Sigismond Thalberg [There are many variants of his name in use. Some authors wrote "Sigismund Fortuné François", whereas others gave only "Sigismund". In Italy he is usually called "Sigismondo"; and in France as well as in the English speaking world the most commonly used form is "Sigismond". Thalberg himself usually signed as "S. Thalberg", but at his wedding used the form "F.J.S. Thalberg"(See: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.4.), which can be inferred as "François Joseph Sigismund" or "François Joseph Sigismond Thalberg". Without pretending to decide which variant is to be regarded as correct, in the present article only the form "Sigismond" will be used.] (
January 8, 1812– April 27 1871) was a composerand one of the most distinguished virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.
Descent and family background
Sigismond Thalberg was born in Pâquis near
Geneva, Switzerland, on January 8, 1812. According to his birth certificate, he was the son of "Joseph Thalberg" and "Fortunée Stein", both from Frankfurt-am-Main, but the names in the birth certificate are now regarded as fictitious. For reasons of Thalberg's illegitimate birth, during his lifetime it was common use not to call his parents true names. François-Joseph Fétis, in the article "Thalberg" in his "Biographie universelle des musiciens" (1863), therefore wrote that Thalberg was son of a Prince „M.. D..“ and a Baroness „W...“.
The identity of Thalberg's mother as Baroness Wetzlar was disclosed 1871 by L. R. von Kohlenegg (Poly Henrion) in an article for the paper "Ueber Land und Meer" and 1882 by Constant von Wurzbach in the eighth volume of his "Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Österreich". As excuse for their being indiscreet both authors wrote that the Baroness herself had always admitted that Sigismond Thalberg was her son. She wore a ring on one of her thumbs and told people who had asked her about it, that the ring had been given to her by Thalberg's father after she had given birth to the child. She was born Julia Bydeskuty von Ipp, from a Hungarian family of a lower rank of the nobility. In 1820 she married a Baron von Wetzlar. [See: d’Agoult: "Mémoires II", p.306, n.158; also see: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.3, where her name is given as "Julie d'Eyb Bidescuty".]
Concerning the identity of Thalberg's father, contemporaries were convinced that he was either Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein or his younger brother Count Moritz. Liszt, who met both in Vienna in April 1838, referred to the Prince as Thalberg's father in a letter to
Marie d'Agoultof April 14, 1838. [See: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.215f.] In fact, Prince von Dietrichstein held several further titles besides. According to the "Gothaische genealogische Adelskalender", he was also Freiherrvon Thalberg and could therefore be called Franz Joseph von Thalberg. Sigismond Thalberg, during his stays in Vienna, lived at Prince von Dietrichstein's home. [See for example: Bülow: "Briefe II", p.52f.] From this it can be refuted that he had invented or sustained a colourful legend of descent from a prominent family. ["Contra": Walker: "Liszt I", p.232.] In a sense, his father Prince von Dietrichstein, i. e. Franz Joseph von Thalberg, had given his true name in the birth certificate. The meaning of the mother's recorded name "Fortunée" is "The Happy". Prince von Dietrichstein could not marry her because he had already married Alexandrine Countess Schuwalow on July 16, 1797. In January 1812 he may have thought of a fictitious married couple D. and F. Stein, resulting in the parentage on the birth certificate for Thalberg.
Little is known about Thalberg's childhood and early youth. Nearly all authors wrote that his mother had brought him to Vienna at age of 10. If this is true, Thalberg had arrived in the very year in which the 10-year old
Franz Liszttogether with his parents came to Vienna to take piano lessons from Carl Czerny. However the authors gave no sources from which their statement can be verified. According to Thalberg's own account, he attended the first performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony at the concert on May 7, 1824, in the Kärntnerthortheater. [See: Thayer: "Beethoven" Vol. 5, p.92.] It is therefore only sure that Thalberg mainly lived in Vienna since that time.
It is frequently stated that Thalberg had studied piano-playing under
Carl Czernyor Johann Nepomuk Hummel, but there is no evidence in sources for this. In Czerny's "Lebenserinnerungen" Thalberg is not even mentioned. According to Fétis in the article in his "Biographie universelle des musiciens", Thalberg denied to have studied under Czerny or Hummel. Thalberg mentioned August Mittag instead, first bassoonist at the Hofoper in Vienna, but this might have been meant as a joke. Baroness Wetzlar, his mother, who according to Wurzbach was during his childhood and early youth occupied with his education, was a brilliant amateur pianist. It may therefore have been she herself who gave him first instructions.
"Euryanthe", was published.
In 1830 Thalberg met Mendelssohn and
Fréderic Chopinin Vienna. According to some of their letters, they both got the impression that Thalberg's main strength was astonishing technical skills. [See: Chopin: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.243, and: Mendelssohn: "Briefe", p.118f.] Further information can be found in the diary of the 10-year old Clara Wieck. She had heard Thalberg on May 14, 1830, at a concert which he gave in the theatre of Leipzig. He had played his own Piano Concerto op.5 and a fantasy of his own. Two days before, Clara Wieck had played the first solo of the 2nd Concerto of John Fieldto him, and, together with him, the first movement of a four handed Sonata of Hummel. According to her diary, it was written by her father Friedrich Wieck at this time, Thalberg had played "sehr fertig" ("very accomplished"). His playing was clear and precise, also very strong and with expression, but did not make enough effect. [See: Wieck: "Jugendtagebücher", p.56.]
In the early 1830s Thalberg studied counterpoint under
Simon Sechter, who later taught Anton Bruckner. As a result, canons and fugues can be found in some of Thalberg's fantasies of this time. An example is his Fantasy op.12 on melodies from Bellini's opera "Norma". The fantasy has a rather long introduction and after this two main parts. For the first of them Thalberg took a march-theme and made variations of it. The second variation is a canon. For the second main part Thalberg took a lyrical theme and made a fugue on the theme. In the finale, the themes of both parts are united.
Thalberg's "Norma-fantasy" was published in 1834 and became very popular after some years. But after publication, it was initially regarded by some as irritating to find counterpoint in a fantasy on popular operatic melodies. An ironic review by
Robert Schumannin the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 2 (1835), p.178, is an example. Another example can be found in the Parisian paper "Le Pianiste" of January 5, 1835, p.40. [Thalberg's "Norma-fantasy" was in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" of July 22, 1835, p.469ff, defended against Schumann's review and in "Cäcilia" 17, p.130, described as one of the best piano works of the time.] Thalberg changed his composing style, omitting most of the counterpoint, and was successful with this. Several of his works in his new style, among them the "Deux Airs russes variés" Op.17, were enthusiastically praised even by Schumann. [Schumann's review of Thalberg's op.17 can be found in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" of August 19, 1836, p.69.]
