The Composer and His Muse: Liszt and The Countess d'Agoult

Liszt was in the bloom of youth and of rising fame when he made the acquaintance of the woman to whom his life was to be linked for ten years. The only love affair that produced children (Blandine, Cosima, Daniel). D’Agoult and Liszt met in 1833 at a musical gathering hosted by Marquise Le Vayer. The chemistry was unmistakable. Marie was six years older than the young enchanter, and by the early summer of 1833 their affair was in full bloom.

Liszt visited her in Croissy, and Marie came to Paris where they secretly met in a small apartment affectionately referred to as the “rat hole.” Such was the woman who, captivated by the youth and talent of the Hungarian virtuoso, abandoned for him husband and child, and, sacrificing position, reputation and fortune to her passion, was for ten years the faithful companion of his travels all over Europe.

Following the tragic death of her daughter Louise, Marie d’Agoult found herself pregnant with Franz Liszt’s child. Since she was still married to Charles d’Agoult, it was impossible to stay in Paris. She wrote her husband in May 1835, telling him that their marriage was over. In order to avoid the scandal, which was hardly possible, the lovers made secret arrangements to elope to Switzerland. Parisian society was dumbfounded that a very prominent and beautiful Comtesse should leave her husband for a traveling pianist, and in the public eye the whole affair was branded a flagrant case of abduction. Nevertheless, the couple left for Basle and since Charles d’Agoult had obtained a legal separation from his wife.

She became close to Liszt's circle of friends, including Frédéric Chopin, who dedicated his 12 Études, Op. 25 to her (his earlier set of 12 Études, Op. 10 had been dedicated to Liszt).

Liszt's "Die Lorelei," one of his very first songs, based on text by Heinrich Heine, was also dedicated to her. D'Agoult had three children with Liszt; however, she and Liszt did not marry, maintaining their independent views and other differences while Liszt was busy composing and touring throughout Europe.

The two left Paris for Switzerland in May of that year. Took a trip to Italy in 1837 as an established couple. Also visited George Sand at her home. Both Blandine and Cosima were quietly born out of the country under fabricated birth certificates. 1838, Suttoni claims is the beginning of the end of their relationship (on happy terms, anyway). Daniel was born in May 1839, in November of that year Liszt would embark on a series of performance tours throughout Europe. Touring and absences led to the final end of their relationship in 1844.

Besides many critical contributions on music, painting and sculpture, the Countess tried her hand at political economy and philosophy. In 1845, just about the time she broke off her liaison with Liszt, Madame d'Agoult entered the arena of politics.

Between 1835 and 1836, Liszt composed a collection of pieces entitled “Album d’un voyageur,” which was eventually published in 1842. After some major revisions, the majority of these compositions reappeared in a collection of three suites entitled “Années de pèlerinage.” And the first volume, entitled “Première année: Suisse,” contains a variety of musical, emotional and pictorial impressions from his time spend in Switzerland. Liszt suggested that in this collection “I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impression.”

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The Composer and his Muse: Franz Liszt and Caroline de Saint-Cricq First Love

After Adam Liszt’s death in Bologne-sur-mer in 1827, Franz Liszt met his mother in Paris where they settled down. Liszt, at sixteen, was now the breadwinner of the Liszt family. In order to earn regular income for his mother and himself, Liszt became a piano teacher in Paris for the aristocracy.  was sixteen when she met Liszt. He became her piano teacher, and the two quickly fell in love.

Caroline’s lessons were supervised by her mother. Additionally, her mother approved of the relationship. After becoming ill quite quickly in 1828, she told the Count from her deathbed: “If she loves him, let her be happy." The Count likely thought these words were demented mutterings of a woman at death’s door. He probably did not take this comment seriously and therefore was not fully aware of the relationship blooming between Liszt and his student. Caroline’s mother died in June of 1828.

