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Practical Discourse on some
Principles of Hymn-Singing
By Robert Bridges
Reprinted from the Journal of
Theological Studies, October, 1899
Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 50 & 51 Broad Street
London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co.
The Author’s thanks are due to the Editors of the Journal of Theological Studies, and to the Publishers, Messrs. Macmillan, for permission to reprint.
PRINCIPLES OF HYMN-SINGING
What St. Augustin says of the emotion which he felt on hearing the music in the Portian basilica at Milan in the year 386 has always seemed to me a good illustration of the relativity of musical expression; I mean how much more its ethical significance depends on the musical experience of the hearer, than on any special accomplishment or intrinsic development of the art. Knowing of what kind that music must have been and how few resources of expression it can have had,–being rudimental in form, without suggestion of harmony, and in its performance unskilful, its probably nasal voice-production unmodified by any accompaniment,–one marvels at his description,
‘What tears I shed at Thy hymns and canticles, how acutely was my soul stirred by the voices and sweet music of Thy Church! As those voices entered my ears, truth distilled in my heart, and thence divine affection welled up in a flood, in tears o’erflowing, and happy was I in those tears.’
St. Augustin appears to have witnessed the beginnings of the great music of the Western Church. It was the year of his baptism when, he tells us, singing was introduced at Milan to cheer the Catholics who had shut themselves up in the basilica with their bishop, to defend him from the imperial violence:
‘It was then instituted that psalms and hymns should be sung, after the manner of the Eastern Churches, lest the folk in the weariness of their grief should altogether lose heart: and from that day to this the custom has been retained; many, nay, nearly all Thy flocks, in all regions of the world, following the example.’
What great emotional power St. Augustin attributed to ecclesiastical music, and of what importance he thought it, may be seen in the tenth book of the Confessions: he is there examining himself under the heads of the senses, and after the sense of smell, his chapter on the sense of hearing is as follows:
‘The lust of the ears entangled and enslaved me more firmly, but Thou hast loosened and set me free. But even now I confess that I do yield a very little to the beauty of those sounds which are animated by Thy eloquence, when sung with a sweet and practised voice; not, indeed, so far that I am limed and cannot fly off at pleasure: and yield though I do, yet these sweet sounds, joined with the divine words which are their life, cannot be admitted to my heart save to a place of some dignity, and I hesitate to give them one as lofty as their claim.
‘For sometimes I seem to myself to be allowing them undue honour, when I feel that our minds are really moved to a warmer devotion and more ardent piety by the holy words themselves when they are so sung than when they are not so sung; and when I recognize that all the various moods of our spirit have their proper tones in speech and song, by which they are, through I know not what secret familiarity, excited. But the mere sensuous delight, to which it is not fitting to resign the mind to be enervated thereby, often deceives me, whenever (that is) the delight of the senses does not so accompany the reason as to be cheerfully in submission thereto, but, having been admitted only for reason’s sake, then even attempts to go before and to lead. Thus I sin without knowing, but afterwards I know.
‘Then awhile, from too immoderate caution against this deception, I err on the side of too great severity; and sometimes go so far as to wish that all the melody of the sweet chants which are used in the Davidian psalter were utterly banished from my ears, and from the ears of the Church; and that way seems to me safer which I remember often to have heard told of Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria, that he would have the lector of the psalm intone it with but a slight modulation of voice, so as to be more like one reading than one singing. And yet, when I remember my tears, which I shed at the hearing of the song of Thy Church in the first days of my recovered faith, and that now I still feel the same emotion, and am moved not by the singing but by what is sung, when it is sung with a liquid voice and in the most fitting “modulation,” then (I say) I acknowledge again the great utility of the institution.
‘Thus I fluctuate between the peril of sensuous pleasure and the proof of wholesomeness, and am more inclined (though I would not offer an irrevocable judgement) to approve of the use of singing in the Church, that, by the pleasure of the ear, weaker minds may rise to the emotion of piety. Yet when it happens to me to be more moved by the music than by the words that are sung I confess that I have sinned (poenaliter peccare), and it is then that I would rather not hear the singer.’
What would St. Augustin have said could he have heard Mozart’s Requiem, or been present at some Roman Catholic cathedral where an eighteenth-century mass was performed, a woman hired from the Opera-House whooping the Benedictus from the western gallery?
It is possible that such music would not have had any ethical significance to him, bad or good. Augustin lived before what we reckon the very beginnings of modern music, with nothing to entice and delight his ears in the choir but the simplest ecclesiastical chant and hymn-tune sung in unison. We are accustomed to an almost over-elaborated art, which, having won powers of expression in all directions, has so squandered them that they are of little value: and we may confidently say that the emotional power of our church music is not so great as that described by him 1,500 years ago. In fact if we feel at all out of sympathy with Augustin’s words, it is because he seems to over-estimate the danger of the emotion.
There is something very strange and surprising in this state of things, this contrast between the primitive Church with its few simple melodies that ravished the educated hearer, and our own full-blown institution with its hymn-book of some 600 tunes, which when it is opened fills the sensitive worshipper with dismay, so that there are persons who would rather not go inside a church than subject themselves to the trial.
What is the matter? What is it that is wrong with our hymnody? Even where there is not such rooted disgust as I have implied, there is a growing conviction that some reform is needed in words or music, or both.
Assuming that the chief blame lies with the music (as, I think, might easily be proved), I propose to discuss the question of the music of our hymnody, and I shall proceed on the basis of St. Augustin’s principles: I am sure that they would be endorsed by any pious church-goer who had considered the subject, and they may be fairly formulated thus, The music must express the words or sense: it should not attract too much attention to itself: it should be dignified: and its reason and use is to heighten religious emotion.
One point calls for distinction: Augustin speaks of his emotion on hearing the hymns and canticles; he writes as if he had had no more thought of taking part in the music himself, than we have of joining in the anthem at a cathedral; and this might lead to a misunderstanding; for there is no doubt that these hymns were sung by the people: the story is that the very soldiers who were sent to blockade the basilica, happening to be themselves catholics, joined their voices in the stanzas which St. Ambrose had specially composed to disconcert the Arian enemy.
The ecstasy of listening to music, and the enthusiasm of a crowd who are all singing or shouting the same hymn or song are emotions of quite different nature and value. Now, neglecting the rare conditions under which these emotions may be combined, we shall, as we are speaking of hymns, be concerned chiefly with the latter kind, for all will agree that hymns are that part of the Church music in which it is most desirable that the congregation should join: and I believe that there would be less difference in practice if it were at all easy to obtain good congregational singing, or even anything that is worthy of the name. It seems perhaps a pity that nature should have arranged that where the people are musical (as Augustin appears to have been) they would rather listen, and where they are unmusical they would all rather sing.
Speaking therefore of congregational hymn-singing, and conceding, as I think we must, that the essential use of such music is to heighten emotion, then, this emotional quality being the sine qua non(the music being of no use without it), it follows that it is the primary consideration. If we are to have music at all, it must be such as will raise or heighten emotion; and to define this we must ask, Whose emotion? and What kind of emotion?
Let us take this latter question first, and inquire what emotions it is usual, proper, or possible to express by congregational singing of hymns. William Law, in his Serious Call, has an interesting, I may say amusing, chapter on the duty of all to sing, whether they have any turn or inclination for it or no. All should sing, he says, even though they dislike doing so; and I think that what he affirms of private devotion applies with greater force to public worship. It should satisfy the most ardent advocate of congregational singing, and it goes certainly to the root of the matter.
‘It is so right and beneficial to devotion, has so much effect upon our hearts, that it may be insisted on as a common rule for all persons; … for singing is as much the proper use of a psalm as devout supplication is the proper use of a form of prayer: and a psalm only read is very much like a prayer that is only looked over…. If you were to tell a person that has such a song, that he need not sing it, that it was sufficient to peruse it, he would wonder what you meant, … as if you were to tell him that he should only look at his food, to see whether it was good, but need not eat it…. You will perhaps say that singing is a particular talent, that belongs only to particular people, and that you have neither voice nor ear for music.
‘If you had said that singing is a general talent, and that people differ in that as they do in all other things, you had said something much truer.
‘For how vastly people differ in the talent of thinking, which is not only common to all men, but seems to be the very essence of human nature: … yet no one desires to be excused from thought because he has not this talent in any fine degree….
‘If a person were to forbear praying because he had an odd tone in his voice, he would have as good an excuse as he that forbears from singing psalms because he has but little management of his voice….
‘These songs make a sense (of) delight in God they awaken holy devotion: they teach how to ask: they kindle a holy flame….
‘Singing is the natural effect of JOY in the heart, … and it is also the natural means of raising EMOTIONS OF JOY in the mind: such JOY AND THANKFULNESS to God as is the highest perfection of a divine and holy life.’
Now though I cannot feel the force of all Law’s arguments nor easily bring myself to believe that a person who dislikes singing, and has no ear for music, will readily find any comfortable assistance to his private devotion from making efforts to hit off the notes of the scale; yet I feel that Law’s position is in the main sound, and that he has correctly specified the emotion most proper to that kind of uncultured singing which he describes: and though congregational psalm-singing necessarily involves a greater musical capacity than that assumed in Law’s extreme case, and may therefore have a wider field, yet we may begin by laying down that JOY, PRAISE, and THANKSGIVING give us the first main head of what is proper to be expressed, and we may extend this head by adding ADORATION and perhaps the involved emotions of AWE and PEACE and even the attitude of CONTEMPLATION.
In such a subject as the classification of emotions as they may be expressed by music of one kind or another, it is plainly impossible to make any definite tabulation with which all would agree. The very names of the emotions will, to different minds, call up different associations of feeling. If any agreement could be arrived at, it would be at the expense of distinction; and all that I can expect is to have my distinctions understood, and in the main agreed with. And as I am most ready to grant to the reader his right to a different opinion on any detail, I beg of him the same toleration, and that he will rather try to follow my meaning than dwell on discrepancies which may be due to a fault of expression, or to a difference of meaning which he and I may attach to the same word.
With this apology in preamble, I will attempt to make some classification of emotions as they seem to me to be the possible basis for musical expression in congregational singing.
We have already one class: I would add a second, to include all the hymns which exhibit the simple attitude of PRAYER.
A third class I would put under the head of FAITH. Examples of this class will no doubt often cross with those of the first class, but they will specify themselves as CELEBRATIONS of events of variousCOMMEMORATION, introducing a distinct form, namely NARRATION, which is a very proper and effective form for general praise.
Also this section will include all the hymns of BROTHERHOOD and FELLOWSHIP, and of SPIRITUAL CONFLICT, with the correlative invitatory and exhortatory songs, as modified by what will be said later.
Also, lastly, under this same head of Faith, the DOCTRINAL hymns, and professions of creed whether sectarian or otherwise, which, if the definition be taken widely, make a large and popular class, well exemplified by the German hymns of the Reformation, or by those of our Wesleyan revival; strong with the united feeling of a small body, asserting itself in the face of opposition: concerning which we will not speak further, except to recall the fact that this kind of enthusiasm was not absent from the causes which first introduced hymns into the Western Church.
I believe that this is a pretty full list of all the attitudes of mind that can be properly expressed by congregational singing; and if we turn to other emotions which are made the subject of church hymns, we shall, I think, see that they are all of them liable to suffer damage by being entrusted to the rough handling of general vociferation.
Such will be all hymns of DIVINE AFFECTION and YEARNING; all LAMENTS and CONSOLATIONS; all descriptions of spiritual conditions which imply personal experience and feeling, as ABASEMENT, HUMILIATION, CONTRITION, REPENTANCE, RESIGNATION, SELF-DEVOTION, CONVICTION, and SATISFACTION.
Here I feel that many readers will be inclined to dissent from what I say, and as I shall not again recur to Law, I should like, in order to show my meaning, to call up his extreme example of an unmusical person singing in private devotion. If one pictures such a case as he supposes, is it not clear, whether one imagines oneself the actor or the unwilling auditor, that while such an exhibition of joy might perhaps pass, yet a similar incompetent attempt to express any of the last-named emotions would be only ridiculous? But between this single worshipper and the congregation the incompetence seems to me only a question of degree; while in the far more considerable respect of the sincerity of the feeling in the hearts of those expressing it, Law’s singer has every advantage; indeed no objection on this score can be raised to him. But now suppose for a moment that he has not the emotion at heart corresponding to his attempt at song, and I think the differentiation of motives for congregational singing will seem justifiable.
All these last-named emotions,–which I have taken from congregational hymn-books,–and I suppose there may be more of them,–call for delicacy of treatment. A Lamentation, for instance, which might seem at first sight as if it would gain force by volume, will, if it is realistic or clumsy, become unmanly, almost so as to be ridiculous, and certainly depressing to the spirit rather than purifying. In fact while many of the subjects require beautiful expression, they are also more properly used when offered as inspiring ideals; and to assume them to be of common attainment or experience is to degrade them from their supreme sanctity. But in thus ruling them unfit for general singing one must distinguish large miscellaneous congregations from small united bodies, in which a more intimate emotion may be natural: and as there is no exact line of distinction here, so there is no objection to the occasional and partial intrusion of some of these more intimate subjects into congregational hymns.
To this first question then, as to what emotions are fit to be expressed by congregational music, the answer appears to be that the more general the singing, the more general and simple should be the emotion and that the universally fitting themes are those of simple praise, prayer, or faith: and we might inquire whether one fault of our modern hymn-books may not be their attempt to supply congregational music to unfitting themes.
To the next question, Whose emotion is this congregational music to excite or heighten? the answer is plain: It is the average man, or one rather below the average, the uneducated, as St. Augustin says the weaker, mind and that in England is, at least artistically, a narrow mind and a vulgar being. And it may of course be alleged that the music in our hymn-books which is intolerable to the more sensitive minds was not put there for them, but would justify itself in its supposed fitness for the lower classes. ‘What use,’ the pastor would say to one who, on the ground of tradition advocated the employment of the old plain-song and the Ambrosian melodies, ‘What use to seek to attract such people as those in my cure with the ancient outlandish and stiff melodies that pleased folk a thousand years ago, and which I cannot pretend to like myself?’ Or if his friend is a modern musician, who is urging him to have nothing in his church but what would satisfy the highest artistic sense of the day, his answer is the same: he will tell you that it would be casting pearls before swine; and that unless the music is ‘tuney’ and ‘catchy’ the people will not take to it. And we cannot hastily dismiss these practical objections. The very Ambrosian music which is now so strange to modern ears was doubtless, when St. Ambrose introduced it, much akin to the secular music of the day, if it was not directly borrowed from it: and the history of hymn-music is a history of the adaptations of profane successes in the art to the uses of the Church. Nor do I see that it can ever be otherwise, for the highest music demands a supernatural material; so that it would seem an equal folly for musicians to neglect the unique opportunity which religion offers them, and for religion to refuse the best productions of human art. And we must also remember that the art of the time, whether it be bad or good, has a much more living relation to the generation which is producing it, and exerts a more powerful influence upon it, than the art of any time that is past and gone. It is the same in all aspects of life: it is the book of the day, the hero or statesman of the hour, the newest hope, the latest flash of scientific light, which attracts the people. And it must be, on the face of it, true that any artist who becomes widely popular must have hit off, ‘I know not by what secret familiarity,’ the exact fashion or caprice of the current taste of his own generation.
And this is so true that it must be admitted that it is not always the uneducated man only whose taste is hit off. In the obituary notices of such men as Gladstone and Tennyson the gossip will inform us, rightly or wrongly, that their ‘favourite hymn‘ was, not one of the great masterpieces of the world,–which, alas, it is only too likely that in their long lives they never heard,–but some tune of the day: as if in the minds of men whose lives appealed strongly to their age there must be something delicately responsive to the exact ripple of the common taste and fashion of their generation.
All this makes a strong case: and it would seem, since our hymn-music is to stir the emotions of the vulgar, that it must itself be both vulgar and modern; and that, in the interest of the weaker mind, we must renounce all ancient tradition and the maxims of art, in order to be in touch with the music-halls.
This is impossibly absurd; and unless there is some flaw in our argument, the fault must lie in the premisses; we have omitted some necessary qualification.
The qualification which we neglected is this, that the music must be dignified, and suitable to the meaning; and we should only have wasted words in ignoring what we knew all along, if we had not, by so doing, brought this qualification into its vital prominence, and at the same time exposed the position of those who neglect it, and the real reason of the mean condition of our church music.
The use of undignified music for sacred purposes may perhaps be justified in exceptional cases, which must be left to the judgement of those who consider all things lawful that they may save some. But if from the mission service this licence should creep into the special service, and then invade every act of public worship, it must be met with an edict of unscrupulous exclusion. Not that it can be truly described as thus having crept in in our time. It is always creeping, it has flourished in special habitats for four or five hundred years, and before then there is the history of Palestrina’s great reform of like abuses. If in our time in England we differ in any respect for the worse, it is rather in the universal prevalence of a mild form of the degradation, which is perhaps more degrading than the occasional exceptional abuses of a more flagrant kind, which cannot hide their scandal but bring their own condemnation.
There is indeed no extreme from which this abuse has shrunk; perhaps the worst form of it is the setting of sacred hymns to popular airs, which are associated in the minds of the singers with secular, or even comic and amatory words: of which it is impossible to give examples, because the extreme instances are blasphemies unfit to be quoted; and it is only these which could convey an adequate idea of the licence The essence of the practice appears to be the production of a familiar excitement, with the intention of diverting it into a religious channel.
But, even in the absence of secular or profane association, congregational singing, when provoked by undignified music, such as may be found in plenty in our modern hymn-books, may be maintained without the presence of religious feeling, out of mere high spirits, or as we say, ‘in fun,’ and may easily give rise to mockery. I have witnessed examples enough in proof of this, but if I gave them it might be thought that I wished to amuse profane readers. And though such extreme disasters may be exceptional outbursts, yet they are always but just beneath the surface, and are the inevitable outcome of the use of unworthy means. The cause of such a choice of means must be either an artistic incapacity to distinguish, or a want of faith in the power of religious emotion when unaided by profane adjuncts. What would St. Augustin have ruled here, or thought of the confusion of ideas, which, being satisfied with any expression, mistakes one emotion for another?
The practical question now arises. We know the need; how is it to be supplied? We require music which will reach the emotions of uneducated people, and in which they will delight to join, and in which it shall be easy to join: and it must be dignified and not secular. If we condemn and reject the music which the professional church-musicians have supplied with some popular success to meet the need, what is there to take its place? Of what music is our hymn-book to be constructed, which shall be at once dignified, sacred, and popular?
The answer is very simple: it is this, Dignified Melody. Good melody is never out of fashion; and as it is by all confession the seal of high musical genius, so it is that form of music which is universally intelligible and in the best sense popular; and we have a rich legacy of it. What we want is that our hymn-books should contain a collection of the best ecclesiastical and sacred hymn-melodies, and nothing but these, instead of having but a modicum of these, for the most part mauled and illset, among a crowd of contributions of an altogether inferior kind; the whole collection being often such that if an ill-natured critic were to assert that the compilers had degraded and limited the old music in order to set off their own, it would be difficult to meet him with a logical refutation.
The shortest and most practical way of treating this subject will be to give some account of the sources from which the music of such a hymn-book as I propose would be drawn. I will takethese in their chronological order. First in order of time are the Plain-song melodies.
I have already stated the ordinary objection to these tunes, that they are stiff and out of date. Now it may be likely enough that they will never be so universally popular in our country as the fine melodies invented on the modern harmonic system, yet the idea that they are not popular in character, and that modern people will not sing them, is a mistake; there is plenty of evidence on this point. Nor must we judge them by the incompetent, and I confess somewhat revolting aspect in which they were offered to us by the Anglo-gregorianists of thirty years ago, a presentment which has gone far to ruin their reputation; they are better understood now, and may be heard here and there sung as they should be. They are of great artistic merit and beauty; and instead of considering them a priorias uncongenial on the ground of antiquity, we should rather be thinking of them that they were invented at a time when unison singing was cultivated in the highest perfection, so much so that a large number of these tunes are, on account of their elaborate and advanced rhythm, not only far above the most intelligent taste of the minds with which we have to deal, but are also so difficult of execution that there are few trained choirs in the country that could render them well. To the simpler tunes, however, these objections do not apply: in fact there are only two objections that can be urged against them, and both of these will be found on examination to be advantages.
The first objection is that they are not in the modern scale. Now as this objection is only felt by persons who have cramped their musical intelligence by an insufficient technical education, and cannot believe that music is music unless they are modulating in and out of some key by means of a sharp seventh;–and as the nature of the ecclesiastical modes is too long a subject, and too abstruse for a paper of this sort, even if I were competent to discuss it;–I shall therefore content myself by stating that the ecclesiastical modes have, for melodic purposes (which is all that we are considering), advantages over the modern scale, by which they are so surpassed in harmonic opportunities. Even such a thoroughgoing admirer of the modern system as Sir Hubert Parry writes on this subject, that it ‘is now quite obvious that for melodic purposes such modes as the Doric and Phrygian were infinitely (sic) preferable to the Ionic,’ i.e. to our modern major keys. And it will be evident to every one how much music has of late years sought its charm in modal forms, under the guise of national character.
The second objection is their free rhythm. They are not written in barred time, and cannot without injury be reduced to it.
As this question affects also other classes of hymns, I will here say all that I have to say, or have space to say, about the rhythm of hymn-tunes; confining my remarks generally to the proper dignified rhythms.
In all modern musical grammars it is stated that there are virtually only two kinds of time. The time-beat goes either by twos or some multiple of two, or by threes or some multiple of three, and the accent recurs at regular intervals of time, and is marked by dividing off the music into bars of equal length. Nothing is more important for a beginner to learn, and yet from the point of view of rhythm nothing could be more inadequate. Rhythm is infinite. These regular times are no doubt the most important fundamental entities of it, and may even lie undiscoverably at the root of all varieties of rhythm whatsoever, and further they may be the only possible or permissible rhythms for a modern composer to use, but yet the absolute dominion which they now enjoy over all music lies rather in their practical necessity and convenience (since it is only by attending to them that the elaboration of modern harmonic music is possible), than in the undesirability (in itself) or unmusical character of melody which ignores them. In the matter of hymn-melodies an unbarred rhythm has very decided advantages over a barred rhythm. In the former the melody has its own way, and dances at liberty with the voice and sense; in barred time it has its accents squared out beforehand, and makes steadily for its predetermined beat, plumping down, as one may say, on the first note of every bar whether it will or no. Sing to any one a Plain-song melody, Ad coenam Agni for instance, once or twice, and then Croft’s 148th Psalm. Croft will be undeniably fine and impressive, but he provokes a smile: his tune is like a diagram beside a flower.
Now in this matter of rhythm our hymn-book compilers, since the seventeenth century, have done us a vast injury. They have reduced all hymns to the common times. Their procedure was, I suppose, dictated by some argument such as this: ‘The people must have what they can understand: they only understand the simple two and three time: ergo we must reduce all the tunes to these measures.’ Or again, ‘It will be easier for them to have all the tunes as much alike as possible: therefore let us make them all alike, and write them all in equal minims.’
Both these ideas are absolutely wrong. A hymn-tune, which they hastily assume to be the commonest and lowest form of music, actually possesses liberties coveted by other music. It is a short melody, committed to memory, and frequently repeated: there is no reason why it should submit to any of the time-conveniences of orchestral music: there is no reason why its rhythm should not be completely free; nor is there any a priori necessity why any one tune should be exactly like another in rhythm. It will be learned by the ear (most often in childhood), be known and loved for its own sake, and blended in the heart with the words which interpret it: and this advantage was instinctively felt by those of our early church composers who, already understanding something of the value of barred music, yet deliberately avoided cramping the rhythms of their hymn-tunes by too great subservience to it. One of the first duties therefore which we owe to hymn-melodies is the restoration of their free and original rhythms, keeping them as varied as possible: the Plain-song melodies must be left unbarred and be taught as free rhythms, and all other fine tunes which are worth using should be preserved in their original rhythm; because free rhythm is better, and its variety is good, and because the attraction of a hymn-melody lies in its individual character and expression, and not at all in its time-likeness to other tunes. This last idea has been a chief cause in the degradation of our hymns.
I may conclude then that the best of these simpler Plain-song tunes are very fit for congregational use. They should be offered as pure melody in free rhythm and sung in unison: their accompaniment must not be entrusted to a modern grammarian. It is well also to use most of them in their English form, the Old Sarum Use as it is called; which happily preserves to us a national tradition, in the opinion of some experts older and more correct than any known on the continent; and if the differences in our English version are not due to purity of tradition, they will have another and almost greater interest, as venerable records of the genius of our national taste. These Plain-song tunes have probably a long future before them; since, apart from their merit, they are indissolubly associated with the most ancient Latin hymns, some of which are the very best hymns of the Church.
The next class of tunes is that of the Reformation hymns, English, French, and German, dating from about 1550 to some way on in the seventeenth century. The chief English group is known asSternhold and Hopkins’ Psalter, which was mostly of eight-line tunes. This book was virtually put together in Geneva about 1560, and antiquarians make much of it. If stripped, however, of its stolen plumes and later additions it is really an almost worthless affair, the true history of it being as follows. A French musician named Louis Bourgeois, whom Calvin brought with him to Geneva in 1541, turned out to be an extraordinary genius in melody; he remained at Geneva about fifteen years, and in that time compiled a Psalter of eighty-five tunes, almost all of which are of great merit, and many of the very highest excellence. The splendour of his work, which was merely appreciated as useful at the time, was soon obscured, for immediately on his leaving Geneva, the French Psalter was completed by inferior hands, whose work, being mixed in with his, lowered the average of the whole book enormously, and Bourgeois’ work was never distinguished until, quite lately, the period of his office was investigated and compared with the succeeding editions of his book. Now the English refugees compiled their ‘Sternhold and Hopkins’ at Geneva, in imitation of the French, during the time of Bourgeois’ residence, and took over a number of the French tunes; though they mauled these most unmercifully to bring them down to the measure of their doggerel psalms, yet even after this barbarous treatment Bourgeois’ spoilt tunes were still far better than what they made for themselves, and sufficient not only to float their book into credit, but to kindle the confusedenthusiasm of subsequent English antiquarians, whose blind leadership has had some half-hearted following. But if these French tunes, and those which are pieced in imitation of Bourgeois, be extracted from this English Psalter, then, with one or two exceptions, there will remain hardly anything of value.
To leave the English tunes for a moment and continue the subject, we shall practically exhaust the French branch of this class by saying that our duty by them is to use a great number of Bourgeois’ tunes, restoring their original form. They are masterpieces which have remained popular on the continent from the first; thoroughly congenial to our national taste, and the best that can be imagined for solemn congregational singing of the kind which we might expect in England. The difficulty is the same that beset the old original psalter-makers, i.e. to find words to suit their varied measures. But this must be done. These tunes in dignity, solemnity, pathos, and melodic solidity leave nothing to desire.
The English eight-line tunes of Sternhold and Hopkins we may then, with one or two exceptions, dismiss to neglect; but among the four-line ‘common’ tunes which gradually ousted them, there are about a dozen of high merit: these being popular still at the present day require no notice, except to 32 insist that they should be well harmonized in the manner of their date, and generally have the long initials and finals of all their lines observed. They are much finer than any one would guess from their usual dull presentment. Their manner, as loved and praised by Burns, is excellent, and there is no call to alter it.
Contemporary with this group there is a legacy of a dozen and more fine tunes composed by Tallis and Orlando Gibbons, the neglect or treatment of which is equally disgraceful to all concerned.
As for the German tunes of the Reformation, attempts to introduce the German church-chorales into anything like general use in England have never, so far as I know, been successful, owing, I suppose, to a difference in the melodic sense of the two nations. But some few of them are really popular, and more would be if they were properly presented with suitable words; and it should not be a difficult task to provide words even more suitable and kind than the original German, which seldom observes an intelligent, dignified and consistent mood. These chorales should be sung very slow indeed, and will admit of much accompaniment. Bach’s settings, when not too elaborate or of impossible compass in the parts, may be well used where the choir is numerically strong. He has made these chorales peculiarly his own, and, in accepting his interpretation of them, we are only acquiescing in a universal judgement, while we make an exception in favour of genius; for as a general rule (which will of course apply to those chorales which we do not use in Bach’s version), all the music of this Reformation period must be harmonized strictly in the vocal counterpoint which prevailed at the end of the sixteenth century; since that is not only its proper musical interpretation, but it is also the ecclesiastical style par excellence, the field of which may reasonably be extended, but by no means contracted. It is suitable both for simple and elaborate settings, for hymns of praise or of the more intimate ideal emotions, and in a resonant building a choir of six voices can produce complete effects with it. The broad, sonorous swell of its harmonious intervals floods the air with peaceful power, very unlike the broken sea of Bach’s chromatics, which, to produce anything like an equal effect of sound, needs to be powerfully excited.
It is necessary to insist strongly on one caution, viz. that grammar is not style, and settings which avoid modernisms are not for that reason a fair presentation of the old manner. Nothing is less like a fine work of art than its incompetent imitation. And this practically exhausts, as far as I am aware, the material which this period provides.
The next class will be made up of our Restoration hymns, by Jeremy Clark, Croft, and others who added to the succeeding editions of the metrical Psalms. If there are not many in this class, yet the few are good; and Clark must be regarded as the inventor of the modern English hymn-tune, regarded, that is, as a pure melody in the scale with harmonic interpretation of instrumental rather than true vocal suggestion. His tunes are pathetic, melodious, and of truly national and popular character, the best of them almost unaccountably free from the indefinable secular taint that such qualities are apt to introduce, and which the bad following of his example did very quickly introduce in the hands of less sensitive artists. They are suitable for evening services.
After this time there followed in England, in the wake of Handel, a degradation of style which is now completely discredited. Diatonic flow, with tediously orthodox modulation, overburdened with conventional graces, describe these innumerable and indistinguishable productions. And just as the old tunes were related to the motets and madrigals, so are these to the verse-anthems and glees of their time. These weak ditties, in the admired manner of Lord Mornington, were typically performed by the genteel pupils of the local musician, who, gathered round him beneath the laughing cherubs of the organ case, warbled by abundant candlelight to their respectful audience with a graceful execution that rivalled the weekday performances of Celia’s Arbour and the Spotted Snakes. Good tunes may be written at any time, for style is independent of fashion; but there are very few exceptions to the complete and unregretted disappearance of all the tunes of this date.
We have then nothing left for us to do but to review the material which the revival of music in the last fifty years has given us in the way of hymns.
This last group divides naturally into two main heads; first the restoration of old hymns of all kinds, with their plain, severer manner, in reaction against the abused graces; and secondly the appearance of a vast quantity of new hymns.
Concerning the restoration of the old hymns, we cannot be too grateful to those who pointed the right way, and, according to their knowledge and the opportunities of the taste of their day, did the best that they could. But, as our remarks under the heads of Plain-song and Reformation hymns will show, this knowledge, taste, and opportunity were insufficient, and all their work requires to be done afresh.
We are therefore left to the examination of the modern hymns. In place of this somewhat invidious task, I propose to make a few remarks on the general question of the introduction of modern harmony into ecclesiastical music, with reference of course to hymns only. It cannot escape the attention of any one that the modern church music has for one chief differentiation the profuse employment of pathetic chords, the effect of which is often disastrous to the feelings.
Comparing a modern hymn-tune in this style with some fine setting of an old tune in the diatonic ecclesiastical manner, one might attribute the superiority of the old music entirely to its harmonic system; but I think this would be wrong.
It is a characteristic of all early art to be impersonal. As long as an art is growing, artists are engaged in rivalry to develop the new inventions in a scientific manner, and individual personality is not called out. With the exhaustion of the means in the attainment of perfection a new stage is reached, in which individual expression is prominent, and seems to take the place of the scientific impersonal interest which aimed at nothing but beauty: so that the chief distinction between early and late art is that the former is impersonal, the latter personal.
Turning now to the subject of ecclesiastical music, and comparing thus Palestrina with Beethoven or Mozart, is it not at once apparent that Palestrina has this distinct advantage, namely, that he seems not to interfere at all with, or add anything to, the sacred words? His early musical art is impersonal, what the musicians call ‘pure music’; and if he is setting the phrases of the Liturgy or Holy Scriptures, we are not aware of any adjunct; it seems rather as if the sacred words had suddenly become musical. Not so with Mozart or Beethoven; we may prefer their music, but it has interfered with the sacred words, it has, in fact, added a personality.
It must of course be conceded that this gives a very strong if not logically an almost unassailable position to those who would confine sacred music to the ecclesiastical style. But it seems to me ridiculous to suppose that genius cannot use all good means with reserve and dignity; and if the modern church music will not stand comparison in respect of dignity and solemnity with the old, the fault must rather lie in the manner in which the new means are used, than in the means themselves; nor would I myself concede that there is no place in church for music which is tinged with a human personality; I should be rather inclined to reckon the great musicians among the prophets, and to sympathize with any one who might prefer the personality of Beethoven (as revealed in his works) to that of a good many canonized seers. What is logical is that we should be careful as to what personality we admit, and see that the modern means are used with reserve.
