The Girl Can’t Help It

Today’s bit of tangential Beethoven history: the reason Franz Liszt wasn’t invited back for the 1870 Beethoven centennial festivities in Beethoven’s birthplace of Bonn. Back in the 1840s, when the city’s plans for a Beethoven monument looked as if they might falter because of insufficient funds, Liszt stepped in, pledging his talents and enough of his then-considerable concert receipts to support the statue and the 1845 festival surrounding its unveiling. At a banquet following the festival’s final concert, Liszt (speaking in German, not his most comfortable language) offered a toast to the assembled representatives from throughout Europe, but failed to mention the French, and the result was an uproar, with speakers being shouted down, insults being hurled, and all manner of nationalistic and anti-Semitic bile let loose.

As if that weren’t bad enough, at the height of the disturbance, Lola Montez, the Irish-born, Spanish-impersonating dancer, who had followed her one-time lover Liszt to Bonn and crashed the banquet uninvited, attempted to quell the disturbance by drunkenly jumping up onto a table and spinning around. Insulting the French might have been OK by the Bonn city fathers, but the unexpected presence of the scandalous Montez was something else. A quarter-century later, Bonn’s centennial celebration went off without Liszt, who stayed in Weimar.

There might be movies with final shots as good as that of Max Ophüls’ 1955 Lola Montès, but I don’t think there are any that are better. Un dollar…

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