Commencement of the virtuoso career
In November 1835 Thalberg arrived in
Paris. He performed on November 16, 1835, at a private concert of the Austrian ambassador Count Rudolph Apponyi. On January 24, 1836, he took part in a concert of the "Society of the Paris Conservatoire concerts", playing his "Grande fantaisie" op.22. Thalberg was praised by many of the most prominent artists, among them Rossiniand Meyerbeer.
Chopin didn't share his fellow artists' enthusiasm. After hearing Thalberg play, in Vienna, Chopin wrote: " He plays splendidly, but he's not my man. He's younger than I and pleases the ladies - makes "potpourris" on "La Muette" - produces his "piano" and "forte" with the pedal, not the hand- takes tenths as I do octaves and wears diamond shirt studs.
His début at the Conservatoire concert was in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of
January 31, 1836, p.38f, enthusiastically reviewed by Hector Berlioz.
The Parisian "Ménestrel" of
March 13, 1836wrote: [Quoted after the translation in: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.9.] On April 16, 1836, Thalberg gave his first own concert in Paris, and the success was again sensational. According to Rudolph Apponyi's diary, Thalberg made a profit of 10,000 Francs, and it was a sum which no virtuoso had gained before from a single concert. [See: Apponyi: "Journal III", p.231.] Thalberg afterwards left Paris, travelling via Brusselsto London. Franz Liszt, who had — until then — regarded himself as Europe's leading piano virtuoso, had heard of Thalberg's successes during the winter 1835-36 in Geneva, in spring 1836 in Lyon, and in Paris. According to his letter to Marie d'Agoultof April 29, 1836, he felt as if he himself were the exiled Napoleon. [Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.147ff.] On January 8, 1837, in the "Revue et Gazette musicale", a review by Liszt of some of Thalberg's piano works appeared. The editors of the "Revue et Gazette musicale" added a remark, they would not share Liszt's opinions and were not responsible for it. Liszt claimed that all of Thalberg's music was completely worthless. He lost many friends and made many enemies with this. [See the article by Joseph Mainzer in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 6 (1837), p.185. More examples for contemporary reactions to Liszt's review can be found in: Dooley: "The Virtuoso Liszt", p.52.]
After Thalberg had for a second time arrived in Paris in the beginning of February 1837, a kind of rivalry flowed between him and Liszt, the admirers of the both pianists were to blame for this or the tickets sellers. However, this didn't reflected on Liszt and Thalberg, their paths crossed several times, and their relationship was always cordial. While Liszt was heard in more than a dozen of concerts, Thalberg only gave on
March 12, 1837, a concert in the Paris Conservatoireand a further concert on April 2, 1837. To this came on March 31, 1837, a benefit concert to raise money for Italian refugees, where Thalberg as well as Liszt performed. [Liszt played the first movement of Hummel's Septet and his own "Niobe-fantasy"; Thalberg played his "Moïse-fantasy".] Liszt distributed free tickets, and asked prominent critics to write positive reviews of some of his concerts. [See Liszt's letter to Marie d'Agoult from the beginning of February 1837, in: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.183, Liszt's letter to Joseph d'Ortigue in: Liszt: "Briefe VIII", p.5, and Legouvé: "Liszt et Thalberg", p.146f. From a comparison of Legouvé's account with the letter to d'Ortigue it is evident that the letter was written on March 20, 1837.] But in his later years he admitted that Thalberg had had many more admirers and much more success in Paris than he himself. According to Liszt, his own playing had been a "Tohuwabohu von Gefühlen" ("a complete chaos of emotions"). Czerny, who in spring 1837 had travelled to Paris, was terrified when listening to his former pupil Liszt play.. [See: Göllerich: "Liszt", p.21, and: Czerny: "Lebenserinnerungen", p.9.] There are contemporary reviews from Paris, in which Liszt got the advice to take Thalberg as a model for his own playing. [Examples can be found in reviews of the benefit concert on March 31, 1837, in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of April 9, 1837, and of Liszt's "Farewell concert" on April 9, 1837, in "La Presse" of April 10, 1837.]
In April 1837 Thalberg travelled via Brussels to London again. On
May 17, 1837, he gave a concert in London. In "The Athenaeum" of May 20, 1837, p.371, the following review appeared:
The review is typical for Thalberg who during the following years was always and everywhere praised in such kind. His fantasy op.33 on melodies from Rossini's "Moïse" was one of the most famous concert pieces of the 19th century. [The fantasy was still praised by Berlioz in his "Memoirs" (1869), whereas Berlioz did not mention a single composition by Liszt; also see: Wurzbach: "Biographisches Lexikon", Vol. VIII (1882), p.121, and p.125.] The fantasy was published at end of March 1839 and in May 1839 studied by
Clara Wieckwho was delighted by it. [See her letter to Schumann, in: Schumann: "Briefwechsel II", p.522.] It was afterwards played by many other artists. In 1848 the fantasy was played by Liszt's daughter Blandine. [See the letter by Anna Liszt (Liszt's mother) to Liszt from June 20, 1848, in: Liszt: "Briefwechsel mit seiner Mutter", p.411.]
On February 4, Sigismund Thalberg heard Franz Liszt play in concert for the first time in his life. Thalberg was stupefied on hearing him play. In front of several people he said aloud that he had never heard anything like it.
After Thalberg's stay in London in May 1837, he made a first, short tour, giving concerts in several towns in Great Britain, but he became ill and returned rather soon to
Vienna. In spring 1838 he gave concerts in Parisagain. A note in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of March 4, 1838, p.104, shows that Thalberg's fame had in the meanwhile grown. He was called "le plus illustre de nos compositeurs" ("the most famous of our composers") now. Thalberg left Paris on April 18, 1838, travelling to Vienna, where on the very day Franz Lisztgave a charity concert for the benefit of the victims of a flood in Hungary.
On April 18, 1838, shortly after his concert, Liszt wrote in a letter to
Marie d'Agoult, "Tremendous success", he told Marie. "Recalled fifteen to eighteen times. A packed house. Universal amazement. Thalberg hardly exists at the moment in the memory of the Viennese. Never have I had such a success." [See: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.218.] The Thalbergites in Vienna (for these comparisons will never end), who prided themselves on their impartiality to begin with, were beginning to be seriously vexed. The reason for this was: In living memory no one had had such a success in Vienna, not even Paganini.
Thalberg invited Liszt for dinner, and the two great pianists dined together on the 28th with Thalberg's father, Prince Moritz Dietrichstein, who told Liszt, that he was delighted to have "Castor and Pollux" together in his home. During the evening, Thalberg remarked to Liszt with admirable candour : " In comparison with you, I have never enjoyed more than a "succes d'estime" in Vienna". They dined again the next day, after Liszt's concert on
April 29, 1838. Liszt and Thalberg were both dinner guests of Mettenich
[See Liszt's letter to Marie d'Agoult of April 30, 1838, in: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", S.216; also see Liszt's letter to Lambert Massart of June 3, 1838, in: Vier: "L’artiste - le clerc", p.45.] Until the end of Liszt's stay in Vienna Thalberg did not perform at all. [See: Liszt's own account in: Legány: "Unbekannte Presse und Briefe", p.57.] Nevertheless, he was still praised. In a review of Liszt's own charity concert on
April 18, 1838, for example, he was described as the winner of the "piano duel" of spring 1837 in Paris. [See: Legány: "Unbekannte Presse und Briefe", p.57.]