Now if we examine our modern hymn-tunes, do we find any sign of that reserve of means which we should expect of genius, or any style which we could attribute to the personality of a genius? Let any one in doubt try the following experiment: copy out some ‘favourite tune’ in the ‘admired manner’ of the present day, and show it to some musician who may happen not to know it, and ask him if it is not by Brahms; then see how he will receive any further remarks that you may make to him on the subject of music.
These new tunes are in fact, for the most part, the indistinguishable products of a school given over to certain mannerisms, and might be produced ad libitum, as indeed they are; just as were the tunes of the Lord Mornington school before described: and though the composers and compilers of these modern tunes would be the first to deride the exploded fashion, their own fashion is more foolish, and promises to be as fugitive.
I have said very little in this essay on the words of hymns. I will venture to add one or two judgements here. First, that in the Plain-song period, words and music seem pretty equal and well matched.Secondly, that in the Reformation period, and for some time onwards, the musicians did far better than the sacred poets, and have left us a remainder of admirable music, for which it is our duty to find words. Thirdly, that the excuse which some musicians have offered for the sentimentality of their modern tunes, namely, that the words are so sentimental, is not without point as a criticism of modern hymn-words, but is of no value whatever as a defence of their practice. The interpretative power of music is exceedingly great, and can force almost any words (as far as their sentiment is concerned) into a good channel.
And if music be introduced at all into public worship it must be most jealously and scrupulously guarded. It is a confusion of thought to suppose that because–as St. Augustin would tell us–it is not a vital matter to religion whether it employ music or not, therefore it can be of little consequence what sort of music is used: and the attitude of indifference towards it, which has seemed to me to be almost a point of correct ecclesiastical manners, must be the expression of a convinced despair, which, in the present state of things, need not surprise. Devout persons are naturally afraid of secular ideals, and shrink from the notion of art intruding into the sanctuary; and, especially if they have never learned music, they will share St. Augustin’s jealousy of it; and it is the more difficult to remove their objections, when what they are innocently suffering in the name of art curdles the artist’s blood with horror, and keeps him away from church. The artist too, to whom we might look for help, is the rara avis in terris, and, in regard to his sympathy with the clergy, would often be thought by them to deserve the rest of the hexameter; but it is really to his credit that he is loth to meddle with church music. Its social vexations, its eye to the market, its truckling to vulgar taste and ready subservience to a dominant fashion, which can never (except under the rarest combination of circumstances) be good;–all this is more than enough to hold him off. Where then is the appeal? Quis custodiet?
The unwillingness of the clergy to know anything about music might be got over if the music could be set on a proper basis; and in the present lack of authority and avowed principles, it would be well if such of our cathedral precentors and organists as have the matter at heart would consult and work together with the purpose of instructing pastors and people by the exhibition of what is good. This is what we might expect of our religious musical foundations, which are justifying the standing condemnation of utilitarian economists so long as the stipendiaries are content indolently to follow the fortuitous traditions of the books that lie in the choir, supplemented by the penny-a-sheet music of the common shops. In the Universities, too, it should be impossible for an undergraduate not to gain acquaintance with good ecclesiastical music, and this is not ensured by an occasional rare performance of half a dozen old masterpieces which are preserved in heartless compliment to antiquity. It is to such bodies that we must first look for help and guidance to give our church music artistic importance: for let no one think that the church can put the artistic question on one side. There is no escape from art; art is only the best that man can do, and his second, third, fourth or fifth best are only worse efforts in the same direction, and in proportion as they fall short of the best the more plainly betray their artificiality. To refuse the best for the sake of something inferior of the same kind can never be a policy; it is rather an uncorrected bad habit, that can only be excused by ignorance; and ignorance on the question of music is every day becoming less excusable; and the growing interest and intelligence which all classes are now showing should force on religion a better appreciation of her most potent ally. Music being the universal expression of the mysterious and supernatural, the best that man has ever attained to, is capable of uniting in commondevotion minds that are only separated by creeds, and it comforts our hope with a brighter promise of unity than any logic offers. And if we consider and ask ourselves what sort of music we should wish to hear on entering a church, we should surely, in describing our ideal, say first of all that it must be something different from what is heard elsewhere; that it should be a sacred music, devoted to its purpose, a music whose peace should still passion, whose dignity should strengthen our faith, whose unquestioned beauty should find a home in our hearts, to cheer us in life and death; a music worthy of the fair temples in which we meet, and of the holy words of our liturgy; a music whose expression of the mystery of things unseen never allowed any trifling motive to ruffle the sanctity of its reserve. What power for good such a music would have!
Now such a music our Church has got, and does not use; we are content to have our hymn-manuals stuffed with the sort of music which, merging the distinction between sacred and profane, seems designed to make the worldly man feel at home, rather than to reveal to him something of the life beyond his knowledge; compositions full of cheap emotional effects and bad experiments made to be cast aside, the works of the purveyors of marketable fashion, always pleased with themselves, and always to be derided by the succeeding generation.
Example is better than precept; and my own venture as a compiler of a hymn-book has made it possible for me to say much that otherwise I should not have said. In The Yattendon Hymnal, printed by Mr. Horace Hart at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, and to be had of Mr. Frowde, price 20s., will be found a hundred hymns with their music, chosen for a village choir. The music in this book will show what sort of a hymnal might be made on my principles, while the notes at the end of the volume will illustrate almost every point in this essay which requires illustration, besides many others. As a complement to this essay and for advertisement of the Hymnal I here give the prefaces of that book, which are as follows:–
‘There ‘s no keeping one’s haunches still,
There ‘s no such pleasure in life.’
But hymn-melodies must not be put on that level. It is desirable to have in church something different from what goes on outside, and (as I say in the text) a hymn-tune need not appeal to the lowest understanding on first hearing. The simple free rhythms, too, are perfectly natural; they were free-born.
PREFACE TO THE
Among the old melodies which it is the chief object of this book to restore to use, some will be found which will be quite new to the public, while others will be familiar though in a somewhat different form; and since the sources whence all the tunes are taken are well known, and have been already largely drawn upon by the compilers of Psalters and Hymnals, any melody which is new in this book may be considered as having been hitherto overlooked or rejected, while in the alternative case it is to be understood that the original cast of the melody has at some former time been altered (frequently to suit the English common metre to which it was not at first conformable), and is now restored.
The plain-song tunes, of which an account is given in the preface to the notes, and the few other old tunes which do not fall into either of the two above-mentioned classes, were included for the sake of their settings.
With respect to the vocal settings in four parts it may be said that, in the numerous cases in which such settings were not added by the composer of the melody, the editors have done their best to supply the want in a suitable manner, and with some attempt towards the particular qualities of workmanship upon which much of the beauty of the old vocal counterpoint depends; and this latter aim has also governed the composition of the six tunes not derived from old sources which have been included in the work.
This book is offered in no antiquarian spirit. The greater number of these old tunes are, without question, of an excellence which sets them above either the enhancement or the ruin of Time, and at present when so much attention is given to music it is to be desired that such masterpieces should not be hidden away from the public, or only put forth in a corrupt and degraded form. The excellence of a nation in music can have no other basis than the education and practice of the people; and the quality of the music which is most universally sung must largely determine the public taste for good or ill.
Since such information as might be looked for in an introduction is given in the notes at the end of the volume, there is nothing to add here but a list of the sources and composers in order of date, which should in the eyes of musicians go far to justify this attempt.
SYNOPSIS OF THE MUSIC IN ORDER OF DATE
- PLAIN-SONG MELODIES,
- Sarum use, nine, Nos. 29. 30. 31. 32. 47. 48. 49. 75. 86.
- Ambrosian, two, Nos. 91. 100.
- Later plain-song, two, Nos. 44. 45.
- HEINRICH ISAAC, 1490, one tune, Nos. 82 & 83.
- From the Strasbourg Psalter, before 1540, two, Nos. 37. 72.
- German of same date, one, No. 16.
- LOUIS BOURGEOIS, 1550, thirteen, Nos. 3. 19. 20. 27. 58. 64. 67. 70. 74. 77. 79 & 80. 88. 99 & see 66 & 84.
- CHRISTOPHER TYE, 1550, one, No. 15.
- From Crespin’s Psalters, circ. 1560, three, Nos. 41. 84. 89.
- THOMAS TALLIS, 1560, seven, Nos. 2. 14. 54 & 55. 59. 68. 78. 98.
- From the French Genevan Psalter, after 1560, one, No. 92.
- A setting by CLAUDE GOUDIMEL, 1565, No. 88.
- English, 16th cent, four, Nos. 39. 53. 66. 87.
- Two settings by GEO. KIRBY, 1592, Nos. 39. 53.
- A setting by J. Farmer, 1592, No. 87.
- A setting by Rd. ALLISON, 1599, No. 84.
- Italian, 16th cent., one, No. 1.
- HANS LEONHARD HASSLER, 1600, one, No. 62.
- THOS. CAMPION, 1613, one, No. 36.
- ORLANDO GIBBONS, 1623, eight, Nos. 23. 24. 25. 28. 35. 38. 56. 94.
- HENRY LAWES, 1638, one, No. 73.
- JOHANN CRUEGER, 1640, four, Nos. 41. 57. 93. 97.
- English & Scotch, 1600-1650, seven, Nos. 10. 40. 50. 51. 60. 63. 71.
- German, 17th cent, two, Nos. 69. 90.
- JEREMY CLARK, 1700, nine, Nos. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 21. 61. 81. 95.
- WILLIAM CROFT, 1710, four, Nos. 34. 43. 52. 76.
- English, 18th cent., four, Nos. 12. 26. 33. 65.
- J. S. BACH, eight settings, mostly of earlier melodies, Nos. 13. 57. 62. 80. 83. 85. 90. 97.
- Seven new tunes by H. E. W., Nos. 4. 11. 17. 18. 22. 46. 96.
‘The seven tunes by Tallis are all transcripts of his original four-part compositions. Only two of these tunes are in the common books; one of them “The Ordinal” is always reset, the other “Canon,” which is usually sung to Bp. Ken’s evening hymn, is completely altered, the canon being put in a different position and the harmony changed. This tune is I believe correctly edited for the first time in the Y. H. and it is now thus sung at Wells Cathedral.
‘Of the eight tunes by Orlando Gibbons, two only (and these altered both in rhythm and harmony) appear in the common books. All Gibbons’ tunes are given in the Y. H. with his own bass, the inner parts being supplied.
‘There is a complete list of the music in the word-book of the Yattendon Hymnal, which is published by Mr. Blackwell of Broad Street, Oxford, and may be bought for 1s. 6d.‘
PREFACE TO THE NOTES
The origin of this book was my attempt, when precentor of a village choir, to provide better settings of the hymns than those in use.
When I gave up my office, I printed the first twenty-five hymns for the convenience of the choir, and also for the sake of the tunes by Jeremy Clark, which I had been at some pains to restore, and for the preservation of the tunes composed on our behalf by Professor Wooldridge.
My choice of music had so far been limited to tunes, for which suitable words were to be found in Hymns Ancient & Modern; but by the time that these first tunes were printed, I determined to continue the book free of this restriction, and, from whatever source, to provide words for tunes which I had hitherto been unable to use. I then became aware of a real cause for the absence of most of these tunes from the common hymnals: there were no words of any kind to which they could be sung. Having already translated some of the old Latin hymns for their proper melodies, I was thence led on to the more difficult task of supplying the greater need of these other tunes; the result being that over forty of these hundred hymns have english words newly written by myself. Almost all of these new hymns are in some sense translations, for even where an original hymn could not be followed in its entirety, as an old Latin hymn generally may be, there was usually a foundation to begin upon, and I never failed to find the music conditioning, dictating, or inspiring the remainder. I did not willingly engage in this, nor until I had searched word-books of all kinds; a fruitless labour, unless for the hope begotten thereof that my practice in versifying and my love for music may together have created something of at least relative value.
The unusual method which I was constrained to follow, that is of writing words to suit existing music, has its advantages. In some cases, as will be seen in the notes to the hymns, the musician, out of despair or even contempt for the doggrel offered to him, has composed a fine tune quite independent of the words to which it was dedicated, and such tunes have been silent ever since they were composed: while even when a melody has been actually inspired by a particular hymn, the attention of the composer to the first stanza has not infrequently set up a hirmos, or at least a musical scheme of feeling, which, not having been in the mind of the writer of the words, is not carried out in his other stanzas: indeed, as every one must have observed, the words of hymns have too often been written with insufficient attention to the conditions which a repetition of any music to every stanza must impose. To get rid of such discrepancies between words and music is advantageous to both, and although this treatment cannot of course be applied to english hymns,–which it is not allowable to alter, except in cases of glaring unfitness or absurdity, such as would if uncorrected cause the neglect of a good hymn,–yet, where the hymn has to be translated from a foreign language, some reconstruction is generally inevitable, and it can follow no better aim than that of the mutual enforcement of words and music. And the words owe a courtesy to the music; for if a balance be struck between the words and music of hymns, it will be found to be heavily in favour of the musicians, whose fine work has been unscrupulously altered and reduced to dullness by english compilers, with the object of conforming it in rhythm to words that are unworthy of any music whatever. The chief offenders here are the protestant reformers, whose metrical psalms, which the melodies were tortured to fit, exhibit greater futility than one would look for even in men who could thus wantonly spoil fine music.
The form and size of the book were determined by the type, chosen because it was the only one that I could find of any beauty; and I wished that my book should in this respect give an example, and be worthy both of the music and its sacred use. Moreover a book from which two or three singers can read is more convenient in the choir than a multiplicity of small books; and the music being in full score, its intention cannot be mistaken: for it must be understood that most of these tunes are set in the manner proper for voices, but unsuitable for the piano or other keyed instrument; and the book is intended to encourage unaccompanied singing. A choir that cannot sing unaccompanied cannot sing at all; and this is not an uncommon condition in our churches, where choirs with varying success accompany the organ. A proper manner of sustained singing, and the true artistic pleasure that should govern it, will never be obtained until these conditions are reversed.
There is one novelty which I am responsible for introducing, namely the four-part vocal settings of certain early plain-song melodies. The later plain-song tunes, such as No. 44, are, I suppose, as fit for this treatment as any other tunes of the same date; but in the case of the earlier melodies, which were composed before the invention of any complete system of harmony, it is generally agreed that they should be sung in unison, in fact the more elaborate of them cannot be sung otherwise. To give four-part settings of any of these early tunes calls therefore for an explanation, which I will give as briefly as possible.
When these tunes are sung, they are usually accompanied, and this implies a harmonic treatment. Now the best harmonic treatment which they can have is the Palestrinal, because that was the earliest complete system, and therefore the nearest to their time, and also because we may rely on the truth of its interpretation of the modes for the reason that Palestrina had never heard any music that was not modal. A modern musician, if he attempts to go back beyond Palestrina, must draw on his imagination, and while his aim must be to produce something artistically and technically less perfect than Palestrina’s system, his work, when it is done, will carry neither authority nor conviction.
If then we take Palestrina’s harmonic interpretation of the modes, it seems to me that there can be no objection to giving vocal parts to the simpler hymns. If it is preferred to sing them in unison, the modal settings will be a guide to the accompanist. But it is my opinion that such settings as I offer will really please, and they may possibly do something to bring these tunes, which have a unique, unmatchable beauty, into favour with choirs that dislike the effort and waste of unison singing. These settings offer no difficulty of execution all; that is necessary is that the under voices should know the melody: and though this is not generally thought requisite in a modern hymn, it is asking nothing extra of a choir that would sing the plain-song tunes; for even if they are sung in unison, they must first be known by heart (otherwise their rhythmical freedom, which defies notation, and is indispensable to their beauty, cannot be approached), and when once a choir has got thus far, the under parts, being phrased with the melody, will easily follow it. An explanation of the notation of these settings is given in the note to Hymn 29. Congregational singing of hymns is much to be desired; but, though difficult to obtain, it is not permissible to provoke it by undignified music. Its only sound musical basis is good melody: good melodies should therefore be offered to the people, such as it has been the object of this book to bring together; and they should have as much freedom and variety of rhythm as possible. If some of the good melodies are, owing to their wide compass or other difficulty, unfit for congregational singing, this is an advantage; because neither are all hymn-words equally suitable. Most of the words in this book are suitable for congregational singing; some are not. A hymn-book which is intended entirely for congregational use must be faulty in one of two ways; either it will offer for congregational singing hymns whose sacred and intimate character is profaned by such a treatment, or it will have to omit some of the most beautiful hymns in the language: but congregations differ much, not only with regard to the music in which they are capable of joining, but also as to the sort of words which best express their religious emotion.
In the following notes the left-hand side of the page is given to the words, the right to the music of each hymn: in the latter column will be found full information as to the text of the music, the source whence it is derived, &c., together with a careful account of every departure that has been made from the originals. It is hoped that this will not only be of general interest, but that it may inspire confidence in the text of the book, and ensure the reception which its authority demands. For the text of the music, and all the statements in the notes, I am responsible; excepting those portions of the notes which are therein assigned to their proper authorities, and in these I am responsible for the correctness of the quotations and references, in which I have done my best to secure accuracy. I owe much to the kindness of Mr. W. Barclay Squire at the British Museum; I have also to thank Mr. Godfrey Arkwright for the loan of some rare books, and Dr. Chas. Wood of Cambridge for two settings and occasional reading of music proofs; in which latter task I gratefully record the help of Mr. J. S. Liddle and Dr. Percy Buck. To Mr. Miles Birket Foster I owe the three trios by Jeremy Clark, and to the Revs. W. H. Frere and G. H. Palmer the text of the plain-song melodies, and the information concerning them which is given in the following notes: it is due to the generosity with which they put their learning and judgement at my disposal that I am able to offer these tunes with the same confidence as the rest of the book. Professor Wooldridge, having co-operated with me throughout, has allowed his name to appear on the title page.
THE YATTENDON HYMNAL.
Edited by Robert Bridges and Professor H. Ellis Wooldridge. Containing 100 hymns and 4 voice-parts. Printed at the Oxford University Press, 1899. May be obtained of Henry Frowde, Oxford Warehouse, Amen Corner, London, E.C., or through any bookseller. Price, 4to boards, £1. A few copies of the Folio, price £4, are still to be had.
THE WORD-BOOK OF THE
Oxford: Horace Hart, Printer to the University
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Piano and Song, by Friedrich Wieck This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: Piano and Song How to Teach, How to Learn, and How to Form a Judgment of Musical Performances Author: Friedrich Wieck Translator: Mary P. Nichols Release Date: September 5, 2005 [EBook #16658] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PIANO AND SONG *** Produced by David Newman, Sigal Alon and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Piano and Song
HOW TO TEACH, HOW TO LEARN,
HOW TO FORM A JUDGMENT OF MUSICAL PERFORMANCES.
Translated from the German
LOCKWOOD, BROOKS, & COMPANY.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by
NOYES, HOLMES, AND COMPANY,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Press of John Wilson and Son.
Friedrich Wieck, the author of the work a translation of which is here offered to the public, was during his long life a distinguished teacher of music. He died in the autumn of 1873. He was the father and teacher of the celebrated pianist, Clara Wieck, now Fr. Dr. Clara Schumann, widow of the renowned composer Robert Schumann, who was also a pupil of Wieck. His second daughter, Fräulein Marie Wieck, is well known in Germany as an artistic performer on the piano-forte.
I have translated this little book, with the belief that a knowledge of the author’s views will be no less valuable in America than in his own country; and with the hope that it may find readers who will be glad to receive the suggestions of so experienced a teacher.
In illustration of his method, in addition to the two Etudes, already published by F. Whistling, Leipzig, a number of piano exercises, &c., selected from the literary remains of Wieck, by his daughter Marie Wieck and his pupil Louis Grosse, are, it is said, about to be published.
I have omitted in the translation a few portions on the composition and management of the opera, on the giving of concerts, and on the construction of the piano, thinking that they would be of little interest or practical value to the general public.
Mary P. Nichols.
I here present to the musical public a book written in a style of my own, not a scientific and systematically well-arranged treatise. This no reasonable man would expect of an old music-master, who, in his long practice in the realm of tones, could not arrive at learned and too often fruitless deductions. Nature made me susceptible to that which is good and beautiful; a correct instinct and a tolerable understanding have taught me to avoid the false and the vicious; a desire for increased knowledge has led me to observe carefully whatever I met with in my path in life; and I may say, without hesitation, that I have endeavored, according to my ability, to fill the position to which I have been called. This is no vain boast, but only the justifiable assertion of a good conscience; and this no man needs to withhold. For these reasons, I have been unwilling to refrain from giving to the world a true expression of my opinions and feelings. I trust they will meet with a few sympathizing spirits who are willing to understand my aims; but I shall be still more happy if, here and there, a music-teacher will adopt the views here set forth, at the same time carefully and thoughtfully supplying many things which it did not enter into my plan to explain more in detail. Abundant material lay spread out before me, and even increased upon my hands while I was writing. Art is indeed so comprehensive, and every thing in life is so closely connected with it, that whoever loves and fosters it will daily find in it new sources of enjoyment and new incitements to study. The most experienced teacher of art must be a constant learner.
I have always held and still hold the opinions advanced in this work, and I have neglected no opportunity to impress them upon my pupils.
I may be allowed to mention here, with some satisfaction, my daughters Clara and Marie; and, among numerous other pupils, I speak with equal pleasure of the estimable Herr Waldemar Heller, of Dresden, and Prof. E.F. Wenzel, of Leipzig. I have always enjoyed their affection and gratitude, and I feel a pride that they continue to defend and to teach the principles which they have received from me.
This is not the first time that I have appeared as an author. The “Signale für die musikalische Welt,” as well as the “Neue Zeitschrift für Musik,” have published numerous essays from my pen under various titles. The approval which they met with, at the time of their appearance, has induced me to undertake this larger work. Several of those earlier writings are included in this book, but in a partially altered form. The frequently recurring character, the teacher Dominie, originated with these essays; I need hardly say that he represents my humble self. Those who are otherwise unacquainted with me will through him understand my character, and will moreover see that a man of such caustic brevity can be, by no means, a master of polished style. May this last acknowledgment appease all those critics whose hair is made to stand on end by my inelegant mode of writing. I will make no further apology for my style. I have often availed myself of the dialogue form, because it was conducive to brevity; not less frequently I have made use of the form of the epistle and of personal discourse, as being more congenial to my individual manner than that of a serious treatise. I have also undertaken to say something about singing! A piano-teacher, if he is possessed of mind and talent, as I suppose him to be, whether he teaches the elements or occupies himself with more advanced instruction, should understand the art of singing; he, at least, should show a warm interest in it, and should have an earnest love for it. When I speak in general of singing, I refer to that species of singing which is a form of beauty, and which is the foundation for the most refined and most perfect interpretation of music; and, above all things, I consider the culture of beautiful tones the basis for the finest possible touch upon the piano. In many respects, the piano and singing should explain and supplement each other. They should mutually assist in expressing the sublime and the noble, in forms of unclouded beauty. My book will make this evident to many; but whether it will succeed with all, I doubt. Not a few will even be found who will lay aside my book with contempt, and who will scorn the zeal of the “man of the past age.” I am quite prepared for this: it is the fashion at present to undervalue the old times and their defenders; but I shall continue to be conservative, until the “men of the future” shall be able to show me results which shall excel those of the past, or at least shall equal them.
And now I commend my little book to the public, trusting that it will instruct the willing, correct the erring, incite the indolent, and chastise those who wilfully persist in the wrong.
ON ELEMENTARY PIANO-FORTE INSTRUCTION.
You ask, my dear friend, for some particular information about my piano method, especially with regard to my mode of elementary instruction, which differs essentially from that in common use.
I give you here the main points; and, if you place confidence in my experience of forty years, and if you will supply those details which I have omitted, your own varied experience as a thoughtful, talented, and earnest piano-teacher will enable you to understand my theory, from the following dialogue between my humble self under the title of Dominie, my friend, and the little Bessie:—
Dominie. My dear friend, how have you managed to make piano-playing so utterly distasteful to little Susie? and how is it that the instruction which you have given her for the last three years actually amounts to nothing?
Friend. Well, I will tell you how I have proceeded. First I taught her the names of the keys, that was pretty dull work for her; then I made her learn the treble notes, which was a difficult matter; after that I taught her the bass notes, which puzzled her still more; then I undertook to teach her a pretty little piece, which she hoped to perform for the delight of her parents. Of course she constantly confused the bass and treble notes, she could not keep time, she always used the wrong fingers and could not learn it at all. Then I scolded her,—she only cried; I tried a little coaxing,—that made her cry worse; finally I put an end to the piano lessons, and she begged me never to begin them again; and there you have the whole story.
Dominie. You certainly might have begun more judiciously. How is it possible for a child to climb a ladder when not only the lower rounds, but a great many more, are wanting? Nature makes no leaps, least of all with children.
Friend. But did she not begin to climb the ladder at the bottom?
Dominie. By no means. She certainly never was able to reach the top. I should say, rather, that she tumbled down head foremost. To speak mildly, she began to climb in the middle; and even then you tried to chase her up, instead of allowing her, carefully and quietly, to clamber up one step at a time. Bring me your youngest daughter, Bessie, and I will show you how I give a first lesson.
Dominie. Bessie, can you say your letters after me? so,—c, d, e, f.
Bessie. c, d, e, f.
Dominie. Go on,—g, a, b, c.
Bessie. g, a, b, c.
Dominie. Once more: the first four again, then the next four. That’s right: now all the eight, one after the other, c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
Bessie. c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
Dominie. (after repeating this several times). That’s good: now you see you have learned something already. That is the musical alphabet, and those are the names of the white keys on the piano-forte. Presently you shall find them out, and learn to name them yourself. But, first, you must take notice (I strike the keys in succession with my finger, from the one-lined c to the highest treble) that these sounds grow higher and become sharper one after the other; and in this way (I strike the keys from one-lined c to the lowest bass) you hear that the sounds grow lower and heavier. The upper half, to the right, is called the treble; the lower half is the bass. You quite understand now the difference between the high sharp tones and the low deep ones? Now we will go on. What you see here, and will learn to play upon, is called the key-board, consisting of white keys and black ones. You shall presently learn to give the right names both to the white keys and the black; you see there are always two black keys and then three black keys together, all the way up and down the key-board. Now put the fore-finger of your right hand on the lower one of any of the two black keys that are together, and let it slip off on to the white key next below it; now you have found the key called c; what is the name of the next key above it? Say the whole musical alphabet.
Bessie. c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
Dominie. Well, then, that key is called d.
Bessie. Then this one must be e.
Dominie. And now comes f. Anywhere on the key-board you can find f just as easily, if you put your finger on the lowest of any three black keys that are together, and let it slip off on to the white key next below it. If you remember where these two keys, f and c, are, both in the treble and the bass, you can easily find the names of all the other keys. Now what is the next key above f?
Bessie. g, and then a, b, c.
Dominie. Now we will say over several times the names of the keys, upwards and downwards, and learn to find them skipping about in any irregular order. At the end of the lesson we will try them over once more, and before the next lesson you will know the names of all the white keys. You must practise finding them out by yourself; you can’t make a mistake, if you are careful to remember where the c and the f are.
I told you that the sounds this way (I strike the keys upward) grow higher, and this way (I strike them downwards) they grow lower. So you see no tones are just alike: one is either higher or lower than the other. Do you hear the difference? Now turn round so as not to see the keys; I will strike two keys, one after the other; now which is the highest (the sharpest), the first or the second? (I go on in this way, gradually touching keys nearer and nearer together; sometimes, in order to puzzle her and to excite close attention, I strike the lower one gently and the higher one stronger, and keep on sounding them, lower and lower towards the bass, according to the capacity of the pupil.) I suppose you find it a little tiresome to listen so closely; but a delicate, quick ear is necessary for piano-playing, and by and by it will become easier to you. But I won’t tire you with it any more now, we will go on to something else. Can you count 3,—1, 2, 3?
Bessie. Yes, indeed, and more too.
Dominie. We’ll see; now keep counting 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, as evenly and regularly as you can. (I lead her to count steadily, and strike at the same time a chord in three even quarter-notes.) Now we’ll see if you can count evenly by yourself. (I count 1 of the chord with her, and leave her to count 2 and 3 by herself; or else I count with her at 2, and let her count 1 and 3 alone; but I am careful to strike the chord promptly and with precision. Afterwards I strike the chord in eighth-notes, and let her count 1, 2, 3; in short, I give the chord in various ways, in order to teach her steadiness in counting, and to confine her attention. In the same way I teach her to count 1, 2, 1, 2; or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; at the same time telling her that music is sometimes counted in triple time, and sometimes in 2/4 or 4/4 time.) Now, Bessie, you have learned to count very well, and to know the difference in the tones. It is not every child that learns this in the first lesson. If you don’t get tired of it, you will some time learn to be a good player. As soon as you are rested, I will tell you about something else, that you will have to listen to very carefully.
Bessie. But I like it, and will take pains to listen just as closely as I can.
Dominie. When several tones are struck at the same time, if they sound well together, they make what we call a chord. But there are both major and minor chords: the major chord sounds joyous, gay; the minor, sad, dull, as you would say; the former laugh, the latter weep. Now take notice whether I am right. (I strike the chord of C major; then, after a short pause, that of C minor; and try, by a stronger or lighter touch, to make her listen first to the major and then to the minor chords. She usually distinguishes correctly; but it will not do to dwell too long upon these at first, or to try to enforce any thing by too much talk and explanation.) Now I will tell you that the difference in the sounds of these chords is in the third, counted upwards from the lower note c, and depends upon whether you take it half a tone higher or lower, e or e flat. I shall explain this better to you by and by, when you come to learn about the tonic, the third, the fifth or dominant, the octave, and so on. (It is advantageous and psychologically correct to touch occasionally, in passing, upon points which will be more thoroughly taught later. It excites the interest of the pupil. Thus the customary technical terms are sometimes made use of beforehand, and a needful, cursory explanation given of them.) That is right; you can tell them pretty well already; now we will repeat once more the names of the keys, and then we will stop for to-day. Just see how many things you have learned in this lesson.
Bessie. It was beautiful!
Dominie. I hope you will always find it so.
Bessie. When may I have another lesson?
Dominie. Day after to-morrow; at first, you must have at least three lessons a week.
Bessie. What shall I do in the next lesson?
Dominie. I shall repeat all that I have taught you to-day; but I shall teach you a great deal of it in a different way, and every time I shall teach it to you differently, so that it shall always be interesting to you. In the next lesson we will begin to play, first on the table, and at last on the piano. You will learn to move your fingers lightly and loosely, and quite independently of the arm, though at first they will be weak; and you will learn to raise them and let them fall properly. Besides that, we will contrive a few exercises to teach you to make the wrist loose, for that must be learned in the beginning in order to acquire a fine touch on the piano; that is, to make the tones sound as beautiful as possible. I shall show you how to sit at the piano and how to hold your hands. You will learn the names of the black keys and the scale of C, with the half-step from the 3d to the 4th and also that from the 7th to the 8th, which latter is called the leading note, which leads into C. (This is quite important for my method, for in this way the different keys can be clearly explained.) You will learn to find the chord of C in the bass and the treble, and to strike them with both hands together. And then in the third or fourth lesson, after you know quite perfectly all that I have already taught you, I will teach you to play a little piece that will please you, and then you will really be a player, a pianist.
Friend. From whom have you learned all this? It goes like the lightning-train.
Dominie. A great many people can learn what is to be taught; but how it is to be taught I have only found out by devoting my whole mind, with real love and constant thought, to the musical improvement and general mental development of my pupils. The advancement will unquestionably be rapid, for it proceeds step by step, and one thing is founded upon another; the pupil learns every thing quietly, thoughtfully, and surely, without going roundabout, without any hindrances and mistakes to be unlearned. I never try to teach too much or too little; and, in teaching each thing, I try to prepare and lay the foundation for other things to be afterwards learned. I consider it very important not to try to cram the child’s memory with the teacher’s wisdom (as is often done in a crude and harsh way); but I endeavor to excite the pupil’s mind, to interest it, and to let it develop itself, and not to degrade it to a mere machine. I do not require the practice of a vague, dreary, time and mind killing piano-jingling, in which way, as I see, your little Susie was obliged to learn; but I observe a musical method, and in doing this always keep strictly in view the individuality and gradual development of the pupil. In more advanced instruction, I even take an interest in the general culture and disposition of the pupil, and improve every opportunity to call forth the sense of beauty, and continually to aid in the intellectual development.
Friend. But where are the notes all this time?
Dominie. Before that, we have a great deal to do that is interesting and agreeable. I keep constantly in view the formation of a good technique; but I do not make piano-playing distasteful to the pupil by urging her to a useless and senseless mechanical “practising.” I may perhaps teach the treble notes after the first six months or after sixty or eighty lessons, but I teach them in my own peculiar way, so that the pupil’s mind may be kept constantly active. With my own daughters I did not teach the treble notes till the end of the first year’s instruction, the bass notes several months later.
