Published on Franz Liszt Group, on June 28, 2021. If you want to know how the Story Behind series started, I give details in “Story Behind” Series #1″.
“Brahms’ Variations are better than mine, but mine were written before his”.
Story behind the picture and the quote, and conversation:
Here is a new “story behind” post.
The picture is part of the same series taken by the Belgian photographer Julien Ganz in Brussels. Another picture from the same series was posted on May 16 on this group. It was taken in May 1882, in the middle of his usual travels from and to the cities of his “vie trifurquée”: Rome, Budapest, and Weimar.
As for the quote, it is from his pupil Arthur Friedheim’s book “Life and Liszt” (published in 1961), that was also mentioned a few weeks ago. In this passage, Friedheim relates a meeting he had with Brahms, who mentioned his Paganini Variations. Friedheim told Brahms about a conversation he once had with Liszt regarding both sets, the “Paganini-Brahms” and the “Paganini-Liszt” Variations. Friedheim reported that Liszt said: “Brahms’ Variations are better than mine, but mine were written before his”, after what Brahms replied (I am quoting Friedheim’s text): “And that alone,” laughed Brahms, “makes Liszt’s better than mine.” (p. 138)
Group member 1
Yes, I am not so impressed by that Liszt quote, he usually did better. Maybe there is a pun hidden in French or German?
I agree with you. I will try to dig and locate the excerpt in the original text in German (if I can find it somewhere). Also, we must remember that this is a quote that someone (with all the respect I have for Friedheim) said Liszt said. We will never know if it was really said and what was said exactly
Note: I didn’t find the original text in German yet.
Group member 2
In all fairness to Liszt, his variations could never have competed with those of Brahms, since Liszt bound himself to write a note-for-note pianistic replica of the 24th Caprice for violin solo in A minor by Paganini. Hence, Liszt’s Paganini Variations are not his own music, but that of Paganini; only the pianistic idiom is Liszt’s own. To judge fairly any event in life, it must be evaluated within its own full context.It is just as with music: its building blocks gain ever new expressions within the varying contexts in which they occur. Bartók was a fan of the Rachmaninov variations.