Though the lessons were postponed due to a period of mourning, Liszt continued to stop by the Saint-Cricq home to check on the grieving Caroline. Their lessons resumed, according to Sitwell, the death of Caroline’s mother may have been an excuse to continue lessons as a distraction.  The Count was often away on government business, and as such the young couple spent time together daily without supervision. Zsolt Harsányi in his book, Immortal Franz: the Life and Loves of Franz Liszt, mentions an aunt who supervised at first, but their gradually extending lessons tired her and she left the two young people alone.

On one fateful occasion, Liszt stayed conversing on topics such as music, poetry, and religion with Caroline past midnight. He had an encounter with the porter of the Saint-Cricq building when he needed to be let out. Adam Walker claims that Liszt was ignorant of the need to fill the porter’s purse in order to remain anonymous. Derek Watson, alternatively, says that Liszt failed to tip the butler who complained to the Count of the late hour. Either way, the servant in question informed Pierre de Saint-Cricq of this occurrence, and the Count met Liszt the next time the musician stopped by. After reminding Liszt of the difference in class between Caroline and himself, the Count ended the lessons and told Liszt that he was not to return to their household, nor see his daughter again. This class difference was already chafing at Liszt, so it was probably a heavy blow.

From the end of the affair in 1828 to about the time of the July Revolution of 1830, Liszt was depressed and ill. He was mistakenly pronounced dead in October of 1828 by an article published in Le Corsaire.

Liszt was certainly not dead, but his romantic relationship with Caroline de Saint-Cricq was over. Though she played an absent role in his life as the symbol of his first love, he only saw her once again in 1844, at her home in Pau, France. He wrote "Ich möchte hingehn" (I would like to go away), later, inspired by their reunion. According to Adrian Williams, she said that Liszt was the “single shining star” of her life.

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The Composer and his Muse: Gabriel Faure, Emma Bardac, Adela Maddison and Marguerite Hasselmans

Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French Romantic composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th-century composers. Among his best-known works are his Pavane, Requiem, nocturnes for piano and the songs "Après un rêve" and "Clair de lune", ("Moonlight") Op. 46 No 2, a song composed in 1887 to words by Paul Verlaine. The lyric is from Verlaine's early collection Fêtes galantes (1869). It inspired not only Fauré but Claude Debussy, who set it in 1881 and wrote a well known piano piece inspired by it in 1891.

"Clair de lune", ("Moonlight") Op. 46 No 2, is a song by Gabriel Fauré, composed in 1887 to words by Paul Verlaine. The pianist Graham Johnson writes that it closes Fauré's second period and opens the doors into his third. Johnson notes that it is "for many people the quintessential French mélodie"

Though Faure lived well into the 20th century, he was born when Chopin was still alive and only eighteen years after Beethoven's death. Most of the Romantic era's composers were his contemporaries, he came to know many of them and outlived most of them.

A master of his craft and innovative in his work, his now classic Requiem was performed at the memorial service for singer Bing Crosby at New York's St. Bartholomew's Church (where the young Leopold Stokowski had been the organist). His music, now a staple of his country's literature, ultimately and perhaps even inevitably made him famous and respected by the musical world - and he was quite deaf toward the end of his life. Beethoven, whose deafness manifested itself relatively early, had lamented why he himself should be ". . . lacking in the sense in which I should be more perfect than others." It takes little effort to imagine the same thought in the mind of composer Gabriel Fauré.

In 1883 Fauré married Marie Fremiet, the daughter of a leading sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet. The marriage was affectionate, but Marie became resentful of Fauré's frequent absences, his dislike of domestic life – "horreur du domicile" – and his love affairs, while she remained at home.

Emma Bardac
According to Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians, ". . . Although he always retained a great affection for his wife, her withdrawn, bitter and difficult character, coupled with Fauré's keen sensuality and desire to please, explain his infidelities." Fauré ultimately had significant liaisons with other (considerably younger) women, each of whom played an important role in his life. Among them were Winnaretta Singer (of Singer Sewing Machines), who commissioned works from him and offered practical assistance, and Emma Bardac, who inspired a song cycle.