Liszt left Vienna at end of May 1838 and promised, he would return for further concerts in September. At this time Thalberg was in Vienna again, but for reasons of his private life Liszt did not appear. In October 1838 Thalberg became acquainted with
Robert Schumann. Schumann had come to Vienna because he had made plans to settle there. He wanted to negotiate with the publishers Haslinger and Mechetti with respect to possibilities for publication of the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik". In October and November 1838 Schumann visited Thalberg for several times.
According to Schumann's diary, Thalberg played from memory etudes by Chopin, Kessler and
Ferdinand Hiller. He also played with great skills and imposing inspiration works by Beethoven, Schubert and Dussekas well as Schumann's "Kreisleriana" op.16 at sight. [See: Schumann: "Tagebücher II", p.78f; also see: Schumann: "Briefwechsel I", p.274.] On November 27, 1838, Thalberg took part in a charity concert, playing his new fantasy op.40 on melodies from Rossini's opera "La Donna del Lago" ("The Lady of the lake" after Walter Scott). At an own "Farewell concert" on December 1, 1838, he played three of his Etudes op.26, his fantasy op.33 on "Moïse" and his "Souvenir de Beethoven" op.39, a fantasy on melodies from Beethoven's symphonies. [See: Schumann: "Tagebücher II", p.490f, n.305.] As a result, in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" of March 8, 1839, p.77f, a review by Schumann of the second book of Thalberg's Etudes op.26 appeared. In enthusiastic words Schumann wrote, Thalberg had actually earned all of the wreaths which were wound for him everywhere. As a conclusion, Schumann added to this, "He is a God when sitting at the piano."
First long tour
After Thalberg's "Farewell concert" in Vienna, his first long tour commenced. On
December 19and December 21, 1838, he gave two brilliantly successful concerts in Dresden. Besides, he performed twice at the King of Saxon's court. He was richly rewarded by the King and to this received the title of a Royal Saxon chamber virtuoso. In a famous episode Thalberg told the King: "Wait, until you have heard Liszt!" [See for example Marie d'Agoult's letter to Henri Lehmann of September 26, 1839, in: Joubert: " _fr. Correspondance romantique", p.35.] After his stay in Dresden he went to Leipzig, where he gave a concert on December 28, 1838. The concert was attended by Mendelssohn who on the following day, in a letter to his sister Fanny, gave an enthusiastic account. Thalberg had played his fantasy op.40 on Rossini’s "La Donna del Lago" which was praised by Mendelssohn in highest terms. [See: Mendelssohn: "Briefwechsel mit Fanny", p.294f.] Mendelssohn was since then a friend and admirer of Thalberg.
After a second concert in Leipzig on
December 30, 1838, Thalberg travelled to Berlin, to give a series of concerts there. Via Danzig(now Gdańsk, Poland), Mitau(now Jelgava) and several further places he afterwards travelled to St. Petersburg. According to contemporary reviews, many of which can be found in the "Leipziger allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" and in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik", he had always and everywhere been praised in superlatives. From St. Petersburg he went on a steamboat to Londonwhere he gave further concerts. He then travelled to Brussels, to meet the violinist Charles de Bériot, his friend. In Brussels Thalberg performed for several times in private. According to an account in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of August 15, 1839, p.311, people in Brussels, listening to Thalberg, had had impressions like hallucinations. They could hardly trust their own eyes and ears when he was playing. During this time even Liszt, staying in Italy, was looking respectfully at Thalberg. In an entry from summer 1839 in Marie d'Agoult's diary, it is to be read in Liszt's words that he was content to be regarded as "the second" or "a half of the first", since he would have to share the first prize with Thalberg. [See: d’Agoult: "Souvenirs I", p.201.]
From Brussels Thalberg travelled to the Rhineland. Together with Bériot he gave with overwhelming success a series of concerts. Since fall 1839, a tour in Great Britain was following. After triumphant successes Thalberg returned to
Londonin the beginning of February 1840. It had been announced already one year ago that in spring 1840 Liszt would return to Paris. For this reason Thalberg travelled from London to Paris. Together with Baroness Wetzlar, his mother, he arrived in February 1840, awaiting Liszt.
Thalberg had in December 1838, during his stay in Leipzig, already announced, he would take a time off after the end of his tour. He kept it that way and did not perform at any concert during his stay in spring 1840 in Paris.Liszt had for a last time on
April 23, 1837, performed at a concert in Paris. He had afterwards left Paris and had lived until November 1839 mainly in Italy. In winter 1839-40, his own career as travelling virtuoso had commenced. Until spring 1840 he had given concerts in Vienna, Pest, Prague, Dresden and Leipzig. In Leipzig Liszt met Mendelssohn, who on March 30, 1840, in a letter to his mother wrote:
:"Liszt was here for a fortnight and was the cause of a tremendous uproar in both a good and a bad sense. I consider him to be a fundamentally good, warm-hearted man and an admirable artist. There is no doubt that he plays most of all of them, yet Thalberg, with his composure, and within his more restricted sphere, is more nearly perfect as a real virtuoso; and after all this is the standard by which Liszt must also be judged, for his compositions are inferior to his playing, and, in fact, are calculated solely for virtuosi." [Quoted after the translation in: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.73.]
Liszt had in several of his letters to
Marie d'Agoultdescribed his coming return to Paris, which he imagined as triumphant beginning of a new period of his life. According to his letter of March 11, 1840, it was regarded by him as a point of honour, to give a series of concerts in Paris and to gain at least 15,000 Francs from them. [See: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance I", p.407.] But after his arrival in Paris, Liszt actually gave not more than a single concert on April 20, 1840, at the Salons Erard. He did not gain any money, because it was a private concert to which he himself had invited the audience. From his later letters to Marie d'Agoult it is known that it had been she who had told him, he had still many enemies in Paris. It had been her advice, that for this reason he should better not take part in any concert. [See: Liszt-d’Agoult: " _fr. Correspondance II", p.352.] Liszt's enemies were still remembering his aggressions against Thalberg from the beginning of 1837.
After Liszt's concert, in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" 1840, p.285f, a review by Henri Blanchard appeared. The review was in its first parts praising. But in a later part Blanchard reminded of
Molièrewho, with his naïve genius, had taken some good scenes from works of predecessors, to use them for his own works. According to Blanchard, Liszt had in the past dared to enter a fight with Thalberg, the Cesar, Octavian or Napoleon of the piano. In order to gain a small part of Thalberg's crown, Liszt had now adopted the famous thumbs-melody of which all pianists of France were dreaming.
