythms of this
music; the Andante indeed makes special appeal. A bit of history about
this same Andante shows how the composer prized national themes and
folk tunes, and strove to secure them. It is said that morning after
morning he was awakened by the singing of a laborer, working on the
house below his window. The song had a haunting lilt, and Tschaikowsky
wrote it down. The melody afterwards became that touching air which
fills the Andante of the First String Quartet. Another String Quartet,
in F major, was written in 1814, and at once acclaimed by all who
heard it, with the single exception of Anton Rubinstein.
Tschaikowsky wrote six Symphonies in all. The Second, in C minor
was composed in 1873; in this he used themes in the first and last
movements, which were gathered in Little Russia. The work was produced
with great success in Moscow in 1873. The next orchestral composition
was a Symphonic Poem, called "The Tempest," with a regular program,
prepared by Stassow. It was brought out in Paris at the same time
it was heard in Moscow. Both at home and in France it made a deep
impression. The next work was the splendid piano Concerto in B flat
minor, Op. 23, the first of three works of this kind. At a trial
performance of it, his friend and former master, Nicholas Rubinstein,
to whom it was dedicated, and who had promised to play the piano part,
began to criticize it unmercifully and ended by saying it was quite
unplayable, and unsuited to the piano.
No one could blame the composer for being offended and hurt. He at
once erased the name of Nicholas Rubinstein from the title page and
dedicated the work to Hans von Billow, who not long after performed
it with tremendous success in America, where he was on tour. When we
think of all the pianists who have won acclaim in this temperamental,
inspiring work, from Carreno to Percy Grainger, to mention two who
have aroused special enthusiasm by their thrilling performance of it,
we can but wonder that his own countrymen were so short sighted at
the time it was composed. Later on Nicholas Rubinstein gave a superb
performance of the Concerto in Moscow, thus making some tardy amends
for his unkindness.
Tschaikowsky was now thirty-five. Most of his time was given to the
Conservatoire, where he often worked nine hours a day. Besides, he had
written a book on harmony, and was contributing articles on music to
two journals. In composition he had produced large works, including
up to this time, two Symphonies, two Operas, the Concerto, two String
Quartets and numerous smaller pieces. To accomplish such an amount
of work, he must have possessed immense energy and devotion to his
One of the operas just mentioned was entitled "Vakoula the Smith."
It bears the date of 1874, and was first offered in competition with
others. The result was that it not only was considered much the
best work of them all but it won both the first and second prizes.
"Vakoula" was splendidly mounted and performed in St. Petersburg, at
the Marinsky Theater at least seventeen times. Ten years later, in
January 1887, it appeared again. The composer meanwhile had re-written
a good part of it and now called it "Two Little Shoes." This time
Tschaikowsky was invited to conduct his own work. The invitation
filled him with alarm, for he felt he had no gift in that direction,
as he had tried a couple of times in the early years of his career and
had utterly failed. However, he now, through the cordial sympathy of
friends, decided to make the attempt. Contrary to his own fears, he
obtained a successful performance of the opera.
It proved an epoch-making occasion. For this first success as
conductor led him to undertake a three months' tour through western
Europe in 1888. On his return to St. Petersburg he conducted a program
of his own compositions for the Philharmonic Society, which was
also successful, in spite of the intense nervousness which he always
suffered. As a result of his concert he received offers to conduct
concerts in Hamburg, Dresden, Leipsic, Vienna, Copenhagen and London,
many of which he accepted.
To go back a bit in our composer's life story, to an affair of
the heart which he experienced in 1868. He became engaged to the
well-known singer Desiree Artot; the affair never went further, for
what reason is not known. He was not yet thirty, impressionable and
intense. Later on, in the year 1877, at the age of thirty-seven, he
became a married man. How this happened was doubtless told in his
diaries, which were written with great regularity: but unfortunately
he destroyed them all a few years before his death. The few facts that
have been gleaned from his intimate friend, M. Kashkin, are that he
was engaged to the lady in the spring of this year, and married her
a month or so afterward. It was evidently a hasty affair and
subsequently brought untold suffering to the composer. When
the professors of his Conservatoire re-assembled in the autumn,
Tschaikowsky appeared among them a married man, but looking the
picture of despair. A few weeks later he fled from Moscow, and when
next heard of was lying dangerously ill in St. Petersburg. One thing
was evident, the ill-considered marriage came very near ruining his
life. The doctors ordered rest and change of scene, and his brother
Modeste Ilyitch took him to Switzerland and afterward to Italy. The
peaceful life and change of scene did much to restore his shattered
nerves. Just at this time a wealthy widow lady, Madame von Meek, a
great admirer of Tschaikowsky's music, learning of his sad condition,
settled on him a generous yearly allowance for life. He was now
independent and could give his time to composition.
The following year he returned to Moscow and seemed quite his natural
self. A fever of energy for work took possession of him. He began a
new opera, "Eugen Onegin," and completed his Fourth Symphony, in F
minor. The score of the opera was finished in February, 1878, and
sent at once to Moscow, where the first performance was given in March
1879. In the beginning the opera had only a moderate success, but
gradually grew in favor till, after five years, it was performed
in St. Petersburg and had an excellent reception. It is considered
Tschaikowsky's most successful opera, sharing with Glinka's "Life of
the Tsar" the popularity of Russian opera. In 1881 he was invited
to compose an orchestral work for the consecration of the Temple of
Christ in Moscow. The "Solemn Overture 1812," Op. 49, was the outcome
of this. Later in the year he completed the Second Piano Concerto.
