Franz Liszt: A Family Connection

By Zaluski, Iwo | Contemporary Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Franz Liszt: A Family Connection


Zaluski, Iwo, Contemporary Review


WHILE researching the musical history of my family, which goes back to the Polish composer, Prince Michal Kleofas Oginski, I discovered, through my great grand-uncle and Oginski's grandson, Count Karol Zaluski, a tantalising connection with Liszt. He was fleetingly mentioned twice in Liszt's correspondence, and once in the annals of family legend, in which he is reputed to have visited the Ostaszewskis of Wzdow, the family into which Karol's older sister, the pianist, Emma, married. No date is given, and the occasion remains a matter of speculation, but there is enough documentary evidence to piece together an interesting sub-plot to the Liszt story.

Karol Bernard Zaluski was born in the Baltic town of Memel in 1834. Three years later the family moved to their inherited estate at Iwonicz, which, like neighbouring Wzdow, lay in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in what was then the Austrian province of Galicia. Music played a vital part at both Iwonicz and Wzdow; Karol and his eight siblings all received a musical education from their mother Amelia (nee Oginska) who was herself a pianist and composer. Karol showed a talent for the piano and by the time he was sent to Vienna, first to the Theresianum, and then to the University to read Law, he had become a brilliant performer and composer--notably of mazurkas, several of which were published in Vienna. For all that, his talent for logical argument, the dispensation of balanced advice and an understanding of politics superseded his talent for music, and he opted for a career in diplomacy, with music as an important sideline.

In the autumn of 1860 Karol, having cut his teeth on various legal posts in Italy, was back in Vienna angling for a diplomatic posting. It was at that time that he first met Franz Liszt, who was then living close to his lodgings. Liszt had arrived in Vienna in the middle of October for consultations with the Papal Nuncio and Papal Grand Almoner, Monsignor (later Cardinal) Gustav Hohenlohe about the annulment of the marriage of his mistress, the Polish Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein. Karol was one of the few pianists in Vienna--the Austrian capital had long since surrendered her role as musical capital of the world. He was also a listener of documented sensitivity, and no doubt could come up with some legal and personal advice to the enamoured virtuoso. Liszt's efforts were blocked by Hohenlohe, and he may well have told Karol all about it.

Karol no doubt made all the right sympathetic noises because Liszt saw fit to present him with a copy of the first version of his Prelude and Fugue on the theme of B.A.C.H. for organ, in its original publication. On it he inscribed, in French: 'Count Charles Zaluski, affectionate wishes from your grateful neighbour F Liszt Vienna October 60'. Liszt left Vienna for Weimar towards the end of October and Karol found a post as a junior assistant at the Austrian Embassy in Berlin, and continued to play the piano, attend soirees, and compose in his spare time. Some 140 years later my wife Pamela and I were rummaging through a box full of salvaged Zaluski family music that had been kept in the attic of a tone-deaf cousin in Gorzow, north-western Poland, who asked us to check if there was anything of value before binning the lot. Among the rubbish we found the autographed copy of Liszt's B.A.C.H. Fugue.

In 1862, back in Vienna, Karol met Count Hugo Seilern, probably at a musical soiree. Hugo had been born in Vienna in 1840, the son of Count Joseph August Seilern, of the eminent diplomatic Austrian dynasty. Hugo was a pianist and composer, but his easy-going nature, a penchant for the gaming tables, and an indecisiveness as to his choice of career -- music or engineering -- caused him to lack the drive needed to succeed. As two young musicians in a city which could only dream of its past glory in music, they became firm friends and often performed at soirees. …

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