Blanchard's hint concerning the famous thumbs-melody was reminding of a debate in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" from spring 1837 between Liszt and
François-Joseph Fétis, the director of the conservatory in Brussels. Fétis had in an article "M.M. Thalberg et Liszt" in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of April 23, 1837, defended Thalberg against Liszt's attacks. In a reply in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of May 15, 1837, Liszt had claimed, it would be nothing new to his rival's style. Thalberg would only play arpeggios and thumbs-melodies, i. e. large arpeggios, partitioned to both hands, and to this, melodies played with the thumbs, and nothing else besides. According to Liszt, this kind of playing had been the only cause of Thalberg's success. On April 20, 1840, at the Salons Erard, Liszt played, besides some other pieces, the Etude in A-flat major of his "Grandes Etudes", his "Andante finale de Lucia di Lammermoor" and his transcription of Schubert's song "Ave Maria". In long parts of those pieces his audience was listening to arpeggios and thumbs-melodies, which were now played by Liszt.
Escudier is referring to an article published by Liszt in the Revue et gazette musicale of 8 Jan. 1837. Not unjustly but certainly unwisely- for it gave the impression Liszt was motivated by envy. In the article Liszt described Thalberg's jusic as mediocre, monotous, and pretentious. This had antagonized Thalberg's admirers; and the Belgian musicologist F.J Fetis (1784–1871), author of the monumental "Biographie universelle des musiciens" had come out with an essay ("Revue et gazette musicale", 23 Apr.) whose culminating charge angainst Liszt was; "You are the product of a school which is ending and has nothing further to say; you are not the man of a new school. That "man" is Thalberg. This is the whole difference between you."(About this judgement, the erroneousness of which became all too apparent even in Fetis lifetime, the late Bernard Gavoty remarked: " Scarcely would it possible to poke one's finger more effectively into one's own eye!"
After the end of the Parisian concert season, Thalberg travelled as tourist in the Rhineland. In the beginning of June 1840 he attended a music festival, directed by
Louis Spohr, in Aachen. He got an invitation from the Russian Czarina and performed at a court-concert in Ems, but it was this his only concert during his stay in the Rhineland. According to a note in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of August 2, 1840, p.410, the violinist Bériot, Thalberg's friend, would get married two days later in Elsene ( Ixelles). His bride was a young lady Huber, born in Vienna, from Germany. She was orphan and had been adopted by Prince von Dietrichstein, Thalberg's father. It may therefore be presumed that Thalberg wanted to take part in the celebration of the wedding. During the times before he wanted to relax in the Rhineland.
Thalberg and Liszt in 1841
During the winter 1840–1841, it was now
Lisztwho made a concert tour in Great Britain. He was frequently compared with Thalberg, who had performed at the same places one year before.
The following review of Liszt's concert on
December 8, 1840, in Sheffieldis a typical example: ["Liszt’s British Tours (iv)", in: "Liszt Society Journal" 11 (1986), p.47.]
December 15, 1840, Liszt wrote a letter to Fétis in Brussels. In a first part he announced that he would travel to Brussels in February 1841 to give concerts. Liszt asked Fétis for some preparations and other kinds of help, and reminded him of their former controversy and suggested reconciliation. In February 1841, Liszt and Fétis met in Brusselsand were friends since that time. [See: Protzies: "Studien zur Biographie Franz Liszts", p.224ff.]
After his stay in Brussels and further concerts in Belgium, Liszt went to Paris to give concerts. Until the end of April 1841 he had the impression that he had at last reached the position he desired. [See his letter to Franz Schober of April 30, 1841, in: Liszt: "Briefe", p.78. Also see his letter to Princess Belgiojoso of May 18, 1841, in: Ollivier: "Autour de Mme d’Agoult et de Liszt", p.176; the letter's date is erroneously given as March 18, 1841, there.] In the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of
May 9, 1841, p.261ff, an essay "Etudes d'exécution transcendante" by Fétis appeared, in which Liszt was praised for a new composing style he had found. According to Fétis, Thalberg's first appearance in Paris had evoked a crisis for Liszt. Since it had been obvious that Thalberg was the creator of a new kind of art, Liszt had been embarrassed, not knowing what to do. But during his stay in Italy he got an idea. He remembered the lectures on the "ordre omnitonique" given by Fétis in 1832 which Liszt had attended. As second component he took textures from Thalberg's works. Putting both altogether, Liszt had created his own composing style. He was, in short, harmonically Fétis and pianistically Thalberg. In letters to Fétis of May 17, 1841, and to Simon Löwy of May 20, 1841, Liszt agreed with this. [See: Jung, Hans Rudolf: "Franz Liszt in seinen Briefen", Berlin 1987, p.78f, and Liszt: "Briefe I", p.43.]
Thalberg performed in
Brusselsin fall 1840. [See: "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 14 (1841), p.7f.] He then travelled to Frankfurt-am-Mainwhere he stayed until January 1841. It had been announced that Thalberg would give concerts in Paris again in spring 1841, but he changed his plans. In Frankfurt he took part in a charity concert on January 15, 1841, in favour of the orphan Johanna Körbel, playing his fantasies on "La Donna del Lago" and "Huguenots". [See the announcement in the "Frankfurter Ober-Postamts-Zeitung" 1841, p.108.] But this was Thalberg's only concert appearance in Frankfurt. He was busily composing new works. His "Second Don Juan-fantasy" op.42 up to the fantasy op.51 on Rossini's "Semiramis" came to existence during this time.
In the second half of January 1841, Thalberg travelled from Frankfurt to
Weimar. He performed for three times at the Grand Duke's court and on January 30, 1841, in the Theatre of Weimar. From Weimar Thalberg went to Leipzig, arriving on February 6, 1841. On February 7, 1841, he visited Mendelssohn and on February 8, 1841, Schumann. In the evening of February 8, 1841, he gave an own concert in Leipzig, playing his "Second Don Juan-fantasy" op.42, his "Andante final de Lucia di Lammermoor" op.44. his "Thême et Etude" op.45 and his "Caprice" op.46 on melodies from Bellini's "La Sonnambula".
The concert was in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 14 (1841), p.58, enthusiastically reviewed by Schumann.
Clara Schumannwrote as entry in the diary: [Translated from: Schumann: "Tagebücher II", p.146.]
Concerning Thalberg's visit at Mendelssohn's, there is the following account by Mendelssohn's student Horsley: [Horsley: "Reminiscences of Mendelssohn", p.355.]
After his stay in Leipzig, Thalberg gave concerts in
Breslauand Warsaw. He then travelled to Viennaand gave two concerts there. In Vienna it had been Liszt who in winter 1839–1840 had had triumphant successes in a series of concerts. Nevertheless, the two concerts of Thalberg were sufficient to match Liszt's triumphs. In a review in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 43 (1841), p.753f, Thalberg was described as Liszt's only rival. While he was equivalent with Liszt in technical respects, he surpassed that giant in his playing style.
