Prelude and The Raft
In the Circus Ring
The Pedlar's Prediction
Jealousy is Dead
A Steam Engine for a Piano
Hungarian Rhapsody: a failure
All or Nothing
PILGRIMAGE TO SAINT FRAMBOURG
I see a young artist in difficulty, I feel like helping him, reminded
as I am of my own years of hardship and enforced silence. How many young
people suffer from the taboo of being unknown? Just tell them that oneís
twenties are the finest years of oneís life! I secretly vowed to open
up to them the temple gates I had been kept away from for so long.
until the 1960s, many artists were ignored by agents on the pretext
that they had not made any records and were not known to the majority
of music lovers. In their turn, the record companies hesitated to invite
them to make a first recording because they had not given sufficient
took me a long time to find a way to break this vicious circle but in
the end I found several solutions. To start with, I selected a number
of young players and presented them to the audience at the end of my
recitals, concerts and various TV appearances. Once the surprise had
worn off, they were given a warm welcome. Rather than the usual encores,
I let them take my place at the piano. At the same time I decided to
reward future winners of the International Piano Competition which bore
my name by altering the nature of the prizes. Instead of obtaining engagements
and recordings, which risked only attracting a limited number of music
lovers, I intended to share the platform with the prize winners so that
they could enjoy the sort of large audience which paid me the honour
of attending my recitals.
fine, I thought, but not sufficient. It was then that in order to give
my project more importance I thought of starting up a Foundation where
there would be master classes and a recital hall sufficiently spacious
and with the appropriate audio-visual equipment, giving young instrumentalists
of all categories the opportunity to complete their training under the
best teachers as well as giving recitals or making recordings at will,
without being obliged to spend years in ante-rooms in the hope of being
I am not in favour of fire-proofed formica or corrugated iron, which
are, alas, used in the construction of virtually every cultural centre
which our leisure civilisation is so avid for, I followed the old adage
according to which the new should be built from the old. Wit the best
intentions, I decided to go and see André Malraux to ask his
advice.[Malraux (1901-1976) was at the time Minister
for the Arts. He was also a novelist of repute.] This time luck
was on my side. I met him the next day in a historical district known
as Le Marais. I told him of my plans, which he welcomed enthusiastically.
project is all to your honour but itís not possible here in Paris. Thereís
not an inch of land which someone hasnít laid hands on," he said,
pointing wearily to the metal beams of the Centre Beaubourg outside,
then in the final stages of construction. [Also known
as the Centre Pompidou, it lies on the site of the former vegetable
market Les Halles. Boulez's IRCAM lies beneath it.] "No,"
he said, "it would be better to go to Senlis. Itís quite different
from other historical towns. Senlis is the birthplace of France. It
was formerly the seat of the first Capetian kings. Iím fairly certain
its oldest church, the former Chapel Royal of St Frambourg, is in danger
of collapse. Since it was pillaged under the Revolution, it has been
a Temple of Reason, a forge, fodder suppliers, a riding school, a firemanís
barracks and, latterly, a carpark. Yet how beautiful it must once have
been! If you were able to restore it, France would be deeply indebted
to you, believe you me. But, dear Georges," he said, lowering his
voice, "such an undertaking would require a great deal of money.
Have you got enough?"
no," I sighed in frustration. "Iíve just about enough to buy
it in its present condition if the owner doesnít ask too much. And from
what you say about the placeÖ" "Your savings wouldnít be sufficient,
"he acknowledged, "so what do you intend to do?" "I
donít know yet but I want to purchase that church and turn it into an
auditorium dedicated to Liszt," I ventured. "And youíve got
some means of doing that?" "Yes," I said, suddenly feeling
reassured and placing my hands on his, the Royal Way [An
allusion to Malraux's novel "La Voie Royale" (1930)],
which also happens to be mine." "In short," said Malraux
in amazement, "you hope to raise the Chapel Royal from its ashes
with your own two hands?" "Yes," I replied. "Thatís
the best way, providing God gives you help and strength. But you must
admit," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "that a descendant
of Attila returning to France to restore the birthplace of our kings
really is the limit!"
so the great adventure began. Back from a concert tour, I went to Senlis
to look round my future purchase. What a desolate sight met my eyes
when I went inside. Twenty-odd parked cars were dotted here and there.