Friend. But what did you do meanwhile?
Dominie. You really ought to be able to answer that question for yourself after hearing this lesson, and what I have said about it. I have cultivated a musical taste in my pupils, and almost taught them to be skilful, good players, without knowing a note. I have taught a correct, light touch of the keys from the fingers, and of whole chords from the wrist; to this I have added the scales in all the keys; but these should not be taught at first, with both hands together. The pupil may gradually acquire the habit of practising them together later; but it is not desirable to insist on this too early, for in playing the scales with both hands together the weakness of the fourth finger is concealed, and the attention distracted from the feeble tones, and the result is an unequal and poor scale.
At the same time, I have in every way cultivated the sense of time, and taught the division of the bars. I have helped the pupils to invent little cadences with the dominant and sub-dominant and even little exercises, to their great delight and advantage; and I have, of course, at the same time insisted on the use of the correct fingering. You see that, in order to become practical, I begin with the theory. So, for instance, I teach the pupil to find the triad and the dominant chord of the seventh, with their transpositions in every key, and to practise them diligently; and to make use of these chords in all sorts of new figures and passages. But all this must be done without haste, and without tiring the pupil too much with one thing, or wearing out the interest, which is all-important.
After that, I teach them to play fifty or sixty little pieces, which I have written for this purpose. They are short, rhythmically balanced, agreeable, and striking to the ear, and aim to develop gradually an increased mechanical skill. I require them to be learned by heart, and often to be transposed into other keys; in which way the memory, which is indispensable for piano playing, is unconsciously greatly increased. They must be learned perfectly and played well, often, according to the capacity of the pupil, even finely; in strict time (counting aloud is seldom necessary) and without stumbling or hesitating; first slowly, then fast, faster, slow again, staccato, legato, piano, forte, crescendo,diminuendo, &c. This mode of instruction I find always successful; but I do not put the cart before the horse, and, without previous technical instruction, begin my piano lessons with the extremely difficult acquirement of the treble and bass notes. In a word, I have striven, as a psychologist and thinker, as a man and teacher, for a many-sided culture. I have also paid great attention to the art of singing, as a necessary foundation for piano-playing. I have devoted some talent, and at least an enthusiastic, unwearied love to the subject. I have never stood still; have learned something of teaching every day, and have sought always to improve myself; I have always been something new and different, in every lesson and with every child; I have always kept up a cheerful, joyous courage, and this has usually kindled the same in my pupil, because it came from the heart. Moreover, I have never been a man of routine, have never shown myself a pedant, who is obliged to hold fast to certain ideas and views.
I have lived up to the century, and have tried to understand and to advance the age; have heard every thing great and fine in music, and have induced my pupils also to hear it. I have opposed with determination all the prejudices and false tendencies of the times, and never have allowed impatient parents to give advice about my lessons. I have insisted upon a good and well-tuned instrument for my pupils, and have endeavored to merit the love and confidence both of my pupils and of their parents. In fact, I have devoted myself thoroughly to my calling, and have been wholly a teacher, always fixing my eye on the true, the beautiful, and the artistic; and in this way have been of service to my pupils.
Friend. But how do you find parents who sympathize with your ideas and with your lofty views?
Dominie. I have found that almost all the parents of my pupils have entered into my views, if not immediately, at least after they had been present at a few lessons. In the case of those few who would not enter into them, I have abandoned the lessons; but, nevertheless, I have found that my time has been fully occupied. My friend, do you not think that views like these will assist in the training of young and inexperienced teachers, who are striving for improvement? and do you not think they will be useful even to those who already possess general mental culture, and who are animated by an ardent love for their calling? I especially avoid giving here any exclusive method, a servile following of which would be entirely contrary to my intentions, and, in fact, contrary to my method.
But as for the rest! Alas, all those who do not understand me, or who choose to misunderstand me, those are the worst!—especially the ill-natured people, the classical people who bray about music, stride straight to the notes, and have no patience till they come to Beethoven; who foolishly prate and fume about my unclassical management, but at bottom only wish to conceal their own unskilfulness, their want of culture and of disinterestedness, or to excuse their habitual drudgery. Lazy people without talent I cannot undertake to inspirit, to teach, and to cultivate.
This chapter will, almost by itself, point out to unprejudiced minds my method of giving more advanced instruction, and will show in what spirit I have educated my own daughters, even to the highest point of musical culture, without using the slightest severity. It will, indeed, cause great vexation to the ill-minded and even to the polite world, who attribute the musical position of my daughters in the artistic world to a tyranny used by me, to immoderate and unheard-of “practising,” and to tortures of every kind; and who do not hesitate to invent and industriously to circulate the most absurd reports about it, instead of inquiring into what I have already published about teaching, and comparing it with the management which, with their own children, has led only to senseless thrumming.
AN EVENING ENTERTAINMENT AT HERR ZACH’S.
Herr Zach, formerly a flute-player, not very wealthy.
His Wife, of the family of Tz. (rather sharp-tempered).
Stock, her son, 17 years old (is studying the piano thoroughly).
Mr. Buffalo, music-master of the family.
Dominie, piano-teacher (rather gruff).
Cecilia, his daughter, 13 years old (shy).
Zach (to Dominie). I regret that I was unable to attend the concert yesterday. I was formerly musical myself and played on the flute. Your daughter, I believe, plays pretty well.
Dominie. Well, yes! perhaps something more than pretty well. We are in earnest about music.
Madame, of the Tz. family (envious because Cecilia received applause for her public performance yesterday, and because Mr. Buffalo had been unable to bring out Stock,—all in one breath). When did your daughter begin to play? Just how old is she now? Does she like playing? They say you are very strict, and tie your daughters to the piano-stool. How many hours a day do you make her practise? Don’t you make her exert herself too much? Has she talent? Isn’t she sickly?
Dominie. Don’t you think she looks in good health, madam,—tall and strong for her years?
Madame, of the Tz. family. But perhaps she might look more cheerful, if she was not obliged to play on the piano so much.
Dominie (bowing). I can’t exactly say.
Zach (suddenly interrupting, and holding Dominie by the button-hole). They say you torment and ill-treat your daughters dreadfully; that the eldest was obliged to practise day and night. Well, you shall hear my Stock play this evening, who, some time, by the grace of God, is to take the place of Thalberg in the world. Now give me your opinion freely (of course, I was only to praise): we should like very much to hear what you think about his playing, though perhaps Mr. Buffalo may not agree with you.
(Mr. Buffalo is looking through the music-case and picking out all the Etudes, by listening to which Dominie is to earn his supper.)
Dominie (resigned and foreseeing that he shall be bored). I have heard a great deal of the industry of your son, Stock. What are you studying now, Mr. Stock?
Stock (in proud self-consciousness, rather Sophomoric). I play six hours a day, two hours scales with both hands together, and four hours Etudes. I have already gone through the first book of Clementi and four books of Cramer. Now I am in the Gradus ad Parnassum: I have already studied the right fingering for it.
Dominie. Indeed, you are very much in earnest: that speaks well for you, and for Mr. Buffalo. But what pieces are you studying with the Etudes? Hummel, Mendelssohn, Chopin, or Schumann?
Stock (contemptuously). Mr. Buffalo can’t bear Chopin and Schumann. Mr. Buffalo lately played through Schumann’s “Kinderscenen,” that people are making such a talk about. My mamma, who is also musical, and used to sing when papa played the flute, said, “What ridiculous little things are those? Are they waltzes for children? and then the babyish names for them! He may play such stuff to his wife, but not to us.”
Dominie. Well, these “Kinderscenen” are curious little bits for grown-up men’s hands. Your mother is right, they are too short: there certainly ought to be more of them. But they are not waltzes!
Stock. Indeed, I am not allowed to play waltzes at all. My teacher is very thorough: first, I shall have to dig through all the Gradus ad Parnassum; and then he is going to undertake a concerto of Beethoven’s with me, and will write the proper fingering over it. I shall play that in public; and then, as he and my aunt say, “I shall be the death of you all.”
Mr. Buffalo (who has overheard him, steps up). Now, Herr Dominie, how do you like my method? Perhaps you have a different one? Nevertheless, that shan’t prevent our being good friends. Certainly, if any thing is to be accomplished in these times, it is necessary to keep at work,—that is my doctrine. But Stock, here, has unusual patience and perseverance. He has worked through all Cramer’s 96 Etudes in succession without grumbling. He was wretched enough over them; but his papa bought him a saddle-horse to ride round on every day, and he revived in the fresh air.
(Herr Zach with his wife and an old aunt are playing cards in the further room.)
Dominie. But do you not combine the study of musical pieces with the study of exercises, in order that the cultivation of the taste may go hand in hand with mechanical improvement?
Mr. Buffalo. My dear friend, you are too narrow-minded there,—you make a mistake: taste must come of itself, from much playing and with years. Your Cecilia played the two new waltzes, and the Nocturne of Chopin, and Beethoven’s trio very nicely. But then that was all drilled into her: we could tell that well enough by hearing it,—Stock and I.
Dominie. Did it sound unnatural to you,—mannered? and did you think it wooden, dry, dull?
Mr. Buffalo. Not exactly that; but the trouble was it sounded studied. The public applauded, it is true; but they don’t know any thing. Stock and I thought—
Dominie. Do you not think that the taste for a beautiful interpretation may be early awakened, without using severity with the pupil? and that to excite the feeling for music, to a certain degree, even in early years, is in fact essential? The neglect of this very thing is the reason that we are obliged to listen to so many players, who really have mechanically practised themselves to death, and have reduced musical art to mere machinery,—to an idle trick of the fingers.
Mr. Buffalo. That’s all nonsense. I say teach them the scales, to run up and down the gamut! Gradus ad Parnassum’s the thing! Classical, classical! Yesterday you made your daughter play that Trill-Etude by Carl Meyer. Altogether too fine-sounding! It tickles the ear, to be sure, especially when it is played in such a studied manner. We stick to Clementi and Cramer, and to Hummel’s piano-school,—the good old school. You have made a great mistake with your eldest daughter.
Dominie. The world does not seem to agree with you.
Madame, of the Tz. family (has listened and lost a trick by it, steps up quickly, and says maliciously). You must agree that she would have played better, if you had left her for ten years with Cramer and Clementi. We don’t like this tendency to Schumann and Chopin. But what folly to talk! One must be careful what one says to the father of such a child! It is quite a different thing with us. Mr. Buffalo is bound to our Stock by no bond of affection. He follows out his aim without any hesitation or vanity, and looks neither to the right nor to the left, but straightforward.
(Stock plays two Etudes of Clementi, three of Cramer, and four from the Gradus, but did not even grow warm over them. The horse his father gave him has made him quite strong.)
I may be asked, “But how did Stock play?” How? I do not wish to write a treatise: my plan is only to give hints and suggestions. I am not writing in the interest of Stock, Buffalo, & Co.
After the playing, we went to supper: the oysters were good, but the wine left a little sharp taste. My timid daughter did not like oysters; but she ate a little salad, and at table listened instead of talking.
A few innocent anecdotes were related at table about horses and balls and dogs and Stock’s future. On taking leave, Madame said condescendingly to Cecilia, “If you keep on, my dear, one of these days you will play very nicely.”
MANY STUDENTS OF THE PIANO AND FEW PLAYERS.
(A Letter addressed to the Father of a Piano Pupil).
It is a pity that you have no sons, for a father takes great delight in his sons; but I agree with you, when you say that, if you had one, you would rather he should break stones than pound the piano. You say you have many friends who rejoice in that paternal felicity, and whose sons, great and small, bright and dull, have been learning the piano for three years or more, and still can do nothing. You are doubtless right; and, further, they never will learn any thing. You ask, Of what use is it to man or boy to be able to stammer through this or that waltz, or polonaise or mazurka, with stiff arms, weak fingers, a stupid face, and lounging figure? What gain is it to art? You say, Is not time worth gold, and yet we are offered lead? And the poor teachers torment themselves and the boys, abuse art and the piano; and at the end of the evening, in despair, torment their own wives, after they have all day long been scolding, cuffing, and lamenting, without success or consolation. You speak the truth. I have had the same experience myself, though not to the same degree, and though I did not bring home to my wife a dreary face, but only a good appetite. But I did not give myself up to lamentation over piano-teaching. I gathered up courage and rose above mere drudgery. I reflected and considered and studied, and tried whether I could not manage better, as I found I could not succeed with the boys; and I have managed better and succeeded better, because I have hit upon a different way, and one more in accordance with nature than that used in the piano schools. I laid down, as the first and most important principle, the necessity for “the formation of a fine touch,” just as singing-teachers rely upon the culture of a fine tone, in order to teach singing well. I endeavored, without notes, to make the necessary exercises so interesting that the attention of the pupils always increased; and that they even, after a short time, took great pleasure in a sound, tender, full, singing tone; an acquirement which, unfortunately, even many virtuosos do not possess. In this way, we made an opening at the beginning, not in the middle: we harnessed the horse before the wagon. The pupil now obtained a firm footing, and had something to enjoy, without being tormented at every lesson with dry matters to be learned, the advantage of which was not obvious to him, and the final aim of which he did not perceive. Until a correct touch has been acquired, it is of no use to talk about a fine singing tone. How can we expect to arouse an interest by mere toneless tinkling, while stiff, inflexible fingers are struggling with the notes; while the pupil sees only his inability to do any thing right, and receives nothing but blame from the teacher; while, at the same time, so much is to be kept in mind, and he must be required to observe the time, and to use the right fingers? Poor, stupid children! Later, after teaching the notes, I did not fall into the universal error of selecting pieces which were either too difficult, or such as, though purely musical, were not well adapted to the piano; but I chose short, easy pieces, without prominent difficulties, in the correct and skilful performance of which the pupil might take pleasure. Consequently, they were studied carefully, slowly, willingly, and with interest, which last is a great thing gained; for the pupil rejoiced in the anticipation of success. The struggle over single difficult places destroys all pleasure, palsies talent, creates disgust, and, what is worse, it tends to render uncertain the confirmation of the faculty already partially acquired,—of bringing out a fine legato tone, with loose and quiet fingers and a yielding, movable wrist, without the assistance of the arm.
You suppose that talent is especially wanting, and not merely good teachers; for otherwise, with the zealous pursuit of piano-playing in Saxony, we should produce hundreds who could, at least, play correctly and with facility, if not finely. Here you are mistaken: we have, on the contrary, a great deal of musical talent. There are, also, even in the provincial cities, teachers who are not only musical, but who also possess so much zeal and talent for teaching that many of their pupils are able to play tolerably well. I will add further, that the taste for music is much more cultivated and improved, even in small places, by singing-societies and by public and private concerts, than was formerly the case. We also have much better aids in instruction books, études, and suitable piano pieces; but still we find everywhere “jingling” and “piano-banging,” as you express it, and yet no piano-playing.
Let us consider this aspect of the subject a little more closely. In the first place, the proper basis for a firm structure is wanting. The knowledge of the notes cannot afford a proper basis, except in so far as it is of service in the execution of a piece. Of what use are the notes to a singer, if he has no attack, and does not understand the management of the voice? of what use to the piano-learner, if he has no touch, no tone on the piano-forte. Is this to be acquired by playing the notes? But how then is it to be learned?
One thing more. Owing to an over-zeal for education, children are kept in school from seven to ten hours in a day, and then they are required to work and commit to memory in their free hours, when they ought to be enjoying the fresh air. But when are they then to have their piano lessons? After they have escaped from the school-room, and consequently when the children are exhausted and their nerves unstrung. What cruelty! Instead of bread and butter and fresh air, piano lessons! The piano ought to be studied with unimpaired vigor, and with great attention and interest, otherwise no success is to be expected. Besides this, much writing, in itself, makes stiff, inflexible fingers. But when is the child to find time for the necessary practice of the piano lessons? Well, in the evening, after ten o’clock for refreshment, while papa and mamma are in bed! And now, after the school-days are happily over, and the children have possibly retained their red cheeks, then their occupations in life lay claim to their time; or, if they are girls, they are expected to busy themselves with embroidery, knitting, sewing, crochet, making clothes, house-work, tea parties, and alas! with balls; and now, too, comes the time for lovers. Do you imagine that the fingers of pupils sixteen years old can learn mechanical movements as easily as those of children nine years old? In order to satisfy the present demands in any degree, the technique should be settled at sixteen. Under all these circumstances, we find the best teachers become discouraged, and fall into a dull routine, which truly can lead to no success.
In conclusion, I beg you to invite the piano teacher, Mr. Strict, to whom you have confided the instruction of your only daughter, Rosalie, to pay me a visit, and I will give him particular directions for a gradual development in piano-playing, up to Beethoven’s op. 109 or Chopin’s F minor concerto. But I shall find him too fixed in his own theories, too much of a composer, too conceited and dogmatic, and not sufficiently practical, to be a good teacher, or to exert much influence; and, indeed, he has himself a stiff, restless, clumsy touch, that expends half its efforts in the air. He talks bravely of études, scales, &c.; but the question with regard to these is how they are taught. The so-called practising of exercises, without having previously formed a sure touch, and carefully and skilfully fostering it is not much more useful than playing pieces. But I hear him reply, with proud and learned self-consciousness: “Music, music! Classical, classical! Spirit! Expression! Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn!” That is just the difficulty. Look at his pupils, at his pianists! See how his children are musically stifled, and hear his daughter sing the classical arias composed by himself! However, it is all musical! Farewell.
A CONVERSATION WITH MRS. SOLID, AND FOUR LESSONS TO HER DAUGHTER.
Mrs. Solid. I should be glad to understand how it is that your daughters are able to play the numerous pieces which I have heard from them so correctly and intelligently, without bungling or hesitation, and with so much expression, and the most delicate shading; in fact, in such a masterly manner. From my youth upwards, I have had tolerable instruction. I have played scales and études for a long time; and have taken great pleasure in studying and industriously practising numerous compositions of Kalkbrenner and Hummel, under their own direction. I have even been celebrated for my talent; but, nevertheless, I never have had the pleasure of being able to execute any considerable piece of music to my own satisfaction or that of others; and I fear it will be the same with my daughter Emily.
Dominie. In order to give a satisfactory answer to your question, I will lay before you a few of my principles and opinions in respect to musical culture, with special reference to piano-playing. Educated ladies of the present time make greater pretensions and greater demands than formerly in regard to music and musical execution; and consequently their own performances do not usually correspond with their more or less cultivated taste for the beautiful, which has been awakened by their careful general education. Thus they are aware that they are not able to give satisfaction, either to themselves or to others; and from this arises a want of that confidence in their own powers, which should amount almost to a consciousness of infallibility, in order to produce a satisfactory musical performance. This confidence has its foundation in a full, firm, clear, and musical touch, the acquisition of which has been, and is still, too much neglected by masters and teachers. A correct mechanical facility and its advanced cultivation rest upon this basis alone; which, moreover, requires special attention upon our softly leathered pianos, which are much more difficult to play upon than the old-fashioned instruments. It is a mistake to suppose that a correct touch, which alone can produce a good execution, will come of itself, through the practice of études and scales. Even with masters, it is unusual to meet with a sound, fine, unexceptionable touch, like that of Field and Moscheles, and among the more recent that of Thalberg, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Henselt.
I will speak now of the selection of pieces. Our ladies are not contented to play simple music, which presents few difficulties and requires no involved fingering; and from which they might gradually advance by correct and persevering study to more difficult pieces. They at once seize upon grand compositions by Beethoven, C.M. von Weber, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and others, and select also, for the sake of variety, the bravoura pieces of Liszt, Thalberg, Henselt, &c. How can they expect to obtain a command of such pieces, when their early education was insufficient for our exalted demands in mechanical skill, and their subsequent instruction has also been faulty and without method?
If you were to request me to supply in some degree your own deficiencies, before I proceed to the further education of your daughter, I should not begin with the wisdom of our friend Mr. Buffalo: “Madam, you must every day practise the major and minor scales, in all the keys, with both hands at once, and also in thirds and in sixths; and you must work three or four hours daily at études of Clementi, Cramer, and Moscheles; otherwise, your playing will never amount to any thing.”
Such advice has frequently been given by teachers like Mr. Buffalo, and is still daily insisted on; but we will, for the present, set such nonsense aside. I shall, in the first place, endeavor to improve your touch, which is too thin, feeble, and incorrect; which makes too much unnecessary movement, and tries to produce the tone in the air, instead of drawing it out with the keys. This will not require a long time, for I have well-formed, young hands to work upon, with skilful fingers in good condition. I will employ, for this purpose, several of the short exercises mentioned in my first chapter, and shall require them to be transposed into various keys, and played without notes, in order that you may give your whole attention to your hands and fingers. Above all things, I wish you to observe how I try to bring out from the piano the most beautiful possible tone, with a quiet movement of the fingers and a correct position of the hand; without an uneasy jerking of the arm, and with ease, lightness, and sureness. I shall certainly insist upon scales also, for it is necessary to pay great care and attention to passing the thumb under promptly and quietly, and to the correct, easy position of the arm. But I shall be content with the practice of scales for a quarter of an hour each day, which I require to be played, according to my discretion, staccato, legato, fast, slow, forte, piano, with one hand or with both hands, according to circumstances. This short time daily for scale-practice is sufficient, provided, always, that I have no stiff fingers, or unpractised or ruined structure of the hand to educate. For very young beginners with weak fingers, the scales should be practised only piano, until the fingers acquire strength.
I should continue in this way with you for two weeks, but every day with some slight change. After a short time, I would combine with this practice the study of two or three pieces, suitably arranged for the piano; for example, Mozart’s minuet in E flat, arranged by Schulhoff, and his drinking-song, or similar pieces. We will, at present, have nothing to do with Beethoven. You are, perhaps, afraid that all this might be tedious; but I have never been considered tedious in my lessons. I wish you, for the present, not to practise any pieces or exercises except in my presence, until a better touch has been thoroughly established. You must also give up entirely, for a time, playing your previous pieces; for they would give you opportunity to fall again into your faulty mode of playing. I shall also soon put in practice one of my maxims in teaching; viz., that, merely for the acquisition of mechanical facility, all my pupils shall be in the habit of playing daily some appropriate piece, that by its perfect mastery they may gain a fearless confidence. They must regard this piece as a companion, friend, and support. I wish you to learn to consider it a necessity every day, before practising or studying your new piece of music, to play this piece, even if it is done quite mechanically, two or three times, first slowly, then faster; for without ready, flexible fingers, my teaching and preaching will be valueless.
Mrs. Solid. But what pieces, for instance?
Dominie. For beginners, perhaps one or two of Hünten’s Etudes Melodiques; a little later, one of Czerny’s very judicious Etudes from his opus 740; and for more advanced pupils, after they are able to stretch easily and correctly, his Toccata, opus 92,—a piece which my three daughters never give up playing, even if they do not play it every day. They practise pieces of this description as a remedy for mechanical deficiencies, changing them every three or four months. In the selection of these, I aim especially at the practice of thirds, trills, stretches, scales, and passages for strengthening the fourth finger; and I choose them with reference to the particular pieces, sonatas, variations, concertos, &c., which they are at the time studying. Likewise, in the choice of the latter, I pursue a different course from that which the teachers alluded to above and others are accustomed to follow; though I hope my management is never pedantic, but cautious, artistic, and psychologic. It is easy to see that many teachers, by giving lessons continually, particularly to pupils without talent, are led, even with the best intentions, to fall into a mere routine. We find them often impatient and unsympathetic, especially in the teaching of their own compositions; and again, by their one-sided opinions and capricious requirements, by devoting attention to matters of small importance, and by all sorts of whimsicalities, they contract the intellectual horizon of their pupils, and destroy their interest in the lessons.
Mrs. Solid. Your careful mode of proceeding is certainly extremely interesting and convincing; but allow me to request an answer to various objections and considerations which are now and then brought forward, particularly by teachers.
Dominie. To that I am quite accustomed. The good and the beautiful never obtain uncontested recognition. No one has ever offered any new improvement, and fearlessly spoken the truth, without being attacked, defamed, and despised, or entirely misunderstood. Our age can show many proofs of this; for example, let us remember homœopathy and magnetism. Clara Wieck was not appreciated in Leipzig until she had been admired in Paris; nor Marie Wieck, because she does not play exactly as her sister Clara does. The same is the case with my present book, which relentlessly treads upon the incredible follies and lamentable errors of the times. I am quite prepared for opposition of any kind.
Mrs. Solid. I should like to suggest to you that there are other teachers who have given themselves a great deal of trouble, and who are very particular; but it is not their good fortune to have daughters like yours to educate.
Dominie. Have given themselves a great deal of trouble? What do you mean by that? If they do not take pains in the right way, or at the right time and place, it is all labor in vain. Of what use is mere unskilful, stupid industry? For instance, when a teacher, in order to correct a stiff use of the fingers and wrist, and the general faulty touch of his pupil, gives some wonderful étude or a piece with great stretches and arpeggios for the left hand, and gives himself unwearied trouble over it, it is a proof of abundant painstaking; but it is labor thrown away, and only makes the imperfect mode of performance the worse.
And now with regard to my daughters. It has been their fortune to have had me for a father and teacher: they certainly have talent, and I have been successful in rousing and guiding it. Envy, jealousy, pride, and offended egotism have tried as long as possible to dispute this; but at last the effort is abandoned. They say that it requires no art to educate such talent as theirs, that it almost “comes of itself.” This assertion is just as false and contrary to experience as it is common, even with educated and thoughtful people, who belong to no clique. Lichtenburg says: “It is just those things upon which everybody is agreed that should be subjected to investigation.” Well, I have made a thorough investigation of these accusations, with regard to my three daughters, and all the talented pupils whom I have been able to educate for good amateurs, and, according to circumstances, for good public performers. The great number of these suffices for my justification. I must add, still further, that it is exactly the “great talents” for singing, or for the piano, who require the most careful, thoughtful, and prudent guidance. Look around at the multitude of abortive talents and geniuses! Talented pupils are just the ones who have an irresistible desire to be left to their own discretion; they esteem destruction by themselves more highly than salvation by others.
Mrs. Solid. But it is said that you have been able to educate only your three daughters, and none others for public performers.
Dominie. Madam, you cannot be serious. If I were to declaim Leporello’s list, you might justly consider it an exaggeration; but if, instead of replying to you, I should urge you to read what I have written on the subject, or if I should present your daughter Emily to you, after three or four years, as a superior performer, you might pardon my vanity and my ability. I do not possess any magic wand, which envy and folly could not impute to me as an offence. Nevertheless, unless circumstances were very adverse, I have, at all events, been able in a short time to accomplish for my pupils the acquisition of a good, or at least an improved, musical touch; and have thus laid a foundation, which other teachers have failed to do by their method, or rather want of method. But you have something else on your mind?
Mrs. Solid. You anticipate me. I was educated in Berlin, and in that capital of intelligence a taste prevails for opposition, negation, and thorough criticism. How can you educate artists and virtuosos, when you yourself are so little a virtuoso? You are not even a composer or learned contrapuntist. A teacher of music wins much greater consideration, if he himself plays concertos and composes pretty things, and if he can calculate and give vent to his genius in double and triple fugues, and in inverse and retrograde canons. You cannot even accompany your pupils with the violin or flute, which is certainly very useful and improving.
Dominie. The egotist is seldom capable of giving efficient instruction: that lies in the nature of the case. Even a child will soon perceive whether the teacher has a sole eye to its interest, or has other and personal aims in view. The former bears good fruits, the latter very doubtful ones. I will say nothing about the stand-point of those egotistical teachers whose first aim is to bring themselves into prominence, and who at the same time are perhaps travelling public performers and composers. They are, it may be, chiefly occupied with double and triple fugues (the more inverted the more learned), and they consider this knowledge the only correct musical foundation. At the same time, they often possess a touch like that of your brother, Mr. Strict, mentioned in my third chapter, and are utterly devoid of true taste and feeling. While pursuing their fruitless piano lessons, which are quite foreign to their customary train of thought, they regard their occupation only as a milch cow; and they obtain the money of sanguine parents, and sacrifice the time of their pupils. You may try such agreeable personages for yourself: I could wish you no greater punishment.
And now I will speak of the violin and the flute. I have never availed myself of those expedients; it is a method which I have never learned. I will describe for your amusement a few interesting incidents, which I had an opportunity to witness in a not inconsiderable city, while on a journey with my daughters. The teacher with the flute was a gentle, quiet, mild musician; he was on very good terms with his pupil, and indulged in no disputes; every thing went on peaceably, without passion, and “in time.” They both twitteredtenderly and amicably, and were playing, in celebration of the birthday of an old aunt who was rather hard of hearing, a sonata by Kuhlau, which was quite within the power of both. The old aunt, who, of course, could hear but little of the soft, flute tones, and the light, thin, modest, square piano, kept asking me: “Is not that exquisite? what do you think of it?” I nodded my head and praised it, for the music was modest and made no pretension.
I will pass next to the violin. The possessor of this was a type of presumption, vulgarity, and coarseness, and understood how to make an impression on his pupils and their parents by the assumption of extraordinary ability. He consequently enjoyed a certain consideration. He was, moreover, a good musician, and played the violin tolerably in accompanying the piano, in Beethoven’s opus 17 and 24. In this portrait you have a specimen of the violinist as a piano teacher. Of course he understood nothing of piano-playing, and took no interest in Wieck’s rubbish about beauty of tone; he cared only for Beethoven. He now and then tried to sprawl out a few examples of fingering, in a spider-like fashion; but they were seldom successful. His pupils also possessed the peculiar advantage of playing “in time,” when they did not stick fast in the difficult places. At such times he always became very cross and severe, and talked about “precision;” in that way instilling respect. His pupils did not jingle, but they had a peculiarly short, pounding touch; and floundered about among the keys with a sort of boldness, and with resolute, jerking elbows. They certainly had no tone, but the violin was therefore heard the better; and after each performance we might have heard, “Am I not the first teacher in Europe?”
Mrs. Solid. You certainly have shown up two ridiculous figures.
Dominie. True; but I leave it to every one to make themselves ridiculous.
Mrs. Solid. I am very glad that you have furnished me here with the criticisms of which I stand in need; for I might otherwise have been in danger of supplying you with an example at the next soirée, perhaps at the banker’s, Mr. Gold’s. But, as I should like to hear your answer, I will listen to, and report to you, what is said in a certain though not very numerous clique, who are opposed to you and your labors.
Dominie. Those people would act more wisely, if they were to study my writings; in which I will make any corrections, if there is any thing that I can add to them, for the advantage of truth, right, and beauty.
And now allow me, Miss Emily, since you are pretty well advanced, and are not quite spoiled, to show you in a few lessons how to study these variations by Herz (Les Trois Graces, No. 1, on a theme from “The Pirates”). They are not easy; but I will teach them in a way that shall not weary you or give you a distaste for them. I have intentionally chosen these variations, because they do not lay claim to great musical interest; and, consequently, their mode of performance, their execution, gives them their chief value. Moreover, they possess the disadvantage for teaching that they are of unequal difficulty, and require, therefore, the more skill on the part of the teacher to compensate for this.
First Lesson. Miss Emily, these are very clear, graceful variations, which require an extremely nice, delicate execution; and, especially, a complete mechanical mastery of their various difficulties. Although these variations may seem to you too easy, I am governed in the selection of them by the maxim that “what one would learn to play finely must be below the mechanical powers of the pupil.” The theme of the Italian song, which is the basis of these variations, is very well chosen, and you must take great pains to execute it as finely as possible, and to produce a singing effect upon the piano-forte. After the piece is thoroughly learned, you will be greatly aided in the production of this imitation of singing by the careful and correct use of the pedal which raises the dampers. The theme does not offer great mechanical difficulties; but it requires a loose, broad, full, and yet tender touch, a good portamento, and a clear and delicately shaded delivery; for you must remember that “in the performance of a simple theme the well-taught pupil may be recognized.”
Emily. But you do not begin at the beginning: there is an introduction to the piece.
Dominie. Perhaps we shall take that at the last: I can’t tell yet when. A great many things in my instruction will seem to you misplaced: it may be that the final result will restore to me the approval which I desire.
Emily. Do you always give such a preliminary description before you begin a piece with a pupil?
Dominie. I like to do so; for I wish to create an interest in the piece, and to state in connection my principles and views about music and piano-playing. Now we will try the theme, first quite slowly; and then the first easy variation, with the last bars at the end of it, which introduce the theme once more, and which should be played very clearly and smoothly. We will then take from the introduction only the right hand, and study the most appropriate fingering for it. I never write this out fully; but only intimate it here and there, in order not to interfere with the spontaneous activity of the learner. We will also take a few portions for the left hand from the finale. In these you must carefully observe the directions which are given for its performance, and try to execute every thing correctly and clearly; for a careless bass is prejudicial to the very best playing in the treble.