End of the rivalry with Liszt
In winter 1841–1842, Thalberg gave concerts in Italy, while
Liszt, from end of December 1841 until beginning of March 1842, gave a series of concerts in Berlin. The enthusiasm evoked by Liszt in Berlin is well-known as "Lisztomania" and has often been considered as a climax of Liszt's career. But, in fact, Liszt made many enemies, and this for political reasons in connection with the Rhine Crisis of the early 1840s.
In 1840, the French Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers had demanded the return of territories on the west bank of the Rhine from the German federation to France. Although there had been no substantial political effect, since France soon backed down, the Rhine Crisis had a strong impact on the development of patriotic and anti-French emotions in Germany. The Rhine was since then a symbol of German patriotism. There were many poems and songs about the Rhine with decisive nationalistic and anti-French tone. Liszt's "Rheinweinlied", composed in late summer 1841 with words "Der Rhein soll deutsch verbleiben" ("The Rhine shall remain German"), was regarded as one of them. Liszt had also composed his "Das deutsche Vaterland" after
Ernst Moritz Arndtwho was well-known for his strong German patriotic and anti-French attitude. Both pieces had been performed at Liszt's concerts in Berlin, and he had been praised for his true German nationalistic loyalty there. [For more details see the chapter "Liszt and the German nation, 1840-43" in: Gooley: "The Virtuoso Liszt", p.156ff.]
It was an easy task for Thalberg, to match Liszt's successes in Berlin. In the beginning of April 1842 he wrote in a postcard to a friend in Paris, he would like to give concerts again. He then returned via
Marseilles, Toulonand Dijon, arriving on April 11, 1842, in Paris. On the next day he gave his first, and on April 21 his second concert. According to an account by Berlioz, Thalberg made a profit of 12,000 Francs from his first, and of 13,000 Francs from his second concert. The concerts were in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" reviewed by Henri Blanchard who two years before, in his review of Liszt's concert on April 20, 1840, had nominated Thalberg as Cesar, Octavian or Napoleon of the piano. In spring 1842, Blanchard reached for new superlatives even surpassing his former ones. In his review of Thalberg's second concert he wrote, Thalberg would in 100 years have been canonized, and by all coming pianists be invoked with name of Holy Thalberg. According to the account by Berlioz, at the end of Thalberg's second concert a golden crown was thrown to the stage. Thalberg could since then consider him himself as "Emperor Sigismond". [See: "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 16 (1842), p.171f, and "Revue et Gazette musicale" 1842, p.181.]
In addition to his own concerts, Thalberg took part in a concert of Emile Prudent. He afterwards left Paris, travelling via
Brusselsto Londonwhere he was successful in concerts again. According to a note in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of July 3, 1841, p.279, it was expected that Thalberg would after a short stay in Boulogne return to Paris. But in the meanwhile Liszt had arrived in Paris, and Thalberg kept staying in Boulogne. Liszt gave on June 30, 1842, a concert in favour of a travelling opera company from Mainz. At the concert his "Rheinweinlied" was performed with German text. As consequence, Liszt made further enemies in France. At the same time, Thalberg was decorated with the Cross of the French Legion of Honour. [See the note in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of July 3, 1842, p.279.]
Liszt performed on
July 17and July 20, 1842, at concerts in Liègeand on July 24, 1842, at a concert in Brussels. After Liszt had left, Thalberg appeared for a short stay in Brussels. [See the note from Brussels of July 30, 1842, in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 44 (1842), p.633.] Thalberg then travelled to Viennawhere he kept staying until fall 1842. During the second half of November until December 12, 1842, he made a further tour in Great Britain [See: "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 18 (1843), p.22.] , and in January 1843 he returned to Paris. At end of March 1843 he performed at a private concert of Pierre Erard, but this was his only concert appearance during the present Parisian season. [See: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 18 (1843), p.145f.]
The atmosphere in Paris was still hostile towards Liszt. An example is
Heinrich Heine, who in March 1843 wrote about Thalberg:quote|His performance is so gentlemanly, so entirely without any forced acting the genius, so entirely without that well-known brashness that makes a poor cover for inner insecurity. Healthy women love him. So do sickly women, even though he does not engage their sympathy by epileptic seizures at the piano, even though he does not play at their overstrung, delicate nerves, even though he neither electrifies them nor galvanizes them". [Quoted after the translation in: Hominick: Thalberg, p.44.]
Phrases of electrified or galvanized women were commonly used in descriptions of the "Lisztomania". The artist, who was engaging sympathy by epileptic seizures at the piano, was therefore to be understood as an allusion to Liszt.
In winter 1843-44 Thalberg gave concerts in Italy again. At end of March 1844 he returned to Paris, where at the same time also Liszt was expected. Liszt arrived on April 8 and gave on April 16 a first concert, at which he played his "Norma-fantasy", published shortly before.
When composing his fantasy, Liszt had put many Thalberg-effects to it. In his later years, he told August Göllerich, one of his pupils: [Göllerich: "Liszt", p.184.]
During the time of Thalberg's stay in Paris, Liszt's own "Norma-fantasy" was missing in the programs of his following concerts. On
May 11and on May 28, 1844, Liszt played the "Norma-fantasy" by Thalberg instead. [Liszt's concert programs are documented in: Keeling, Geraldine: "Liszt’s Appearances in Parisian Concerts, Part 2: 1834-1844", in: "Liszt Society Journal" 12 (1987), p.20f.]
Shortly after Liszt's concert on
May 11, 1844, Thalberg left Paris. He travelled to London and gave on May 28, 1844, a concert there. At a further concert in London he played a concerto for three pianos by J. S. Bachtogether with Moschelesand Mendelssohn. [An account of the concert can be found in Horsley's "Remininscences of Mendelssohn".] He also took part in a concert of Jules Benedict. In August 1844 he returned to Paris where he stayed until 1845. During the winter 1844–45 he gave a piano course for selected students at the Paris Conservatoire. [See the note in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 47 (1845), p.16.] On April 2, 1845, he gave a concert in Paris, playing his fantasies op.63 on Rossini's "Barbier de Sevilla", op.67 on Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" and op.52 on Auber's "La Muette de Portici", as well as his "Marche funèbre variée" op.59 and the "Barcarolle" op.60. The concert was an assured success [See the review in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of April 10, 1844.] , and meanwhile Liszt's career in Paris had come to an end. Liszt only performed once, on January 13, 1846, at a soiree of Jules Janin, and he was quite poorly received. [ According to Liszt's own letter to Janin of May 1846, in: Vier: "L’artiste - le clerc", p.145f, he had been whistled out.]