Gabriel Fauré's liaison with Emma Bardac in Duchen's words, "began for the first time, in his late forties", he experienced a fulfilling, passionate relationship which extended over several years. His principal biographers all agree that this affair inspired burst of creativity and a new originality in his music, exemplified in the song cycle La bonne chanson. Fauré wrote the Dolly Suite for piano duet between 1894 and 1897 and dedicated it to Bardac's daughter Hélène, known as "Dolly". Some people suspected that Fauré was Dolly's father, but biographers including Nectoux and Duchen think it unlikely. Fauré's affair with Emma Bardac is thought to have begun after Dolly was born, though there is no conclusive evidence either way. Emma later divorced her husband in order to marry another composer - Claude Debussy, his second wife.

Adela Maddison in The Sketch, 1910
Adela Maddison, the beautiful brunette Irish wife of an English attorney who directed a small publishing entity, played the piano and even composed. Her relationship with Fauré initially involved the publication and promotion of Fauré's music in England, to which end she translated some of his songs into English.

From around 1894, Maddison and her husband played a major part in encouraging and facilitating Fauré's entry onto the London musical scene. She became Fauré's pupil, and he thought her a gifted composer. She composed a number of mélodies, setting the works of poets such as Sully Prudhomme, Coppée, Verlaine and Samain in 1900 Fauré told the latter that her treatment of his poem Hiver was masterly.

During 1898 – c. 1905, she lived in Paris without her husband; Fauré's biographer Robert Orledge believes there was a romantic liaison with Fauré, who dedicated his Nocturne No. 7, Op. 74, to her in 1898; this piece was expressive of his feelings towards her, according to Orledge.

Eventually she developed a passion for the admiration and advocacy of his music, and perhaps inevitably, for him as well: leaving her husband and two children in England, she moved to Paris to be near Fauré.

Gabriel Fauré and Marguerite Hasselmans
In August 1900 Fauré met the stunning Marguerite Hasselmans, 31 years his junior. He was 55, the same age as her father. She operatively became Fauré's mistress for the remaining 24 years of his life. She read Russian, conversed philosophically, was bold enough to smoke in public and wear makeup, and was a musician. Their union was a kind of second marriage: they were seldom apart. She taught piano at their Paris residence and took part in public performances of his work. Her presence at the inception of Fauré's music during this period gave her a special and perhaps even unique insight into these works and a first-hand perception of how they should be performed.

Fauré met Marguerite Long in 1903, a student pianist to whom he was introduced by her teacher. He was impressed enough with her skill and interpretation of his piano music to have her study with him. She ultimately promoted Fauré's work significantly by frequently playing it in public, but this became a mixed blessing for the composer. Marguerite Long associated herself with Fauré and his reputation with a zealous ambition that eventually irritated him and wore his patience thin. She proclaimed herself as being "the sole heiress to the Fauré tradition," which prompted him to describe her to an intimate as, "a shameless woman who uses my name to get on." It's still very much to her credit that she continued championing Fauré's music as long as she lived.

Gabriel Fauré suffered from poor health in his later years, brought on in part by heavy smoking. Despite this, he remained available to young composers, including members of Les Six, most of whom were devoted to him. Nectoux writes, "In old age he attained a kind of serenity, without losing any of his remarkable spiritual vitality, but rather removed from the sensualism and the passion of the works he wrote between 1875 and 1895."

In his last months, Gabriel Fauré struggled to complete a string quartet. Twenty years earlier he had been the dedicatee of Ravel's String Quartet. Ravel and others urged Fauré to compose one of his own. He refused for many years, on the grounds that it was too difficult. When he finally decided to write it, he did so in trepidation, telling his wife, "I've started a Quartet for strings, without piano. This is a genre which L.v. Beethoven in particular made famous, and causes all those who are not L.v. Beethoven to be terrified of it." He worked on the piece for a year, finishing it on September 11, 1924, less than two months before he died, working long hours towards the end to complete it. The quartet was premiered after his death; he declined an offer to have it performed privately for him in his last days, as his hearing had deteriorated to the point where musical sounds were horribly distorted in his ear.

