The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

87. Franz Liszt, August 1, 1886

August 8, 1886

Once again, a Titan has been summoned to eternal repose. A star has expired by whose victorious radiance all artifice and plagiarism were blinded, whose brilliance offered friendly guidance to the afflicted, pointing out where struggle and hostility lay in store, but victory and consummation, too; whose sacred fire, strewing lethal lightning, demolished the altars of the idolatrous and, flaming aloft, ignited the torch of enthusiasm, protecting and encouraging the truly great.

Yes, the eye of this radiant phenomenon has closed forever, but it was the eye of an immortal. Legend and history will share in the recital of the spendid deeds of the greatest of virtuosos, but to sustain his memory for future generations not in the image of recollection, nor through the medium of the biographer, but in vital reality, the great deceased has left us an inestimable inheritance: his works.

A Faustian nature, forever dreaming up something new, and restlessly surging forward, the master exercised a reformative influence in every area of vocal and instrumental music. Intelligence, depth of thought and feeling, and an incomparable sense of beauty in musical forms are the characteristic distinguishing features of his creations. In this respect the symphonic poems, including Faust and the "Dante" Symphony, stand out above all the rest. The whole romantic enchantment of Liszt's demonic personality pours out to us in these compositions. They are his most personal works. He stands here at the peak of his creativity. On this eminence, reigning alone, he remains incomprehensible to the crowd. Indeed, that was how he wanted it, as he made clear in his famous Preface to the symphonic poems, stating that he wished no everyday popularity to be accorded them. But to whoever lovingly submerged himself in this unique personality there was opened a work splendid and ideal as only a poet could conceive it.

Now the restless one rests. The universally life-giving spark has expired. The hand that once fashioned worlds and then destroyed them is stiffened in death — dead, dead, the man who, as a second Orpheus, lavished only life, blossoming life, upon the world.

To future generations the extravagant transports of those who rhapsodized rather than reported on his piano playing during his career as a virtuoso — for enthusiasm makes poets of sober souls, too — will seem a half-forgotten fairy

-218-

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