Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

"Christ's Mighty Shrine above His Martyr's Tomb": Byron and Liszt's Journey to Rome

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

"Christ's Mighty Shrine above His Martyr's Tomb": Byron and Liszt's Journey to Rome

Article excerpt

Even Liszt's most conscientious biographers do not seem to have realized that he was in Rome by default. It had never been his idea to be married there, and he had never planned to live there. He stayed on because the alternatives were too painful to contemplate. To return to Weimar, Berlin, Paris, or Vienna would have been to expose himself to questions about the thwarted marriage-service that he was not prepared to answer. And so he lingered. He took apartments at Via Felice (which is today the Via Sistina) 113, not far from the Via del Babuino, which enabled him to walk over to see Carolyne every day and offer her some comfort during this period of crisis. He also engaged a manservant, Fortunato Salvagni, to look after his everyday concerns, and he installed a small upright Boisselot piano so that he could continue to compose. But what the immediate future held, he had no idea.1

Is this a true picture of Liszt's life and state of mind in October 1861? Is the whole Roman period an accident? Has it nothing to do with Liszt's development as a composer? Are we to assume that after the travelling piano virtuoso and the Weimar Kapellmeister Liszt was at a loose end, and turned to church music faute de mieux - because he happened to find himself in Rome after getting entrammelled in the skirts of a rich aristocratic woman?

How and why the planned marriage of Liszt and Carolyne did not take place is certainly a complicated question. But why the whole affair was moved from Weimar to Rome is itself a question. Two separate issues have been confused. One issue is how the wedding was cancelled. The other issue is why the wedding was planned to be on October 22, 1861 in Rome, and not in Weimar, or any other town.

In spite of the huge documentation unearthed by Alan Walker in the Vatican Archives, the document that solves the riddle of the cancellation is missing. The last document is dated October 20, 1861, and is a joint deposition signed by Liszt and Princess Wittgenstein declaring that there were no impediments to their marrying. The wedding was planned for October 22, Liszt's 50th birthday, but of course it did not take place. Walker himself acknowledges that there were no legal reasons for the cancellation:

...there is no evidence in the Vatican file to suggest that the document of annulment [ratified by Pope Pius IX on January 7th 1861] was ever upturned... The marriage between Liszt and Carolyne did not take place because Carolyne herself lost heart... Thereafter she had many opportunities to marry Liszt, but after October 21 the matter was allowed to subside.2

Ultimately, therefore, we do not know who cancelled the wedding, or even exactly why it was cancelled. When Carolyne's Protestant husband Prince Nicholas (who had remarried in 1856) died in 1864 she could have remarried - without the need for the consent of the Church. But there was no wedding. The following year Liszt took minor orders.

In 1861 why were Liszt and the Princess in Rome at all? Liszt did not compose the Gran Mass, join the Franciscans, and send a copy of the score of his mass to Pope Pius IX in 1859 - one year before the Princess left Weimar alone to go to Rome - because he was planning a wedding. In February1859 Liszt had met the Papal Chamberlain (later Cardinal) Prince Gustav Hohenlohe in Germany and told him of his plans regarding the reform of church music. In September he received a letter from Hohenlohe in Rome inviting him to stay in the Vatican with him. I gave my opinion on this question twenty-five years ago in my book Revolution and Religion in the Music of Liszt.3 Musically Liszt's interest in Rome long pre-dated his meeting with the Princess in 1847. It dates from 1839 when during his stay in Rome he studied the vocal music of 16th-century composers, a subject researched in great detail by Zsuzsanna Domokos in her PhD thesis The Influence of 19th-century Roman Palestrina Reception on Liszt's Music. In other words Liszt's move to Rome in 1861 was a return. …

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