In spring 1848, in Vienna, Liszt met Thalberg once more. On
May 3, 1848, Thalberg gave a benefit concert which Liszt attended. According to an account by his pupil Nepomuk Dunkl, Liszt was sitting on the stage, carefully listening and loudly applauding. [See: Dunkl: "Erinnerungen", p.19f. Hanslick, in his account of the concert in his "Geschichte des Concertwesens in Wien", p.349, omitted Liszt's presence, but it is confirmed in a note in the "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 28 (1848), p.286.] It was since 11 years the first time he heard his former rival's playing.
Concerts in America
In the spring of 1843 Thalberg announced in a letter to a friend that he would travel to North America at the end of August and visit
New Orleans, Veracruz and Havana [See: "Neue Zeitschrift für Musik" 18 (1843), p.150.] , but he changed his plans. On July 22, 1843, he married Francesca ("Cecchina"), the eldest daughter of Luigi Lablache, first bass at the "Théâtre Italienne" in Paris. [Thalberg's wedding date is often reported as 1844. For the correct date see: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.11; also see the note in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 45 (1843), p.608, and Marie d'Agoult's letter to Henri Lehmann of August 21, 1843, in: Joubert: " _fr. Correspondance romantique", p.184.] Instead of travelling to America, Thalberg went with his wife to Italy where they stayed for the winter 1843-44.
In 1855, after Thalberg's operas "Florinda" and "Cristina di Svezia" had failed, he realized his former ambition to give concerts in America. From July to December 1855 he performed with overwhelming success in
Rio de Janeiroand Buenos Aires. He returned to Europe, but after a stay of several months in Paris went on the steamboat "Africa" to North America, where he arrived on October 3, 1856, in New York. Reminiscent of his former rivalry with Liszt, Thalberg had been described in the "New York Musical Review and Gazette" of July 12, 1856as "once" the greatest living pianist". [See: Lott: "From Paris to Peoria", p.115.] But it turned out that he was still the most perfect virtuoso ever heard in America.Fact|date=August 2007
After Thalberg's debut on
November 10, 1856, in New York, a performance marathon ensued, during which he spent eight months giving concerts 5 or 6 days a week. Occasionally he gave two or even three concerts a day. On Sundays, concerts were only allowed if they presented "sacred music", but several times Thalberg did perform on Sundays, playing pieces like his "Moïse-fantasy", based on a prayer from Rossini's opera, or his "Huguenots-fantasy" with the chorale "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" as main subject. His "Andante" op.32 and the "Marche funèbre varié" op.59 were also allowed.
Thalberg's first American season ended with a concert on
July 29, 1857, in Saratoga Springs, NY. On September 15, 1857, he gave another concert in New York, starting his second season. With very few intermissions he was busy until his last concert on June 12, 1858, in Peoria, IL. By then he had visited nearly 80 cities and given more than 320 regular concerts in the United Statesand 20 concerts in Canada. In addition, he gave at least twenty free concerts for many thousands of schoolchildren. Thalberg also gave a series of solo matinees in New Yorkand Bostonat which he played own works as well as chamber music. From 1857, the violinist Henri Vieuxtempstoured with Thalberg. They played works by Beethoven, and Duos composed by Thalberg.
Thalberg's financial success on these tours was unmatched even by
Anton Rubinsteinand Ignaz Paderewski. He got an average of about $500 per concert and probably made more than $150,000 during his two seasons, the equivalent today of about $3 million. [See: Lott: "From Paris tp Peoria", p.159. According to Hominick: "Thalberg", p.31f, Rubinstein received $200 per concert, whereas Paderewski was paid $375. Hans von Bülow, who proved himself to be a master of making as many enemies as possible, made less than $125 for each appearance. Concerning von Bülow, also see the chapter: "Unfortunately ... he also talks", in: Lott: "From Paris to Peoria", p.251ff.] A large part of his appeal on these tours was his unpretentious and unassuming personality; he did not resort to advertising gimmicks or cheap crowd-pleasing tricks, instead offering superbly polished renditions of his own compositions, which had already been well known in America. On rising from the piano, he was always the same quiet, respectable, self-possessed, middle-aged gentleman that he was at the dinner table of his hotel. [See: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.45] He played works by Beethoven, among them the sonatas op. 27 no. 2 ("Moonlight") and op.26 ("Funeral March") as well as the first movements of the Third and Fifth Piano Concertos. His cadenza to Beethoven's third concerto was admired. He also played works by Bach, Chopin, Hummel, Mendelssohn and several other composers. [A repertoire list can be found in: Hominick: "Thalberg", p.38f.] The "New-York Musical Review and Gazette" of July 24, 1858, wrote:
:"Thalberg ... quite unexpectedly closed what has been a most brilliant career - completely successful, musically, giving to the talented and genial artist abundance of both fame and money. There is probably not another virtuoso, whether with instrument or voice (Liszt alone excepted), who could have excited a moiety of the enthusiasm, or gathered a fragment of the dollars, which Thalberg has excited and gathered." [Quoted after: Lott: "From Paris to Peoria", p.159.]
The remark "Thalberg quite unexpectedly closed" referred to the announcement in June 1858 in
Chicagothat Thalberg would make only one of three scheduled appearances before immediately returning to Europe. In fact, Thalberg did not even perform at that concert, but very hastily left. His wife had arrived from Europe, and there were rumours that he had had a "falling out" with the singer Elena D'Angri. For this reason, his wife had had been anxious to see him. On April 16, 1858, in New York, Elena D'Angri had given birth to a child who was suspected to be Thalberg's daughter. The girl was called Zaré Thalberg and had on April 10, 1875, in the Royal Italian Opera in London, a very successful debut as Zerline in Mozart's "Don Giovanni". [See the note in the "Allgemeine Zeitung Augsburg" 1875, p.1788.] There are newer opinions, however, after which her real name was Ethel Western and she had been born in Derbyshire, England. [See: Lott: "From Paris to Peoria", p.158.]
The true reason why Francesca Thalberg had left for America in June 1858 and shortly afterwards, together with her husband, very hastily returned to Europe is unknown; because no reliable sources are available. Several authors hint at the death of Thalberg's father in law,
Lablache, on January 23, 1858. A further possibility can be found when looking at the family Dietrichstein's fate. In the very summer 1858, a severe problem concerning a successor in the rank of a Prince von Dietrichstein was to be solved.
Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein, Thalberg's father, had a legal son, Joseph von Dietrichstein. Since the rank of a Prince was usually inherited by a son, Joseph von Dietrichstein had been Prince von Dietrichstein since his father's death on
July 8, 1854. Prince Joseph von Dietrichstein died on July 10, 1858. He had no son, but four daughters, leaving no male successor. Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein's brother Johann Carl had already died on March 10, 1852, and had not left behind a son either. The rank of a Prince could still be given to Moritz von Dietrichstein, Prince Franz Joseph von Dietrichstein's second brother. Moritz von Dietrichstein had had a son Moritz Johann, but Moritz Johann had died on October 15, 1852. Since Moritz von Dietrichstein was already 77 years old at the time, no further son from his side could possibly be expected. Had the rank of a Prince been given to him, it had expired with his death. [See: Protzies: "Studien zur Biographie Franz Liszts", p.181 and n.1020.]