Gabriel Fauré died in Paris from pneumonia on November 4, 1924 at the age of 79. He was given a state funeral at the Église de la Madeleine and is buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris.


Yo-Yo Ma on His Breakthrough

Yo-Yo Ma as a child. 
(Photo: Adelaide de Menil)

I was kind of home-schooled until second grade. With music, I started so young, but it wasn’t till I was about 49 that I kind of realized that I was happy being a musician. Because through music, I could actually explore all the things I wanted to in terms of trying to understand people. I realized only then that my passion was people.

I started the violin when I was 3, and I think I screeched away and sounded horrible, so I gave it up. My parents thought I was not talented. So basically they left me alone. My big mistake came when we went to the Paris Conservatory — I was born in Paris — and there was a very large double bass. I saw this double bass and I said, “I want to play that.” The cello was a compromise because I couldn’t play the double bass at age 4. So they said, “Okay, but if you choose the cello, you have to promise that you’re not going to switch again.” So I kept my promise and I’m still playing the cello.

My first wedding gig, I was 15 years old, I was at some camp, and there was an older violinist and a violist and they said, “Hey, kid, you want to go play a wedding?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” This was in upstate New York, Elizabethtown, and they were older, they drove, they had a car — oh my gosh, it was amazing. And then of course came a couple of $20 bills and I said, “Oh my gosh, we got paid for that? That’s amazing.” And same thing in college, people would ask me to do occasional things and I’d get some pizza money, right? I was like, “Wow, you can do that? Incredible.” And of course, money for pizza, this is golden stuff. I still love playing weddings — one of my favorite things to do.

The New York Times reported that on November 29, 1962, a benefit concert called "The American Pageant of the Arts" was to be held with "a cast of 100, including President and Mrs. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Leonard Bernstein (as master of ceremonies), Pablo Casals, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Robert Frost, Fredric March, Benny Goodman, Bob Newhart and a 7-year-old Chinese cellist called Yo-yo Ma, who was brought to the program's attention by Casals."

As biographer Jim Whiting noted, "the article was noteworthy in two respects. First, it included Yo-Yo's name in the same sentence as those of two U.S. presidents and eight world-famous performers and writers. Second, Yo-Yo had been identified in a major newspaper for the first time. It would hardly be the last. In the years since then, the New York Times alone has written about him more than 1,000 times."

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The Composer and his Muse: George Gershwin and Kay Swift

Kay Swift was the first woman to compose an entire Broadway score. The show was Fine and Dandy, a confection tailored to the talents of a little remembered comic named Joe Cook. During the 1930-31 theater season, Fine and Dandy ran neck and neck with the Gershwins' hit Girl Crazy. Swift wrote a handful of songs (such as "Can This Be Love?," "Whistling in the Dark," and "Can't We Be Friends?") that are familiar from recordings, cabaret interpretations, and the waves of Muzak that form the soundtrack for contemporary urban life. Despite all of this, Kay Swift isn't a household name. For posterity, she's linked to the Gershwins, but the link isn't Girl Crazy or anything musical; it's her long love affair with the elusive bachelor George Gershwin.

Born into a well-educated family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Katharine Swift was surrounded from early childhood by artists and their art. Her father, a music critic, took her regularly to the concerts that he covered, and she prowled the backstage corridors of the old Metropolitan Opera House with a close comrade whose mother was one of the company's stars. At the Institute of Musical Art (subsequently Juilliard), Swift received a rigorous musical education and made contacts that would serve her well for years to come. Soon after graduation, she married James Paul Warburg, scion of the German-American banking family that controlled M.M. Warburg in Europe and Kuhn, Loeb in the United States. The newlyweds were conspicuous in Manhattan's Jazz Age society, socializing with the Irving Berlins, the Cole Porters, and the Algonquin wits. At their homes in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut, Katharine and James threw Gatsby-scale parties that made them catnip for the gossip columns.

