Faust – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s most famous work. How I hated it. How I loved. it. As a teenager I had to confront Part I at school. I loved the poetry, I loved the plot, but the work contained so many ideas, allusions, allegories that I would have needed the assistance of Mephistopheles himself to understand it all. But I wasn’t ready to sign the devil’s deal with my own blood and I am not ready for that today, so I guess I will read it once more and hope for the best. If I can’t grasp the forces that hold the universe together – well, there are legions of unafraid scientists to get to the bottom of things.
In Greek mythology, the Titans were members of the second generation of divine beings. In the field of piano music, Franz Liszt was a titan. An exceptionally gifted pianist, an impressive composer, a revolutionary spirit, a paragon for many of the next generation of musicians. But being a titan comes at the price of loneliness. Towards the end of his life, Liszt complained that the world did not understand his language anymore, that his gifts were no longer appreciated.
A welcoming sound. A welcoming house. Back home where I belong to. The cello’s warm voice invites me in while the strings evoke the tense moments of the past. Does this piece mirror Marie Jaëll’s state of mind while she wrote her Cello Concerto in F major? In 1882, the year she wrote this piece, her husband had died. Does the composer try to find consolation in music? She did. She often sat in the wooden shed her father had built for her when she was young, absorbed by her music, and anyone knocking on the door would have to expect the reply: “Marie is not here, she’s in the realm of music.” An exceptional woman living an exceptional life.
Have you ever met what the Germans call a “Schöngeist”? The French equivalent is “un bel esprit” – I found no English term, but I had to think of Oscar Wilde. A person attracted by arts, preferring their superficial beauty over their deeper philosophical meaning, be it a poem, a song, a painting, a statue. Someone who cultivates his sense for aesthetics and surrounds himself with beautiful things. I imagine Franz Liszt being such a “Schöngeist”. He had an extremely developed sensitivity, a passion for superficial beauty and a distinctive penchant for gallant and glamorous people. His music mirrors this character trait.