The only male candidate as natural successor in the rank of a Prince von Dietrichstein was therefore Sigismond Thalberg, although his birth had not yet been legalized. He had no son either, but it could at least be hoped that he could still father one in the future. The true reason for Francesca Thalberg's voyage to America may therefore have been that she wanted her husband to return to Europe as soon as possible, so that his relations with family Dietrichstein should be cleared. In the end, the rank of a Prince was given to Alexander Constantin Albert, who had married Joseph von Dietrichstein's daughter Alexandrine on
April 28, 1857.
After Thalberg's return to Europe, he settled in
Posilliponear Naples in a villa, which had belonged to Lablache. For the following four years Thalberg lived in silence there. In spring 1862 he gave concerts in Paris and London once again and was as successful as ever. After a last tour in Brazil in 1863 [The tour in Brazil is confirmed in the article “Thalberg” by Fétis. However, according to Hominick: "Thalberg", p.17f, it seems to be doubtful, whether the tour actually took place.] he put an end to his career. He suggested taking a position as piano professor at the conservatory in Naples, but it was defeated since an Italian nationality would be necessary. One year later he got an offer from the same conservatory which he refused. He published instructive editions of J. S. Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" and Clementi's "Gradus ad Parnassum" but apparently did not compose anymore. [See: Vitale: "Thalberg in Posillipo".] When he died on April 27, 1871, he left behind a collection of many hundreds of autographs by famous composers, among them Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and others, even Liszt. The collection was sold after Thalberg's death. [See the article "Thalberg" in Wurzbach's "Biographisches Lexikon", p.128ff.]
Thalberg as composer
Sigismond Thalberg was one of the most famous and most successful piano composers of the 19th century. During the 1830s and the 1840s it was his style that dominated European piano-playing. [See: Suttoni: "Piano and Opera", p.207.] With very few exceptions, the only critique he experienced was admiration. Everything he did was at once in fashion and was imitated by others. [See: Hanslick: "Geschichte des Konzertwesens in Wien".] In 1852, Wilhelm von Lenz wrote:
"The piano playing of the present day, to tell the truth, consists only of Thalberg simple, Thalberg amended, and Thalberg exaggerated; scratch what is written for the piano, and you will find Thalberg." [Quoted after: Suttoni: "Piano and Opera", p.207, where the date is erroneously given as 1854.]
Ten years later, in 1862, a London correspondent of the "Revue et Gazette musicale" wrote:
:"Nobody in fact has been so much imitated; his manner has been parodied, exaggerated, twisted, tortured, and it may have happened more than once to all of us to curse this Thalbergian school". [Quoted after: "Dwight's Journal of Music" XXI, August 16, 1862, p.153.]
Expressions like "exaggerated", "twisted" and "tortured" are indicating that some contemporaries were starting to get a feeling of a problematic aspect of Thalberg's fame and his style. They had apparently heard too much of it. It was in this time when Thalberg's career as composer and as virtuoso came to an end.
In the late 19th century, Thalberg was still famous, but mainly for a single piano-effect. Carl Friedrich Weitzmann, in his "Geschichte des Klavierspiels" (1879), wrote about this.
:"His bravura pieces, fantasies on melodies from Rossini's Moise and the Donna del Lago, on motifs from Bellini's Norma and on Russian folk-songs, became extraordinarily favourite by his own, brilliant execution; they, however, treat their subjects always in one and the same way, and their always returning main effect is, to let the tones of a melody in the medium octave of the keyboard be played now by the thumb of the right, now of the left hand, while the rest of the fingers are in addition executing arpeggios, which are filling the whole range of the keyboard". [Translated after: Weitzmann: "Geschichte des Klavierspiels", p.138.]
In a similar kind
Lina Ramann, in her "Franz Liszt als Künstler und Mensch" (1880), wrote:
:"This effect, for a long time to have become common, consisted of harp like arpeggios, which above and beneath, through all octaves, were rushing around a melody, while the melody in the medium ranges was for itself, calmly and drowning those, continuing its tune, - in those days a pianistic miracle, the brilliant climax of Thalberg's "Moise-fantasy"! The execution of this consists of the well known partition of work to fingers and hands, after which, while the hands are crosswise executing the running passages, the thumbs - at the moment of relieving one hand with the other - are by turns executing the melody". [Translated after: Ramann: "Franz Liszt als Künstler und Mensch", Vol. I, p.416.]
The following example from the "Moise-fantasy" has been quoted by many authors as being typical for Thalberg's kind of playing.
Comparing the example with Weitzmann's and Ramann's descriptions, it turns out that the arpeggios are not partitioned to both hands and are not rushing through all octaves. The melody is neither in the medium octave of the keyboard, nor is it played by turns by the thumbs. Inspecting the rest of the fantasy, not a single bar is congruent with the descriptions by Weitzmann and Ramann. In fact, the example with the arpeggios is not even characteristic for the fantasy, since from a total length of 314 bars only less than two dozens are filled with them. A similar result is to be found when studying Thalberg's complete piano works. There is not a single bar to which the descriptions by Weitzmann and Ramann were suiting. Thalberg was insofar famous for a kind of playing which he had strictly avoided and never used.
The paradox shows that Weitzmann and Ramann had no concrete knowledge of Thalberg's works and had not taken his music to look at it. They only believed that his music was of the described kind. But their description had indeed been rather old. After Thalberg's "Moise-fantasy" had been published at end of March 1839, it was in August 1839 set as compulsory piece for the male participants of the yearly contest at the Paris Conservatoire. In a review in the "Revue et Gazette et musicale" of August 15, 1839, p.310, it is to be read concerning the effect in the finale of Thalberg's fantasy,
:"it consists of a principal melody on the strings in the medium of the instrument, played alternately by both thumbs, while both hands are traversing with rapid arpeggios the whole range of the keyboard."
Searching for an earliest mention of the arpeggios with thumbs-melodies leads to the beginning of Thalberg's rivalry with Liszt. Thalberg had in winter 1836-37 given three own concerts in Vienna and had together with the violinist Henri Vieuxtemps performed at a concert of Franz Göggel. The "Moise-fantasy", afterwards an outstanding success, was not mentioned. [See the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 39 (1837), p.115f.] Apparently, the fantasy did not yet exist.
While Thalberg was still in Vienna, in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of
January 8, 1837, Liszt's review of some of Thalberg's piano works appeared. Liszt claimed that in the "Grande fantaisie" op.22 the left hand would always play arpeggios and nothing else besides. [The "Grande fantaisie" was by many authors confused with the "Moise-fantasy"; for an example from newest time see: Gooley: "The virtuoso Liszt", p.24.] The description was polemic and actually false, since in large parts of the piece the left hand plays quite different forms than arpeggios. But thumbs-melodies were not yet mentioned by Liszt.
