Finding Myself in Liszt

Here, I provide a letter written by Liszt when he was in his mid-20s, to George Sand, the infamous (female) French writer who was a very close and special friend of Liszt.  The words are very dear to me.

And so he begins...

"Like a bird that has just broken free of its narrow cage, the imagination shakes the weight from its wing and takes flight across the distance.  How fortunate, how very fortunate is the voyager.  How fortunate is he who never travels the same path twice and who never retraces his own footsteps.  Cutting across reality without ever stopping, he sees things only for what they appear to be and people for what they show themselves to be.  How fortunate is he who knows, when shaking a friend's hand, to release it before he feels it grow cold in his own, and who does not wait for the day when his beloved's gaze will turn to placid indifference.  How fortunate, then, is he who knows to break with things before he is broken by them.

It behoves an artist more than anyone else to pitch a tent only for an hour and not to build anything like a permanent residence.  Isn't he always a stranger amongst men?  Isn't his homeland somewhere else?  Whatever he does, wherever he goes, he always feels himself an exile.  He feels that he has known a purer sky, a warmer sun and nobler beings.  What then can he do to escape his vague sadness and undefined regrets?  He must sing and move on, pass through the crowd, scattering his works to it without caring where they land, without listening to the clamour with which people stifle them, and without paying attention to the contemptible laurels with which they crown them.  What a sad and great destiny it is to be an artist.

He is born marked with the seal of pre-destination.  He certainly does not choose his vocation; it takes possession of him and drives him on.  Whatever the adverse circumstances might be - the opposition of his family or the world, the grim bonds of poverty or any apparently insurmountable obstacle - his ever-active determination points steadfastly towards the pole, and that pole for him is art, the apprehensible reproduction of that which is mystically divine in man and in creation.

The artist lives alone, and when circumstances throw him into the middle of society, he, in the midst of discordant distractions, creates an impenetrable solitude within his soul that no human voice can breach.  Vanity, ambition, greed, jealousy, and love itself, all the passions that arouse mankind, remain outside the magic circle he has drawn around his ideas.  There, as though in a sanctuary, he contemplates and worships the ideal that his entire being will seek to reproduce.  There, he can envision divine, incredible forms and colours that the most gorgeous flowers in the brilliance of springtime have never presented to his eyes.  There, he hears the eternal, harmonious music whose cadence regulates the universe, and all the voices of creation are united for him in a marvellous concert.

A burning fever then seizes him, his blood courses impetuously through his veins, filling his brain with a thousand compelling concepts from which there is no escape except by the holy labour of art.  He feels himself prey to a nameless misery; an unknown power demands to be brought to light in words, colours or sounds; that ideal which takes possession of him and forces him to endure a thirst of desire, a rage to possess such as no man has ever felt towards the object of an earthly passion.  But once a work of his is completed - one that the whole world may acclaim enthusiastically - he is still only partially satisfied, still discontent, and would perhaps destroy the work if a new vision did not arise to shift his gaze from the thing accomplished to the heavenly and sorrowful raptures that turn his life into a perpetual pursuit of an unattainable goal, the mind's unceasing effort to rise to the accomplishment of those things it had conceived during the extraordinary time when eternal, unclouded beauty made itself known to him".

I understand.