Beethoven’s Blessing for the Franz Liszt
On 13 April 1823, the twelve-year-old Hungarian pianistFranz Liszt (1811-1886) performed in Vienna. It was said that the 53-year-old Beethoven gave him a kiss – the so-called Weihekuss, or ‘kiss of consecration’ – for his marvellous playing. This is unlikely to be true, as Beethoven was profoundly deaf by this time. A more reasonable account of the Beethoven kiss event is reported in the reminiscences of the pianistIlka Horovitz-Barnay:
“The most memorable time I experienced with Liszt was when he told me of his meeting with Beethoven. ‘I was about eleven years old’, he began, ‘when my highly esteemed teacher Czerny introduced me to Beethoven. He had long before told him about me and had asked him to hear me play. But Beethoven had aversions againstprodigies and for a long time refused to hear me. Finally though he was persuaded by my indefatigable teacher Czerny and said: “Then for God’s sake – bring the little rascal”.
“‘It was one morning about ten o’clock when we entered the two small rooms of the Schwarzspanierhaus, where Beethoven lived. I was somewhat embarrassed – but Czerny kindly encouraged me. Beethoven was sitting by the window at a long narrow table working. For a moment he looked at us with a serious face, said a couple of quick words to Czerny but turned silent as my dear teacher signaled to me to go to the piano.
“‘First I played a small piece of Ries (Ferdinand Ries, another pupil of Beethoven). When I had finished BeetW – Tempered Clavir . “Can youtranspose this fugue?” Beethoven asked.
“‘Fortunately I could. After the finishing chord I looked up. Beethoven’s deep glowing eyes rested upon me – but suddenly a light smile flew over his otherwise serious face. He approached me and stroked me several times over my head with affection.
“‘”Well – I’ll be blowed” he whispered, “such a little devil”.
“‘Suddenly my courage rose: “May I play one of your pieces?” I asked with audacity. Beethoven nodded with a smile. I played the first movement of his C major piano concerto(Nr 1). When I had finished Beethoven stretched out his arms, kissed me on my forehead and said in a soft voice:
“‘”You go on ahead. You are one of the lucky ones! It will be your destiny to bring joy and delight to many people and that is the greatest happiness one can achieve”‘.
“Liszt told me this with great emotion; his voice trembled but you could feel what divine joy these simple words had given him. Never did Liszt – the human being – make a greater impression on me. The flamboyant man-of-the-world, the revered artist was gone; this great moment he had experienced in his childhood still resounded in his soul. For a little while he was silent – then he said quietly:
“‘This was the proudest moment in my life – the inauguration to my life as artist. I tell this very rarely – and only to special friends.'”
This story is somewhat more convincing, although Beethoven was just as deaf in 1822 as in 1823. It is possible, however, to speculate that Beethoven felt the vibrations of the piano with his hands as he is said to have been able to do, as well as observe Liszt’s fingerings. Also, at the time it is meant to have occurred Beethoven was not residing in the Schwarzspanierhaus – but when Liszt told this story he was in his latter years, and his memory may have been a little foggy, if the story itself was not a confabulation.