As response to Liszt's review, in his essay "MM. Thalberg et Liszt"' in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of April 23, 1837, Fétis claimed that Thalberg had created a new piano-style by uniting two different schools. While playing brilliant passages, Thalberg simultaneously executed a singing melody. Again, nothing had been said of thumbs-melodies. Only Liszt, in his reply in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of
May 14, 1837, wrote:
:"Posing M. Thalberg as representative of a new school! Apparently the school of arpeggios and thumbs-melodies? Who would admit that this was a school, and even a new school? Arpeggios and thumbs-melodies have been played before M. Thalberg, and they will be played after M. Thalberg again."
Fétis had written nothing of that kind; and in a letter to the editor of the "Revue et Gazette musicale" he protested against Liszt's insinuation. [The letter was published in the "Revue et Gazette musicale" of May 21, 1837.] But Thalberg had at his concert in the Paris Conservatoire on March 12, 1837, for the first time played his "Moise-fantasy". The members of his audience got the impression of a magical effect. [See for example the article "Thalberg" by Fétis.] They could see that in the finale Thalberg was with his left hand playing a bass and a harmonic accompanying. His right hand was busily occupied with rapid arpeggios. In addition, a broad melody was to be heard. Nobody knew how the apparent impossible was done. There were different attempts for an explanation, and Liszt's guess of the thumbs-melodies was the most successful one. [According to a further theory, Thalberg played the melody with the 5th finger of his left hand; see the article "Thalberg" by Wurzbach.] It was Thalberg's fate that exactly this guess, although erroneous, was following him until the end of his life. He could never get rid of it, how hard he ever tried.
While Thalberg was in the late 19th century only recognized as "Old Arpeggio", the imposing command of counterpoint in the fugue-finale of his "Norma-fantasy" had been forgotten. Liszt, who had taken the combination of cantilena and march for the finale of his own "Norma-fantasy" and the combination of tarantella and march in Thalberg's fantasy Op.52 on Auber's "La muette de Portici" for his "Tarantella di Bravura", was now considered to be the inventor of those effects. Thalberg's "Thême et Etude" Op.45, in which rapid repetitions are used for the purpose of imitating the vibrato of a human voice, had been famous and most popular in the 1840s [See the review in the "Leipziger Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung" 44 (1842), p.608; the unexampled praise gives an impression of Thalberg's fame as composer.] , but until the late 19th century also this had been forgotten. The "Scherzo" Op.31 and the Fantasies Op.40 on "La Donna del Lago" and Op.42 on "Don Juan" had been played by many pianists. In all those works as well as in many others it was nothing included that could remind of arpeggios with thumbs-melodies. Nevertheless, this didn't help Thalberg who was still recognized as the famous arpeggio-virtuoso. The contemporaries of the 19th century only saw that what they wanted to see.
Still another error occurred in connection with the "Moise-fantasy". In May 1839 Clara Wieck felt delighted by the melodies treated by Thalberg. Two years before, Liszt had written in his reply to the essay by Fétis, the fantasy had only been successful because of mighty melodies by Rossini. The argument was dangerous with respect to Liszt himself. It had been him whose fame as composer had been very poor since his times as child prodigy. In 1834 he had composed several new works; but every single one of them, as far as he had played it in public, had been declined as incomprehensible fantastic eccentricity. Liszt had especially been criticised for a lack of expressive melodies. During the winter 1835-36 in Geneva he had composed brilliant works instead, taking most popular melodies by Bellini and Rossini. In contrast to this, Thalberg had chosen a different strategy.
As usual case in those times, an operatic fantasy was composed as introduction, variations and finale. The introduction, typically rather short, was called "Fantasy". For this reason the title of some of Thalberg's earlier fantasies had been "Fantaisie et variations". In the "Moise-fantasy", however, Thalberg had composed the first half of the piece, i.e. the first 157 bars, with own melodies. He had taken some short motifs by Rossini and very freely treated and extended them. The mighty melodies mentioned by Liszt and by which Clara Wieck felt delighted were in most parts melodies by Thalberg himself. Without Liszt was noticing it, his critique had been a compliment. Thalberg had shown strong capacities of own melodic invention.
The strategy, commencing with an untypical long introduction of own melodies, was kept in Thalberg's subsequent operatic fantasies up to his fantasy Op.67 on Donizetti's "Don Pasquale". In addition to his melodic invention, Thalberg was famous for the well-calculated accumulation of his effects as well as for the sensuous charms of his piano setting. In his best works he gave the impression of a poetic atmosphere, in some cases reminding of Chopin or Schumann. Liszt's point of view, in comparison with it, was a very rare exception.
In the long run, however, others were tempted by the successes of Thalberg's works to inundate the musical world with imitations "ad nauseam". Without Thalberg's originality, they copied a handful of effects, above all the famous arpeggios with thumbs-melodies, of which the true inventor had been Liszt in his polemic reply to Fétis. All of this was considered to sound like Thalberg. In the end he was himself identified with most trivial productions of his imitators. [See: Suttoni: "Piano and Opera", p.207f.]
Works of Sigismond Thalberg
*Article „Thalberg“ in "The New Musical Grove".
*Article „Thalberg“ in: "Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart".
*Article „Thalberg“ in: Fétis, Francois Joseph: "Biographie universelle des musiciens".
*Articles „Dietrichstein“ and "Thalberg" in: Wurzbach, Constant v.: "Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Österreich", Vols. III and VIII, Wien 1858 and 1882.
*" _fr. Correspondance de Frédéric Chopin, * L’aube 1816-1831; ** L’ascension 1831- 1840; *** La gloire 1840-1849"; Recueillie, révisée, annotée et traduite par Bronislas Éduard Sydow en collaboration avec Suzanne et Denise Chainaye, Paris 1953-1960.
*Apponyi, Rodolphe: "Vingt-cinq ans a Paris (1826-1850), Journal du Comte Rodolphe Apponyi, Attaché de l’ambassade d’Autriche a Paris", Publié par Ernest Daudet, * (1826-1830), Cinquième édition; ** (1831-1834); *** (1835-1843), Paris 1913-1914.
*Belance-Zank, Isabelle: "The "Three-Hand" Texture: Origins and Use", in: "Journal of the American Liszt-Society" 38, 1995, p.99-121.
*Bülow, Hans v.: "Briefe", ed. Marie von Bülow, II. Band, zweite Auflage, Leipzig 1899.
*d’Agoult, Marie (Daniel Stern): "Mémoires, Souvenirs et Journaux I/II", Présentation et Notes de Charles F. Dupêchez, Mercure de France 1990.
*Dunkl, Johann Nepomuk: "Aus den Erinnerungen eines Musikers", Wien 1876.
*Göllerich, August: "Franz Liszt", Berlin 1908.
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* [http://www.centrothalberg.it Sigismund Thalberg International Study Centre]
* [http://www.centrothalberg.it/biografiathalberginglese.htm Biography]
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