Liszt and His World: Proceedings of the International Liszt Conference Held at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 20-23 May 1993

By Michael Saffle | Go to book overview

Charles Suttoni


LISZT AND MADAME d'AGOULT
A Reappraisal

The French ladies are all astonished at how
anyone can be si bete as to have trois
enfants. They are perfectly right, and I shall
mind what they say another time.

Countess of Sutherland (1792)1

There are times when a musicologist, or any conscientious historian, is called upon to speculate—times when the facts at his or her disposal provide the what, the when, and where of history, but in doing so raise further questions that they themselves cannot answer, questions that pertain more to the how and the why of what occurred. On occasion, of course, the availability of new information can go some way toward answering these questions. Still, there are other instances when the data are of such a personal, private nature that they never make it into the historical record. Thus, there is a need to assemble what we do know and then speculate as best—and hopefully, as judiciously—as we can about the unknown.

These thoughts were prompted by Franz Liszt's affair with Countess Marie d'Agoult, because I have long felt that some aspects of it did not make sense—or, conversely, that it harbored some unknown, hidden element that had yet to come to light. Not that the affair itself has been neglected in any way. Thousands upon thousands of words have not only been spent to describe it, but their authors have often voiced sharply different opinions of the two protagonists. In this connection, moreover, I have been struck by a curious fact—and permit me a personal observation. It is that men, generally speaking, tend to take a sympathetic, kindly view of Mme d'Agoult: Newman, Haraszti, Gut, and Vier, of course, all extol the Countess in various ways.2 Even Walker,

1 Quoted in Angus McLaren, A History of Contraception: From Antiquity to the Present
Day (Oxford 1990), p. 167.

2 Ernest Newman, The Man Liszt: A Study of the Tragi-Comedy of a Soul Divided Against
Itself (New York 1935); Emile Haraszti, “Franz Liszt-Author Despite Himself: The
History of a Mystification,” Musical Quarterly 33 (October 1947), pp. 490-516; Serge
Gut, Liszt (Paris 1989); and Jacques Vier, La comtesse d'Agoult et son temps (6 vols.;
Paris 1955-1963).

-17-

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