Thursday, 10 December 2009

Franz Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and Sweet Caroline: Nibs, Ink Pens and Pencils

Among the 175 catalogued items in the Franz Liszt Museum in Budapest are the famous Hungarian composer's and pianist's writing instruments and implements. Nibs, pen holders, ink pens, ink pots and ink stands are displayed along with Liszt's famous Chickering and Bosendorfer antique pianos - writing instruments touched by the hand of the man who became such a celebrity in 19th-century Europe that people spoke of "Lisztomania".

Nibs, Ink Pens and Anton Rubinstein

Among Liszt's writing instruments is a 18.5 cm-long beech stem with a cut steel nib and a 16.5 cm-long ink pen of brown polished wood. The latter one is inscribed "Liszt - 23.IV.75 Rubinstein" and I assume that it was given to Liszt by Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), the child prodigy and great pianist, whose virtuosity has been compared to Liszt's.

Rubinstein had met with Liszt in Paris during the early years of his life. The Hungarian pianist was very fond of nicknames and had later on nicknamed Anton Rubinstein "Ludwig II" because of the Russian pianist uncanny resemblance to Ludwig van Beethoven.

Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) 
nicknamed by Liszt "Ludwig II" as he looked like Beethoven

A wood lacquered penholder and nib inscribed with "Blanzy Poure et Cie" indicates that Liszt must have used these nibs made by the Pierre Blanzy and Eugène Poure French company founded in 1846.

Sweet Caroline

Franz Liszt had many love affairs most famously with Marie d'Agoult and Marie Duplessis. The first love of his youth was Caroline de Saint-Cricq. Sweet Caroline was beautiful and rich and Liszt was her piano teacher in 1828. But it was not meant to be. Caroline was forced by her father to marry someone else.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) by Franz Hanfstaengl, 1858

Liszt was reunited with Caroline years later. His first love was reportedly unhappy in her marriage and was living in the Pyrenees. They reminisced about the past and in memory of their reunion Liszt wrote one of his best songs "Ich mochte hingehn wie das Abendroth". They would never see each other again.

Among Liszt's writing instruments are two propelling pencils with gold controlling rings. One has a green stone set on its cap and is engraved with ornaments and the other is inscribed "Caroline". But was it really her who had given him the pencil? Or the other Caroline of his life, Princess Caroline Sayn-Wittgenstein? Equally sweet but equally doomed to disappear from his life.

For a brief bio of Anton Rubinstein see Tel Asiado's Anton Rubinstein on; the nibs, ink pens and ink pots of Franz Liszt are part of the extensive collection of the Ferenc Liszt Museum in Budapest; on Franz Liszt's lovers, see Franz Liszt and the Lady of the Camelias. On Liszt's life see Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, Cornell U. Press 1988.

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