excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 663-6 (719 words)

excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 663-6 (719 words)

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My Musical Life

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I had conceived, ever since I had studied the life and works of CHOPIN, the greatest desire to hear him played by LISZT: indeed, the numbers of those CHOPIN still living who have had this privilege must be very limited. I ventured to say, "CHOPIN always maintained that you were the most perfect exponent of his works. I cannot say how grateful I should be to hear, were it only a fugitive passage of CHOPIN'S, touched by your hand."

"With all the pleasure in the world“ replied the immortal pianist; and again I sat down by the grand piano, and humming to him a phrase of op. 37, I begged that it might be that.

"I will play that, and another after it." (The second was op. 48.)

It is useless for me to attempt a description of a performance every phrase of which will be implanted in my memory, and on my heart, as long as I live.

Again, in that room, with its long bright window opening out into the summer-land, we sat in deep shadow in perfect seclusion ; not a sound but the magic notes falling at first like a soft shower of pearls or liquid drops from a fountain blown spray falling hither and thither, and changing into rainbow tints in its passage, as the harmonic progression kept changing and tossing the fugitive fragments of melody with which that exquisite nocturne opens, until it settles into the calm, happy dream, which seems to rock the listener to sleep with the deep and perfect benison of ineffable rest; then out of the dream, through a few bars, like the uneasy consciousness of a slowly awakening sleeper, and again the interlude, the blown rain of double pearls until once more the heavenly dream is resumed. I drew my chair gently nearer, I almost held my breath, not to miss a note. There was a strange concentrated anticipation about LISZT'S playing unlike anything I had ever heard not for a moment could the ear cease listening; each note seemed prophetic of the next, each yielded in importance to the next : one felt that in the soul of the player the whole nocturne existed from the beginning as one and indivisible, like a poem in the heart of a poet. The playing of the bars had to be gone through seriatim; but there were glimpses of a higher state of intuition, in which one could read thoughts without words, and possess the soul of music, without the intervention of bars and keys and strings; all the mere elements seemed to fade, nothing but perception remained. Sense of time vanished; all was as it were realised in a moment, that moment the Present the eternal Present no Past, no Future. Yet I could not help noticing each incident: the perfect, effortless independence of the fingers, mere obedient ministers of the master's thought; the complete trance of the player living in the ideal world, and reducing the world of matter about him to the flimsiest of unreal shadows; and I had time to notice the unconscious habits of the master, which have already passed into historic manner- isms in his disciples, like CARDINAL NEWMAN'S stooping gait, GARIBALDI'S half closing of the eyes, or VICTOR EMMANUEL'S toss of the head. So I noticed the first finger and thumb drawn together to emphasize a note, or the fingers doubled up, then lifted in a peculiar manner, with a gentle sweep in the middle of a phrase things in which those are determined to be like the master who can be like him in nothing else ; also the peculiar repercussion resonance, since reduced to something like a science by RUBINSTEIN, and the caressing touch, which seemed to draw the soul of the piano out of it almost before the finger reached the key-board. When LISZT passed silently to op. 48, he arrived at some stiff bravura passages, which called forth his old vigour. Yet here all was perfect; not a note slurred over or missed; the old thunder woke beneath his outstretched hands; the spirits of the vasty deep were as obedient as ever to their master's call. With the last chord he rose abruptly; abruptly we came out of the dim, enchanted land of dreams; the common light of day was once more around me.

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excerpt from 'My Musical Life' pp. 663-6 (719 words)


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