My lesson is now at an end; for we have taken up a good deal of time at the beginning with the scales, and passing the thumb under correctly, with the different species of touch, and the appropriate exercises for these. I do not wish you yet to practise the first variation with both hands together, for you do not yet strike the skipping bass evenly enough and with sufficient precision; and you might accustom yourself to inaccuracies, especially as your left hand has, as usual, been neglected, and is inferior to the right in lightness and rapidity. We shall find this a hindrance; for the object is not to practise much, but to practise correctly. Therefore play these passages first slowly, then quicker, at last very fast; then slow again, sometimes staccato, sometimes legato, piano, and also moderately loud; but never when the hands and fingers are fatigued, therefore not too continuously; but many times in the course of the day, and always with fresh energy. At present, you need not play fortissimo, or with the pedal: for in that way you might be led into a tramping style, with a weak, stiff touch, and a habit of striking at the keys with straight fingers; and that I do not like. We will look for the true and the beautiful in a very different treatment of the piano; and, first of all, in a clear, unaffected, healthy performance, free from any forced character.
Second Lesson. Transposition of the triads and dominant chord in their three positions, and in various kinds of measure; and practice of these, with careful attention to a correct touch and loose wrist; cadences on the dominant and sub-dominant; practice of the skipping bass in the theme, and in the first and third variations, with practice in striking and leaving the chords, observing carefully the precise value of the notes. You must attend also to striking them not too forcibly or too feebly, and take special care with regard to the fourth and fifth fingers, which do not easily give the tone with so full a sound as the other three fingers. Now we will try the theme with both hands together, and consider the correct expression, and likewise the piano and forte, as well as the nicest crescendo and diminuendo. We will then take the first easy variation, of which you have already acquired a mastery: we will play it exactly a tempo and with the bass chords, which should usually be given staccato, and which must be played with delicacy and flexibility; but it will be well for you to practise first the bass part once alone, in order that you may hear whether all the tones sound evenly. Now the first variation will go pretty well with both hands together; with increasing mastery of it, the requisite shading in the right hand can be produced. As your right hand is not yet tired, play to me now several times, first slowly and then faster, the passages which I gave you from the introduction. When the right hand becomes a little fatigued, take a portion from the finale for the left hand. You may also try over the adagio; but I recommend for your special practice the part for the right hand in the third variation. You cannot make a mistake about it, if you do not try to play it too fast, and if you carefully observe the fingering indicated. Now I will play the theme to you, as nearly as possible as I heard the famous tenor Rubini sing it. You see I place the fingers gently upon the keys and avoid raising them too high, in order not to injure the nice connection of the tones, and to produce a singing tone as far as possible. At the end of the lesson you will play the theme to me once more…. I perceive you play it with too much embarrassment, and not freely enough. It will go still better two days hence, if you play it frequently during that time, slowly, and become quite accustomed to it. In addition, you will practise industriously every thing which we have gone through, especially the first variation; but you must always do it with interest, and never with weariness. Of course you will practise without notes all the little exercises for the touch, and for the fourth and fifth fingers, and the cadences.
Third Lesson. Other little exercises; trills, scales with shading for one hand alone and for both together; the skipping basses, &c. We will begin to-day with the bass part of the second variation. You observe that often there are even eighth notes in the treble, while in the bass there are even triplet eighth notes. In order to play these properly together, even with only mechanical correctness, it is necessary that the left hand shall acquire a perfectly free and independent movement, and shall bring out the bass with perfect ease. You must pay special attention to any weak notes, and accustom yourself not to give the last triplet, in each bar, and the last note of this triplet, too hurriedly, too sharply, or with too little tone. Notice how much difficulty this equal playing of the triplets occasions to the right hand, which moves in even eighth notes. While you play the left hand, I will play the right: you must listen as little as possible to my playing, and preserve your own independence. You must learn to play this variation entirely by yourself with both hands together; but we must not be too much in a hurry about it, and must give time to it. All restless urging, all hurry, leads to inaccuracies in playing. You have learned enough for to-day; but you may play the other variations, with the whole finale, straight through, that you may not get into the habit of stopping at the difficult passages which you have already learned.
Fourth Lesson. New exercises for striking stretches, and for the extension of the hand and fingers; but this must be done prudently, that the sound touch, which is always of the first importance, shall not be endangered. Besides this, the repetition of the exercises learned in the preceding lessons; but all to be played with a certain shading and delicacy. We will to-day begin at the beginning, with the introduction. I will now make amends for my want of regularity, and show you that I can begin at the beginning, like other people; but all in good time. To-day, in those portions of which you have acquired a mastery, we will give particular attention to the expression, and to the correct use of the pedal. If what I suggest to you with regard to the shading at any place does not entirely correspond to your understanding of the piece, or to your feeling, you must at once express your difference of opinion, and ask me for the reason of my view. You, perhaps, do not like to play this place crescendo, but diminuendo. Very well; only play it finely in your own way; it will also sound very well so. I proposed the crescendo there, because the feeling grows more intense; perhaps, in the next lesson, you will acknowledge that I was right. This place I should play a very little slower, though without a striking ritardando; then a little faster here; do you think it ought to be played crescendo or diminuendo? We must try in this variation to present nicely shaded little pictures. Here you might use more energy and decision. This place you should play merely with a correct mechanical execution, but without special expression; for we require shadow, in order that the succeeding idea, eminently suggestive of the theme, shall be brought out with more brilliancy. In general, the whole must be made to sound natural, without musical pretension, and as if it were the production of the moment; and should not create a distorted, overdrawn effect, or exhibit modern affectation.
Each piece that I undertake to teach you will give me an opportunity to talk to you a great deal about the correct expression in playing, and about its innumerable beauties, shades, and delicacies; while I shall pay constant attention to the production of a beautiful singing tone. The next piece will be Chopin’s Notturno in E flat; for your touch has already gained in fulness, and is now unobjectionable.
This is the tyranny with regard to correct execution, which stupidity and folly have taxed me with having exercised towards my daughters. “Expression must come of itself!” How cheap is this lazy subterfuge of the followers of routine, and of teachers wanting in talent! We see and hear a great many virtuosos, old and young, with and without talent, renowned and obscure. They either play in an entirely mechanical manner and with faulty and miserable touch, or else, which is less bearable, they strut with unendurable affectation and produce musical monstrosities. In order to conceal their indistinct mode of execution, they throw themselves upon the two pedals, and are guilty of inconceivable perversions.
But let us proceed with your instruction. You already play your piece intelligently, with interest and enthusiasm, and without any of the modern, empty affectations. If any other passage should occur to you at the fermata in the second part, which shall lead appropriately to the dominant, try it; and combine it, perhaps, with that which is written. You may make two passing shakes upon the four final sixteenth notes; but you must play them very distinctly and clearly, and the last one weaker than the first, in order to give it a delicate effect, as is done by singers. With light variations of this kind, it is allowable to introduce various ornaments, provided they are in good taste and nicely executed. The case is quite different in the performance of the compositions of Beethoven, Mozart, Weber, and others, where reverence for the composer requires a stricter interpretation, although even this is sometimes carried to a point of exaggeration and pedantry. Now try the first variation once more. That is better: you already play the skipping bass with more precision, more briskly and evenly. We begin to perceive the correct speaking tone in the bass, and a certain delicacy and freedom in the treble. You need not play both hands together in the second variation, which is the most difficult, until the next lesson. To-day you may first play the bass alone, while I play the treble; and afterwards we will change parts, and you can play the treble while I play the bass. But we will not go farther than the fourth variation. I have not much more to say about this piece. We will begin next a beautiful Etude by Moscheles, which I recommend highly to you, in order to strengthen and give facility to the fourth and fifth fingers: this may be your companion and friend during the next two or three months.
Mrs. Solid. Your very careful mode of instruction assures me that Emily will acquire a mastery of these variations, and will learn to perform them finely.
Dominie. She will be able, after a week or two, to execute this piece with understanding and confidence, and to play it to her own satisfaction and that of others; while her awakened consciousness of its beauties and of her ability to interpret it will preserve her interest for it.
The objection is quite untenable “that children lose their pleasure in a piece, if they are obliged to practise it until they know it.” Do people suppose that it gives more pleasure, when the teacher begins in a stupid, helpless way, and tries to make the pupil swallow several pieces at once, while he continually finds fault and worries them, than when the pupil is enabled to play a few short, well-sounding exercises, with perfect freedom and correctness, and to take delight in his success? or when afterwards, or perhaps at the same time, he is conscious that he can play one piece nicely and without bungling, while it is all accomplished in a quiet and pleasant manner?
Mrs. Solid. Do you pursue the same course with longer and more difficult pieces?
Dominie. Certainly, on the same principle.
Mrs. Solid. But, if you are so particular about every piece, and always take so much pains to improve the touch, it will be a long time before Emily will be able to execute several long pieces and can learn other new ones beside.
Dominie. Do you wish your daughter to learn to jingle on the piano, in order to become musical? or shall she grow more musical by learning to play finely? I am sure the latter is your wish, as it is mine: otherwise, you would be contented with an ordinary teacher. You must consider that, when she has made a beginning, by learning to play one piece thoroughly and quite correctly, the following pieces will be learned more and more quickly; for she will have acquired a dexterity in playing, as you may observe with yourself and with every one. To be able to drum off fifty pieces in an imperfect manner does not justify the expectation that the fifty-first piece will be learned more easily or better; but to attain a perfect mastery of four or five pieces gives a standard for the rest.
In this way, and by mechanical studies, such as I have begun with Emily, the greatest ease in reading at sight is gradually developed, in which all my pupils excel, when they have remained long enough under my instruction, and in which my daughters are pre-eminent. But for this it is necessary to continue to study single pieces, industriously and artistically, and with great exactness; for otherwise the practice of reading at sight, which often amounts to a passion, leads very soon to slovenliness in piano-playing and to more or less vulgar machine-music.
Mrs. Solid. I am more and more convinced that a style of instruction which is illogical, intermittent, superficial, and without method, can lead to no good result, or at least to nothing satisfactory, even with extraordinary talents; and that the unsound and eccentric manifestations and caricatures of art, which cause the present false and deplorable condition of piano-playing, are the consequence of such a prevalent mode of instruction.
ON THE PEDAL.
I have just returned exhausted and annihilated from a concert, where I have been hearing the piano pounded. Two grand bravoura movements have been thundered off, with the pedal continually raised; and then were suddenly succeeded by a soft murmuring passage, during which the thirteen convulsed and quivering bass notes of the fortissimo were all the time resounding. It was only by the aid of the concert programme that my tortured ears could arrive at the conclusion that this confusion of tones was meant to represent two pieces by Döhler and Thalberg.
Cruel fate that invented the pedal! I mean the pedal which raises the dampers on the piano. A grand acquisition, indeed, for modern times! Good heavens! Our piano performers must have lost their sense of hearing! What is all this growling and buzzing? Alas, it is only the groaning of the wretched piano-forte, upon which one of the modern virtuosos, with a heavy beard and long hanging locks, whose hearing has deserted him, is blustering away on a bravoura piece, with the pedal incessantly raised,—with inward satisfaction and vain self-assertion! Truly time brings into use a great deal that is far from beautiful: does, then, this raging piano revolutionist think it beautiful to bring the pedal into use at every bar? Unhappy delusion.
But enough of this serious jesting. Hummel never used the pedal. He was an extremist; and, in his graceful, clear, elegant, neat, though not grand playing, often lost fine effects, which would have been produced by the correct and judicious use of the pedal; particularly on the instruments of Stein, Brodmann, Conrad Graff, and others then in use, which were usually lightly leathered, and had a thin, sharp tone. The use of the pedal, of course always allowing it to fall frequently with precision, was especially desirable in the upper treble, in cases where the changes of the harmony were not very frequent; for the tone of those instruments, although sweet and agreeable, had not much depth, and the action had but little strength and elasticity. But on our instruments, frequently too softly leathered, which have a full tone, and are so strong and penetrating, especially in the bass, it is enough to endanger one’s sense of hearing to be subjected to such a senseless, incessant, ridiculous, deafening use of the pedal; frequently, moreover, combined with a hard, stiff touch, and an unsound, incorrect technique. A musical interpretation in any degree tolerable is out of the question. You cannot call that art, it cannot even be called manual labor: it is a freak of insanity!
A few words to the better sort of players. The foot-piece to the right on the piano-forte raises the dampers, and in that way makes the tones resound and sing, and takes from them the dryness, shortness, and want of fulness, which is always the objection to the piano-forte, especially to those of the earlier construction. This is certainly an advantage; the more the tone of the piano-forte resembles singing, the more beautiful it is. But, in order not to injure the distinctness and detract from the clear phrasing of the performance, a very skilful and prudent use of the pedal is necessary in rapid changes of harmony, particularly in the middle and lower portion of the instrument.
You all use the pedal too much and too often, especially on large, fine concert pianos of the new construction, which, with their heavy stringing, have in themselves a fuller, more vibrating tone; at least you do not let it fall frequently enough, and with precision. You must listen to what you are playing. You do not play for yourselves alone; frequently you play to hearers who are listening for the first time to the pieces you are performing. Try a few passages without pedal,—for instance, those in which the changes of the harmony succeed each other rapidly, even in the highest treble,—and see what repose, what serene enjoyment, what refreshment is afforded, what delicate shading is brought out. Or at first listen, and try to feel it in the playing of others; for your habit is so deeply rooted that you no longer know when and how often you use the pedal. Chopin, that highly gifted, elegant, sensitive composer and performer, may serve as a model for you here. His widely dispersed, artistic harmonies, with the boldest and most striking suspensions, for which the fundamental bass is essential, certainly require the frequent use of the pedal for fine harmonic effect. But, if you examine and observe the minute, critical directions in his compositions, you can obtain from him complete instruction for the nice and correct use of the pedal.
By way of episode to my sorrowful lecture on the pedal, we will take a walk through the streets some beautiful evening. What is it that we hear in almost every house? Unquestionably it is piano-playing; but what playing! It is generally nothing but a continual confusion of different chords, without close, without pause; slovenly passages, screened by the raised pedal; varied by an empty, stiff, weak touch, relying upon the pedal for weight. We will escape into the next street. Oh, horrors! what a thundering on this piano, which, by the way, is sadly out of tune! It is a grand—that is, a long, heavy—étude, with the most involved passages, and a peculiar style of composition, probably with the title “On the Ocean,” or “In Hades,” or “Fancies of the Insane;” pounded off with the pedal raised through the most marvellous changes of harmonies. Finally, the strings snap, the pedal creaks and moans; conclusion,—c, c sharp, d, d sharp resound together through a few exhausted bars, and at last die away in the warm, soft, delicious air. Universal applause from the open windows! But who is the frantic musician who is venting his rage or this piano? It is a Parisian or other travelling composer, lately arrived with letters of recommendation, who has just been giving a little rehearsal of what we may expect to hear shortly in a concert at the “Hôtel de Schmerz.”
THE SOFT-PEDAL SENTIMENT.
You exclaim: “What is that?—a sentiment for the soft pedal! a sentiment of any kind in our times! most of all, a musical sentiment! I have not heard of such a thing in a concert-room for a long time!”
When the foot-piece to the left on the piano is pressed down, the key-board is thereby moved to the right; so that, in playing, the hammers strike only two of the three strings, in some pianos only one. In that way the tone is made weaker, thinner, but more singing and more tender. What follows from this? Many performers, seized with a piano madness, play a grand bravoura piece, excite themselves fearfully, clatter up and down through seven octaves of runs, with the pedal constantly raised,—bang away, put the best piano out of tune in the first twenty bars,—snap the strings, knock the hammers off their bearings, perspire, stroke the hair out of their eyes, ogle the audience, and make love to themselves. Suddenly they are seized with a sentiment! They come to a piano or pianissimo, and, no longer content with one pedal, they take the soft pedal while the loud pedal is still resounding. Oh, what languishing! what soft murmuring, and what a sweet tinkling of bells! what tenderness of feeling! what a soft-pedal sentiment! The ladies fall into tears, enraptured by the pale, long-haired young artist.
I describe here the period of piano mania, which has just passed its crisis; a period which it is necessary to have lived through, in order to believe in the possibility of such follies. When, in the beginning of this century, the piano attained such conspicuous excellence and increased power, greater technical skill could not fail to be called out; but, after a few years, this degenerated into a heartless and worthless dexterity of the fingers, which was carried to the point of absurdity and resulted in intellectual death. Instead of aiming to acquire, before all things, a beautiful, full tone on these rich-sounding instruments, which admit of so much and such delicate shading, essential to true excellence of performance, the object was only to increase mechanical facility, and to cultivate almost exclusively an immoderately powerful and unnatural touch, and to improve the fingering in order to make possible the execution of passages, roulades, finger-gymnastics, and stretches, which no one before had imagined or considered necessary. From this period dates the introduction of virtuoso performances with their glittering tawdriness, without substance and without music, and of the frightful eccentricities in art, accompanied by immeasurable vanity and self-conceit,—the age of “finger-heroes.” It is indeed a melancholy reflection, for all who retain their senses, that this charlatanry is made the solitary aim of numberless ignoble performers, sustained by the applause of teachers and composers equally base. It is sad to see how, engaged in artificial formalisms and in erroneous mechanical studies, players have forgotten the study of tone and of correct delivery, and that few teachers seek to improve either themselves or their pupils therein. Otherwise they would see and understand that, on a good piano, such as are now to be found almost everywhere, it is possible with correct playing, founded on a right method, to play, without external aids, forte, fortissimo, piano, pianissimo,—in a word, with every degree of shading, and with at least formal expression; and that this style of playing, with the requisite mechanical skill, sounds far more pure, and is more satisfactory than when a feeling is affected through the crude, unskilful, and absurd use of the pedal, especially of the soft pedal of which we are now speaking. This affectation only gives one more proof of our unhealthy, stupid, and unmusical infancy in piano performances. A good-natured public, drummed up and brought together by patient persuasion and by urgent recommendations, of which virtuosos can obtain an abundance (for the tormented cities which they have visited cannot otherwise get rid of them), attend these concerts and listen to dozens of such inexperienced piano-players. One plays exactly like another, with more or less faulty mechanical execution; and none of them are able, with all their thumping and caressing of the keys, to bring out from the instrument a broad, healthy, full, and beautiful tone, delicately shaded and distinct even to the softest pp. But, instead of this, they fall into a pedal sentiment; i.e., they play with outside pretension, and with intrinsic emptiness.
You unworthy performers, who have so disgusted the artistic public with piano-playing that they will no longer listen to fine, intelligent, sensible artists, whose dignity does not permit them to force themselves into the concert-hall, or to drag people into it from the streets! you base mortals, who have exposed this beautiful art to shame! I implore you to abandon the concert platform, your battle-field! Hack at the piano no longer! Find positions on a railroad or in a factory. There you may perhaps make yourselves useful; while by the lessons you give (for it usually comes to that, after you have travelled all over the world) you will only ruin our young people, now growing up with promising talent for piano-playing, and will produce successors like yourselves, but not artists.
I must whisper one thing more in your ear. I will say nothing about simple truthfulness, about tenderness and sincerity of feeling, or wholesome refinement, about poetry, inspiration, or truly impassioned playing. But, if your ears are not already too much blunted, you should be able to discover, at least in a very few minutes, on any instrument, unless it is of the worst sort, or has already been battered to pieces by you, how far you can carry the pianissimo and fortissimo, and still preserve the tone within the limits of beauty and simplicity. You will thus be able to interpret a piece with at least superficial correctness, without mortally wounding a cultivated ear by exaggerations and by maltreatment of the instrument and its two pedals.
This style of playing has nevertheless found its numerous defenders and admirers in our century, which has made every thing possible. This senseless enslavement and abuse of the piano has been said to be “all the rage;” a fine expression of our piano critics to justify insane stamping and soft-pedal sentimentality.
How far what I have here said relates to our modern errors in singing, and how far it may be applied to them, I leave to the intelligence of my readers and to my explanations in subsequent chapters.
To return to my theme: I have still one word on this subject for rational players. Even they use the soft pedal too much and too often, and at unsuitable places; for instance, in the midst of a piece, without any preparatory pause; in melodies which require to be lightly executed; or in rapid passages which are to be played piano. This is especially to be noticed with players who are obliged to use instruments of a powerful tone and stiff, heavy action, on which it is difficult to insure a delicate shading in piano and forte. For this reason, a sensible and experienced teacher, whose sole aim is the true and the beautiful, should make the attainment of an elastic touch and well-grounded style of playing an indispensable requirement. I prefer that the soft pedal should be used but seldom, and, if the pedal which raises the dampers is used at the same time, it must be only with the greatest nicety. The soft pedal may be used in an echo; but should be preceded by a slight pause, and then should be employed throughout the period, because the ear must accustom itself gradually to this tender, maidenly, sentimental tone. There must again be a slight pause before the transition to the usual more masculine tone, with the three strings. The soft pedal is, moreover, most effective in slow movements with full chords, which allow time to bring out the singing tone, in which consists the advantage of the stroke of the hammers on two strings alone.
A MUSICAL TEA-PARTY AT THE HOUSE OF JOHN SPRIGGINS.
I once more introduce my readers to the scenes of my active, musical life, with an invitation to accompany me to a musical tea-party. My object is, in a short and entertaining manner, to remove very common prejudices; to correct mistaken ideas; to reprove the followers of mere routine; to oppose to malicious cavilling the sound opinions of an experienced teacher; to scourge dogmatic narrow-mindedness; and in this way to advance my method of instruction.
John Spriggins (jovial and narrow-minded, a member of an ancient musical family).
Mrs. Spriggins (irritable, envious, and malicious).
Lizzie, their daughter, 13, years old (lively and pert).
Shepard, her piano-teacher (very laborious).
Dominie, a piano-master (very stern).
Emma, his daughter, a pianist (silent and musical).
Mrs. Spriggins (to Dominie). So this is your daughter who is to give a concert to-morrow? She is said to have less talent than your eldest daughter. With her, they say, nothing requires any labor.
Dominie. You must ask my eldest daughter herself about that. I have hitherto held the opinion that both of them played correctly, musically, and perhaps finely, and yet both differently: that is the triumph of a musical education. But this cheap comparative criticism is already too thoroughly worn out. Pray what else have you on your mind?
Mrs. S. Have you not yet sent your younger daughter to school? They say your eldest could neither read nor write at fourteen years of age.
Dominie. My daughters always have a private teacher in the house, in connection with whom I instruct them in music, in order that their literary education shall occupy fewer hours, and that they shall have time left for exercise in the open air to invigorate the body; while other children are exhausted with nine hours a day at schools and institutes, and are obliged to pay for this with the loss of their health and the joyousness of youth.
Mrs. S. It is very well known that your daughters are obliged to play the whole day long.
Dominie. And not all night too? You probably might explain their skill in that way. I am astonished that you have not heard that too, since you have picked up so many shocking stories about me and my daughters.
Mrs. S. (dismisses the subject, and asks suddenly). Now just how old is your daughter Emma?
Dominie. She is just sixteen years and seven weeks old.
Mrs. S. Does she speak French?
Dominie. Oui, elle parle Français, and in musical tones, too,—a language which is understood all over the world.
Mrs. S. But she is so silent! Does she like to play?
Dominie. You have given her no opportunity to speak, she is certainly not forth-putting. For the last two years she has taken great pleasure in playing.
Mrs. S. You acknowledge, then, that formerly you had to force her to it?
Dominie. In the earlier years of her natural development, as she was a stranger to vanity and other unworthy motives, she certainly played, or rather pursued her serious studies, chiefly from obedience and habit. Does your daughter of thirteen years old always practise her exercises without being required to do so? Does she like to go to school every day? Does she always sew and knit without being reminded of it?
Mrs. S. (interrupting). Oh, I see you are quite in love with your daughters! But they say you are terribly strict and cruel in the musical education of your children; and, in fact, always.
Dominie. Do you suppose I do this from affection? or do you infer it, because they have proved artists, or because they look so blooming and healthy, or because they write such fine letters, or because they have not grown crooked over embroidery, or because they are so innocent, unaffected, and modest? or—
Mrs. S. (irritably). We will drop that subject. But I must give you one piece of good advice. Do not make your daughter Emma exert herself too much, as you have done with your eldest daughter.
Dominie. If that is so, Mrs. Spriggins, it seems to have agreed with her very well.
Mrs. S. (vehemently). But she would have been better—
Dominie. If she had not played at all? That I can’t tell exactly, as I said yesterday. Well, you are satisfied now with Emma’s state of health?
Mrs. S. It is of no use to advise such people as you.
Dominie. I have always devoted myself to my business as a teacher, and have daily taken counsel with myself about the education of my daughters, and of other pupils whom I have formed for artists; and, it must be acknowledged, I have done so with some ability.
Mrs. S. (not attending to him, but turning to Emma). But does it not make your fingers ache to play such difficult music?
Dominie. Only when her teacher raps her on the knuckles, and that I never do.
(Emma looks at the parrot which is hanging in the parlor, and strokes the great bull-dog.)
John Spriggins (entering with his daughter Lizzie). Herr Dominie, will you be so good as to hear our daughter Lizzie play, and advise us whether to continue in the same course. Music is, in fact, hereditary in our family. My wife played a little, too, in her youth, and I once played on the violin; but my teacher told me I had no talent for it, no ear, and no idea of time, and that I scraped too much.
Dominie. Very curious! He must have been mistaken!
John S. But I always was devotedly fond of music. My father and my grandfather, on our estate, often used to play the organ for the organist in church, and the tenants always knew when they were playing. My father used often to tell that story at table. Ha, ha! It was very droll!
John S. Well, to return to my violin. I gave it up after a year, because it seemed rather scratchy to me, too.
Dominie. Curious! Probably your ear and your taste had become more cultivated.
John S. Afterwards, when I accepted an office, my wife said to me, “My dear, what a pity it is about your violin.” So I had it restrung, and took a teacher. It seems as if it were only yesterday.
Dominie (casting down his eyes,—the servant brings ice). That was very curious!
John S. But the government horn-player thought he could not get on in duets with me.
Dominie. Curious! So you were obliged to play only solos? But to return to your daughter. Will you be good enough to play me something, Miss Lizzie?
Mrs. S. (condescendingly, in a low voice). She is a little timid and embarrassed at playing before your daughter Emma.
Emma. You really need not be so.
Lizzie. But, mamma, I have forgotten that piece by Herz, and I have not learned the “Tremolo” very well yet. That is always the way with me. Mr. Shepard says I may console myself: it was always the same with his other scholars. He says I shall finally make my way. But Mr. Shepard is so strict. Are you very strict, Herr Dominie?
Mrs. S. Why, my child, you have heard me say so before. Herr Dominie is the very strictest—but (playfully) he will not acknowledge it.
Dominie. There is one thing you must allow, Mrs. Spriggins,—that my pupils always take pleasure in my lessons; and that must be the case because their progress is evident and gives them delight, and every thing is developed in the most natural way.
Mrs. S. (less sharply). We won’t discuss that; but how are your daughters able to play so many pieces to people, and moreover without notes, if they have not been obliged to practise all day long, and if you have not been very cruel with them, while my Lizzie cannot play a single thing without bungling?
Mrs. S. No, no! you must excuse me, but we don’t permit any reflections on our Mr. Shepard: he is very particular and unwearied.
Dominie. It does not depend entirely upon that, but—
John S. Upon my honor, it is marvellous to see how talented pupils always seem to flock to you. It is easy to teach such! Ha, ha! You must not forget, however, that my grandfather played on the organ. Now, Lizzie, sit down and play something.
(She chooses a cavatina from “The Pirates,” with variations. The introduction begins with e flat in unison. Lizzie strikes e in unison and the same in the bass, and exclaims: “There, mamma, didn’t I tell you so? I don’t remember it now.” Mr. Shepard enters, steps up hastily, and puts her finger on e flat.)
Shepard. Pardon me, Herr Dominie, I will only set her going: it makes her a little confused to play before such connoisseurs; she loses her eyesight. Don’t you see, Lizzie, there are three flats in the signature?
(After the removal of the bull-dog, Lizzie plays as far as the fourth bar, when she strikes c sharp instead of c, and stops.)
Mrs. S. Never mind, begin again. Herr Dominie is pleased to hear that: he has gone through it all with his own children.
(Lizzie begins again at the beginning, and goes on to the eighth bar, where she sticks fast.)
Shepard. Don’t make me ashamed of you, Lizzie. Now begin once more: a week ago it went quite tolerably.
(Lizzie begins once more, and plays or rather scrambles through it, as far as the eighteenth bar; but now it is all over with her, and she gets up.)
Dominie. Skip the introduction, it is too difficult: begin at once on the theme.
John S. (to his wife). We will go away and leave the gentlemen alone. By and by, gentlemen, we will talk about it further over a cup of tea.
(Lizzie refuses to play.)
Dominie. Mr. Shepard, let Lizzie play a few scales or some chords; a few finger exercises, or some easy dance without notes.
Shepard. She has nothing of that kind ready. You see I always take up one piece after another, and have each one played as well as I can; she repeats the difficult parts, I write the proper fingering over them, and am very particular that she does not use the wrong fingers. I have taken a great deal of pains, and quite worn myself out over the lessons. Lizzie does the same, and practises her pieces two hours a day; but—but—
(Lizzie goes away with Emma.)
Dominie. Mr. Shepard, with the best intentions in the world, you will never accomplish your end. Even if Miss Lizzie is only to play as an amateur, and is not intended for any thing higher, for which in fact she has not sufficient talent, you must pay some attention beforehand to the acquirement of a correct tone, and get rid of this robin-red-breast touch; and you must then endeavor, by scales and exercises of every kind, to give to her hands and fingers so much firmness, decision, and dexterity, that she can master her pieces, at least with a certain distinct tone and a tolerable touch. You are not less in error in the choice of her pieces, which are far too difficult,—a fault of most teachers, even with the most skilful pupils. The pieces which your pupils are to execute should be below their mechanical powers; for, otherwise, the struggle with difficulties robs the player of all confidence in the performance, and gives rise to stumbling, bungling, and hurry. The mechanical powers should be cultivated by studies and exercises, in preference to pieces, at least to those of certain famous composers, who do not write in a manner adapted to the piano; or who, at any rate, regard the music as of more importance than the player. This may apply even to Beethoven, in the higher grade of composition; for his music is full of danger for the performer. The only course which can ever lead to a sure result, without wearying both pupil and parent, and without making piano-playing distasteful, is first to lay a foundation in mechanical power, and then to go on with the easier pieces by Hünten and Burgmüller. If you try to produce the mechanical dexterity essential for piano performance by the study of pieces, except with the most careful selection, you will waste a great deal of time and deprive the pupil of all pleasure and interest; and the young Lizzie will be much more interested in the hope of a husband than in the satisfaction of performing a piece which will give pleasure to herself and her friends. There can be no success without gradual development and culture, without a plan, without consideration and reflection,—in fact, without a proper method. How can there be any good result, if the pupil has to try at the same time to play with a correct touch, with the proper fingering, in time, with proper phrasing, to move the fingers rightly, to gain familiarity with the notes, and to avoid the confusion between the treble and the bass notes,—and in fact has to struggle with every thing at once? And what vexations! what loss of time without success!
(Shepard listened with attention, and a light seemed to dawn upon him.)
(Dominie and Shepard go in to tea.)
Mrs. S. Well, gentlemen, have you come to any conclusion? Is not Lizzie a good pupil? She is obliged to practise two hours every day, however tired she may be. Do you think we should continue in the same course, Herr Dominie?
Shepard. Herr Dominie has called my attention to some points which will be of use to me.
Dominie. Only a few trifles.
John S. After tea will not Miss Emma play to us?
John S. I beg your pardon: it was considered by everybody a very fine instrument when we bought it, sixteen years ago. We had a great bargain in it at the time, for we purchased it of a neighbor who had improved it very much by use. Mr. Shepard will confirm what I say, Miss.
(Emma bows her head thoughtfully, and looks at Shepard suspiciously.)
John S. My violin has very much improved during the last twenty years. On my honor, if Lizzie were a boy, she should learn to play on the violin, to keep it in the family. Ha, ha, ha!
Dominie. That would be curious!
(Dominie wishes to take leave with his daughter.)
Mrs. S. (condescendingly). I hope you will come to see us again soon. The next time Lizzie will play you Rosellen’s “Tremolo;” and Miss Emma must play us a piece too.
Dominie. You are extremely kind! (Takes leave.)
SINGING AND SINGING-TEACHERS.
(A Letter to a Young Lady Singer.)
