1865, and the Cardinal Hohenlohe, who had not been granted the privilege of marrying Liszt, was given the privilege of shaving his head and turning him into a tonsured abbé.
There was a great sensation in 1868, when Liszt, who had thirty years before run away from Paris with a comtesse, returned as a saint, and in full regalia conducted a mass of his own, at Saint Eustache. The critic and dictionary-maker, Fétis, declared that the whole affair was simply an advertising scheme of Liszt's. But Liszt was taking himself seriously. The Pope had called him "My dear Palestrina," and he desired to reform church music as Palestrina had done.
The fact that this ecclesiastical passion was brief, does not prove that it was not sincere; in Liszt's case it would rather prove its sincerity. And by corollary the fact that it was sincere, rather proved that it would be brief.
The artistico-ecclesiastical life, or, as the German puts it so much more patly, "das klösterlich-künstlerische Leben," began to wear upon him. For a time Liszt remained in Rome, taking a dwelling in the Via Felice; later, in June of the year 1863, he moved to the Oratorio of the Madonna del Rosario, where the Pope, Pius IX., visited him to hear his miraculous music. He saw the princess often, usually dining with her, and letters fluttered thickly between his home and hers in the Piazza di Spagna, and later in the Via del Babuino.
Liszt was never a man for one of your gray existences. He was homesick for Weimar, and was a constant truant from Rome. But he had duties enough with his ambition as a composer and conductor, and his cloud of pupils whom he taught without price. To his excursions we owe four volumes of letters to the princess. The volumes average over four hundred pages each of smallish type. They are in French, and have been all published, the last volume appearing in 1902, under the editorship of La Mara. Also a publication of the princess' letters has been announced by her daughter, who wisely believes that in a matter which has become the gossip of the world, the best defence is the fullest possible presentation.
In Liszt's letters there is not much of the grand style he had affected after his first elopement with De Laprunarède, though there is much that is hysterical:
"How it is written above that you should be my Providence and my good angel here below! I incessantly have recourse to you with prayers, supplications, and benedictions."
"My words flow always to you as my prayer mounts to God."
"Since I must not have the bliss of seeing you again this evening, let me at least tell you that I will pray with you before I sleep. Our prayers are united as our souls." (Nov. 4, 1864)
"Next to my hours in the church the sweetest and dearest are those I spend with you." (Feb. 18, 1869.)
"My ancient errors have left me a residue of chagrin that preserves me from temptation. Be well assured that I tell you the truth and all the truth." (Nov. 10, 1870.)
But to attempt a quotation from these letters would be like proffering a spoonful of brine, and saying, "Here is an idea of the ocean." The letters are full of minute details of their busy lives and of other notable people. There is much, of course, about music and travel, and a vast amount of religious ardour. There is also much expression of the utmost devotion and loneliness. Years of this life of reunion and separation went on.
Writing to the princess on the 21st of June, 1872, he mentions Wagner, whose marriage to Cosima von Bülow (nee Liszt) scandalised the world and alienated even Liszt. There are biographers who deny this, but in this letter to the princess, Liszt encloses Wagner's letter of most affectionate appeal for reconciliation, and with it his answer, giving his long-withheld blessing. Describing this reunion with Wagner, Liszt is moved to say to the princess:
"God will pardon me for leaning to the side of mercy, imploring his and abandoning myself entirely to it. As for the world, I am not uneasy as to its interpretation of that page of what you call 'my biography.' The only chapter that I have ardently desired to add to it, is missing. May the good angels keep you, and bring me to you in September."
Through many others of his letters rings this vain "leit-motif" like the wail of Tristan. But nothing could remove the spell the Church had cast upon the princess.
She sank deeper and deeper into seclusion, and during the twenty-seven years she lived in Rome she left her home in the Via del Babuino only once for twenty-four hours. She grew more and more immersed in the Church and its affairs. Gregororius said she fairly "sputtered spirituality." She began to write, and certain of her essays were revised by Henri Lasserre, under the name, "Christian Life in Public," and were widely read, being translated into English and Spanish. Her chief work was a twenty-four-volume study bearing the thrilling title, "Interior Causes of the Exterior Weakness of the Church." This ponderous affair she finished a few days before her death, with hand already swollen almost beyond the power of holding the pen.
Here in Rome, as in Russia and at Weimar, where she was, there was a salon. But she grew wearier and wearier of life, and weaker and weaker, until she spent months and months in bed, and would rarely cross her door-sill. To the last she and Liszt were lovers, however remote. And his letters are rarely more than a few days apart. He continues to sign himself, even in the final year of his life, "Umilissimo sclavissimo." His last letter concerned the marriage of his granddaughter Daniela von Bülow to a man with the ominous sounding name of "Thode." Daniela was the daughter of Liszt's daughter, Cosima, by her first husband. The marriage took place at Wagner's home, "Wahnfried," in Bayreuth.
It was appropriate that Liszt should spend his last years in the company of this Wagner, for whose success he had been the chief crusader, as for the success of how many another famous musician, and for the charitable comfort of how numberless a throng, and in what countless ways! It was doubly appropriate that his last appearance in public should be at the performance of "Tristan and Isolde"—that utmost expression of love that was fiery and lawless and yet worthy of the peace it yearned for and never found.
Liszt died on the 31st of July, 1886. His will declared the princess to be his sole heir and executrix. She outlived him no long time. On the 8th of March, 1887, she died of dropsy of the heart. She was buried in the German cemetery next to St. Peter's, in Rome. Her grave bore the legend:
"Yonder is my hope." At her funeral they played the Requiem, Liszt had written for the death of the Emperor Maximilian. She had wished that this music should "sing her soul to rest."
Surely, one would say, if love were ever to be the woof of any life, it must interweave the life of this man Wagner; for he gave to every whim and fervour of the passion an expression so nearly absolute that we are driven almost to say: Old as music is, and ancient as love songs are, music never truly gave full voice to desire in all its throbs until Richard Wagner created a new orchestra, a new libretto, a new music, a new harmony, and a new fabric of melody.
"Tristan and Isolde" seems to be so nearly the last word in dramatised love that it seems also to be nearly the first word. From the Vorspiel's opening measures, gaunt and hungry with despair and longing, to the last measures of the Liebestod, sublime with resignation and divinely sad with the apotheosis of adoration, this opera sounds every note of the emotion of man for woman, and woman for man.
Surely, you would say, the creator of this masterwork must