Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Franz Liszt

On a whirlwind eastern European tour that began in Vienna and took him through Hungary, Transylvania, and into Russia, Liszt gave three concerts in Kiev in January 1847, charismatically exciting the usual furor and intrigues, and looming even larger in life than the legend preceding him. In Kiev, he riveted the attention of an exceedingly plain, intellectually intense, and stupendously wealthy woman, soon to turn 28 -- Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, mistress over 30,000 serfs on lands so vast that it required several days' journey by horseback to go from border to border. Her anonymous gift of 100 rubles to Liszt's charity subscription in Kiev prompted him to seek her out. She invited him to visit her at Woronince, her estate deep in the heart of Polish Ukraine, and Liszt accepted, staying with her for ten days in February. A recognition, or elective affinity, had taken hold. Liszt completed his tour by going as far as Constantinople, where he played for the Sultan, Abdul-Medjid Khan. He met the princess again in Odessa and, after having given his final public recital in Elisabetgrad in September, he reached Woronince again later that month. Liszt spent the winter with Princess Carolyne, and when he emerged from his retreat to take a post as kapellmeister to the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar, Carolyne was his constant companion. Unfortunately, Carolyne was married (as had been Liszt's former mistress, the glamorous Comtesse Marie d'Agoult), an unhappy union that produced one daughter and a permanent, litigious separation. For the remainder of their lives, Liszt and the princess would be preoccupied with attempting to win ecclesiastical acceptance of their union (e.g., through annulment of her marriage) for their bond was deeply anchored in a shared, burningly mystical Catholic faith. During his winter stay at Woronince, Liszt completed Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, whose title is taken from a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine, as the collection of pieces in which it found its place, Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses, published in 1853, is drawn from Lamartine's like-titled volume. A sketch for Bénédiction goes back to November 1845, though in Liszt's relief at having found a kindred spirit the piece expanded at Woronince into a rapt consummation of Lamartine's lines, "Whence comes, o God, this peace which overwhelms me?/Whence comes its faith with which my heart overflows?" Never again would Liszt strike such a sustained tone of childlike trust as in this serenely glowing meditation, winged with an aura of utter simplicity.