Walls, pillars and ceiling had all been despoiled. Twenty-four gaping
holes nearly ten feet high were all that remained of the stained glass
windows. The roof leaked. Malraux had been right: everything would have
to be restored.
wife Soleilka was to be mainly responsible for the seemingly impossible
undertaking. Guided by her fervent intuition, I bought the church just
as it was, exposed to the elements. The first thing we did was to have
plate glass windows put in so that the dozens of crows, the hundreds
of pigeons, thousands of sparrows, and black cats would know they would
have to find a home elsewhere. I could do no more for the time being.
I would have to be off to make more money. Restoration work advanced
with tantalizing slowness and it melted away. Larger and larger sums
were required. I worked like a galley slave. Luckily, as Soleilka had
predicted, a new miracle occurred. In 1975 the Foundation was officially
declared a public utility so we could accept gifts from friends wishing
to support our cause. It was a drop in the ocean compared with the budget
for the work yet to be done but at least we were not alone.
the time, we lived in Paris. The windows of my study, where I worked
between tours, looked down onto a nearby church. One evening after work,
I did not go to evening service as usual but just went there to meditate
for a few moments. Back home, a new pile of bills was awaiting me containing
so many zeros that I still shudder at the very thought of them. I am
a believer and normally never pray for anything other than the health
and happiness of my family. That particular day I prayed to Saint François
de Sales, patron saint of the church, to give me strength to continue.
Unless a miracle occurred, I could not go on assuming the heavy expenses
of the undertaking. I needed to reduce the number of concerts I was
giving but could not. Back home, Soleilka welcomed me with a strange
piece of news. Someone had phoned to say she had two beautiful stained
glass windows just the size we required and wanted to donate them to
the Chapel Royal. We went to look at them and they were indeed magnificent.
One was of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, the other of Saint François
strange," said Soleilka on our way back, "that we should jus
chance on a stained glass portrayal of Saint Elizabeth." "And
Saint François de Sales," I murmured pensively. "That
makes a fair number of coincidences," she went on. "Saint
Elizabeth is the patron saint of Hungary and Saint François de
Sales, well we live just by a church dedicated to him. And, strangest
of all, Liszt conducted the second performance of his The Legend
of St Elizabeth in the same church. What do you make of all that?"
"I donít know about the coincidences but it certainly makes you
wonder," I replied, thinking back to my visit to the church the
previous evening when I had felt so discouraged.
coincidences came together like the arches of Saint Frambourg, its patron
saint, who was from the Auvergne where I organized the La Chaise-Dieu
Festival each summer. During the war I had seen a chapel where I had
just played the organ bombed and had been tempted to believe music could
unleash destructive forces. It is a comfort to see another chapel resurrected
through and for music.
accelerated after that. Members of the Foundation arrived in their hundreds.
They now number thousands. An unhoped-for grant enabled restoration
work to forge ahead. Generous donators offered to take on financial
responsibility for the rebuilding of the faced, including replacement
of the great door. In the newly-converted crypt, all objects found during
preliminary excavations will be put on show. The great nave itself will
be entirely restored and fitted out by the end of the year. If you come
to Senlis for a concert, I will be glad to welcome you. I am sure the
Franz Liszt Auditorium will come into being. I shall have to work overtime
for it is my lifeís work and after that the outside will need restoring.
should like to communicate the invisible thread linking the Franz Liszt
Academy in Budapest with this new auditorium of the same name on French
soil to all young musicians who come to Senlis so as to justify this
great adventure of the restoration of the Chapel Royal.
a religious sanctuary that has been pillaged, desecrated and betrayed
into the Franz Liszt Auditorium is more than just homage to Liszt: it
is an invocation and the achievement of a childhood vow in which I am
totally involved. Since the age of ten I have been the bearer of a message
which can only be understood after a lifetimeís experience and suffering.
Before I could pass it on it had to penetrate me and feed on my inner
substance. This message was passed on to me by my teacher at the Liszt
Academy when he entrusted his secrets to us: the words of Liszt himself,
to whom he had in his youth played Chopinís Fourth Ballade. No-one
better than Liszt could have found words to express Chopinís inexpressible
aura. In quoting, with respect and humility, the words engraved in his
mind, he was indeed the transmitter of a tradition.
is what Liszt said: "My hands no longer obey me and I fear that
certain composers may see in my works nothing more than circus acrobatics.
