Franz Liszt. Selected Letters/Franz Liszt: Briefwechsel Mit Seiner Mutter/Correspondance

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Adrian Williams, ed. Franz Liszt Selected Letters. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. xxxix, 1063 pp. ISBN 0-19-816688-5 (hardcover).

Klára Hamburger, ed. Franz Liszt: Briefwechsel mit seiner Mutter. German translations by Renate Mugrauer. Eisenstadt: Amt der Burgenländischen Landesregierung, 2000. 544 pp. ISBN 3-901517-22-7 (hardcover).

Serge Gut and Jacqueline Bellas, eds. Franz Liszt - Marie d'Agoult, Correspondance. Paris: Arthème Fayard, 2001. 1344 pp. ISBN 2-23-61010-5 (paperback).

Among a host of similar messages in Liszt's over 8 ,000 published letters, three samples below reveal the reasons for the great difficulty in accessing the wealth of his exceptionally broad and far-flung correspondence: "You're a good one, asking how I'm spending my evenings: so you've forgotten that I know 30,000 people in Paris and that like it or not I really must put up with a few of them,"1 wrote Franz Liszt from there on 1 1 July 1 834 to Countess Marie d'Agoult in Touraine. On 20 November 1875 from the Villa d'Esté he complained to Baroness Olga von Meyendorff in Weimar:

For the last couple of weeks 1 have been gloomily writing quantities of letters. I get nearly fifty a week, not counting shipments of manuscripts, pamphlets, books, dedications, and all kinds of music. The time required to peruse them, even casually, deprives me of the time needed to answer them.

Up until now it has been impossible for me to concentrate steadily on my musical work because of this too flattering and steady harassment by my correspondents in various countries.2

By November 1882, from Weimar, Liszt was appealing for a halt to this unwanted interchange to his friend Otto Lessmann, owner-editor of the influential Allgemeine-Musik-Zeitung in Berlin:

Dear Editor:

Since my work is being utterly disrupted by the receipt of too many scores, other compositions, and written communications, I ask you to let it be known that in future I would be glad not to receive this manner of demand on my time. For many years, I have most humbly refused to contribute to autograph collections.

Respectfully, F. Liszt.3

Despite such complaints, his social and written relations swelled yearly from his youth in parallel with his ever-broadening creative and social prominence. Even on his deathbed, Liszt continued to dictate and sign pressing correspondence with fevered hand and unseeing eyes, all the while receiving a stream of callers.4 Systematic finding and publication of unknown autographs will surely reveal that the sum of Liszt's extant letters easily surpasses Wagner's estimated 12,000 lifetime pieces.

Why the need to estimate? Despite Liszt's immense stature in the musical realm, and his imposing presence in social, cultural, religious, and political spheres, unlike other luminous members of his early Paris circle, he has not yet been honored with a critical edition of his complete correspondence, the most comprehensive and impassioned of them all. (For instance, Berlioz, Chopin, Franck, Lamennais, George Sand, Sainte-Beuve, have theirs; Marie d'Agoult's and Wagner's are currently in progress). Their sheer number might explain the glaring lack, still felt today by Lisztians and nineteenth-century buffs, of reliable published Liszt letters. The latest proposal in 1986 by a Paris-based international committee of a critical collected edition never got much beyond the planning stage. We shall not see one for decades. Its translation for monolingual readers, such as the recent English anthology by Adrian Williams, is a further step away.

Liszt's letters contain his autobiographical account of what it was like to be Liszt in his milieu, told in the heat of the moment, with no chance for later forgetfulness or self-protective revisions. His raw revelations were intact in addressee's hands. Nonetheless, their piecemeal and eclectic publication over more than a century has distorted the bulk of his self-disclosures. …