The Piano Trio in A minor, "To the memory of a great artist," Op.
50, refers to his friend and former master, Nicholas Rubinstein, who
passed away in Paris, in 1881.
Tschaikowsky's opera, "Mazeppa," was his next important work. In the
same year the Second Orchestral Suite, Op. 53, and the Third, Op. 55,
followed. Two Symphonic Poems, "Manfred" and "Hamlet" came next. The
latter of these was written at the composer's country house, whose
purchase had been made possible by the generosity of his benefactress,
and to which he retired at the age of forty-five, to lead a peaceful
country life. He had purchased the old manor house of Frovolo, on the
outskirts of the town of Klin, near Moscow. Here his two beautiful
ballets and two greatest Symphonies, the Fifth and Sixth, were
written. The Fifth Symphony was composed in 1888 and published the
next year. On its first hearing it made little impression and was
scarcely heard again till Nikisch, with unerring judgment, rescued it
from neglect; then the world discovered it to be one of the composer's
Tschaikowsky's two last operas, the "Pique Dame" (Queen of Spades),
Op. 68, and "King Rene's Daughter" are not considered in any way
distinctive, although the former was performed in New York, at the
Metropolitan. The Third Piano Concerto, Op. 75, occupied the master
during his last days at Frovolo; it was left unfinished by him and was
completed by the composer Taneiev. The wonderful Sixth Symphony, Op.
74, is a superb example of Tschaikowsky's genius. It was composed in
1893, and the title "Pathetic" was given it by the composer after its
first performance, in St. Petersburg, shortly before his death, as the
reception of it by the public did not meet his anticipations. In this
work the passion and despair which fill so many of the master's
finest compositions, rise to the highest tragic significance. The
last movement, with its prophetic intimation of his coming death, is
heart-breaking. One cannot listen to its poignant phrases without
deep emotion. The score is dated August 81, 1893. On October twelfth,
Tschaikowsky passed away in St. Petersburg, a victim of cholera.
A couple of years before he passed away, Tschiakowsky came to America.
In May, 1891, he conducted four concerts connected with the formal
opening of Carnegie Hall, New York. We well remember his interesting
personality, as he stood before the orchestra, conducting many of his
own works, with Adele Aus der Ohe playing his famous Concerto in B
The music of this representative Russian composer has made rapid
headway in the world's appreciation, during the last few years. Once
heard it will always be remembered. For we can never forget the deeply
human and touching message which is brought to us through the music of
Peter Ilyitch Tschaikowsky.
Edward MacDowell has been acclaimed America's greatest composer. If
we try to substitute another name in its place, one of equal potency
cannot be found.
Our composer's ancestors were Irish and Scotch, though his father was
born in New York City and his mother was an American girl. Edward was
their third son, and appeared December 18, 1861; this event happened
at the home of his parents, 220 Clinton Street, New York.
The father was a man of artistic instincts, and as a youth, fond of
drawing and painting. His parents had been Quakers of a rather severe
sort and had discouraged all such artistic efforts. Little Edward
seems to have inherited his father's artistic gifts, added to his own
inclination toward music.
The boy had his first piano lessons when he was about eight years old,
from a family friend, Mr. Juan Buitrago, a native of Bogota, South
America. Mr. Buitrago became greatly interested in Edward and asked
permission to teach him his notes. At that time the boy was not
considered a prodigy, or even precocious, though he seemed to have
various gifts. He was fond of covering his music and exercise books
with little drawings, which showed he had the innate skill of a born
artist. Then he liked to scribble bits of verses and stories and
invent fairy tales. He could improvise little themes at the piano, but
was not fond of technical drudgery at the instrument in those early
The lessons with Mr. Buitrago continued for several years, and then he
was taken to a professional piano teacher, Paul Desvernine, with
whom he remained till he was fifteen. During this time he received
occasional lessons from the brilliant Venezuelan pianist, Teresa
Carreno, who admired his gifts and later played his piano concertos.
Edward was now fifteen, and his family considered he was to become
a musician. In those days and for long after, even to the present
moment, it was thought necessary for Americans to go to Europe for
serious study and artistic finish. It was therefore determined the
boy should go to Paris for a course in piano and theory at the
Conservatoire. In April, 1876, accompanied by his mother, he left
America for France.
He passed the examinations and began the autumn term as a pupil of
Marmontel in piano and of Savard in theory and composition.
Edward's knowledge of French was very uncertain, and while he could
get along fairly well in the piano class, he had considerable trouble
in following the lessons in theory. He determined to make a special
study of the language, and a teacher was engaged to give him private
His passion for drawing was liable to break out at any moment. During
one of the lesson hours he was varying the monotony by drawing,
behind his book, a picture of his teacher, whose special facial
characteristic was a very large nose. Just as the sketch was finished
he was detected and was asked to show the result. The professor,
instead of being angry, considered it a remarkable likeness and asked
to keep it. Shortly after this the professor called on Mrs. MacDowell,
telling her he had shown the drawing to an eminent painter, also
an instructor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. The painter had been so
greatly impressed with the boy's talent that he offered him a three
years' course of free instruction, under his own supervision. He also
promised to be responsible for Edward's support during that time.
This was a vital question to decide; the boy's whole future hung in
the balance. Mrs. MacDowell, in her perplexity, laid the whole matter
before Marmontel, who strongly advised against diverting her son from
a musical career. The decision was finally left to Edward himself, and
he chose to remain at the Conservatoire.
Conditions there, however, were not just to his liking, and after two
years he began to think the school was not the place for him. It was
the summer of 1878, the year of the Exposition. Edward and his mother
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