My dear Miss ——, —You are endowed with an admirable gift for singing, and your agreeable though not naturally powerful voice has vivacity and youthful charm, as well as a fine tone: you also possess much talent in execution; yet you nevertheless share the lot of almost all your sisters in art, who, whether in Vienna, Paris, or Italy, find only teachers who are rapidly helping to annihilate the opera throughout Europe, and are ruling out of court the simple, noble, refined, and true art of singing. This modern, unnatural style of art, which merely aspires to superficial effects, and consists only in mannerisms, and which must ruin the voice in a short time, before it reaches its highest perfection, has already laid claim to you. It is scarcely possible to rescue your talent, unless, convinced that you have been falsely guided, you stop entirely for a time, and allow your voice to rest during several months, and then, by correct artistic studies, and with a voice never forced or strong, often indeed weak, you improve your method of attack by the use of much less and never audible breathing, and acquire a correct, quiet guidance of the tones. You must also make use of the voice in the middle register, and strengthen the good head-tones by skilfully lowering them; you must equalize the registers of the voice by a correct and varied use of the head-tones, and by diligent practice of solfeggio. You must restore the unnaturally extended registers to their proper limits; and you have still other points to reform. Are you not aware that this frequent tremulousness of the voice, this immoderate forcing of its compass, by which the chest-register is made to interfere with the head-tones, this coquetting with the deep chest-tones, this affected, offensive, and almost inaudible nasal pianissimo, the aimless jerking out of single tones, and, in general, this whole false mode of vocal execution, must continually shock the natural sentiment of a cultivated, unprejudiced hearer, as well as of the composer and singing-teacher? What must be the effect on a voice in the middle register, when its extreme limits are forced in such a reckless manner, and when you expend as much breath for a few lines of a song as a correctly educated singer would require for a whole aria? How long will it be before your voice, already weakened, and almost always forced beyond the limits of beauty, shall degenerate into a hollow, dull, guttural tone, and even into that explosive or tremulous sound, which proclaims irremediable injury? Is your beautiful voice and your talent to disappear like a meteor, as others have done? or do you hope that the soft air of Italy will in time restore a voice once ruined? I fall into a rage when I think of the many beautiful voices which have been spoiled, and have dwindled away without leaving a trace during the last forty years; and I vent my overflowing heart in a brief notice of the many singing-teachers, whose rise and influence I have watched for twenty years past.
The so-called singing-teachers whom we usually find, even in large cities and in musical institutions, I exempt from any special criticism, for they would not be able to understand my views. They permit soprano voices to sing scales in all the five vowels at once; begin with c instead of f; allow a long holding of the notes, “in order to bring out the voice,” until the poor victim rolls her eyes and grows dizzy. They talk only of the fine chest-tones which must be elicited, will have nothing to do with the head-tones, will not even listen to them, recognize them, or learn to distinguish them. Their highest principle is: “Fudge! we don’t want any rubbish of Teschner, Miksch, and Wieck. Sing in your own plain way: what is the use of this murmuring without taking breath? For what do you have lungs if you are not to use them? Come, try this aria: ‘Grâce,’ ‘grâce!’ Produce an effect! Down on your knees!”
There are again others who allow screaming,—”the more the better,”—in order to produce power and expression in the voice, and to make it serviceable for public performances. They may, indeed, require the singing of solfeggio, and prattle about the requisite equality of the tones; and they consequently make the pupil practise diligently and strongly on the two-lined a, b flat, b, where kind Nature does not at first place the voice, because she has reserved for herself the slow and careful development of it. As for the unfortunate gasping medium voices, which are still less docile, and which sigh in the throat, and after all can only speak, such teachers postpone the cultivation of these to the future, or else they exclaim in a satisfied way, “Now we will sing at sight! Hit the notes! Let us have classical music!” Of these, also, I forbear to speak.
And as for the singing-teachers, whose business it is to educate the voice for “the opera of the future,” I am really unable to write about them. In the first place, I know nothing about “the future,” the unborn; and, in the second place, I have more than enough to do with the present.
And now I come to those who honestly wish to teach better, and who in a measure do so. But even they are too pedantic: with prejudiced views, they pursue one-sided aims. Without looking around to the right or to the left or forwards, and without daily learning, reflecting, and striving, they run in a groove, always ride their particular hobby, cut every thing after one pattern, and use up the time in secondary matters, in incredible trifles. For the formation of a fine tone, not a minute should be lost, particularly with lady singers, who are not strong, and usually cannot or ought not to sing more than twenty days in a month, and who surely ought to be allowed to use their time in a reasonable manner. Moreover, these are the teachers whom it is most difficult to comprehend. Though they use only seven tones, they are plunged in impenetrable mysteries, in incomprehensible knowledge and a multitude of so-called secrets, out of which, indeed, nothing can ever be brought to light. For this, however, they do not consider themselves to blame, not even their hobby-horses; but, as they say, “the higher powers.” We will, for once, suppose that three-fourths of the measures which they are accustomed to employ in their treatment of the voice and of the individual are good and correct (the same is true of many piano-teachers); but the remaining fourth is sufficient to ruin the voice, or to prevent its proper development, and therefore nothing correct is to be gained. There are other teachers who never can get beyond the formation of the tone, and are lost in the pursuit of perfection,—that “terrestrial valley of tears.” Truly a beautiful country, but which is only to be found in Paradise!
Others, instead of thinking, “I will try for the present to do better than others have done,” so harass and torment the poor mortal voices with their aim at perfect equality and perfect beauty of tone, the result often is that every thing becomes unequal and far from beautiful. Some teachers make their pupils so anxious and troubled that, owing to their close attention to the tone, and the breath, and the pronunciation, they sing their songs in an utterly wooden manner, and so in fact they, too, are lost in optimism and in tears; whereas, for singing, a happy confidence in the ability to succeed is essential. Others pursue an opposite course, and are guilty of worse faults, as you will see if you look around. Some of them have no standard of perfection, but use up the time in an exchange of ideas with their pupils, with mysterious and conceited “ifs” and “buts.” They are very positive, but only within the narrow circle of their own ideas. They make no advance in a correct medium path. Some allow pupils to practise only staccato, and others onlylegato, aiming thereby at nobody knows what. Some allow them to sing too loud, others too feebly; some philosophize earnestly about beauty in the voice, and others grumble about unpleasantness in the same; some are enthusiastic about extraordinary talents, others fret about the want of talent; some have a passion for making all the sopranos sing alto, others do just the reverse; some prefer a shadowy, others a clear voice. They all rest their opinions upon the authority of some famous screaming-master who has written a singing-system. Upon like authority, some cultivate chiefly the deep tones, because it is very fine, and “creates an effect,” for soprano voices to be able suddenly to sing like men, or rather to growl, and because it is the fashion in Paris. Others, on the contrary, pride themselves upon the head-tones; but they are none of them willing to pay much attention to the medium voices: that is too critical and too delicate a matter, and requires too much trouble, for the modern art of singing. As a last resort, they bethink themselves of kind Nature, and lay the blame upon her.
Well, I will say no more upon this point, but will proceed. Have I not already, in my piano instructions, insisted on the importance of a gradual and careful use of every proper expedient to extend, strengthen, beautify, and preserve the voice? I am thought, however, to infringe upon the office of the singing-masters, who hold their position to be much more exalted than that of the poor piano-teacher. Still, I must be allowed to repeat that voices are much more easily injured than fingers; and that broken, rigid voices are much worse than stiff, unmanageable fingers, unless, after all, they amount to the same thing. I demand of singing-teachers that they show themselves worthy of their position, and allow no more voices to go to destruction, and that they give us some satisfactory results. I believe in fact, in my homely simplicity, that the whole thing may be accomplished without any mystery, without trading in secrets or charlatanry; without the aid of modern anatomical improvement, or rather destruction, of the worn-out throat, through shortening or increasing the flexibility of the palate, through the removal of the unnecessary glands or by attempts to lengthen the vocal passage, or by remedying a great many other things in which Nature has made a mistake, and on which special doctors for the voice, in Paris and London, are now employed.
We supply the want of all these by the following little rule:—
Three trifles are essential for a good piano or singing-teacher,—
and, in addition, the requisite knowledge, energy, and some practice. Voilà tout! I cannot devote myself to the treatment of the throat, for which I have neither time not fitness; and my lady singers are so busy with the formation of true tone, and in attention to the care and preservation of their voices, that they only wish to open their mouths for that object, and not for anatomical purposes. In piano-playing also, I require no cutting of the interdigital fold, no mechanical hand-support, no accelerator for the fingers or stretching machine; and not even the “finger-rack” invented and used, without my knowledge, by a famous pupil[A] of mine, for the proper raising of the third and fourth fingers.
My dear young lady, if the Creator has made the throat badly for singing, he alone is responsible. I cannot come to his assistance by destroying the throat with lunar caustic, and then reconstructing it. If the throat is really worn out, may it not perhaps be owing to the teacher, and to his mistaken management?
Nature does many things well, and before the introduction of this modern fashion of singing produced many beautiful voices: has she all at once become incapable of doing any thing right?
THOUGHTS ON SINGING.
Our vocal composers, followed by many singing-teachers and singing institutions, have almost banished from music the true art of singing; or, at least, have introduced an unnatural, faulty, and always disagreeable mode of delivery, by which the voice has been destroyed, even before it has attained its full development. The consideration of this fact induces me to communicate some portions from my journal, and to unite with them a few opinions of the noted singing-master, Teschner, of Berlin.
Must we again and again explain to German composers that, though we do not require them to compose in Italian, they ought, at least, to learn to write in German in a manner suited for singing? otherwise, in their amazing ignorance and infatuation, they will wear out the powers of opera singers, and torture the public, apparently without a suspicionthat it is possible to write both grand and light operas with true, characteristic German thoroughness. Even German opera requires a constant attention to the right use of the voice, and a methodical, effective mode of singing. It tolerates no murderous attacks on single male and female voices, or on the full opera company; it is opposed to that eager searching after superficial effect, which every sincere friend of the opera must lament.
Is it, then, so difficult to obtain the requisite knowledge of the human voice, and to study the scores of Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti with a special regard to this? Do our vocal composers make too great a sacrifice to their creative genius in making a study of those things which are essential? You consider it mortifying to inquire of those who understand singing, and you are sensitive about any disturbance of your vain over-estimate of your own powers; but you are not ashamed to cause the destruction of man’s noblest gift,—the human voice! If taste, feeling, and a fine ear are, and always must be, the chief requirements in composing for the great public, I ask you how you can lay claim to these three trifles, when you constantly violate them?
Composer. If Mrs. N. had executed my aria to-day in as earnest and masterly a style, and with as agreeable a voice, as she did that of Rossini yesterday, she would have given as much satisfaction; for it is much more interesting and expressive both musically and harmonically, and written with more dramatic effect.
Singer. You make a mistake, and you always will do so, as long as you consider the study of the voice as of secondary importance, or, in fact, pay no attention whatever to it. The latter aria, which is composed with a regard to the voice, and to the employment of its most agreeable tones, puts me into a comfortable mood, and gives me a feeling of success; yours, on the contrary, into one of dissatisfaction and anticipation of failure. Of what importance is the musical value of a composition, if it can only be sung with doubtful success, and if the voice is obliged to struggle with it, instead of having it under control? You attach less importance to the free, agreeable exercise of the voice than does the unanimous public. I do not wish to excite compassion, but to give pleasure by a beautifully developed style of singing. You pay some attention to adaptability to the piano or the violin: why are you usually regardless of fitness for the voice?
Critics have often asked, Why does Jenny Lind sing so coolly? why does she not sing grand, passionate parts? why does she not select for her performances some of the later German or even Italian operas? why does she always sing Amina, Lucia, Norma, Susanna, &c.? In reply to these and similar questions, I will ask, Why does she wish always to remain Jenny Lind? why does she endeavor to preserve her voice as long as possible? why does she select operas in which she may use her pure, artistic, refined mode of singing, which permits no mannerism, no hypocritical sentiment, and which possesses an ideal beauty? why does she choose operas in which she can give the most perfect possible image of her own personality? why operas in which she may allow the marvellous union of her powers of song to shine conspicuously, without doing violence to her voice and forcing its tones, or casting doubt upon her lofty, noble, and beautiful art? why does she first regard the singing, and only afterwards the music, or both united? This is the answer to the same questions which are likewise asked about Henrietta Sontag and all great singers. Even the passionate Schröder-Devrient seldom made an exception to this rule, although she was not independent of the theatres.
These questions should be an urgent warning to our young female singers not to sacrifice themselves to any of the modern screaming operas, unsuited for singing; but to preserve and watch over their voices, and to guard them from immoderate, continued, and often inartistic exertion; in fact, to sing always in the voice-register with which nature has endowed them, and never to shriek; to renounce the present, fashionable, so-called “singing effects,” and the modern scene-screaming, as Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag have always done. Then their voices would remain useful for the opera, as was formerly the case, from ten to twenty years; and they would not have to mourn, as is too common, after a very short time, a feeble, broken voice and departed health.
Let Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag be placed as the finest models before our young, gifted, ambitious singers. They are to be regarded as miraculous phenomena; especially in our times, when the modern style of singing has, for reasons difficult to justify, so widely deviated from the old school which was so fruitful in brilliant results,—that of Pistocchi, Porpora, and Bernacchi. What could show more clearly the destructiveness of our present opera style than the sublime beauty of their singing, combined with their noble, refined, sound voices, such as may perhaps still be found among you?
The managers of our theatres are in want of tenor singers who can act. They should consider that tenors who have any voices left have never learned to act, and tenors who are able to act no longer have any voices; because, as a rule, they either have studied too little, or have studied erroneously. Unless the voice has received a correct and fine culture, the German comic operas lead immediately to destruction of the voice, especially of the sensitive, easily injured German tenor voice.
Here I take occasion to remark upon the universal prejudice, that “a tenor ought to develop the chest-tones as far as possible, that they are the finest.” In tenors, with very few exceptions, this mistaken treatment has been speedily followed by the loss both of voice and health. Nicely shaded singing, from piano onwards, is thereby rendered impossible; and tones which are always forced must remain unpleasant, even although powers thus laboriously gained may sometimes have a fine effect in the opera. A tenor who wishes to preserve his voice and not to scream in the upper tones, who desires always to have a piano at command and to possess the necessary shading and lightness as well as elegance and flexibility, should cultivate the falsetto, and endeavor to bring it down as far as possible into the chest-register. This is as indispensable as is the use of the head-tones for the soprano. When the falsetto has too striking a resemblance to the chest-voice, and is even inferior to it in power, it is the result of want of perseverance and prudence in its cultivation. It ought to be almost imperceptibly connected with the chest-register by the introduction of the mixed tones.
We shall probably soon be called upon to read an “Address of Young Female Singers to the Composers of Germany,” as follows: “Freedom of thought! freedom in composition! freedom in the opera! but no annihilation of the throat! You are hereby notified that we protest against all operas which are repugnant to the true art of singing; for it is not in your power to compensate us for the loss of our voices, although it may be possible for you, after using up our talent as quickly as possible, to look around for others, with whom you can do the same. First learn to understand singing, or, rather, first learn to sing, as your predecessors have done, and as Italian composers still do, and then we will talk with you again.”
“What a pedantic outcry about German want of adaptability for singing! Pray where is there the most singing?” It is, I agree, in Germany. “Is not singing taught in the public schools? And consider, too, the innumerable singing clubs, singing societies, and singing institutions!”
That is just the misfortune which requires a thorough investigation. How many promising voices do these institutions annually follow to the grave? Who is it who sing in the schools? Boys and girls from thirteen to fifteen years old. But boys ought not to be allowed to sing while the voice is changing; and girls, also from physical reasons, ought not to sing at all at that age. And what kind of instructors teach singing here? Our epistolary and over-wise age overwhelms our superintendents and corporations with innumerable petitions and proposals; but no true friend of humanity, of music, and of singing, has yet been found to enlighten these authorities, and to prove to them that the most beautiful voices and finest talents are killed in the germ by these unsuitable so-called singing-lessons, especially in the public schools. Girls’ voices may be carefully awakened, and skilfully practised, and made flexible and musical; but they should be used only in mezzo-voce, and only until the period of their development, or up to the thirteenth year, or a few months sooner or later. This ought also to be done with great experience, delicacy, practical knowledge and circumspection. But where are we to find suitable singing-professors, and who is to pay them a sufficient salary? Therefore, away with this erroneous instruction of children in singing! away with this abortion of philanthropy and the musical folly of this extravagant age! Can such a premature, unrefined, faulty screaming of children, or croaking in their throats, without artistic cultivation and guidance, compensate for the later inevitable hoarseness and loss of voice, and for the destruction of the organs of singing?
The tenors who belong to these singing societies and institutions force out and sacrifice their uncultured voices, and scream with throat, palate, and nasal tones, in the execution of four-part songs by this or that famous composer, which are far from beautiful, and which serve only to ruin the voice. Who was the lady who sang the solo in yonder singing academy? That girl, a year ago, had a fresh, beautiful, sonorous voice; but, although she is only twenty years old, it already begins to fail her, and she screws and forces it, by the help of the chest-tones, up to the two-lined a, without any thing having ever been done for the adjustment of the voice-registers and for the use of the head-tones, and without proper direction from a competent superintendent. Instead of this, he was continually exclaiming: “Loud! forcibly! con espressione!”
While even the street boys in Italy sing clearly, and often with great ability, their national songs, so well suited to the voice, and in their most beautiful language, our northern voices, which are obliged to contend with the great difficulties of the German language, are sacrificed in the most cold-blooded and self-satisfied manner in the schools and singing societies, while all artistic preparation, by which alone the voice may be preserved and cultivated, is neglected.
Who are at the head of these institutions and societies? Musicians it is true; but they are strangers to any special education in singing, or are not skilful singing-teachers, who understand how to combine methodical cultivation of the voice with practical execution. Their entire instruction consists, at most, in hitting the notes and keeping time. These musicians say: “Whoever joins my society must know how to sing!” What does that mean? Where are they to learn it? And, even when you have succeeded in obtaining for your academy a few imprudent but well-taught singers, does not the preservation of their voices then require the greatest care and watchfulness? Is that in your power? Have you the requisite knowledge for it? Are not these few well-educated voices obliged to sing by the side of singers who have been taught in a wrong manner, and who have no pure, correct intonation? Then what do these societies amount to? Do they improve or destroy the voice? They make the members musical. A fine consolation for the loss of the voice! They teach them to hit the notes and to keep time. A great comfort after the voice has been destroyed by false culture!
A singing-teacher who has no firm, decided principle, who is constantly wavering backwards and forwards, and who frequently leads others into error by his untenable opinions; who cannot quickly discern the special talent and capacity of his pupils, or discover the proper means to get rid of what is false or wrong, and adopt the speediest road to success, without any one-sided theories of perfection; who mistrusts and blames, worries, offends, and depresses, instead of encouraging; who is always dissatisfied instead of cordially acknowledging what is good in the pupil; who at one time rides a high horse instead of kindly offering a helping hand, and at another time praises as extravagantly as he before has blamed, and kills time in such ways as these,—he may be an encyclopædia of knowledge, but his success will always fall short of his hopes. Firmness, decision, energy, and a delicate, quick perception; the art not to say too much or too little, and to be quite clear in his own mind, and with constant considerate kindness to increase the courage and confidence of his pupils,—these are requisite above all things for a singing-master as well as for a piano-teacher.
“My singers are to be educated for the public, for the stage, and must therefore sing loud, study hard, force their execution, and make use of a great deal of breath. How else will they be able to produce an effect?”
Answer. What, then, is the effect of your culture? I know of none, except that they at first are applauded, because they are young and pretty, and are novelties; because they have good voices, and the benevolent public wishes to encourage them; and then they disappear in a year or two without leaving any trace.
“The singing-teacher can succeed in cultivating not more than one good voice in twenty, with any noteworthy result. Hence the decadence of the art of singing.”
Answer. Unless some unusual disturbance or sickness occur, all voices improve till the twenty-fourth year. When this is not the case, it is to be attributed only to the singing-teacher.
“Many voices acquire a sharp tone, which is the precursor of decay.”
Answer. All voices are, and will remain, more or less tender, if their culture is correct.
“Only Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag were allowed by the public to give out their voices naturally and lightly without straining them, and to sing piano and pianissimo, and their celebrity is a justification of this privilege.”
Answer. But how would they have obtained their celebrity, if this were not the true, correct, and pure mode of singing?
Answer. Good heavens! I should think so! With such a piano, with strained voices, faulty attack, and the use of too much breath,—a piano which only gurgles in the throat, or deeper! That I do not mean: I must refer you again to the three trifles mentioned in my eighth chapter.
“But some voices have no piano, and many singers do not take the right course to acquire it.”
Answer. What a wide-spread, groundless excuse! Here we may see the error of our times. People look for the fault outside of themselves, and not in themselves. The inventive power of the age is here truly astonishing! When, owing to false management, the voice soon degenerates instead of improving with time, it is the consequence of a faulty formation of the throat, and of the neglect of London throat brushes! If such badly educated voices can no longer produce a piano, it is owing to the unskilfulness of nature, and to the false construction of the necessary organs! If the piano is only a wheeze, the reason is found in the deficiency of palate, and excess of muscles! If several times in the month, the worn out, weary voice can only groan and sigh, or cannot emit a sound, it is the result of a change in the weather, or other meteorological conditions! If we complain of unpleasant, shrieking tones, occasioned by the mouth being too widely stretched, then “the rays of sound take an oblique, instead of a direct course”! If the poor, strained medium voice, even with the help of a great deal of breath, can only produce dull, hollow, veiled, and unpleasant tones, that is said to be a necessary crisis, of which cruel Nature requires a great many in the course of her development of the voice! Finally, if from long and forced holding of the chest-tones, they are changed into noises like the bellowing of calves and the quacking of ducks, and the instructor finally perceives it, then again we have a crisis! And, alas! no one thinks of “the three trifles.”
What occasions the want of success of our singing-teachers, many of whom are musical, possess a delicate ear, fine culture and feeling, have studied systems of singing, and exert themselves zealously to teach rightly?
They fail in the culture of the tone, which is not to be learned from books or by one’s self, but only from verbal communication. To learn to produce a clear tone, with a light, free, natural attack; to understand how to draw forth the sound with the use of no unnecessary breath, and to cause the sound to strike against the roof of the mouth above the upper row of teeth; to improve the pronunciation; to adjust the registers,—these, with many other things, may seem very easy; but to teach them all in the shortest time, without wearing out the voice and without falling into errors; to persevere in teaching to the end, even if the pupil already sings correctly; to know what is still wanting and how it is to be attained,—all these one must acquire by long and constant experience.
When Schröder-Devrient came from Vienna to Dresden, a young but already celebrated singer, though at that time wanting in the proper foundation for singing, she was not a little surprised when Miksch called her attention to this deficiency. She devoted herself thoroughly to the primary formation of the tone under the instruction of Miksch, and must still remember the old master, and his extraordinary practice in this particular. Miksch learned it from Caselli, a pupil of Bernacchi. He had just sung as a young tenor, with great applause, in a concert, and introduced himself to Caselli, who was present, expecting to receive his approbation; but the latter, instead of commending, assured him frankly that his mode of singing was false, and that with such misuse his voice would succumb within a year, unless he adopted a correct culture of tone. After much hard struggle, the young Miksch renounced all further public applause, and studied the formation of tone assiduously and perseveringly with Caselli, after having previously allowed his over-strained voice a time for rest.
If a singing-teacher has, by chance, met with a docile pupil, possessed of a voice of unusual beauty, it frequently happens that the studies are not pursued with sufficient perseverance; and, perhaps, are continued only for a few weeks or months, instead of allowing a year or more, according to circumstances. Richard Wagner agrees with me, when he says, “Why, then, write operas to be sung, when we no longer have either male or female singers?”
Since modern progress has come to regard “the three trifles” as belonging entirely to the past, and in their place has proclaimed, “Boldness, Spirit, Power,” two evil spirits have had rule: they go hand in hand, ruin the voice, wound the cultivated ear, and provide for us—only empty opera houses. One of these evils has been frequently alluded to by me. It is “the expenditure of a great deal too much breath.” The finest voices are obliged to practise with full breath until they shriek, and the result is mere sobbing, and the heavy drawing of the breath, just at the time when the tone should still be heard. Even if every thing else could be right, in such a culture of the tone, which must very shortly relax the muscles of the voice, that one thing, in itself, would be sufficient to destroy all promise of success.
The second evil endangers even the male voice, which is able to endure much ill-treatment; while the female voice is quickly forced by it into a piercing shrillness, or is driven back into the throat, soon to be entirely exhausted, or is, at least, prevented from attaining a natural, fine development. This second evil is the reckless and destructive straining of single tones to their extreme limits, even to perfect exhaustion. The poor singer urges and squeezes out the voice, and quivers to the innermost marrow, in order that the two requirements of “Boldness” and “Power” may be satisfied. But the “Spirit” is still wanting, which should be shown in a light and well-shaded delivery. The effect of extreme shading, however, is accomplished in a single “romanza.” The unfortunate, misdirected singer, who must aim at effect, lays out so much force on single tones, or even on whole lines, and that, too, in the best register of his voice (the other registers do not permit this), that the succeeding tones are forced to retire powerless into the throat; and the beautiful, fresh, youthful tenor or bass voice concludes with exhausted groaning and mere speaking tones. The “romanza” is now at an end, and certainly “Boldness, Spirit, and Power” have worked in union. The task is executed the better, because a rude accompaniment has probably sustained the singer in a most striking manner, and has completed the total effect.
By such management, to which I must emphatically add the continual holding of the tones, even in the forte, voices are expected “to come out,” to be developed, inspired, and made beautiful. What healthy ear can endure such enormities in tone formation, such tortures in singing? These, then, are the modern contributions for the embellishment of art! A curse on these evil spirits! If my feeble pen shall assist in bringing such singing-teachers to their senses, and shall help to save only a few of our fine voices, I shall consider my mission fulfilled, and the aim of this book, so far as it concerns singing, accomplished.
I have heretofore combated many prejudices, both in earnest and in sport, successfully and unsuccessfully; but one I find very obstinate,—it has pursued me incessantly for years. A piano-player, with a rigid, strained, and vicious touch, proceeding from the arm, may play a great deal, but his playing is thoroughly vulgar and without beauty. He feels this himself, and the playing of my pupils pleases him better. He wishes me to change his style to their better manner; but he still continues to pound, to bang, to exaggerate, and to play in his own way, and only wishes his style to be improved, and his power of execution to be increased. If a performer of this sort is not much more than twenty years of age, something may yet be done for the improvement of his touch, and consequently of his style of playing; but this is only possible by laying aside all his accustomed pieces of music, and by diligently practising, daily, small easy exercises, which must be played delicately, with loose fingers, and without allowing the arm to give the slightest assistance; otherwise, all labor will be thrown away upon him. How else can you begin, except by laying a proper foundation for a better style? I have frequently urged this principle both by speech and in writing; but the difficulty always returns, and especially in the cultivation of female singers.
A girl of eighteen comes to me: she has heard of the excellent cultivation of my lady singers, and wishes to obtain the same for herself. In order that I may hear her voice, she selects the “Erlkönig,” by Schubert, that perilous piece, which is apt to lead even highly cultivated singers into frightful atrocities. Heavens! what must I hear? With the remains of a fine, youthful voice, whose registers are already broken up and disconnected, she shrieks out the “Erlkönig,” between sobs and groans, with screwed-up chest-tones, and many modern improprieties, but nevertheless with dramatic talent. The piercing voice, forced to its utmost, fills me with horror; but also with pity for such a glorious endowment, and such an unnatural development. At the conclusion, her voice succumbed to the effort, and she could only groan hoarsely, and wheeze without emitting a sound. She has, however, frequently produced great effect in society, and drawn tears with this performance: it is her favorite piece. Let us abandon this singing for parties, this melancholy dilettantismus, everywhere so obtrusive! The girl is only eighteen years old: is she beyond salvation? I endeavor to build her voice up again, gradually, by gentle practice. She succeeds very well in it, and after six lessons her natural docility arouses hope. The head-tones again make their appearance, and the practice of solfeggio brings out once more the stifled voice which had been forced back into the throat by senseless exertions; a better attack begins to be developed, and the chest-register returns to its natural limits. She now declared, with her mother’s approval, that she really would continue to study in this way, but she could not give up the performance of her effective and spirited conception of the “Erlkönig.” She came a few times more: I could perceive that the good structure was tottering. After a few months, she had entirely sacrificed her voice to this single “Erlkönig.” In such tender years, one such idol is sufficient. What a price for an “Erlkönig”! The old, experienced singing-teacher, Miksch, of Dresden (with the exception of Rossini, the last famous champion of the old school), has often warned me that radical amendment is seldom possible with such over-strained and broken voices, which already are obliged to struggle with enfeebled muscles, even although youth may excite great and decided hopes. There is also another difficulty: that one of these strong, over-strained voices must hereafter be used with much less strength, if we wish to cultivate a correct tone; and it is impossible to tell whether the chest-tones, when they are restored to their true limit, will ever come out again as powerful and at the same time as beautiful. Let no musician, however talented and cultivated he may be, ever adopt the teaching of singing, unless he can combine with firmness of character great patience, perseverance, and disinterestedness; otherwise, he will experience very little pleasure and very little gratitude. Even if the “Erlkönig” does not stand in the way, every voice presents new and peculiar difficulties.
A Few Words addressed to Singing-Teachers on the Accompaniment of Etudes, Exercises, Scales, &c.
It is common for teachers to play their accompaniments as furiously as if they had to enter into a struggle for life and death with their singers. At the beginning of the lesson, the lady singer ought to commence quite piano, at f in the one-lined octave, and to sing up and down from there through five or six notes, without any expenditure of breath, and should guide and bring out her voice by a gentle practice of solfeggio; and yet you bang, and pound on the keys, as if you had to accompany drums and trumpets. Do you not perceive that in this way you induce your pupils to strain and force their voices, and that you mislead them into a false method? In such a noise, and while you are making such a monstrous expenditure of strength, to which you add a sharp, uneasy touch, and a frequent spreading of the chords, how can you watch the delicate movements of the singer’s throat? Is it necessary for me to explain how such a rude accompaniment must interfere with the effort to sing firmly and delicately? Are you not aware that a light and agreeable, but at the same time firm and decided, accompaniment encourages and sustains the singer, and also assists and inspires her? You ought, in every way, to seek to cultivate in your pupil the feeling for the right, the true, and the beautiful; but what is the girl of eighteen to think of your culture and your sentiment, if you pound the keys as if you were one of the “piano-furies”?
While this is your mode of accompanying the études, how then do you accompany the aria, the song? If, for instance, the pupil is singing tenderly, and wishes to bring out an artistic, delicate shading, you take advantage of that occasion to make yourself heard, and to annoy the singer and the audience with your rough shading. A singing-teacher who does not take pains to acquire a good, delicate touch, and who neglects to pay constant attention to it, is wanting in the first requirement; and this is closely connected with the want of “the three trifles.”
VISIT AT MRS. N.’S.
Her daughter Fatima, eighteen years old.
Towards the end of the evening, the piano-teacher, Mr. Feeble.
Dominie (rather anxiously to Fatima). Will you do me the favor, Miss, to play something on the piano? Your aunt has told me a great deal about your playing.
Fatima (smiling graciously). But, really, the piano is out of tune,—so my teacher says.
Dominie. But does not your teacher attend to having your piano always kept in tune?
Fatima. Mamma says it is too expensive to have it tuned so often; it gets out of tune again so quickly. It is an old, small-legged piano, as you see: mamma is always saying, when I am older I shall have a Chickering. The tuner comes regularly once in three months; the time is not yet up.
Dominie. But is your teacher satisfied with the tuning of your piano?
Mrs. N. Now, pet, play us something. Mr. Dominie likes music; he is a judge of it; his daughters play too.
Fatima. But what shall I play, mamma?
Mrs. N. You have got heaps of notes there. Mr. Dominie, pray select something.
Dominie. But I don’t know which pieces Miss Fatima can master, and which she has now at her fingers’ ends.
Aunt. Pray, Mr. Dominie, choose any thing. They are all fine pieces. It makes no difference to her which she plays.
Dominie. But do you play that whole heap?
Aunt. She has played it all. She has played ever since she was ten years old, and she has a very good teacher. He taught here when my sister used to accompany her lover’s solos on the flute. Oh, those were charming musical evenings! And the teacher often played the guitar with them extempore. It was just like a concert.
Dominie. Indeed! that must have been very fine. Now, Miss, I beg—
Fatima. But, mamma, just say what I shall play.
Aunt (whispers to Dominie). He is busy this evening, composing some grand bravoura variations, which are to be dedicated to Fatima on her eighteenth birthday, the day after to-morrow. You must come to see us on that day. Fatima will play them at sight.
Mrs. N. Fatima, don’t hold back any longer. Play “The Huguenots” by Thalberg: that’s a very fine piece.
Dominie. Pray do! I have not heard it since I heard Thalberg play it.
Aunt (to Dominie). Don’t you make your daughters play it then? Oh, that magnificent choral! That brings tears to my eyes! But the dear child always takes it too fast: her fingers run away with her.
Mrs. N. Here it is. Please turn round so that you can see her hands, Mr. Dominie. You are such a famous teacher, perhaps you can make some suggestions. (I was expected only to admire.)
Dominie. I don’t like to disturb her freedom in playing; but I will turn round, if you say so.
(Fatima scurries through the piece excitedly, and plays in a bold way,—not, however, without ability, but with a feeble touch, without proper fingering, without tone, without time; and gets over the first two pages, with her foot always on the pedal, in such a senseless, indistinct manner that Dominie, in despair, was forced to interrupt with the remark, “But you might take the tempo a little more quietly.”)
