By Chas. Doran
It has been said that the great composers, with few exceptions, have left the world no other inheritance than their compositions, and yet many of them received princely sums for their latter works and fabulous gifts from crown heads, to say nothing of the generous provisions made for them from the the treasuries of the states in which they lived. Yet they died poor.
Perhaps Chopin's words to a lady admirer, in reply to her question as to whether he was wealthy: "My only wealth is in the richness of my musical notes," may shed some light upon the subject, if we interpret the remark to mean that most of the noted composers cared not for any other kind of riches than that in which they could endow their works. We know that Verdi gave away much of his earnings to the poor of his native city, and that Schubert was so good to others that he was frequently reminded of his too great consideration of the needs of the poor by his bankers returning to him his order upon the bank with the words "No funds to your credit" written across the face of the paper. Schubert's generosity was proverbial and once caused him to write to a friend: "I suppose you are right, my charity to others has made a mendicant of myself."
One of Mozart's highest aims in life was to live to see the day when he had dipensed in philanthropic works a hundred thousand florins, and we are told by one of his biographers that before the great maestro closed his eyes in death he had given away three times this sum to the poor of the country of this birth. Beethoven loved money, and was very exacting with his publishers in the payment of royalties due him, holding them to account for the last penny, and his earnings must, too, have been very great, for like Verdi he was the idol of the hour, yet he left to his heirs but little money.
He wrote to one of his pupils who asked him for some advice: "Love money, but only for the good you can do with it, and save every mark you can until you have accumulated enought money with which to do some substantial good." Mendelssohn dreamed of the good he could do with the money he received from the royalties upon his compositions, and it is said carried out many of his dreams. He, like other great composers, left to the world little inheritance besides his marvelous musical creations.
Donizetti died poor, yet he could have gone to his grave a weathly man for his time. Liszt gave away money, but never without seeing first wherein it would accomplish the greatest good, and when he was on his deathbed he turned to his spiritual comforter and said: "I have given away my silver and leave to the world as an inheritance but the works that have brought me the silver."
Gounod classed composers among dreamers. "They live in an atmosphere laden with music, to them the world is either a waltz or a dirge, gladness or sorrow," and Gottschalk wrote of his own life: "A dream, the air about which has been music, today the softness and sweetness of a nocturne, tomorrow possibly the power and majesty of a requiem." And the composer of the "Last Hope" was no exception to the rule, he died a poor man, leaving to the world much wealth, but like other great composers a wealth of sublime music. He is said to have earned a fortune and yet he left not enough money with which to raise a fitting monument over his grave. Great musicians, like poets, have nearly all been very visionary; "they have lived in the world and yet been no part of its material advancement," as Von Bulow put it, when writing of the lives of two of his fellow composers.
The world has been a beautiful dream in which they have produced the music with which to enchant the forms that have appeared in it. Money, worldly possessions have been but as the means to sustain the body while the mind dreamed and the fingers penned the sublime notes that inspirations brought forth from the heart.
Fame seems to have had no other meaning to the most of the world's greatest composers than as the wherewith, so to speak, with which they were to meet the physical needs, while the spiritual, seemingly, was given sway that the world might be endowed with a riches of song and melody for which it was forever after to pay its tribute of gratitude to their creators.
One has but to read the biography of a great composer to see that his life was a living proof of the saying, "Music makes man love man," and agree with Liszt when he wrote of Chopin: "He was kind, noble and generous, Chopin, giving to his fellow man whatever he could spare of his earthly goods and leaving to the world no other inheritance than his music." Yet one endowed his name with as much love as the other has endowed his name with and endless fame.