Defying social position and maternal obligations, Swift became a Broadway
Kay and George
rehearsal pianist and professional composer. She understood implicitly the conventions of both classical and popular music. Endlessly inventive, she had a knack for experimenting with rhythm, harmony, and melody that made all of her songs arresting and the best of them unpredictable. With her taste for leopard print clothes and zebra skin décor, Swift had personal flair, as well. If she was an anomaly in the Warburgs' world, her husband was, too; beneath a bland banker's exterior, James Paul Warburg concealed a poetic sensibility and a gift for rhyme. Using the nom de plume Paul James, he served his wife as lyricist on Fine and Dandy and a number of popular songs.

Both Swift's marriage to Warburg and her professional momentum appear to have been in jeopardy from the moment she crossed paths with George Gershwin; when the two met at a party in 1925, their attraction was, reportedly, immediate and evident to all in the room.

For Swift, Gershwin may have offered a jaunty, rough-edged contrast to Warburg's Harvard-honed suavity. She coached him in etiquette and how to dress for mixing with the upper crust. Because Gershwin's formal musical education had been modest, she tutored him in counterpoint and orchestration. Together, they studied advanced music theory. Adept at taking musical dictation, Kay notated Gershwin's compositions as they flowed from his exuberant imagination. To her this must have seemed like peeking into the inner reaches of his creativity. As though to suggest that they'd come to view the world from the same perspective, she gave him a watch fob shaped like a dove, with gems as its eyes -- one a sapphire, George's birthstone; the other a diamond, which was Kay's. Gershwin wore it as a talisman when he performed in public.

Kay and George Gershwin at Kay’s home, Bydale, in Greenwich, CT.

There are many ways in which one might assemble the puzzle pieces of this relationship. But, to quote a Paul James lyric from Swift's most famous song, "this is how the story ends": Swift subordinated her creativity to the service of Gershwin's genius, functioning as his amanuensis and writing little or nothing of her own for the four years that followed the premiere of Fine and Dandy. Despite the magnitude of that sacrifice, she didn't succeed in her apparent plan to meld her life to his. Oscar Levant, well-acquainted with Gershwin's wandering eye and his wariness to commit, quipped: "Ah, look! Here comes George Gershwin with the future Miss Kay Swift!" Gershwin was known to find married women safer bets than single ones. Perhaps Swift's availability after she divorced Warburg made her less attractive and more intimidating to him, or perhaps they both were astute enough to figure the lousy odds of Gershwin curbing his well-known yen for variety. Whatever the reason, Kay and George went their separate ways when the Gershwin brothers left for Hollywood in the summer of 1936. Less than a year later, at age 38, George died of a brain tumor.

After Gershwin's death in 1937, Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. He said that she knew almost all of George's music, "had taken down sketches as he composed and had total musical recall."

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The Story Behind Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

At age 25, took only three weeks to compose one of the most enduring pieces of American music. Used for the film score to Woody Allen's Manhattan, the episodic and jazzy one-movement piano concerto evokes the hustle and bustle of New York's grand metropolitan aura.

NPR's Jeff Lunden tells the story of Gershwin's most identifiable masterpiece.

This is what Mozart's own violin actually sounds like

Oh, not much to see here, just the violin that Mozart composed countless works of genius with...

This is the holy grail of violins

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart liked to have a good number of instruments lying around his music room and owned a number of violins. We're interested in this one, made by the Klotz family of luthiers in southern Germany around 1700. Today, it lives in the Salzburg Mozarteum under lock and key.

Back in 2013, the violin got a special treat: its first trip to the USA. For its New York debut, the Klotz violin was played by composer, violinist and all-round Mozart fanboy David Fulmer.

Here he is, giving it an affectionate pat on the bottom:

He had a few things to say about the Klotz violin: firstly, it's in great condition and is essentially a window into the past. “It’s incredible to think that Mozart not only used this as a performer, but also as a composer - and on this very violin he wrote and played his five violin concerti and the monumental masterpiece of the Sinfonia Concertante K364.”

It’s quieter than modern instruments, apparently. Here's Fulmer playing an excerpt of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in C K296:

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