(Fatima leans back amazed, and stops playing, looking at her mother with a contemptuous expression.)
Aunt. It is owing to her great execution, and then, too, her youthful enthusiasm. Don’t you like her natural expression?
Fatima. My teacher always makes me play it so. It is in that way that I have learned to play so much at sight.
Dominie. But don’t you study your pieces?
Fatima. For the last four years I have played only at sight, so that now I can get on anywhere in the musical clubs. That is what mamma likes.
Dominie. But do you not play any scales and études? do you not practise any exercises?
Aunt. She has not done those things for the last four years. My sister thinks it is rather a hindrance, and is too pedantic. Her teacher thinks so too, and he teaches her the fine concert pieces of Döhler, Liszt, Dreyschock, Willmer, and Thalberg. She learns execution by these. She has gone through all Thalberg’s music; and we have sent to Leipzig for Willmer’s “Pompa di Festa.”
Dominie. All this shows great enthusiasm, but really a little too much hot haste.
(Dominie wishes to continue the conversation, in order to escape the unpleasant necessity of “turning round to the piano.”)
Mrs. N. (interrupts). My child, just begin again at the beginning, and let us enjoy the whole of “The Huguenots.” Mr. Dominie likes it.
(Fatima consents, and hurries through the whole Potpourri with a confident, conceited air, to the great despair of Dominie. At the choral, the aunt taps him on the shoulder, and whispers.)
Aunt. Is not that touching? It is a little too fast, you will agree; but then the execution! Has not the girl a great deal of talent? Just hear!
But what did Dominie say after the performance was over? He only bowed stiffly, and what he said to himself will always remain a secret. He only felt.
They go in to supper. All who submitted to hearing the daughter perform on the badly tuned piano, which was at least a tone and a half too low, were invited to supper and handsomely treated. The wine was better than the piano. Presently the teacher, Mr. Feeble, having finished his birthday bravoura composition, appeared and was introduced. Fatima whispered to him, giggling, “I played the whole of ‘The Huguenots;’ it went splendidly.” Mr. Feeble simpered. Dominie and he talked together, unheard, at the end of the table.
Dominie. The young lady has talent, Mr. Feeble.
Mr. Feeble. Indeed she has!
Dominie. How is it, Mr. Feeble, that she does not combine serious studies with her playing?
Mr. Feeble. Oh! I used to make her play exercises by A.E. Mueller, and some Etudes of Czerny’s, and sometimes a few scales. But the child was so volatile, and had so little perseverance, and was so quick at learning every thing! And then her mother wanted her to play modern pieces for parties, and we had to busy ourselves with those. But our method has borne good fruit, as you can see. Is not it so?
Dominie. Do you not think, with firmness and decision, you could have set Mrs. N. on the right track? Could not you cultivate the mechanical powers of your pupil, and combine an understanding of the musical construction of the piece, with her “playing at sight”? The young lady, not to speak of other faults, has no tone on the piano.
Mr. Feeble. She can use the pedal for that, and, when she is older, she will acquire more strength; her touch is a little too weak at present. And, besides, she is not to play in public for money, but only in company, and because it is the fashion. Indeed, my dear sir, if I insisted on scales and exercises, I should have very few lessons in this city. I have a wife and children to support, and my old father, the former organist, is dependent upon me. You can do all this with your own children; but think how much time it requires tostudy the music!
(The company bid each other “good-night.”)
Fatima (flippantly to Dominie). I believe your daughter Emma is a very good player; but they say she has not so much talent as your eldest daughter.
Dominie. Indeed! who told you that?
(A Discourse on Piano-Playing, delivered to an Audience of Lady Pupils.)
Ladies,—As I am about to make a journey of a few weeks with my daughters, we will suspend for a short time our musical meetings. On my return, you will resume them with fresh interest. We will then not only play and sing together, but occasionally talk upon kindred subjects. Your friends will be made welcome, provided they are really interested in simple and noble musical performances, which make no attempt at display. We will exclude from our circle malicious criticism and idle curiosity: we require the accompaniment of the violin and ‘cello, but not of those two disturbing elements.
To-day I wish to propound a query in regard to piano-playing, to the partial solution of which you will perhaps be glad to give some attention. You may be sure that I shall always speak only upon subjects which are not even mentioned in the most crowded piano-schools.
Query. Why is it that our young, educated ladies, who enjoy the advantages of sufficient talent, industry, a serious purpose, and all the necessary aids, are usually dissatisfied with their progress and with their success in piano-playing?
Their education is a sufficiently careful one, extending to all branches of knowledge; but their intellectual advancement in music (although it has been fostered for years, by constantly listening to good music, and frequently to the performances of distinguished players, and by a critical comparison of their own performances with these) is still small in proportion to their power of execution, and to the mechanical facility which they have acquired. These are certainly essential to a correct and agreeable rendering of a piece of music: the compositions which are to be performed ought, however, never to demand the exercise of all the mechanical skill which has been acquired, for in that case, by the struggle with mechanical difficulties, only embarrassment, discouragement, and anxious haste are apt to take the place of boldness, confidence in one’s self, and command of the music. It is the duty of teachers, in choosing studies for the improvement of technique, to select only such as are within the mechanical powers of the pupil, in order that he may make steady progress, and may acquire a pure and delicate style of execution, retaining at the same time a lively interest in his pursuit. But why has the acquirement of this technique been usually unsuccessful?
1. Because you begin to acquire it too late. In order to gain facility and flexibility of the fingers and wrist (which a child in the sixth or seventh year, with a skilful teacher, may acquire in four lessons), from fifteen to twenty lessons, according to the construction of the hand, are necessary with persons from ten to fourteen years old. For other reasons also, we must urge that the mechanical facility should usually be acquired, or at least a complete foundation for it laid in childhood, and not left to be formed by a course which is destructive of all spirit, at an age when labor is performed with self-consciousness,—an age when our ladies are talking a great deal of musical interpretations, of tenderness and depth of feeling, of poetry and inspiration in playing, to which they are led by the possession of our classical piano compositions and immortal master-works, and by intellectual friends and teachers aiming at the highest culture. You reply: “But even if your mode of elementary instruction should meet with faithful disciples, how, in such young pupils, are we to find perseverance and sense enough to continue these severe exercises, even in your interesting manner?” My dear ladies, children ought to do it merely from habit, although in many cases, after the beginning, talent and correct musical instinct may make their appearance. Uninterrupted enjoyment would indeed be unnatural, and where you find it vanity will usually be its moving spring, and this seldom bears good fruit. You may as well ask whether our great literary men and artists always like to go to school, or whether they did not delight in a holiday. Let this be the answer to the strange question, Do your daughters like to play? Good heavens! After they are able to play, and that without much effort, and a little at sight; when they can master, with a musical appreciation, easy, graceful salon music, or even the easier compositions of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Hummel, Moscheles, &c.,—then they take pleasure in playing, and they play a great deal, and with enthusiasm.
2. But, in case children should sometimes begin in their sixth year, you must remember what is said, in the first chapter of this work, with regard to the prevalent false method of teaching beginners. You, however, are supposed to have had better and more sensible teachers. Let me nevertheless quote for your amusement the remark which I have heard so frequently in the course of my long life as a piano-teacher: “In the beginning, a poor, rattling piano, that is forty years old, and that is tuned regularly once a year, and a cheap teacher, will do well enough. As soon as the children learn to play really well, then we will have a better piano and a better teacher.” Yes; but that time never comes, and the parents soon conclude that even the most gifted children have no talent, and take no pleasure in music; and so they stop learning, only to regret it when they are older. But the parents console themselves, and after a while the old piano is never tuned at all. But, as I have told you, I do not refer here to your teachers, for whom I have a personal regard, and who teach on excellent pianos.
3. Don’t be angry with me for my suggestion, ladies: you do not make enough use of the minutes. While our learned education absorbs so much time, while our friends require so many hours, while, alas! balls and dinners consume whole days, we must be sparing of the remaining minutes.
“Now I must rush to the piano! I must go to dinner in ten minutes: two scales, two finger exercises, two difficult passages out of the piece I have to learn, and one exercise to invent on the dominant and sub-dominant, are soon done; and then the dinner will taste all the better.”
“My dear Agnes, we might talk for ever about this dreadful snow, it won’t melt the sooner for it: how do you like this passage that I am going to play to you? It is from a charming Nocturne, by Chopin, and is so difficult that I shall have to play it over fifty times, or else I shall always stumble at this place, and I never shall know the Nocturne to play to any one. Don’t you think it is beautiful?—so spiritual and original! I can tell you it will be something to boast of, when I have accomplished that. You like it better the oftener I play it? So do I.”
“We have an invitation out. Mother has a great deal to arrange, and directions to give. We shall have to go in ten minutes. I must rush to the piano, though I am in rather an inconvenient toilette: I may as well accustom myself to play in it. I shall have to spend three hours this evening without any music. Well, to make up for it, I will occupy myself for the next ten minutes with an exercise for this obstinate fourth finger, though it is pretty dry. That weak finger has been a hindrance to many a fine passage and scale. That is better! Now I can put on my tight gloves. Suppose I should put on the left glove on the way.”
Well, my young ladies, how many hours do you think all those minutes would make in a year? But I hear you say, “What is the use of worrying to pick up all those stray minutes, like lost pins? We have a whole hour to practise every day, when nothing prevents.” Exactly, when nothing prevents.
I will now tell you a few of my secrets for piano performers.
If in piano-playing, or in any art, you wish to attain success, you must resolve to work every day, at least a little, on the technique. Sickness and other unavoidable interruptions deprive you of days enough.
Practise always with unexhausted energy: the result will be tenfold. Do you not frequently use the time for practising, when you have already been at work studying for five or six hours? Have you then strength and spirit enough to practise the necessary exercises for an hour or more, and to study your music-pieces carefully and attentively, as your teacher instructed you? Is not your mind exhausted, and are not your hands and fingers tired and stiff with writing, so that you are tempted to help out with your arms and elbows, which is worse than no practice at all? But, my dear ladies, if you practise properly, several times every day, ten minutes at a time, your strength and your patience are usually sufficient for it; and, if you are obliged to omit your regular “hour’s practice,” you have, at any rate, accomplished something with your ten minutes before breakfast, or before dinner, or at any leisure moment. So, I beg of you, let me have my minutes.
Practise often, slowly, and without pedal, not only the smaller and larger études, but also your pieces. In that way you gain, at least, a correct, healthy mode of playing, which is the foundation of beautiful playing. Do you do this when neither your teacher, nor your father or mother is present to keep watch over you? Do you never say, “Nobody is listening”?
Do you take enough healthy exercise in the open air? Active exercise, in all weather, makes strong, enduring piano fingers, while subsisting on indoor-air results in sickly, nervous, feeble, over-strained playing. Strong, healthy fingers are only too essential for our present style of piano-playing, which requires such extraordinary execution, and for our heavy instruments. So I still beg for the minutes: your walks take up hours enough.
Excessive and fatiguing feminine occupations, and drawing, or painting, are by no means consistent with an earnest, practical musical education; not only because both those occupations require so much time, but because they deprive the fingers of the requisite pliability and dexterity, while knitting, according to the latest discoveries, produces an unnatural nervous excitement, which is unfavorable to healthy progress in music. I at least, in my instruction on the piano, have never been able to accomplish much with ladies who are devoted to knitting, crochet, and embroidering. My dear ladies, you who have been born in fortunate circumstances, and have been educated by your parents, without regard to expense, should, at least, allow the poor girl in the country, who is obliged to hide her talents under a bushel, the small privilege of making a collar for your mother’s or your aunt’s birthday present. I assure you your mother or your aunt, if you surprise them instead with a fine piano performance, will be as much pleased as if you strained your eyes and bent your back for days and nights over the needle-work. And now as regards painting: painting and music, though theoretically so nearly related, agree but poorly in practice; at least, if you are in earnest about either. You say painters often play on the guitar and the flute. That may be true: I will allow them those two instruments. But piano-playing stands on a different footing, even for mere amateurs. Sweet melodies on those instruments may afford an agreeable companionship for the painter in his rambles through the woods and over the hills; but piano-playing should be the friend of a life-time, ennobled by the elevating enjoyment of lofty master-works. Therefore, I beg you, do not dissipate your powers too much. Leave the art of painting to your friends, who are either without talent for music, or who have no opportunity to study it. Our short lives do not allow the successful practice of several arts. Of what advantage to our higher culture is it to be able to do ten things tolerably well; what gain for the future, for humanity, or for the true happiness of the individual? And even if you can succeed in painting something which scarcely can be said to resemble a rose, of what advantage is it, when we have so many real roses to admire?
My dear ladies, I warn you, generally, do not be afraid of the so-called classical, heavy music, especially Beethoven’s, if you desire to learn from it, only or chiefly, repose, lightness, facility, elasticity, graceful, delicate playing, and a fine touch. It is necessary to play such music after those brilliant qualities have already been, to a certain degree, acquired by mere studies and appropriate pieces. It is, however, still more foolish and impractical, when parents (who perhaps are skilful musicians, but who have no recollection of their own youth) hold the mistaken opinion that their children ought, from the very beginning, to practise and play only fine classical music, in order that the children’s ears may not be injured by false progressions, by insignificant finger exercises, and by easily comprehensible Italian airs, and that they themselves may not be ruined body and soul. Gracious heavens! how much pure music, suited to the piano, have not my daughters, as well as many others whom I have brought up to be fine performers, played and studied!—such, for instance, as the music of Hünten, Czerny, Burgmüller, Kalkbrenner, A. and J. Schmitt, Herz, and many others. Who finds fault now with their musical culture, with their sound taste, or their want of love for classical music? What a long road a child has to travel through Etudes of Cramer, Moscheles, and Chopin, before he comes to Bach’s Well-tempered Clavichord, or before he is able, or ought even, to study Beethoven’s Sonate Pathétique! It is not well, though quite in the spirit of the times, to condemn without experience, from one’s own prejudiced point of view, the methods which those skilled in their business have for years successfully tried and practised. It is possible to make pupils musical in the above way, but they will be only dull, clumsy bunglers on the piano; not fine artists, who alone can give a worthy and noble interpretation of classical music. I desire that my daughters may never forget my well-considered instructions, sustained by the experience of many years; and that they may, in grateful remembrance of their father and teacher, repay to their pupils what they owe to him.
But I see among my audience several beginners in singing, and I beg to be allowed a word to them. So long as many of our German song composers consider it beneath their dignity to study the art of singing in the old Italian master-works, and under the guidance of well-qualified singing masters,—as Gluck, Naumann, Hasse, Händel, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Winter, and others have done,—I warn you to take care of your tender voices, which are so easily ruined, and not to allow yourselves to be misled by ingenious opinions, and by music otherwise good. The loss of your voices follows in the footsteps of modern tortures in singing, as you may see sufficiently in all our theatres, or, indeed, may experience yourselves in numberless German songs. Apply also to singing what I have just said about piano-playing: as you should choose for the piano music suited to the piano, so for your studies in singing select only that which is adapted to the voice; under the guidance of prudent and educated teachers, not of modern voice breakers, who allow you to scream, “in order to bring out the voice.” When you have acquired a good technique, when your attack is sure, and a certain skilfulness in singing has been developed, then only you may try, by way of experiment, a few pieces of such spirited but unskilled song composers, who frequently commit sins in every line against correct representation, the register of the voice, the breathings, the pronunciation, and a hundred other things.
Look around and see who sing these so-called classical songs. They are either singers who do not know what singing is, and who have no taste for it, which, in consequence of their education, they never can have; or those who no longer have any voice, and accordingly sing every thing, or, rather, declaim it, because they cannot sing. I recommend you to sing (to mention the names of two only of our most excellent song composers) the charming songs of Fr. Schubert and Mendelssohn, who, in constant intercourse with the most judicious masters of singing in Vienna and Italy, have striven constantly to compose scientifically, and have at the same time produced clever songs; but you should sing them not too often, or too many of them. Singing in the German language, and in syllables, and often with clumsy melodies, requires a great deal of voice, and easily leads to many faults and to a false manner. Remember how strictly Jenny Lind selected, for performance in her concerts, the songs of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. In this way she succeeded in winning great success, even with small, short songs.
Finally, one more secret for performers, which weighs heavy in the balance. You ought, especially if you have not received good early instruction, to acquire a habit of moving the fingers very frequently, at every convenient opportunity; and particularly of letting them fall loosely and lightly upon any hard object, while the hand lies upon something firm, in an extended position.
You must accustom yourselves to do this unconsciously. For example, while reading, at table, or while listening to music, allow your hand to lie upon the table, raise the fingers, and let them fall, one at a time, quite independently of the wrist; particularly the weak fourth and fifth fingers, which require to be used a hundred times more than the others, if you wish to acquire evenness in the scales. If it attracts attention to do this on the table, then do it in your lap, or with one hand over the other. To drum with your fingers and stretch your hands on the backs of other people is not often practicable, and is not necessary. That was only pardoned in the zealous and original Adolph Henselt, who, though otherwise such a modest and amiable artist, even now, in St. Petersburg, makes himself ridiculous in this way, by his practice of finger movements.
Now you perceive the reason why I cannot answer the question which has been asked me innumerable times. How much do your daughters practise? I cannot count up the finger movements and the stray ten minutes just spoken of; but it is certain that they practise fewer hours in the day than many thousands who learn nothing, for they never practise and never have practised wrongly, but always correctly and advantageously.
One thing more. After my experienced, watchful eye had observed in our circle many moving fingers in consequence of my lecture, a distinguished lady of Vienna whispered in my ear: “But, my dear Herr Wieck, my Amelia is not to be a professional player: I only want her to learn a few of the less difficult sonatas of Beethoven, to play correctly and fluently, without notes.” My dear ladies, I do not aim with you at any thing more than this. A great many circumstances must combine for the formation of fine concert performers; in fact, the whole education, from the earliest youth, must have reference to this end. If this were not so, Germany especially, on account of its natural musical talent, would be able annually to furnish thousands of virtuoso performers.
Has my lecture been too long to-day? I ask your pardon. My desire to make myself useful to you must be my excuse, if I cannot dispose of such an extensive subject in a few words. I have not yet exhausted it.
THOUGHTS ON PIANO-PLAYING.
My daughters play the music of all the principal composers, and also the best salon music. Limited views of any kind are injurious to art. It is as great a mistake to play only Beethoven’s music as to play none of it, or to play either classical or salon music solely. If a teacher confines himself to the study of the first, a good technique, a tolerably sound style of playing, intelligence, and knowledge are generally sufficient to produce an interpretation in most respects satisfactory. The music usually compensates for a style which may be, according to circumstances, either dry, cold, too monotonous or too strongly shaded, and even for an indifferent or careless touch. Interest in the composition frequently diverts the attention of even the best player from a thoroughly correct and delicate mode of execution, and from the effort to enhance the beauty of the composition, and to increase its appreciation with the hearer. In the performance of classical music, inspiration—that is, the revelation of an artistic nature and not empty affectation—can be expected only from an artist, and not from a pupil. Therefore, with more advanced pupils, I take up in my lessons, in connection with a sonata by Beethoven, a nocturne or waltz by Chopin, and a piece by St. Heller or Schulhoff, Henselt, C. Meyer, &c. Elegance and polish, a certain coquetry, nicety, delicacy, and fine shading cannot be perfected in the study of a sonata by Beethoven; for which, however, the latter pieces present much greater opportunities. Besides this, variety is much more sustaining to the learner; it excites his interest; he does not so soon become weary, and is guarded from carelessness; his artistic knowledge is increased, and he is agreeably surprised to find himself able to perform three pieces so distinct in character.
“Expression cannot be taught, it must come of itself.” But when are we to look for it? When the stiff fingers are fifty or sixty years old, and the expression is imprisoned in them, so that nothing is ever to be heard of it? This is a wide-spread delusion. Let us look at a few of those to whom expression has come of itself. X. plays skilfully and correctly, but his expression continues crude, cold, monotonous; he shows too pedantic a solicitude about mechanical execution and strict time; he never ventures on a pp., uses too little shading in piano, and plays the forte too heavily, and without regard to the instrument; his crescendi and diminuendi are inappropriate, often coarse and brought in at unsuitable places; and—his ritardandi! they are tedious indeed! “But Miss Z. plays differently and more finely.” Truly, she plays differently; but is it more finely? Do you like this gentle violet blue, this sickly paleness, these rouged falsehoods, at the expense of all integrity of character? this sweet, embellished, languishing style, this rubato and dismembering of the musical phrases, this want of time, and this sentimental trash? They both have talent, but their expression was allowed to be developed of itself. They both would have been very good players; but now they have lost all taste for the ideal, which manifests itself in the domain of truth, beauty, and simplicity. If pupils are left to themselves, they imitate the improper and erroneous easily and skilfully; the right and suitable with difficulty, and certainly unskilfully. Even the little fellow who can hardly speak learns to use naughty, abusive words more quickly and easily than fine, noble expressions. What school-master has not been surprised at this facility, and what good old aunt has not laughed at it? But you say, “It is not right to force the feelings of others!” That is quite unnecessary; but it is possible to rouse the feelings of others, to guide and educate them, without prejudicing their individuality of feeling, and without restraining or disturbing them, unless they are on the wrong path. Who has not listened to performers and singers who were otherwise musical, but whose sentiment was either ridiculous or lamentable?
It is generally acknowledged that, among other things, I have succeeded more or less with all my scholars in the attainment of a fine touch. People desire to obtain from me the requisite exercises for the development of this; but not much can be gained from these. The important thing is how and when they are to be used; and that most careful attention shall be paid in the selection of other études and pieces, in order that nothing shall be played which shall endanger the confirmation of the correct touch already acquired, or shall undo what has been accomplished in the lessons. As I have said before, it does not depend upon much practising, but upon correct practising; and that the pupils shall not be allowed to fall into errors. I am constantly asked, “How many hours a day do your daughters practise?” If the number of hours spent in practising gives the measure of the standing of a virtuoso, then my daughters are among the most insignificant, or in fact should not belong to the order at all.
This is the place for me to explain myself more fully with regard to playing with a loose wrist, in order that I shall not be misunderstood. The tones which are produced with a loose wrist are always more tender and more attractive, have a fuller sound, and permit more delicate shading than the sharp tones, without body, which are thrown or fired off or tapped out with unendurable rigidity by the aid of the arm and fore-arm. A superior technique can with few exceptions be more quickly and favorably acquired in this way than when the elbows are required to contribute their power. I do not, however, censure the performance of many virtuosos, who execute rapid octave passages with a stiff wrist; they often do it with great precision, in the most rapid tempo, forcibly and effectively. It must, after all, depend upon individual peculiarities whether the pupil can learn better and more quickly to play such passages thus or with a loose wrist. The present style of bravoura playing for virtuosos cannot dispense with facility in octave passages; it is a necessary part of it.
I will now consider the use of loose and independent fingers, in playing generally; i.e., in that of more advanced pupils who have already acquired the necessary elementary knowledge. The fingers must be set upon the keys with a certain decision, firmness, quickness, and vigor, and must obtain a command over the key-board; otherwise, the result is only a tame, colorless, uncertain, immature style of playing, in which no fine portamento, no poignant staccato, or sprightly accentuation can be produced. Every thoughtful teacher, striving for the best result, must, however, take care that this shall only be acquired gradually, and must teach it with a constant regard to individual peculiarities, and not at the expense of beauty of performance, and of a tender, agreeable touch.
It is a mortifying fact for many critics, artists, composers, and teachers, that the general public show much more correct judgment and appreciation of a fine, noble piano performance, and of a simple, pure, well-taught style of singing, and also understand the characteristics of the performer, much more quickly than they do. The sensibility and appreciation of beauty with the public is less prejudiced, less spurious, more receptive, and more artless. Its perceptions are not disturbed by theories, by a desire to criticise, and many other secondary matters. The public do not take a biassed or stilted view. The admiration for Jenny Lind is a striking proof of this, as is also the appreciation of many piano-players.
The age of progress announces, in piano-playing also, “a higher beauty” than has hitherto existed. Now, I demand of all the defenders of this new style, wherein is this superior beauty supposed to consist? It is useless to talk, in a vague way, about a beauty which no one can explain. I have listened to the playing—no, the thrumming and stamping—of many of these champions of the modern style of beauty; and I have come to the conclusion, according to my way of reasoning, that it ought to be called a higher,—quite different, inverted beauty,—a deformed beauty, repugnant to the sensibilities of all mankind. But our gifted “age of the future” protests against such cold conservatism. The period of piano fury which I have lived to see, and which I have just described, was the introduction to this new essay, only a feeble attempt, and a preliminary to this piano future. Should this senseless raging and storming upon the piano, where not one idea can be intelligently expressed in a half-hour, this abhorrent and rude treatment of a grand concert piano, combined with frightful misuse of both pedals, which puts the hearer into agonies of horror and spasms of terror, ever be regarded as any thing but a return to barbarism, devoid of feeling and reason? This is to be called music! music of the future! the beauty of the future style! Truly, for this style of music, the ears must be differently constructed, the feelings must be differently constituted, and a different nervous system must be created! For this again we shall need surgeons, who lie in wait in the background with the throat improvers. What a new and grand field of operations lies open to them! Our age produces monsters, who are insensible to the plainest truths, and who fill humanity with horror. Political excesses have hardly ceased, when still greater ones must be repeated in the world of music. But comfort yourselves, my readers: these isolated instances of madness, these last convulsions of musical insanity, with however much arrogance they may be proclaimed, will not take the world by storm. The time will come when no audience, not even eager possessors of complimentary tickets, but only a few needy hirelings, will venture to endure such concert performances of “the future.”
I ought to express myself more fully with regard to expression in piano-playing. It is difficult to perform this task, at least in writing; for it can more easily be practically explained to individual learners. Intelligent teachers, who are inclined to understand my meaning, will find abundant material, as well as all necessary explanations, in the preceding chapters; and I will merely say that a teacher who is endowed with the qualities which I have designated as “the three trifles” will seek to excite the same in his pupils; will refine and cultivate them, according to his ability, with disinterestedness, with energy, and with perseverance; and truth and beauty will everywhere be the result. Thus he will remain in the present, where there is so much remaining to be accomplished. These three trifles certainly do not have their root in folly, want of talent, and hare-brained madness; therefore the possessors of the latter must look to the “future,” and proclaim a “higher,” that is, an “inverted beauty.”
Rules for Piano Pupils.
You must never begin to learn a second piece until you have entirely conquered the first.
You ought to fix your eyes very carefully on the notes, and not to trust to memory; otherwise, you will never learn to play at sight.
In order to avoid the habit of false fingering, you should not play any piece which is not marked for the proper fingers.
You should learn to play chords and skipping notes, without looking at the keys, as this interferes with a prompt reading of the notes.
You must learn to count nicely in playing, in order always to keep strict time.
To use for once the language of the times, which boldly proclaims, “Such things as these belong to a stand-point which we have already reached,” I wish that the musicians of “the future” may as happily reach their “stand-point,” not by hollow phrases and flourishes, and the threshing of empty straws, but by practical, successful efforts, and striving for that which is better.
“What is the value of your method, in the instruction of pupils who have for years played many pieces from notes, but have played them badly, and whom we are called upon to lead into a better way of playing?”
A reply to this frequent inquiry can be found in my first chapter. Above all things, let the notes which have already been played be laid aside for a long time; for a mistaken style of playing these has become so confirmed that to improve them is hopeless, and the tottering edifice must fall to the ground. First, improve the touch; help to acquire a better and more connected scale; teach the formation of different cadences on the dominant and sub-dominant; and the construction of various passages on the chord of the diminished seventh, to be played with correct, even, and quiet fingering, legato and staccato, piano, and forte; pay strict attention to the use of loose fingers and a loose wrist; and allow no inattentive playing. You may soon take up, with these studies, some entirely unfamiliar piece of music, suited to the capacity of the pupil. It is not possible or desirable to attempt to make a sudden and thorough change with such pupils, even if they should show the best intentions and docility. You should select a light, easy piece of salon music, but of a nature well adapted to the piano, which shall not be wearisome to the pupil, and in the improved performance of which he will take pleasure. But, if you still find that he falls into the old, faulty manner of playing, and that the recently acquired technique, which has not yet become habitual, is endangered by it, lay this too aside, and take instead some appropriate étude, or perhaps a little prelude by Bach. If, in the place of these, you choose for instruction a ponderous sonata, in which the music would distract the attention of the pupil from the improved technique, you give up the most important aim of your instruction, and occupy yourself with secondary matters; you will censure and instruct in vain, and will never attain success. You must consider, reflect, and give your mind to the peculiar needs of the pupil, and you must teach in accordance with the laws of psychology. You will succeed after a while, but precipitation, compulsion, and disputes are useless. The improvement of a soprano voice, ruined by over-screaming, requires prudence, patience, calmness, and modesty, and a character of a high type generally. It is also a very thankless task, and success is rare; while on the piano a fair result may always be accomplished.
I return once more to the subject so frequently discussed, that I may try to relieve the universal difficulty of our lady pianists. I have heard much playing of late, in parties both small and large, on well-tuned and on ill-tuned pianos, on those with which the performer was familiar, and on those to which she was unaccustomed; from the timid and the self-possessed; from ladies of various ages, possessed of more or of less talent, and in various cities: the result was always the same.
We hear from the ladies that they could play their pieces at home before their parents or their teachers; but this is never sufficient to enable them to save their hearers from weariness, anxiety, and all sorts of embarrassment. My honored ladies, you play over and over again two mazourkas, two waltzes, two nocturnes, and the Funeral March of Chopin, the Mazourka and other pieces by Schulhoff, the Trill-Etude, and the Tremolo by Carl Meyer, &c.: “it makes no difference to you which.” You might be able to master these pieces pretty well, but, instead of this, you yourselves are mastered. You become embarrassed, and your hearers still more so: the affair ends with apologies on both sides, with equivocal compliments, with encouragement to continue in the same course, with acknowledgment of fine hands for the piano, with uneasy, forced congratulations to the parents and teacher; but it is always a happy moment when the fatal soirée is over. The next day I am forced to sigh again over the same, miserable, poorly and tediously performed Funeral March of Chopin, and over the timorous B major Mazourka by Schulhoff. The left hand is always left in the lurch in the difficult, skipping basses of this piece, and in others of the present style, which are rich in harmony and modulations. The bass part in this piece is apt to suffer from timid and false tones; frequently the fundamental tone is omitted, or the little finger remains resting upon it, instead of giving the eighth note with a crisp, elastic, and sprightly touch, and the chords are tame and incomplete. You do not give them their full value; you leave them too quickly, because you are afraid of not striking the next low note quickly enough; but, on the other hand, you do not strike it at all, and one missing tone brings another one after it. The right hand, being the most skilful, is supposed to play with expression, and really does so; but this only makes the performance the worse. The fundamental tone is wanting, and you are led to make a mistake in the skip, and strike the wrong key. Finally, the whole thing is ended in terror. I have an uneasy night; I dream of your fine hands, but the false and the weak notes start up between like strange spectres or will o’ the wisps, and I wake with the headache, instead of with pleasant memories.
Allow me to give you a piece of advice. Play and practise the bass part a great deal and very often, first slowly, then quicker, during one or two weeks, before playing the right hand with it, in order that you may give your whole attention to playing the bass correctly, delicately, and surely. Even when you can get through the mazourka tolerably well, you must not think, on that account, that you will be able to play it in company, under trying circumstances. You ought to be able to play the piece by yourself with ease, very frequently, perfectly, and distinctly, and in very rapid tempo, before you trust yourself to perform it even slowly in company. At least, practise the more difficult passages for the right hand very frequently, particularly the difficult and bold conclusion, that it may not strike the hearer as rough, weak, tame, or hurried. It is an old rule, “If you begin well and end well, all is well.” You ought to practise the skipping bass over and over again by itself, otherwise it will not go. An incorrect or deficient bass, without depth of tone and without accentuation, ruins every thing, even the good temper of the hearer. One thing more: you know very well Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, and have played it, among other things, for the last four weeks. Suddenly you are called upon to play in company. You choose this Nocturne because you have played it nearly every day for four weeks. But alas! the piano fiends have come to confuse you! You strike a false bass note, and at the modulation the weak little finger touches too feebly: bah! the fundamental tone is wanting. You are frightened, and grow still more so; your musical aunt is frightened also; the blood rushes to your teacher’s face, and I mutter to myself, “C’est toujours la même.” The present style of skipping basses requires a great deal of practice and perfect security; it is necessary for you to know the piece by heart, in order to give your whole attention to the left hand. It is also essential that you shall have acquired a clear, sound touch; otherwise, you cannot give a delicate accent and shading. You must never allow yourself, without previous preparation, to play those pieces of music in company, in which an elegant mode of execution is all-important; otherwise, you will be taken by surprise by unexpected difficulties. You must always pay special attention to the fundamental tones, even if there should be imperfections elsewhere. Where one fault is less important than another, of two evils choose the least. You have been playing now for six or eight years: are you repaid for the trouble, if it only enables you to prepare embarrassments for others? You are not willing to play easy, insignificant pieces; and such pieces as you choose require industry, earnestness, and perseverance.
