Letters of Franz Liszt Volume II Part 88

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399. To Dr. Eduard Hanslick

[The letter refers to Hanslick's notice of Liszt's book "Les Bohemiens et leur musique," in the Vienna Presse (the old one).]

Sir,

Experience having taught me to regard as a fate attached to my name the impossibility of publishing anything which does not instantly gather round it opinions as contrary as they are forcibly enunciated, I am, although quite accustomed to these little storms, very sensitive to the kindly judgment of those who, not letting themselves be influenced by this transitory impulse, desire to take into consideration what I have written, with sobriety and composure, just as you have done in your account of my book "Des Bohemiens."-I am above all extremely obliged to you for having admitted that, if the requirements of my subject, and the opinion which after some twenty years of reflection I have formed of Bohemian music, compel me to attribute to a nomad people an art thoroughly imbued with a poetry which could only have been developed in a wandering nation, I have none the less endeavored to bring into prominence everything for which this art is indebted to the comprehension and taste which the Hungarians have always had for the music of Bohemia. I desire in no way to diminish the merit of the works, while at the same time I see the impossibility of considering as emanating from them the expression of sentiments which could not in their nature belong to them, however sympathetically they were associated therewith.--

Still, the point which I notice first, in consequence of the very violent and premature attacks of which I have been the object, is not the one which I regard as the most important in my volume. As a matter of fact it would signify little to me as artist to know whether this music is originally from India or Tartary. That which has appeared to me worthy the study of an artist is this music itself, its meaning, and the feelings it is destined to reproduce.--It is in trying clearly to account for these latter that I have only found it possible to connect them with people placed in the exceptional conditions of the Bohemians; and it is through asking myself what the poetry of this wandering life would be (a question so often raised), that I have become convinced that it must be identical with that which breathes in the Art of the Bohemians. This identity once made evident to my mind, I have naturally sought to make it felt by and evident to my readers. The better to succeed in this I have corroborated my opinion by grouping together as a sort of complement various suppositions about the question of these sources. But the scientific side of this question has never been, in my eyes, anything but very accessory; I should probably not have taken up the pen to discuss it. If I have raised it, that has been the consequence, not the aim of my work. Artist, and poet if you like, I am only interested in seeing and describing the poetical and psychological side of my thesis. I have sought in speech the power of depicting, with less fire and allurement possibly, but with more precision than music has done, some impressions which are not derived from science or polemics-which come from the heart and appeal to the imagination.

Poetical and descriptive prose being little used in Germany, I can easily conceive that, on the announcement of the title of my book, a set of lectures, rather than a kind of poem in prose, will be expected. I own that I would never have attempted to lecture on a subject the materials of which did not appear to me sufficient for this purpose. How small a number of people, moreover, would have been interested in learning the little which it would be allowable to affirm in this case? Whilst the expression of the innermost and deep feelings, whatever they be, from the moment that they have been powerful enough to inspire an art, is never entirely unattractive, even to the more extended circle which includes not alone musicians, but all those who feel and wish to understand music. Thanking you once more, Sir, for the perfect impartiality and clearness with which you have stated and criticised the compilation of my book, I beg you to accept this expression of my complete esteem and distinguished consideration.

F. Liszt

September 20th, 1859

END OF LETTERS OF FRANZ LISZT, VOL. II.

Letters of Franz Liszt Volume II Part 88

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