Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Liszt-Listmann Incident

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Liszt-Listmann Incident

Article excerpt

1847 was Liszt's last year as a virtuoso pianist. Before he ended his performance career by concerts in Odessa and then Elizabethgrad, he came to Istanbul on a steamboat from Galatz, arriving there on June 8, 1847. He gave a number of concerts, performed twice for Sultan Abdul-Medgid in the Tcheragan Palace, and left on July 13 to go eventually to Woronince through Galatz and Odessa.

One incident in Liszt's intriguing and relatively little known sojourn in Istanbul is described by Robert Stockhammer in Franz Liszt, Im Triumphzug durch Europa:

After a 54-hour long trip [from Galatz], Liszt had at last reached Constantinople, this city at the boundary of Turkey, which he had cherished for such a long period of time. Here, he at first experienced an inconvenient surprise: when he introduced himself as the piano virtuoso Liszt, he was arrested. He was deemed an impostor, because an artist by the name of Liszt had already performed a few days before. However, that had been a certain Herr Listmann, who had impersonated the famous virtuoso, in order to enrich himself.1

Now, this is a most incredible story, a comedy of errors of sorts, but it raises a number of questions. First of all, is it true? More precisely, how much of it is based on fact and how much is made up, and what are the sources on which the factual parts are based? Was there really a pianist Herr Listmann? Was he an impostor as portrayed? Did he shorten his name by dropping the second syllable? Did he get rich pretending he was Liszt - assuming that doing such a thing is artistically possible? Is the existing Liszt literature in agreement on how this event occurred, and exactly what occurred? Was the Ottoman Court in 1847 really so naïve as to have the great Liszt arrested upon his arrival? By the same token, were the dilettantes in Pera, the Levantine neighborhood of Istanbul, where Il Trovatore premiered just 10 months after its opening in Rome and three years before any Parisian ever heard it,2 so naïve as to fall for Herr Listmann's story hook, line and sinker?

The purpose of this work is to present historical data on this folkloric Liszt-Listmann tale of Lisztmania, as exemplified by Stockhammer's treatment - though it is certain that the story did not start with him. The creation of this folklore is apparently the result of transformations of fiction caused by self-perpetuating cross-references among secondary sources. Primary sources show that Herr Listmann of the Liszt-Listmann incident was in fact a German Tonkünstler and a man of letters named Eduard Litzmann who toured Spain and the orient, and who was apparently a pretty competent pianist. The rest of the story cannot be substantiated.

All existing accounts of the incident can be traced back to a letter from Liszt to his cousin Henriette written in 1884:

To Frau Hofrathin Henriette von Liszt

My Very Dear Cousin,

This time I was not able to have a thorough rest in Vienna. Such an extra [luxury] is hardly my lot anywhere. My life is one continued fatigue. Some one once asked the celebrated Catholic champion Arnauld (the Jansenist) why he did not allow himself some rest. "We have eternity for that," answered he.

I hear for the first time through you of a cousin or niece, Mary Liszt, a concert giver. Concert givers have frequently misused our name by playing under it in provincial towns. A pianist in Constantinople, Herr Listmann, apologised to me for having knocked off the second syllable of his name. On this account he received a valuable present from the then Sultan Abdul-Medgid. .-.

Farewell till our next meeting in Easter week, dear cousin, from yours ever affectionately,

F. Liszt

Budapest, February 8th, 18843

Compared to Liszt, most pianists of his day, or any other day for that matter, could be considered false artists of the piano. This may be the truth of the matter and the explanation of the contents of Liszt's letter to Henriette, written almost four decades after his visit to the Ottoman capital. …

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