Published on Franz Liszt Group, on December 26, 2021. If you want to know how the Story Behind series started, I give details in “Story Behind” Series #1″.
Original post (December 18, 2021):
Along with this picture, the member of the group posted this comment:
As far as I know, photographs from this session by Julien Ganz have always been dated May 1881, Bruxelles (also in Ernst Burger books). Meanwhile, I have found this scan of a photograph with Liszt’s handwriting on it: “15 Septembre 79”, so it is correct to assume that the session probably took place in 1879 or before.
This picture of Liszt prompted me to take up a challenge. It is signed by Liszt with the inscription “15 septembre 79”. In the comment accompanying the picture, that I can confirm, it was mentioned that all sources (including Ernst Burger) dated it 1881. The current “story behind” will attempt to reply to the following question: was this picture – and by extension the other pictures of this Ganz series in Brussels – taken in 1879 or 1881?
In a previous “story behind” (that can be read here: https://www.dianekolin.com/2021/10/story-behind-series-24-october-13-2021/), I found traces of Liszt in Brussels in 1881 and 1882, in both press reviews and biographies. Moreover, Julien Ganz, the photographer, who was also a cellist and a fan of Liszt, documented Liszt’s 1881 concerts in Belgium, noting the programs of the concerts he attended.
Interestingly the picture in my previous post was taken in 1881 but signed in 1882, which made me look more closely at dates, and the reason why it was the case.
Alan Walker, in his Liszt biography, detailed the trip of 1879. As usual, Liszt travelled between Rome, Budapest, and Weimar. He was in Budapest in January, and in April he spent time in Vienna, Hanover, and Frankfurt, so not far from Belgium. It could have been plausible that he stopped there on his way since he did so in May 1881. However, the reason he stopped in Brussels and Antwerp in 1881 was due to invitations to attend festivals where his music was performed, which didn’t occur in 1879.
When Liszt went somewhere, even when he was staying with family or friends, the press was aware and published about it, thus, it is easy to peruse the numerous articles available and follow Liszt’s path. I went through 10 different Belgian newspapers in French and Dutch, there is nothing regarding a potential stay of Liszt in Belgium in 1879, however it is full of reports of his Belgian trips of 1881 (for several festivals and concerts in Brussels and Antwerp in May – see programs in my earlier post) and 1882 (for a performance of his “Legend of St. Elizabeth” oratorio in Brussels in May). On both occasions, he stopped at Julien Ganz’s studio.
Looking at the series of pictures that Ganz himself documented and dated in 1881 and 1882, we can find the one originally posted but also some from the same series with the same watch, glasses, and clothes. Here is another picture from the same series.
One of the other elements of comparison is the length of his hair. Another picture of him surrounded by his pupils Juliusz Zarebski, Franz Servais and Johanna Wenzel, was taken by Ganz in his studio in Brussels in 1881: https://www.dianekolin.com/2021/05/story-behind-series-11-may-13-2021/. I guess that the session started with the one with the pupils, and then Ganz asked to do individual shots. As for 1882, here is one of the pictures of the Ganz series: https://www.dianekolin.com/2021/05/story-behind-series-12-may-16-2021/. Hence, I don’t believe Liszt stood in Brussels in 1879.
So what could have been the reason for the handwritten indication on the picture? In Weimar, Liszt kept a box full of pictures that he reserved for pupils, friends, and family – and sometimes special guests. Occasionally, he opened the box and asked someone to pick up a picture, then he was signing it and sometimes wrote something personal on it. For instance, he wrote 1882 on one of the pictures taken by Julien Ganz in 1881. My theory is that someone chose this picture in the box and asked him when it was taken, after what he wrote “15 septembre 79,” or it was for a purpose totally unrelated to the picture itself.
What I like with mysteries is the part that will never be solved.