Young ladies, it is easy to discover the character of a person from his manner of standing, walking, moving, and speaking, from the way he bows, puts on and takes off his hat, or the arrangements of the household; and we seldom are in error about it. It is also possible to infer beforehand how you will play and what sort of a performance you will give, from the manner in which you take your seat at the piano. You sidle up to the piano lazily, bent over in a constrained manner; in your embarrassment, you place yourself before the one-lined or two-lined c, instead of before f; you sit unsteadily, either too high or too low, only half on the seat, leaning either too much to the right or to the left; in a word, as if you did not belong to the fatal music-stool. Your manner awakens no confidence, and in this way announces that you have none yourself. How do you expect to exercise control over a grand seven octave piano, if you do not sit exactly in the middle, with the body erect and the feet on the two pedals? You are not willing to look the friend straight in the face, with whom you are to carry on a friendly, confidential discourse! Even if your attitude and bearing were not so injurious and dangerous for the performer as it is, still propriety and good sense would require that you should excite the confidence of your hearers in you and in your playing by a correct position of the body, and by a certain decision and resolution, and should prepare him to form a good opinion of you.
There are, indeed, many virtuosos who think they give evidence of genius, by throwing themselves on to the music-stool in a slovenly, lounging manner, and try to show in this way their superiority to a painstaking performance, and to make up by a showy nonchalance for what is wanting in their playing. You are, however, a stranger to such assertion of superior genius, and to such an expression of intensity of feeling; you do it only from embarrassment, and from a modest want of confidence in your own powers, which is quite unnecessary. Our great masters, such as Field, Hummel, Moscheles, Mendelssohn, and others, had no taste for such improprieties, for such manifestations of genius. They applied themselves to their task with earnest devotion, and with respect for the public.
ON MUSICAL TALENT.
A large and varied experience is required for a correct estimate of musical talent in the young. Do not be deceived by the early evidences of talent; for instance, interest in melodies, correct feeling for time, an instinct for accenting the important notes, inclination for some peculiar though often perverted style of performance, quick apprehension, a natural aptitude for playing, a nice hearing, animation, rapid progress, docility, superficial gayety; even if all or a part of these traits are observable in early youth, they must not excite too sanguine hopes. I have often met with such phenomena, and have been called upon to educate such little piano prodigies. They advanced quite rapidly, and understood every thing readily, if I did not make too much demand upon their wavering attention. I dreamed of the extraordinary surprises that these marvellous youths would create at twelve or fourteen years of age; but the fulfilment of my ideal I saw only in my mind’s eye, for just then the improvement came to a sudden stand-still,—a fatal moment, when the teacher is perplexed to know what to do next. The musical nature seemed to have exhausted itself, to have out-lived itself. The pupil even felt this: his interest in the piano and in music generally grew feeble, his playing suddenly became careless, powerless, spiritless; he played with evident indifference. Out into the fresh air! into open natural scenes! Now for a journey! I allowed a long vacation to intervene; the pupil was quite contented, and had no desire for the piano, or, if so, only jingled a little. At last we began again, but we spent our time without much result; he was nevertheless still musical, but he finally ranked at best with dozens of other players, and ended as an ordinary piano teacher. Similar halts in progress occur in fact with all pupils, especially with female scholars; but they are not usually so lasting, so discouraging, or so significant of exhaustion. They are surmounted, after a short interval, by the discontinuance of serious musical studies; perhaps by reading at sight for a while; by occupying the pupil for a time with the theory, or with attempts at composition or improvisation; by allowing him to listen to other players better or worse; by giving him interesting books to read; by making him acquainted with Beethoven, or in other ways.
From our observation of such sudden changes, and of the frequent occurrence of unskilful management, we can explain the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of innumerable infant prodigies in our age, who have excited hopes, and have almost all of them been lost, or have passed out of sight, and resulted in nothing of value.
I have always preferred a gradual, even a slow development, step by step, which often made no apparent progress, but which still proceeded with a certain constancy, and with deliberation, and which was combined with dreamy sensibility and a musical instinct, requiring slow awakening, and even with a certain flightiness, one for which the patient labor and perseverance of six years or more was required, and where childishness allowed no encouragement to sordid speculations for the future. In such cases, when my instructions were not disturbed by untoward circumstances, the result has always been a desirable one. But how much patience and perseverance has this required! I have reflected much and have often spoken, both seriously and playfully, of the slow advancement of my pupils. Allow me here to describe five phases or stages of human development.
First Stage. In the first two or three years, man is far behind the animal, whose quick instinct distinguishes the good from the bad, the useful from the injurious. The child, without hesitation, rolls off the table, or knocks his brains out, or destroys himself with poisonous herbs or arsenic. Nevertheless, let him at that age hear plenty of pure sounds, music, singing, &c. He will soon learn to listen, like the little black poodle. He already has a dim suspicion that other things exist which are not evil, besides mamma, papa, the nurse, the doll, and the sound of words.
Second Stage. From the fourth to the seventh year, instinct is developed; which, in the animal, surprises the observer in the first two weeks of life. Now we should begin with the technique, at least with the correct movement of the fingers upon the table. The child should be told that he shall soon produce the pleasant tones, which he has been accustomed to hear from infancy; but that for this a quick and quiet movement of the fingers is necessary, which must be acquired by daily practice. This is entirely in accordance with nature, for man is appointed to learn. Let the child lay his hand upon the table, and knock upon it with the first finger (i.e., the thumb) stretched out, without using the muscles of the arm, then with the second, third, and fourth fingers, in an almost perpendicular position, and with the fifth finger extended. Then let him strike a third with the first and third fingers together; a fourth, with the first and fourth fingers; first with the right hand, then with the left hand, and afterwards with both together, &c.
Third Stage. From the seventh to the twelfth year. At this stage unruliness makes its appearance, and at the same time—the notes; but not Beethoven. That would indeed be an unfortunate musical indulgence. Violent outbreaks of untamed strength; unexpected freaks; alternations of rude instinct and quick intelligence, of lofty fancy and artless simplicity; disobedience; much appetite, &c.,—all these must be shaped, and made subservient to the object we have in view. Do you understand me, gentlemen?
Fourth Stage. Excellent parents, who desire to see the ripe fruits of your care and labor, have patience! First there comes the foreshadowing of manhood,—a very interesting period. The youth steps out of the animal into the human kingdom, and often is unable to forget his earlier condition, but revels in sweet remembrance of it. Try now, gently and timidly, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and the like. This extraordinary being, “one-fourth animal and three-fourths human,” requires to be awakened, excited, and to have the imagination aroused; and, above all, requires the most careful guidance. It is necessary to stir and agitate the nature, in order that reflection, conscience, the sensibilities of the soul, feeling, creative power, and all inward conditions shall be developed; and that out of this chaos shall be brought a clear and beautiful order.
Fifth Stage. The adult man in his eighteenth year. The year, however, varies with individuals, and can be modified at will. If I should enter into details of the four earlier stages of humanity, and treat in addition of the adult man, I should be obliged to write a philosophical work on the subject, and that might not be entertaining. I should be obliged to beg your indulgence for a tedious book, and my daughters certainly would not thank me for it; they are very sensitive. But I must, nevertheless, secretly whisper in your ear that “my daughters, like the daughters of many others, have been carried through these five stages in the most careful and thorough manner.” I ought to know that best. Here you have the answer to many strange questions.
I warn pianists, and others also, in playing:
1. Against any showy and unsuitable display. Why should you wish to attract attention, and to create an effect by foppishness and all sorts of grimaces, or by curious and marvellous exhibitions of virtuoso-ship? You have only to play musically and beautifully, and to deport yourselves with modesty and propriety. Direct your whole attention to the business in hand,—that is, to your performance; and endeavor to secure for it the interest of the public, who are so easily rendered inattentive. We want no more public performances from eccentric geniuses.
2. Do not devote yourself exclusively to pieces calculated to show the skill of the performer. Why desire always to show off your power in octave passages, your trills, your facility in skips, your unprecedented stretches, or other fantastic feats? You only produce weariness, satiety, and disgust, or, at least, you make yourselves ridiculous.
3. Play good music in a musical and rational manner. The public are tired of hearing Potpourris, made up of odds and ends, tedious Etudes, Rhapsodies, Fantasias without fancy, dismal monotonies and endless, cheap, silly cadences that mean nothing. Learn to understand the age, and the world in which you live.
4. Do not make yourselves ridiculous by new inventions in piano-playing. I mention, for example, one of the most foolish affectations of modern times. You try to quiver on a note, just as violin and ‘cello players are unfortunately too much inclined to do. Do not expose yourselves to the derision of every apprentice in piano manufacture. Have you no understanding of the construction of the piano? You have played upon it, or have, some of you, stormed upon it, for the last ten years; and yet you have not taken pains to obtain even a superficial acquaintance with its mechanism. The hammer, which by its stroke upon the string has produced the sound, falls immediately when the tone resounds; and after that you may caress the key which has set the hammer in motion, fidget round on it as much as you please, and stagger up and down over it, in your intoxicated passion,—no more sound is to be brought out from it, with all your trembling and quivering. It is only the public who are quivering with laughter at your absurdity.
5. Give up the practice of extreme stretches. Widely dispersed harmonies may sometimes produce a good effect, but not by too frequent and too eager an employment of them at every opportunity. Even the greatest beauties in art can lead to mannerism, and this again to one-sidedness. Art should be many-sided, and you must never produce the impression that you are inclined to make the means an end. I beg you to reflect that too much practice of very wide stretches enfeebles the muscles and the power of the hand and fingers, endangers an even, sound touch, and makes the best style of playing a doubtful acquisition. Teachers ought therefore to use great prudence, and only gradually to permit their pupils, especially young girls, to practise great extensions and wide stretches. To learn to be able to strike ten notes is quite enough.
6. Before you perform a piece, play a few suitable chords, and a few appropriate passages or scales up and down (but play no stupid trash, such as I have heard from manyvirtuosos), in order to try whether the condition of the instrument presents any unexpected difficulties. Try carefully also the unavoidable pedal. A creaking, rattling, grating pedal is a frightful annoyance; I wonder if the piano of “the future” is to suffer from this also. Chopin’s Funeral March, with obligato accompaniment of a squeaking pedal sentiment, even although the omissions and mistakes in the bass do not occur,—alas! who can describe the effect of this melancholy march?
7. I have written a special article on the manner of sitting at the piano, and I will refer you once more to that.
8. Use no mechanical aids in practising, not even the dumb key-board; although, with very careful use, that is not without value. Strength will come with time; do not try to hurry nature. The table is the best “dumb key-board,” as I have already explained. The “hand-guide” is also unnecessary: its value is compensated by its disadvantages.
9. Do not let your hearers crowd too near while you are playing. Do not play the same piece da capo. You may be justified in breaking off in the midst of a piece, if there is loud and continuous talking, &c.
I hope you will give me the honor of your company again at my soirées: I am no writer of comedies, but I can tell you a great deal that is interesting and amusing which I have myself experienced.
EXTRAVAGANCES IN SINGING AND PIANO-PLAYING.
(An Evening Party at Mr. Gold’s.)
Mr. Gold, the banker (fond of music).
Mrs. Gold (sings, and is an invalid.)
Mr. Silver, bookkeeper (formerly a singer with Strauss).
Mr. Pious, a friend of the family (a musical impostor, and a hypocrite generally).
Mr. Forte, a foreign piano virtuoso (of weak nerves).
Dominie, a piano-teacher.
Emma, his daughter.
(Mrs. Gold has just been singing in the modern Italian manner; suddenly alternating exaggerated high and low tones, given in a jerking manner, with inaudible pianissimo in the throat, and quavering on every note, with many ornaments, and always a quarter of a tone too flat. She sang all the four verses of “Fondly I Think of Thee” by Krebs.)
Dominie. Will you not go on, Mrs. Gold? The piano is a little too high, and you are obliged to accustom yourself a little to it.
Mrs. Gold. I cannot sing any more. That beautiful song has taken such hold of me, and I feel so badly. (Whispers to Dominie.) Mr. Forte did not accompany me well, either: sometimes he did not come in right, and played too feebly; and sometimes he improvised too much in playing, and overpowered my voice, which is a little weak just now.
Dominie (aside to Emma). What an evening of singing! Oh dear!
Mr. Gold (who has been earnestly talking about stocks all the evening in an adjoining room, rushes in, but rather late, after the close of the song, and impetuously presses his wife’s hand). Marvellous! magnificent! delicious! wonderful! My dear, you are in excellent voice this evening. If Jenny Lind could only have heard you!
Mr. Pious. Charming! superb! how touching! There is a religious character in this piece, something holy about it! I beg of you, do sing that air by Voss, “True Happiness.” That will make our enjoyment complete; it is truly ravishing! There is something divine in singing, and your expression, your feeling, Madam! You give yourself up so entirely to the composition!
(Mrs. Gold has already taken up “True Happiness,” and can hardly wait while Mr. Forte murmurs off the introduction, quite after his own fancy, with a sentimental piano. Mr. Pious drops a tear at the close of the introduction, the four bars of which have been transformed into eight bars by the great virtuoso. During the tremulous, affected performance of “True Happiness,” Mr. Pious rolls up his moistened eyes; and, at the end of the first verse, where the accompanist once more gives the reins to his fancy, he says, “I am speechless, I cannot find words to express my emotion!”)
Dominie (aside to Emma). That you may call forged sentiment, the counterfeit of feeling. You hear now how one ought not to sing. For an earnest, true musician, such a warmth in singing is only empty affectation, disgusting, sentimental rubbish, and hollow dissimulation. You will, however, frequently meet with such amateur infelicities.
(Mrs. Gold has finished singing all the verses of “True Happiness,” and seems now to have almost entirely recovered. Mr. Gold continues to converse about stocks in the adjoining room. Dominie remains with Emma at the end of the parlor, depressed and worried.)
Mr. Forte (keeps his seat at the piano, and says in French to Mrs. Gold). Madam, you have reached the climax of the beautiful in music. I count it one of the happiest moments of my artistic tour to be allowed to breathe out my soul at the piano, in the presence of one like yourself. What a loss, that your position must prevent you from elevating the German opera to its former greatness, as its most radiant star!
Mrs. Gold (by this time quite well). I must confess that Jenny Lind never quite satisfied me when she was here. She is, and must always remain, a Swede,—utterly cold. If she had been educated here, she would have listened to more passionate models than in Stockholm, and that would have given the true direction to her sensibility.
Mr. Forte. You are quite right; you have a just estimate of her. In Paris, where she might have heard such examples, she lived in perfect retirement. I was giving concerts there at the time; but she refused to sing in my concerts, and therefore she did not even hear me.
Mr. Silver (whom the excitement of the singing has at length reached). Do you feel inclined now, Madam, to execute with me the duet from “The Creation,” between Adam and Eve?
Mrs. Gold. Here is “The Creation,” but we will sing it by and by. Mr. Forte is just going to play us his latest composition for the left hand, and some of the music of that romantic, deeply sensitive Chopin.
Mr. Gold (rushes in from his stock discussion). Oh, yes! Chopin’s B major mazourka! That was also played at my house by Henselt, Thalberg, and Dreyschock. Oh, it is touching!
All (except Mr. Silver, Dominie, and Emma). Oh, how touching!
Dominie (to his daughter). If he plays it in the same manner in which he accompanied “True Happiness,” you will hear how this mazourka should not be played. It, by the way, is not at all touching: it gives quite boldly the Polish dance rhythm, as it is improvised by the peasants in that country; but it is, however, idealized after Chopin’s manner.
(Mr. Forte plays several perilous runs up and down with various octave passages, all the time keeping his foot on the pedal; and connects with these immediately, and without a pause, the mazourka, which he commences presto. He played it without regard to time or rhythm, but with a constant rubato, and unmusical jerks. A few notes were murmured indistinctly pp., and played very ritardando; then suddenly a few notes were struck very rapidly and with great force, so that the strings rattled; and the final B major chord cost the life of one string.)
Mr. Gold. Excellent! bravissimo! What a comprehension of the piece! Such artistic performances make one even forget the stock-exchange!
Mrs. Gold. You agitate my inmost nerves! The English poet, Pope, holds that no created man can penetrate the secrets of nature; but you have penetrated the secrets of my soul. Now do play at once the F sharp minor mazourka, opus 6.
Mr. Pious. What a musical evening Mrs. Gold has prepared for us! What sublime sorrow lies in this production!
Mr. Silver (aside). What would Father Strauss say to this affected, unmusical performance, that bids defiance to all good taste?
Dominie. Mrs. Gold, it would be well to send for the tuner to replace this broken B string. The next one will break soon, for it is already cracked, and its tone is fallen.
Dominie (whispers to Emma). He thinks that if the sound is not musical, still it makes a noise; and tones out of tune produce more effect than those that are pure.
Emma. Where did he learn piano-playing?
Dominie. My child, he has not learned it. That is genius, which comes of itself. Instruction would have fettered his genius, and then he would have played distinctly, correctly, unaffectedly, and in time; but that would be too much like the style of an amateur. This uncontrolled hurly-burly, which pays no regard to time, is called the soaring of genius.
(Mr. Forte storms through various unconnected chords with the greatest rapidity, with the pedal raised; and passes without pause to the F sharp minor mazourka. He accents vehemently, divides one bar and gives it two extra quarter notes, and from the next bar he omits a quarter note, and continues in this manner with extreme self-satisfaction till he reaches the close; and then, after a few desperate chords of the diminished seventh, he connects with it Liszt’s Transcription of Schubert’s Serenade in D minor. The second string of the two-lined b snaps with a rattle, and there ensues a general whispering “whether the piece is by Mendelssohn, or Döhler, or Beethoven, or Proch, or Schumann,” until finally Mr. Silver mentions Schubert’s Serenade. Mr. Forte concludes with the soft pedal, which in his inspired moments he had already made frequent use of.)
Dominie (to Emma). You should never play in company, without mentioning previously what you are going to perform. You observe, as soon as the Serenade was mentioned, it put a stop to the guessing.
All (except Mr. Silver and Dominie). What a glorious performance! what an artistic treat!
Mrs. Gold. What spirituality in his playing!
Mr. Silver (asking Mr. Forte for information). I noticed, in the Serenade, you made only one bar of the two where it modulates to F major, in your rapid playing of the passage. Was that accidental?
Emma (aside). He ought to have played a little slower just there.
Mr. Forte. In such beautiful passages, every thing must be left to the suggestion of one’s feelings. Perhaps another time I may make three bars, just as inspiration and genius may intimate. Those are æsthetic surprises. Henselt, Moscheles, Thalberg, and Clara Wieck do not execute in that manner, and consequently can produce no effect, and do not travel.
Dominie (to Emma). I hope that your natural taste and your musical education will preserve you from such preposterous extravagances.
Emma. Such playing makes one feel quite uncomfortable and worried. Probably that is what you call “devilish modern”?
Emma. But do people like it?
Dominie. Certainly: a great many people do. It has the superior air of genius, and sounds very original.
(Mrs. Gold has “The Creation” in her hand, and Mr. Silver leads her to the piano for the execution of the grand duet between Adam and Eve. Mr. Forte is exhausted, and Dominie plays the accompaniment. Mr. Silver sings intelligently and unaffectedly; Mrs. Gold, as before, but with still less regard to time, and more out of tune; but she tries to compensate for this by introducing very long ornaments at the fermate in the allegro, sung with her thin, piercing, over-strained voice; and she frequently rolls up her black eyes. At the conclusion, Mrs. Gold was led to the arm-chair, in great exhaustion of feeling.)
Mr. Pious. The divine art of music celebrates its perfect triumph in such interpretations of Haydn. Mrs. Gold, were those delicious fermate of your own invention?
Mrs. Gold. No: the charming Viardot-Garcia first introduced them as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville,” and I had them written down by a musician in the theatre. But the employment of them in this duet is my own idea. I have already surprised and delighted a great many people with them in parties. The grand, rushing, chromatic scale with which the artistic Garcia astonishes every one, when acting the dreaming, fainting Amina in “La Somnambula,” I introduce in the grand aria of the divine “Prophet;” rather timidly, it is true, for the boldness of a Garcia can only be acquired on the stage.
Emma. But, father, Jenny Lind sang in this duet in Vienna, quite simply, and with a pure religious spirit.
Mrs. Gold. Now, Mr. Dominie, will not your daughter Emma play us some little trifle? Afterwards I will execute with Mr. Silver, “By thy loving kindness, O Lord,” and a few duets by Kücken, and finish, if the company wishes, with the “Grâce” aria.
Dominie. Will you allow me first to replace this broken string?
(After Dominie has finished, Mr. Forte strides up to the piano, and plays his Etude for the left hand, with the right hand extended towards the company.)
Dominie (to Mr. Forte, after the conclusion of the piece). Would it not have been easier and more to the purpose, if you had used both hands?
Mr. Forte. We must forgive old people such pedantic observations. You entirely mistake my stand-point. Do you not see that I am standing with one foot in the future? Are you not aware that the public wish not only to listen, but to see something strange? Do you not perceive also that my appearance of ill-health produces a great musical effect?
Dominie. Is it so? Well, probably feeling has taken a false direction with me. I shall be obliged to accustom myself to such Parisian flights of sentiment.
(Emma played Chopin’s Ballad in A flat major, after Dominie had previously announced it. The company were attentive.)
Mr. Forte (at the conclusion). Bravo! A very good beginning, Mr. Dominie. I am sorry that I am obliged to take leave now: I am obliged to go to two more soirées this evening, and have many letters of introduction to deliver.
Mr. Silver. Miss Emma, I have just heard that you play finely a great deal of Chopin’s music. Let us hear his two latest nocturnes.
Mrs. Gold (to Emma). Have you heard the famous Camilla Pleyel play Kalkbrenner’s charming D minor concerto? Do you not also play such brilliant music? for example, Döhler’s beautiful, pathetic Notturno in D flat. Mr. X. lately played that to us enchantingly.
Emma. I know it. I am teaching it to my little sister, Cecilia.
I will say nothing about the conclusion of the singing,—the “Grâce” aria. At midnight there was a grand supper, washed down with sweet wine, and seasoned with bitter recollections of this musical evening.
I have received the following communication from an old literary friend, to whom I sent my eighth chapter, requesting his opinion of it:—
There are unreceptive times, but
that which is eternal outlives all
times.—Joh. von Müller.
My dear Friend,—I have read your eighth chapter. What you facetiously call “the three trifles” seem to me to be three most important points, even if you had described them simply as fine taste, deep feeling, and a good ear. Who expects superlative excellence from the age in which he lives, and who dares to attack it, in its most vulnerable parts? You grow more harsh and disagreeable, and you do not seem to consider how many enemies you make, among those who think that they have long ago advanced beyond these three points. Just now, too, when there is so much said about “the intellectual” in music, and about “the inner nature of the future,” and when such fine expressions are invented about it, you come forward with your three unseasonable trifles in the superlative degree. Do you imagine that our intelligent age cannot discern your hidden satire?
You say that our times are in need of your three trifles, and the necessary knowledge and experience. Voilà tout!
As for Prince Louis Ferdinand, Dussek, Clementi, Himmel, Hummel, C.M.v. Weber, Beethoven, &c.,—who has not heard all about them?
After them, comes the period of “piano fury,” and the compositions appropriate for it. Now the three trifles required are distorted taste, hypocritical feeling, and a depraved ear, combined with the necessary superficiality and some power of production. Voilà tout!
After that, musicians bethink themselves once more of the genuine three trifles, and return to reason, and we are allowed to take delight in Chopin, Mendelssohn, Fr. Schubert, Robert Schumann, and a few others of the same sort, and again in Beethoven.
Finally, the very latest progress introduces a still more extravagant piano fury. The three trifles are now distorted taste, no feeling, and no ear for tone; and with these are required the necessary audacity, immeasurable vanity, senseless exhibitions of strength, a poor touch upon the piano, and what they call “intellect.” The compositions are now embellished with appropriate pictures on the cover, and with attractive title-pages. In addition, there is much talk about a “higher beauty,” “the stand-points which have been already surmounted,” “artistic flights,” and the “misunderstanding of the inner consciousness,” “Genius must be free,” &c.
My old conservative friend, you are seen through. Your influence, and more especially your ideas about singing, belong only to a past age. They date from the last century. You will be derided with your Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag. They are lifeless images of singers, to be kept in a glass case. Are you willing to remain ignorant of the magnificent modern style of voice? Can you not go forward with the advancing age? Progressive philosophers will rap you over the knuckles. You imagine that our times will stop for a couple of lectures! You will yet have to learn what “intellect” signifies. In short, I should not like to stand in your shoes. You should conclude your book with “Pater, peccavi.”
Even in misfortune,
Your sympathizing friend,
[A]Reference is here made to Robert Schumann, who, in order to facilitate the use of the weaker fingers, employed a machine for raising the fingers artificially, which resulted in loss of power over them, and necessitated the abandonment of piano-playing.—Tr.
End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Piano and Song, by Friedrich Wieck *** END OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PIANO AND SONG ***
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing, by Enrico Caruso and Luisa Tetrazzini
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Title: Caruso and Tetrazzini on the Art of Singing
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Caruso and Tetrazzini
THE ART OF SINGING
By Enrico Caruso
and Luisa Tetrazzini
Metropolitan Company, Publishers
Introductory Sketch of the Career of the World-Famous Prima Donna
In offering this work to the public the publishers wish to lay before those who sing or who are about to study singing, the simple, fundamental rules of the art based on common sense. The two greatest living exponents of the art of singing—Luisa Tetrazzini and Enrico Caruso—have been chosen as examples, and their talks on singing have additional weight from the fact that what they have to say has been printed exactly as it was uttered, the truths they expound are driven home forcefully, and what they relate so simply is backed by years of experience and emphasized by the results they have achieved as the two greatest artists in the world.
Much has been said about the Italian Method of Singing. It is a question whether anyone really knows what the phrase means. After all, if there be a right way to sing, then all other ways must be wrong. Books have been written on breathing, tone production and what singers should eat and wear, etc., etc., all tending to make the singer self-conscious and to sing with the brain rather than with the heart. To quote Mme. Tetrazzini: “You can train the voice, you can take a raw material and make it a finished production; not so with the heart.”
The country is overrun with inferior teachers of singing; men and women who have failed to get before the public, turn to teaching without any practical experience, and, armed only with a few methods, teach these alike to all pupils, ruining many good voices. Should these pupils change teachers, even for the better, then begins the weary undoing of the false method, often with no better result.
To these unfortunate pupils this book is of inestimable value. He or she could not consistently choose such teachers after reading its pages. Again the simple rules laid down and tersely and interestingly set forth not only carry conviction with them, but tear away the veil of mystery that so often is thrown about the divine art.
Luisa Tetrazzini and Enrico Caruso show what not to do, as well as what to do, and bring the pupil back to first principles—the art of singing naturally.
THE ART OF SINGING
By Luisa Tetrazzini
Introductory Sketch of the Career of the World-Famous Prima Donna
Luisa Tetrazzini, the most famous Italian coloratura soprano of the day, declares that she began to sing before she learned to talk. Her parents were not musical, but her elder sister, now the wife of the eminent conductor Cleofante Campanini, was a public singer of established reputation, and her success roused her young sister’s ambition to become a great artist. Her parents were well to do, her father having a large army furnishing store in Florence, and they did not encourage her in her determination to become a prima donna. One prima donna, said her father, was enough for any family.
Luisa did not agree with him. If one prima donna is good, she argued, why would not two be better? So she never desisted from her importunity until she was permitted to become a pupil of Professor Coccherani, vocal instructor at the Lycée. At this time she had committed to memory more than a dozen grand opera rôles, and at the end of six months the professor confessed that he could do nothing more for her voice; that she was ready for a career.
She made her bow to the Florentine opera going public, one of the most critical in Italy, as Inez, in Meyerbeer’s “L’Africaine,” and her success was so pronounced that she was engaged at a salary of $100 a month, a phenomenal beginning for a young singer. Queen Margherita was present on the occasion and complimented her highly and prophesied for her a great career. She asked the trembling débutante how old she was, and in the embarrassment of the moment Luisa made herself six years older than she really was. This is one noteworthy instance in which a public singer failed to discount her age.
Fame came speedily, but for a long time it was confined to Europe and Latin America. She sang seven seasons in St. Petersburg, three in Mexico, two in Madrid, four in Buenos Aires, and even on the Pacific coast of America before she appeared in New York. She had sung Lucia more than 200 times before her first appearance at Covent Garden, and the twenty curtain calls she received on that occasion came as the greatest surprise of her career. She had begun to believe that she could never be appreciated by English-speaking audiences and the ovation almost overcame her.
It was by the merest chance that Mme. Tetrazzini ever came to the Manhattan Opera House in New York. The diva’s own account of her engagement is as follows:
“I was in London, and for a wonder I had a week, a wet week, on my hands. You know people will do anything in a wet week in London.
“There were contracts from all over the Continent and South America pending. There was much discussion naturally in regard to settlements and arrangements of one kind and another.
“Suddenly, just like that”—she makes a butterfly gesture—”M. Hammerstein came, and just like that”—a duplicate gesture—”I made up my mind that I would come here. If his offer to me had been seven days later I should not have signed, and if I had not I should undoubtedly never have come, for a contract that I might have signed to go elsewhere would probably have been for a number of years.”
Voice experts confess that they are not able to solve the mystery of Mme. Tetrazzini’s wonderful management of her breathing.
“It is perfectly natural,” she says. “I breathe low down in the diaphragm, not, as some do, high up in the upper part of the chest. I always hold some breath in reserve for the crescendos, employing only what is absolutely necessary, and I renew the breath wherever it is easiest.
“In breathing I find, as in other matters pertaining to singing, that as one goes on and practices, no matter how long one may have been singing, there are constantly new surprises awaiting one. You may have been accustomed for years to take a note in a certain way, and after a long while you discover that, while it is a very good way, there is a better.”
There is only one way to sing correctly, and that is to sing naturally, easily, comfortably.
The height of vocal art is to have no apparent method, but to be able to sing with perfect facility from one end of the voice to the other, emitting all the notes clearly and yet with power and having each note of the scale sound the same in quality and tonal beauty as the ones before and after.
There are many methods which lead to the goal of natural singing—that is to say, the production of the voice with ease, beauty and with perfect control.
Some of the greatest teachers in the world reach this point apparently by diverging roads.
Around the art of singing there has been formed a cult which includes an entire jargon of words meaning one thing to the singer and another thing to the rest of the world and which very often doesn’t mean the same thing to two singers of different schools.
In these talks with you I am going to try to use the simplest words, and the few idioms which I will have to take from my own language I will translate to you as clearly as I can, so that there can be no misunderstanding.
Certainly the highest art and a lifetime of work and study are necessary to acquire an easy emission of tone.
There are quantities of wonderful natural voices, particularly among the young people of Switzerland and Italy, and the American voice is especially noted for its purity and the beauty of its tone in the high registers. But these naturally untrained voices soon break or fail if they are used much unless the singer supplements the natural, God-given vocal gifts with a conscious understanding of how the vocal apparatus should be used.
The singer must have some knowledge of his or her anatomical structure, particularly the structure of the throat, mouth and face, with its resonant cavities, which are so necessary for the right production of the voice.
Besides that, the lungs and diaphragm and the whole breathing apparatus must be understood, because the foundation of singing is breathing and breath control.
A singer must be able to rely on his breath, just as he relies upon the solidity of the ground beneath his feet.
A shaky, uncontrolled breath is like a rickety foundation on which nothing can be built, and until that foundation has been developed and strengthened the would-be singer need expect no satisfactory results.
In other words, the corset must be nothing but a belt, but with as much hip length as the wearer finds convenient and necessary.
In order to insure proper breathing capacity it is understood that the clothing must be absolutely loose around the chest and also across the lower part of the back, for one should breathe with the back of the lungs as well as with the front.
In my years of study and work I have developed my own breathing capacity until I am somewhat the despair of the fashionable modiste, but I have a diaphragm and a breath on which I can rely at all times.
In learning to breathe it is well to think of the lungs as empty sacks, into which the air is dropping like a weight, so that you think first of filling the bottom of your lungs, then the middle part, and so on until no more air can be inhaled.
Inhale short breaths through the nose. This, of course, is only an exercise for breath development.
Now begin to inhale from the bottom of the lungs first.
Exhale slowly and feel as if you were pushing the air against your chest. If you can get this sensation later when singing it will help you very greatly to get control of the breath and to avoid sending too much breath through the vocal chords.
The breath must be sent out in an even, steady flow.
You will notice when you begin to sing, if you watch yourself very carefully, that, first, you will try to inhale too much air; secondly, you will either force it all out at once, making a breathy note, or in trying to control the flow of air by the diaphragm you will suddenly cease to send it forth at all and will be making the sound by pressure from the throat.
There must never be any pressure from the throat. The sound must be made from the continued flow of air.
You must learn to control this flow of air, so that no muscular action of the throat can shut it off.