Let them talk: my time will come. But, as regards Chopin, watch out:
his art has nothing to do with excessive emotional displays that so
many think of as passion. Naturally, they think his music should be
able to speak for itself and portray its essence, but under no circumstances
should the interpreter give way to an affected or uncontrolled confession.
Such music is a struggle with the powers of darkness in which there
is no room for intellectual well-being. It meticulously lays bare a
heart beyond time and space listening without complacency to its own
genius consisted in praising Chopinís. Acknowledging Chopinís exceptional
powers revealed his own destiny to him. "Chopin is all that and
more. Iím more grateful to him than to anyone else for my contact with
him has enriched and ennobled my own playing. Beware of aesthetes who
delve into the inexpressible charm of his music as if it were a Vale
of Tears. They are fake seraphim: ignore them."
his true friends, of whom I had the privilege to be one. Make the various
shapes and patterns of this richest of souls a part of you. I learnt
from him a special form of perception enabling me to discern and transmit
the ever-changing inner light emanating from his every work. The purity
of the kaleidoscopic aura of his music is a miraculous, unique alliance
of youthfulness and gloom. He spiritualizes the human condition, which
was a burden to him. Early on he realized his days were numbered. As
a consequence, his love of life became a shadowy, almost cult-like love
of death. The intensity of his work with its candid, innocent language
brings to all he wrote a tear-like purity. The idealist in him was more
prolific than his dreadful suffering."
Chopin was far more than just a poet. He was the only metaphysician
who could analyse the slightest tremor of his soul."
new music will be forgotten before another soul appears with such divining
his gods Bach and Mozart, Chopin passed like a meteor. He went off in
search of himself as only those predestined to do so know how, someone
who has always born the laws of harmony within himself. Contrary to
appearances, the outside world scarcely interested him. He was a vast
membrane capturing the least movement of his inner universe Ė the only
source of his creative impulse Ė which his genius at once transformed
into emotion. The ever-growing rapidity of the process was a miracle.
He was only too aware that he would have to hurry if he was to reach
the summit and profit from it. In fact, Chopin only came back down to
earth to consign the sum of what had been revealed to him in the course
of his previous incarnations. Others might have written the astonishing
Funeral March Sonata, but the fantastic murmur of the wind among
the tombstones in the Epilogue could only have been evoked by someone
for whom the mystery of death was a daily routine."
Mozart, Chopin was accorded only a brief spell in which to speak of
Eternity, and even then he had to use some of his precious time to perfect
a form of expression whose range and precision are no more than an invisible
medium for his nirvana. Lamartineís "Líharmonieux éther
dans ses vagues díazur" ["the silver waves
of the harmonious sky"] merges with the breath of a soul
imprisoned in a body undermined by tuberculosis for which life is only
a passing phase slowing down its journey towards immortality. The only
interest the Parisian salons held for him was to act as a resonator
by which to measure the purity of an inspiration even more volatile
than the dewdrops he put in the eyes of his ever-captive audiences.
Chopinís piano was merely a means of bringing his visions to life in
an endless search for transfiguration: the keyboard had become the instrument
of his divine ecstasy."
hearing Chopin improvising or playing his compositions on his favourite
piano was a rare pleasure. The glory and bondage of the interpreter
all disappeared, leaving him his place as a legend for all eternity.
The relation between his music and you must be the same."
was how I first heard about Chopinís art Ė by way of the inspiration
of Liszt. And I repeat the recommendation of our teacher at the Franz
Liszt Academy for todayís young players: "Draw the necessary conclusions."
readers expect an artistís autobiography to be a succession of thrills
and miracles in the course of a variety of episodes which help establish
the mood. My life started Ė or rather re-started Ė just when the reader
was expecting an edifying ending to the story.
fragments of my life have in common a single, obsessive theme: imminent
spiritual death which, when all seems lost, becomes a new stage in artistic
only ever felt truly alive and free when passing from darkness to light
or on taking flight from a dingy prison cell like a firebird.
believe I have reached the beginning.
Senlis, September 1977