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Edvard Grieg on Liszt's Playing

IN his admirable life of Edward Grieg, Mr. H. T. Finck quotes the Norwegian’s account of a visit paid to Liszt at Rome. “After playing the minuet, I felt that if it were possible to get Liszt to play for me, now was the time; he was visibly inspired. I asked him, and he shrugged his shoulders a little; but when I said it could not be his intention that I should leave the South without having heard a single tone by him, he made a turn, and then muttered: ‘Nun ich spiele vas sie wollen, ich bin nicht so’ (‘Very well, I’ll play whatever you like, I am not like that’).

Mr. Finck notes that “Grieg evidently did not know what a deadly sin he committed in asking Liszt to play. His most intimate friends, including the Princess von Wittgenstein, never dared to do that, and if anyone else did, he almost invariably refused. His saying, ‘Ich bin nicht so’ implied that he was willing, on this occasion, to make an exception to his rule, which, in itself, was an extraordinary compliment to the young Norwegian.

“And forthwith,” continues Grieg, “he seized a score he had lately finished, a kind of funeral procession to the grave of Tasso, a supplement to his famous symphonic poem for the orchestra, ‘Tasso: Lamento e Trionfo.’Then he sat down and put the keys in motion. Yes, I assure you, he discharged (udspyede), if I may use so inelegant an expression, one volley after another of heat and flame and vivid thoughts.

“It sounded as if he had evoked the manes of Tasso. He made the colors glaring, but such a subject is just the thing for him; the expression of tragic grandeur is his strongest point in his playing. I did not know what to admire most in him, the composer or the pianist, for he played superbly. No, he does not really play—one forgets he is a musician, he becomes a prophet proclaiming the Last Judgment, till all the spirits of the universe vibrate under his fingers. He enters into the most secret recesses of the mind and stirs one’s inmost soul with demonic power.”

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