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The Death of Franz Liszt.

The Death of Franz Liszt, introduced, annotated and edited by Alan Walker. Cornell University Press (Sage House, 512 E. State &, Ithaca, NY 14850), 2002. 224 pp., $29.95.

Most coverups eventually fail, but seldom hold up for 110 years. A truer tale of Franz Liszt's very last days than told up to now appeared in 1996 in the second to last chapter of Alan Walker's Franz Liszt: The Final Years. The source for Walker's account, a diary of Liszt's student Lina Schmalhausen, is now available in an annotated edition titled The Death of Franz Liszt.

Schmalhausen was a pupil, caregiver and confidante of Liszt in his last years. Her diary covers July 22, 1886, to August 3, 1886, the day of Liszt's funeral in Bayreuth. Its contents include the daily comings and goings around the dying Liszt and her very personal comments on events and many of the people involved. We hear from Liszt on topics such as his personal keepsakes, his students, human relations, May-December romances, Ludwig II of Bavaria and artistic and practical aspects of the Bayreuth Festival.

Many subsequently famous Liszt pupils were in Bayreuth during the days recounted in the diary: Arthur Friedheim, August Gollerich, Marie Ja%ll, Sophie Menter, Alexander Siloti and Bernhard Stavenhagen. Schmalhausen's observations of them during the last days of their great teacher add, not always flatteringly, to our knowledge of the personal profile of these younger artists.

And, of course, the powerful figure of Cosima, Liszt's daughter and Wagner's widow of three years, is present throughout. She faced overseeing the performances and social events of the Bayreuth Festival while her mortally ill father lay close by. Schmalhausen gives a daily account of this situation.

Is the diary reliable? Walker became familiar with its contents in 1977. As his work on his three-volume Liszt biography progressed, his research in other sources supported Schmalhausen's rendering of the facts. In his prologue, Walker does caution the reader to view her interpretation of the facts in the light of her relations with Liszt, Cosima and several other Liszt pupils, relations which he presents to the reader.

Must a reader be familiar with Walker's monumental Liszt biography to understand and enjoy reading this diary? No. Walker's prologue and epilogue (a revealing look at various parries arguing over where Liszt should be buried) clearly frame the diary's events. His annotations on people and events in the diary place everything in context with clarity and sovereign erudition.

The book, attractively produced and formatted, presents eight black-and-white photos. Editorial errors and indexing omissions are at a minimum.

Reviewed by Richard Zimdars, Athens, Georgia.
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Author:Zimdars, Richard
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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