Key’s Cupboard : Scenes From The Lives Of The Great Composers, No 1

Key's Cupboard

It is a Thursday afternoon in Rome. In a house on the Via del Babuino, Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein is sitting at her escritoire, scribbling furiously. A tonsured abbé enters the room. But not just any tonsured abbé. It is Princess Carolyne’s lover, the famous composer Franz Liszt!

“Darling!” she cries.

“Yes, sweetie, it is I!” shouts Liszt, impassioned, “As you can see, I have crumpled in the face of your energetic persuasions. This very day Cardinal Hohenloe has shaved my scalp and admitted me into Holy Orders!”

“That is wonderful news!” cries the Princess, her bosom heaving.

“Indeed it is,” replies Liszt, “We must go out and celebrate!”

Suddenly the Princess’s countenance takes on a look of deep religious solemnity, and she pouts.

“I am afraid that will not be possible, darling,” she murmurs, “For I have decided to retreat into a state of seclusion, such that if I live for another twenty-seven years I shall leave this house only once, for a period of twenty-four hours.”

“Really?” asks Liszt, nonplussed.

“Really,” replies the Princess.

“And what on earth are you going to do with yourself, sweetie, cooped up in here for the best part of three decades until you are felled by a case of the dropsy?”

The Princess gestures towards the pages and pages of scribblings on her escritoire.

“You know how Gregorius says I fairly sputter spirituality. I will devote my time to my book Interior Causes of the Exterior Weakness of the Church, which, by the time I finish it, probably just a few days before I die, will run I expect to twenty-four ponderous volumes.”

“Well, you know best, sweetie,” says Liszt, “In that case I may pop back to Weimar for a bit. I’m a bit worried that my grand-daughter may one day become engaged to a man with the ominous-sounding name Thode.”

“Cheerio then, darling,” says the Princess, “And don’t forget to write me an enormous number of letters!”

“Oh I shall, sweetie, and they shall often be hysterical in tone!”

Alas, to attempt a quotation from those letters would be like proffering a spoonful of brine, and saying, “Here is an idea of the ocean.”

Mr Key is indebted to The Love Affairs Of Great Musicians, Volume II, Chapter 1 by Rupert Hughes (1903).


Share This Post

About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

4 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : Scenes From The Lives Of The Great Composers, No 1

  1. Brit
    November 12, 2010 at 09:25

    Hughes’ books looks extraordinary. I particularly liked this:

    It is a rare musician that can tolerate the faintest disapproval of
    even his poorest work, and frequently a critic lauds to the skies all
    of the composer’s works except one or two, and then, in order to give
    his eulogy an appearance of discrimination and remove the taste of
    unadulterated gush, inserts a mild implication that this one or these
    two compositions are not the greatest works in existence–that unhappy
    critic is practically sure to find that his eulogy has been accepted as
    a mere matter of course, and his criticism bitterly resented as a
    gratuitous and unwarranted assault upon beautiful creations which his
    small skull and hickory-nut heart are unable to grasp.

    The next time I receive “the faintest disapproval of even my poorest work”, I will be sure to accuse my critic of having a “small skull and hickory-nut heart”.

  2. Worm
    November 12, 2010 at 09:52

    Funnily enough I used Hughes’ text as background for my piece on Tristan and Isolde

    I also like the line: “Love me, love my dog,” was an easy task for Wagner, and he was glad of the privilege of caressing Leah’s poodle”

    November 12, 2010 at 10:12

    Why do tortured tunesmiths invariably shack up with equally tortured burdz, take old cough-wheeze Chopin f’rinstance, throws himself at George Sand, I mean, have you seen the old bag, wandering the Paris streets with a fag on, wearing Hugo Boss suits, hurling herself under all and sundry, then off to Majorca in midwinter, must have been the cheap rate flights.

  4. Brit
    November 12, 2010 at 10:18

    Malty, you’re back!

    Did you know we’ve taken on a whisky writer in your absence?

Comments are closed.