Open the throat wide and start your note by the pressure breath. The physical sensation should be first an effort on the part of the diaphragm to press the air up against the chest box, then the sensation of a perfectly open throat, and, lastly, the sensation that the air is passing freely into the cavities of the head.
The quantity of sound is controlled by the breath.
“Filare la voce,” to spin the voice from a tiny little thread into a breadth of sound and then diminish again, is one of the most beautiful effects in singing.
It is accomplished by the control of the breath, and its perfect accomplishment means the complete mastery of the greatest difficulty in learning to sing.
I think one of the best exercises for learning to control the voice by first getting control of the breath is to stand erect in a well-ventilated room or out of doors and slowly snuff in air through the nostrils, inhaling in little puffs, as if you were smelling something.
Take just a little bit of air at a time and feel as if you were filling the very bottom of your lungs and also the back of your lungs.
When you have the sensation of being full up to the neck retain the air for a few seconds and then very slowly send it out in little puffs again.
This is a splendid exercise, but I want to warn you not to practice any breathing exercise to such an extent that you make your heart beat fast or feel like strangling.
Overexercising the lungs is as bad as not exercising them enough and the results are often harmful.
Like everything else in singing, you want to learn this gradually. Never neglect it, because it is the very foundation of your art. But don’t try to develop a diaphragm expansion of five inches in two weeks.
Indeed, it is not the expansion that you are working for.
I have noticed this one peculiarity about young singers—if they have an enormous development of the diaphragm they think they should be able to sing, no matter what happens. A girl came to see me once whose figure was really entirely out of proportion, the lower part of the lungs having been pressed out quite beyond even artistic lines.
“You see, madam,” she exclaimed, “I have studied breathing. Why, I have such a strong diaphragm I can move the piano with it!” And she did go right up to my piano and, pushing on this strong diaphragm of hers, moved the piano a fraction of an inch from its place.
I was quite aghast. I had never met such an athletic singer. When I asked her to let me hear her voice, however, a tiny stream of contralto sound issued from those powerful lungs.
She had developed her breathing capacity, but when she sang she held her breath back.
I have noticed that a great many people do this, and it is one of the things that must be overcome in the very beginning of the study of singing.
Certain young singers take in an enormous breath, stiffening every muscle in order to hold the air, thus depriving their muscles of all elasticity.
They will then shut off the throat and let only the smallest fraction of air escape, just enough to make a sound. Too much inbreathing and too violent an effort at inhaling will not help the singer at all.
People have said that they cannot see when I breathe. Well, they certainly cannot say that I am ever short of breath even if I do try to breathe invisibly. When I breathe I scarcely draw my diaphragm in at all, but I feel the air fill my lungs and I feel my upper ribs expand.
In singing I always feel as if I were forcing my breath against my chest, and, just as in the exercises according to Delsarte you will find the chest leads in all physical movements, so in singing you should feel this firm support of the chest of the highest as well as the lowest notes.
Now this rigidity of the spinal column will in no way help you in the emission of tone, nor will it increase the breath control. In fact, I don’t think it would even help you to stand up straight, although it would certainly give one a stiff appearance and one far removed from grace.
A singer should stand freely and easily and should feel as if the chest were leading, but should not feel constrained or stiff in any part of the ribs or lungs.
From the minute the singer starts to emit a tone the supply of breath must be emitted steadily from the chamber of air in the lungs. It must never be held back once.
The immediate pressure of the air should be felt more against the chest. I know of a great many singers who, when they come to very difficult passages, put their hands on their chests, focusing their attention on this one part of the mechanism of singing.
The audience, of course, thinks the prima donna’s hand is raised to her heart, when, as a matter of fact, the prima donna, with a difficult bit of singing before her, is thinking of her technique and the foundation of that technique—breath control.
This feeling of singing against the chest with the weight of air pressing up against it is known as “breath support,” and in Italian we have even a better word, “apoggio,” which is breath prop. The diaphragm in English may be called the bellows of the lungs, but the apoggio is the deep breath regulated by the diaphragm.
The attack of the sound must come from the apoggio, or breath prop. In attacking the very highest notes it is essential, and no singer can really get the high notes or vocal flexibility or strength of tone without the attack coming from this seat of respiration.
In practicing the trill or staccato tones the pressure of the breath must be felt even before the sound is heard. The beautiful, clear, bell-like tones that die away into a soft piano are tones struck on the apoggio and controlled by the steady soft pressure of the breath emitted through a perfectly open throat, over a low tongue and resounding in the cavities of the mouth or head.
Never for a moment sing without this apoggio, this breath prop. Its development and its constant use mean the restoration of sick or fatigued voices and the prolonging of all one’s vocal powers into what is wrongly called old age.
In my first talk I said a few words, but not half enough, on the subject of breath control.
My second talk was the physiological aspect of the throat, head and tongue, for it is necessary to become thoroughly acquainted with the mechanism with which you are to work before you can really sing. Today I’m going to take up the subject of tone emission and the attack.
A great many singers suffer from the defect called “throatiness” of the emission—that is to say, they attack or start the note in the throat. Sooner or later this attack will ruin the most beautiful voice. As I have said before, the attack of the note must come from the apoggio, or breath prop. But to have the attack pure and perfectly in tune you must have the throat entirely open, for it is useless to try to sing if the throat is not sufficiently open to let the sound pass freely. Throaty tones or pinched tones are tones which are trying to force themselves through a half-closed throat blocked either by insufficient opening of the larynx or by stoppage of the throat passage, due to the root of the tongue being forced down and back too hard or possibly to a low, soft palate.
In order to have the throat perfectly open it is necessary to have the jaw absolutely relaxed.
I have found in studying different nationalities that it is fairly easy for the French and Spanish people to learn this relaxation of jaw and the opening of the throat, but the English-speaking people generally talk with the throat half shut and even talk through half-shut teeth. Sometime, when you are talking rapidly, suddenly put your hand up to your jaw. You will find that it is stiff; that the muscles beneath it (tongue muscles) are tight and hard; that the jaw seldom goes down very far in pronouncing any of the English words, whereas in singing the jaw should be absolutely relaxed, going down and back just as far as it can with ease.
The jaw is attached to the skull right beneath the temples in front of the ears. By placing your two fingers there and dropping the jaw you will find that a space between the skull and jaw grows as the jaw drops.
In singing this space must be as wide as is possible, for that indicates that the jaw is dropped down, giving its aid to the opening at the back of the throat. It will help the beginner sometimes to do simple relaxing exercises, feeling the jaw drop with the fingers. It must drop down, and it is not necessary to open the mouth wide, because the jaw is relaxed to its utmost.
However, for a beginner it is as well to practice opening the mouth wide, being sure to lower the jaw at the back. Do this many times a day without emitting any sound merely to get the feeling of what an open throat is really like. You will presently begin to yawn after you have done the exercise a couple of times. In yawning or in starting to drink a sip of water the throat is widely open, and the sensation is a correct one which the singer must study to reproduce.
I have noticed a great many actors and actresses in America who speak with jaws tightly closed, or at least closed to such an extent that only the smallest emission of breath is possible. Such a voice production will never allow the actor to express any varying degree of emotion and will also completely eradicate any natural beauty of tone which the voice may have. However, this is a fault which can easily be overcome by practicing this daily relaxation of the jaw and always when singing breathing as if the jaw hung perfectly loose, or, better still, as if you had none at all. When you can see a vocalist pushing on the jaw you can be perfectly certain that the tone she is emitting at that moment is a forced note and that the whole vocal apparatus is being tortured to create what is probably not a pleasant noise.
Any kind of mental distress will cause the jaw to stiffen and will have an immediate effect upon the voice. This is one of the reasons why a singer must learn to control her emotions and must not subject herself to any harrowing experiences, even such as watching a sensational spectacle, before she is going to sing. Fear, worry, fright—stage as well as other kinds—set the jaw. So does too great a determination to succeed. A singer’s mind must control all of her feelings if it is going to control her voice. She must be able even to surmount a feeling of illness or stage fright and to control her vocal apparatus, as well as her breath, no matter what happens.
The singer should feel as if her jaw were detached and falling away from her face. As one great singer expresses it: “You should have the jaw of an imbecile when emitting a tone. In fact, you shouldn’t know that you have one.” Let us take the following passage from “The Marriage of Figaro,” by Mozart:
This would make an excellent exercise for the jaw. Sing only the vowels, dropping the jaw as each one is attacked—”o, eh, ah.” The o, of course, is pronounced like the English o and the i in voi like e. The e in che is pronounced like the English a. Sapete is pronounced sahpata. You now have the vowels, o, ee, a, ah, a. Open the throat wide, drop the jaw and pronounce the tones on a note in the easiest part of your voice.
Do not attack a note at the same time that you are inhaling. That is too soon. Take the breath through the nose, of course, and give it an instant to settle before attacking the sound. In this way you will avoid the stroke of the glottis which is caused by the sudden and uncontrolled emission of the accumulated breath. In attacking a note the breath must be directed to the focusing point on the palate which lies just at the critical spot, different for every tone. In attacking a note, however, there must be no pressure on this place, because if there is the overtones will be unable to soar and sound with the tone.
From the moment the note is attacked the breath must flow out with it. It is a good idea to feel at first as if one were puffing out the breath. This is particularly good for the high notes on which a special stress must be laid always to attack with the breath and not to press or push with the throat. As long as the tone lasts the gentle but uninterrupted outpouring of the breath must continue behind it. This breath pressure insures the strength and, while holding the note to the focusing point on the palate, insures its pitch. In a general way it can be said that the medium tones of the voice have their focusing point in the middle part of the palate, the lower tones coming nearer to the teeth to be centralized and the high notes giving the sensation of finding their focusing point in the high arch at the back of the mouth and going out, as it were, through the crown of the head.
The resonance in the head cavities is soon perceived by those who are beginning to sing. Sometimes in producing their first high notes young people become nervous and irritated when singing high tones at the curious buzzing in the head and ears. After a short time, however, this sensation is no longer an irritation, and the singer can gauge in a way where his tones are placed by getting a mental idea of where the resonance to each particular tone should be.
High notes with plenty of head vibration can only be obtained when the head is clear and the nasal cavities unobstructed by mucous membrane or by any of the depression which comes from physical or mental cause. The best way to lose such depression is to practice. Practicing the long scale, being careful to use the different registers, as described later, will almost invariably even out the voice and clear out the head if continued long enough, and will enable the singer to overcome nervous or mental depression as well.
The different sensations in producing the tone vary according to the comparative height and depth. Beginning from the medium tones, the singer will feel as if each tone of the descending scale were being sung farther outside of the mouth, the vibration hitting the upper teeth as it goes out, whereas with the ascending scale the vibrations pass through the nasal cavities, through the cavity in the forehead and up back into the head, until one feels as if the tone were being formed high over the head at the back.
I want to say right here that whenever a young singer feels uncomfortable when singing he or she is singing incorrectly.
In attacking the note on the breath, particularly in the high notes, it is quite possible that at first the voice will not respond. For a long time merely an emission or breath or perhaps a little squeak on the high note is all that can be hoped for. If, however, this is continued, eventually the head voice will be joined to the breath, and a faint note will find utterance which with practice will develop until it becomes an easy and brilliant tone.
The reason that the tone has not been able to come forth is because the vocal apparatus cannot adjust itself to the needs of the vocal chords or because they themselves have not accustomed themselves to respond to the will of the singer and are too stiff to perform their duty.
The scale is the greatest test of voice production. No opera singer, no concert singer, who cannot sing a perfect scale can be said to be a technician or to have achieved results in her art. Whether the voice be soprano, mezzo or contralto, each note should be perfect of its kind, and the note of each register should partake sufficiently of the quality of the next register above or below it in order not to make the transition noticeable when the voice ascends or descends the scale. This blending of the registers is obtained by the intelligence of the singer in mixing the different tone qualities of the registers, using as aids the various formations of the lips, mouth and throat and the ever present apoggio without which no perfect scale can be sung.
In studying a new rôle I am in the habit of practicing in front of a mirror in order to get an idea of the effect of a facial expression and to see that it does not take away from the correct position of the mouth.
The young singer should practice constantly in front of a mirror as soon as she begins to sing songs or to express emotions in her music, for the girl with the expressive face is likely to contort her mouth so that the correct emission of tones is impossible.
The dramatic artist depends largely for her expression on the changing lines of the mouth, chin and jaw, and in any lines spoken which denote command or will you will see the actor’s jaw setting and becoming rigid with the rest of the facial mask.
Now, a singer can never allow the facial expression to alter the position of the jaw or mouth. Facial expression for the singer must concern itself chiefly with the eyes and forehead.
The mouth must remain the same, and the jaw must ever be relaxed, whether the song is one of deep intensity or a merry scale of laughter.
The mouth in singing should always smile lightly. This slight smile at once relaxes the lips, allowing them free play for the words which they and the tongue must form and also gives the singer a slight sensation of uplift necessary for singing.
It is impossible to sing well when mentally depressed or even physically indisposed slightly. Unless one has complete control over the entire vocal apparatus and unless one can simulate a smile one does not feel the voice will lack some of its resonant quality, particularly in the upper notes, where the smiling position of the mouth adjusts the throat and air passages for the emission of light tones.
The lips are of the greatest aid in shaping and shading the tones. Wagnerian singers, for instance, who employ trumpet-like notes in certain passages are often seen shaping their lips like the mouthpiece of a trumpet, with a somewhat square opening, the lips protruding.
However, this can be practiced only after perfect relaxation of the jaw and control of the tongue have been accomplished.
A singer’s mouth must always look pleasant, not only because it creates a disagreeable impression on the audience to see a crooked and contorted mouth, but also because natural and correct voice production requires a mouth shaped almost into a smile.
Too wide a smile often accompanies what is called “the white voice.” This is a voice production where a head resonance alone is employed, without sufficient of the apoggio or enough of the mouth resonance to give the tone a vital quality. This “white voice” should be thoroughly understood and is one of the many shades of tone a singer can use at times, just as the impressionist uses various unusual colors to produce certain atmospheric effects.
For instance, in the mad scene in “Lucia” the use of the “white voice” suggests the babbling of the mad woman, as the same voice in the last act of “Traviata” or in the last act of “Bohème” suggests utter physical exhaustion and the approach of death.
An entire voice production on these colorless lines, however, would always lack the brilliancy and the vitality which inspire enthusiasm.
One of the compensations of the “white voice” singer is the fact that she usually possesses a perfect diction. The voice itself is thrust into the head cavities and not allowed to vibrate in the face and mouth and gives ample room for the formation of vowels and consonants. And the singer with this voice production usually concentrates her entire attention on diction.
The cure for this tone emission is, first of all, the cultivation of the breath prop, then attacking the vowel sound o o in the medium voice, which requires a low position of the larynx, and exercises on the ascending scale until the higher notes have been brought down, as it were, and gain some of the body and support of the lower notes without losing their quality.
The singer’s expression must concern itself chiefly with the play of emotion around the eyes, eyebrows and forehead. You have no idea how much expression you can get out of your eyebrows, for instance, until you study the question and learn by experiment that a complete emotional scale can be symbolized outwardly in the movements of the eyelids and eyebrows.
A very drooping eyebrow is expressive of fatigue, either physical or mental. This lowered eyelid is the aspect we see about us most of the time, particularly on people past their first youth. As it shows a lack of interest, it is not a favorite expression of actors and is only employed where the rôle makes it necessary.
Increasing anxiety is depicted by slanting the eyebrows obliquely in a downward line toward the nose.
Concentrated attention draws the eyebrows together over the bridge of the nose, while furtiveness widens the space again without elevating the eyebrows.
In the eyebrows alone you can depict mockery, every stage of anxiety or pain, astonishment, ecstasy, terror, suffering, fury and admiration, besides all the subtle tones between.
In singing rôles of songs it is necessary to practice before the mirror in order to see that this facial expression is present and that it is not exaggerated; that the face is not contorted by lines of suffering or by the lines of mirth.
Another thing the young singer must not forget in making her initial bow before the public is the question of dress. When singing on the platform or stage, dress as well as you can. Whenever you face the public have at least the assurance you are looking your very best; that your gowns hang well, are well fitted and are of a becoming color.
It is not necessary that they should be gorgeous or expensive, but let them always be suitable, and for big cities let them be just as sumptuous as you can afford. At morning concerts in New York, velvets and hand-painted chiffons are considered good form, while in the afternoon handsome silk or satin frocks of a very light color are worn with hats.
A very large hat, for instance, with a wide brim that comes down over the face, acts as a sort of blanket to the voice, eating up the sound and detracting from the beauty of tone, which should go forth into the audience. It is also likely to shade the singer’s features too much and hide her from view from those sitting in the balconies or galleries. As a rule, the singer’s hat should be small or with a flaring brim, which does not detract from the tone.
Another word on the subject of corsets. There is no reason in the world why a singer should not wear corsets, and if singers have a tendency to grow stout a corset is usually a necessity. A singer’s corset should be especially well fitted around the hips and should be extremely loose over the diaphragm.
If made in this way it will not interfere in the slightest degree with the breath.
Now as to diet and the general mode of life. Every singer must take care of her health. But that does not necessarily mean that she must wrap herself in cotton batting and lead a sequestered existence. I don’t believe that any person who wants to make a public career can accomplish it and also indulge in social dissipations. Society must be cut out of the life of the would-be singer, for the demands made by it on time and vitality can only be given at a sacrifice to one’s art.
The care of the health is an individual matter, and what agrees well with me would cause others to sicken. I eat the simplest food always, and naturally, being an Italian, I prefer the food of my native land. But simple French or German cookery agrees with me quite as well. And I allow the tempting pastry, the rich and overspiced pâté, to pass me by untouched and console myself with quantities of fruit and fresh vegetables.
Personally I never wear a collar and have hardened my throat to a considerable extent by wearing slightly cutout gowns always in the house, and even when I wear furs I do not have them closely drawn around the neck. I try to keep myself at an even bodily temperature, and fresh air has been my most potent remedy at all times when I have been indisposed.
There is nothing so beneficial to the young artist as the kindly and just criticism of a person who knows and nothing so stimulating as his praise.
Among my most priceless possessions I treasure the words of encouragement given me by Patti and Sembrich, those wonderful artists, when I was beginning my career.
Mme. Patti is a splendid example of the many sidedness necessary to artistic perfection. Her wonderful voice was always supplemented by complete knowledge of the art of singing, and her mastery of languages and of different fields of art made her not only a great artist, but a most interesting woman.
To hear an artist of this kind is one of the most profitable parts of a musical education.
But there are two ways of listening to a singer. There is the appreciative way, and there is the entirely critical. The beginner usually tries to show her knowledge by her intensely critical attitude.
The older you become in your art the more readily you will be able to appreciate and learn from the singers you hear on the opera or concert stage.
The greatest and the humblest singer can teach you something. But to learn you must be in a receptive attitude.
The public has no real conception of what an amount of intelligent work besides talent and art is necessary to achieve the results which it sees or hears. Only those whose lives are devoted to the same ideals can understand the struggles of other artists, and it is for that reason that appreciation and not condemnation should be on the tongues of those who themselves have studied.
The artist may demand the greatest things of herself, and what may be good enough for others is not good enough for her. As the poet says, “Art is long,” though life may be short, and singing is one of the most fleeting of all arts, since once the note is uttered it leaves only a memory in the hearer’s mind and since so many beautiful voices, for one reason or other, go to pieces long before their time.
In performing before the public one should be governed by the tastes of the public, not by one’s own tastes. Just as the comedian usually wishes to play Hamlet and the man of tragic mien thinks he could be a comedy star, the singer who could make a fortune at interpreting chansonnettes usually wishes to sing operatic rôles, and the singer with a deep and heavy voice is longing to inflict baby songs on a long suffering public.
It is easy enough to find out what the public wishes to hear, and, though one should always be enlarging one’s repertory, it is not a bad idea to stick to that field for which one is particularly fitted vocally and physically.
In studying a rôle after one has mastered the technical difficulties one should try to steep one’s personality into that of the character one is to portray, and for that reason all study, no matter what it is, and reading of all kinds help one in developing a part.
The great Italian tragedienne, Duse, told me that one of her greatest pleasures was to wander about the streets incognito watching the types of people, following them round, observing them in their daily lives and remembering all the small details of action, gesture or expression which she could some day embody into a rôle.
The more one sees and studies people with sympathy, the more points one gets for the study of life which is embodied in the art one gives forth. But it is sympathy with one’s fellow beings and kindly observation which help one here, never the critical attitude.
An artist can only afford to be coldly critical toward his own work and not toward the work of others.
Recently a young woman who started her vocal career as a contralto has sung the most difficult of Wagnerian soprano parts. Her high notes, it is true, were not the high notes of a natural soprano voice, but the care and perfection with which each high note was attacked were worthy of closest attention and admiration and defied criticism.
Hearing the smaller singers, the beginners who are still struggling with their art, should awaken in the heart of the intelligent listener not contemptuous criticism, but should be one means of realizing one’s own vocal defects and the possible ways of overcoming them.
There are bad singing teachers, of course, but often the pupils are worse and will not listen to advice. The large and shrieking voice usually belongs to this type of pupil, for it is easier to force the voice when the temperament is robust and the vocal cords equally strong than it is to learn gently and quietly the correct and natural position in voice placement, and it is easier to make a noise as best you can than to use intelligently the different resonance cavities for the blending of the perfect tone.
Another fault severely criticised in the youthful singer is a lack of correct pronunciation or diction. It is only after the voice is perfectly controlled that the lips and tongue can function freely for the pronunciation of syllables.
While the voice is in what might be called a state of ferment the singer is only anxious to produce tones, and diction slips by the wayside. The appreciative listener should be able to know whether a lack of diction on the singer’s part means immaturity or simply slovenliness.
Still another fault in voice production is the tremolo. It is the over-ambitious singer, the singer who forces a small, light organ to do heavy work, who develops the tremolo.
The tremolo is a sure sign that the vocal chords have been stretched beyond their natural limits, and there is only one thing can cure this. That is absolute rest for some time and then beginning the study of the voice, first singing with the mouth closed and relying entirely on very gentle breath pressure for the production of the sound.
The pupil suffering from tremolo or even very strong vibrato must have courage to stop at once and to forego having a big voice. After all, the most beautiful voices in the world are not necessarily the biggest voices, and certainly the tremolo is about the worst fault a singer can have. But that, like almost any other vocal defect, can be cured by persistent effort of the right kind.
In singing in public as well as when practicing the singer must stand so that the body will be perfectly and firmly poised. One should always stand in such a position as to be able to inhale comfortably and control a large breath, to allow the throat absolute freedom, with the head sufficiently raised to let the inflowing air penetrate all the resonance cavities.
The great thing to avoid is stiffness or discomfort of any kind in the pose. At the same time one must have a gracious air, and while feeling perfectly solidly poised on the feet, must make the impression of a certain lightness and freedom from all bodily restraint.
I have not meant in these short articles to give you anything but a very general idea of the salient points of the art of singing. After all, each one must do the real work herself.
The road is full of discouragements and hardships, but there is always something new and interesting to learn, and to achieve success, whether for the public or merely for the home circle, is worth all the trouble one can take. And so I wish you all success.
By Enrico Caruso
How a Neapolitan Mechanic’s Son Became the World’s Greatest Tenor
Enrico Caruso enjoys the reputation of being the greatest tenor since Italo Campanini. The latter was the legitimate successor of Brignoli, an artist whose wonderful singing made his uncouth stage presence a matter of little moment. Caruso’s voice at its best recalls Brignoli to the veteran opera habitué. It possesses something of the dead tenor’s sweetness and clarity in the upper register, but it lacks the delicacy and artistic finish of Campanini’s supreme effort, although it is vastly more magnetic and thrill inspiring.
That Caruso is regarded as the foremost living tenor is made good by the fact that he is the highest priced male artist in the world. Whenever and wherever he sings multitudes flock to hear him, and no one goes away unsatisfied. He is constantly the recipient of ovations which demonstrate the power of his minstrelsy, and his lack of especial physical attractiveness is no bar to the witchery of his voice.
Caruso is a Neapolitan and is now thirty-five years of age. Unlike so many great Italian tenors, he is not of peasant parentage. His father was a skilled mechanic who had been put in charge of the warehouses of a large banking and importing concern. As a lad Enrico used to frequent the docks in the vicinity of these warehouses and became an expert swimmer at a very early age. In those halcyon days his burning ambition was to be a sailor, and he had a profound distaste for his father’s plan to have him learn a trade.
At the age of ten he was still a care free and fun loving boy, without a thought beyond the docks and their life. It was then that his father ruled that since he would not become a mechanic he must be sent to school. He had already learned to read a little, but that was all. He was sent to a day school in the neighborhood, and he accepted the restraint with such bad grace that he was in almost constant disgrace. His long association with the water front had made him familiar with the art of physical defense, and he was in frequent trouble on that account.
The head master of the school was a musician, and he discovered one day that his unruly pupil could sing. He was an expert in the development of the boy soprano and he soon realized that in young Caruso he had a veritable treasure. He was shrewd enough to keep his discovery to himself for some time, for he determined to profit by the boy’s extraordinary ability. The lad was rehearsed privately and was stimulated to further effort by the promise of sweetmeats and release from school duties. Finally the unscrupulous master made engagements for the young prodigy to sing at fashionable weddings and concerts, but he always pocketed the money which came from these public appearances.
At the end of the second year, when Caruso was twelve years of age, he decided that he had had enough of the school, and he made himself so disagreeable to the head master that he was sent home in disgrace. His irate father gave him a sound thrashing and declared that he must be apprenticed to a mechanical engineer. The boy took little interest in his new work, but showed some aptitude for mechanical drawing and calligraphy. In a few months he became so interested in sketching that he began to indulge in visions of becoming a great artist.
When he was fifteen his mother died, and, since he had kept at the mechanical work solely on her account, he now announced his intention of forsaking engineering and devoting himself to art and music. When his father heard of this open rebellion he fell into a great rage and declared that he would have no more of him, that he was a disgrace to the family and that he need not show his face at home.
So Caruso became a wanderer, with nothing in his absolute possession save a physique that was perfect and an optimism that was never failing. He picked up a scanty livelihood by singing at church festivals and private entertainments and in time became known widely as the most capable boy soprano in Naples. Money came more plentifully, and he was able to live generously. In a short time his voice was transformed into a marvelous alto, and he soon found himself in great demand and was surfeited with attention from the rich and powerful. It was about this time that King Edward, then Prince of Wales, heard him sing in a Neapolitan church and was so delighted that he invited the boy to go to England, an invitation which young Caruso did not accept. Now that he had “arrived” Naples was good enough for him.
One day something happened which plunged him into the deepest despair. Without a warning of any sort his beautiful alto voice disappeared, leaving in its place only the feeblest and most unmusical of croaks. He was so overcome at his loss that he shut himself up in his room and would see no one. It was the first great affliction he had ever known, and he admits that he meditated suicide. He had made many friends, and some of them would have been glad to comfort him, but his grief would admit of no partnership.
One evening when he was skulking along an obscure highway, at the very bottom of the well of his despair, a firm hand was laid on his shoulder and a cheery voice called out: “Whither so fast? Come home with me, poor little shaver!”
It was Messiani, the famous baritone, who had always felt an interest in the boy and who would not release him in spite of his vigorous efforts to escape. The big baritone took him to his lodging and when he had succeeded in cheering the unhappy lad into a momentary forgetfulness of his misery asked him to sing.
“But I can’t,” sobbed Caruso. “It has gone!”
Messiani went to the piano and struck a chord. The weeping boy piped up in a tone so thin and feeble that it was almost indistinguishable.
“Louder!” yelled the big singer, with another full chord. Caruso obeyed and kept on through the scale. Then Messiani jumped up from the piano stool, seized the astonished boy about the waist and raised him high off his feet, at the same time yelling at the top of his voice: “What a little jackass! What a little idiot!”
Almost bursting with rage, for the miserable boy thought his friend was making sport of him, Caruso searched the apartment for some weapon with which he might avenge himself. Seizing a heavy brass candlestick, he hurled it at Messiani with all his force, but it missed the baritone and landed in a mirror.
“Hold, madman!” interposed the startled singer. “Your voice is not gone. It is magnificent. You will be the tenor of the century.”
Messiani sent him to Vergine, then the most celebrated trainer of the voice in Italy. The maestro was not so enthusiastic as Messiani, but he promised to do what he could. He offered to instruct Caruso four years, only demanding 25 per cent. of his pupil’s receipts for his first five years in opera. Caruso signed such a contract willingly, although he realized afterward that he was the victim of a veritable Shylock.
When Vergine was through with the young tenor he dismissed him without lavish commendation, but with a reminder of the terms of his contract. Caruso obtained an engagement in Naples, but did not achieve marked success at once. On every payday Vergine was on hand to receive his percentage. His regularity finally attracted the attention of the manager, and he made inquiry of Caruso. The young tenor showed him his copy of the contract and was horrified to be told that he had bound himself to his Shylock for a lifetime; that the contract read that he was to give Vergine five years of actual singing. Caruso would have reached the age of fifty before the last payment came. The matter was finally adjusted by the courts, and the unscrupulous teacher lost 200,000 lire by the judgment.
In Italy every man must serve his time in the army, and Caruso was checked in his operatic career by the call to go into barracks. Not long, however, was he compelled to undergo the tedium of army life. In consideration of his art he was permitted to offer his brother as a substitute after two months, and he returned to the opera. He was engaged immediately for a season at Caserta, and from that time his rise has been steady and unimpeded. After singing in one Italian city after another he went to Egypt and thence to Paris, where he made a favorable impression. A season in Berlin followed, but the Wagner influence was dominant, and he did not succeed in restoring the supremacy of Italian opera. The next season was spent in South America, and in the new world Caruso made his first triumph. From Rio he went to London, and on his first appearance he captured his Covent Garden audience. When he made his first appearance in the United States he was already at the top of the operatic ladder, and, although many attempts to dislodge him have been made, he stands still on the topmost rung.
Of the thousands of people who visit the opera during the season few outside of the small proportion of the initiated realize how much the performance of the singer whom they see and hear on the stage is dependent on previous rehearsal, constant practice and watchfulness over the physical conditions that preserve that most precious of our assets, the voice.
Nor does this same great public in general know of what the singer often suffers in the way of nervousness or stage fright before appearing in front of the footlights, nor that his life, outwardly so fêted and brilliant, is in private more or less of a retired, ascetic one and that his social pleasures must be strictly limited.
These conditions, of course, vary greatly with the individual singer, but I will try to tell in the following articles, as exemplified in my own case, what a great responsibility a voice is when one considers that it is the great God-given treasure which brings us our fame and fortune.
I am perhaps more favored than many in the fact that my voice was always “there,” and that, with proper cultivation, of course, I have not had to overstrain it in the attempt to reach vocal heights which have come to some only after severe and long-continued effort. But, on the other hand, the finer the natural voice the more sedulous the care required to preserve it in its pristine freshness to bloom. This is the singer’s ever present problem—in my case, however, mostly a matter of common sense living.
As regards eating—a rather important item, by the way—I have kept to the light “continental” breakfast, which I do not take too early; then a rather substantial luncheon toward two o’clock. My native macaroni, specially prepared by my chef, who is engaged particularly for his ability in this way, is often a feature in this midday meal. I incline toward the simpler and more nourishing food, though my tastes are broad in the matter, but lay particular stress on the excellence of the cooking, for one cannot afford to risk one’s health on indifferently cooked food, no matter what its quality.
On the nights when I sing I take nothing after luncheon, except perhaps a sandwich and a glass of Chianti, until after the performance, when I have a supper of whatever I fancy within reasonable bounds. Being blessed with a good digestion, I have not been obliged to take the extraordinary precautions about what I eat that some singers do. Still, I am careful never to indulge to excess in the pleasures of the table, for the condition of our alimentary apparatus and that of the vocal chords are very closely related, and the unhealthy state of the one immediately reacts on the other.
My reason for abstaining from food for so long before singing may be inquired. It is simply that when the large space required by the diaphragm in expanding to take in breath is partly occupied by one’s dinner the result is that one cannot take as deep a breath as one would like and consequently the tone suffers and the all-important ease of breathing is interfered with. In addition a certain amount of bodily energy is used in the process of digestion which would otherwise be entirely given to the production of the voice.
These facts, seemingly so simple, are very vital ones to a singer, particularly on an “opening night.” A singer’s life is such an active one, with rehearsals and performances, that not much opportunity is given for “exercise,” and the time given to this must, of course, be governed by individual needs. I find a few simple physical exercises in the morning after rising, somewhat similar to those practiced in the army, or the use for a few minutes of a pair of light dumbbells, very beneficial. Otherwise I must content myself with an occasional automobile ride. One must not forget, however, that the exercise of singing, with its constant deep inhalation (and acting in itself is considerable exercise also), tends much to keep one from acquiring an over-supply of embonpoint.
A proper moderation in eating, however, as I have already said, will contribute as much to the maintenance of correct proportion in one’s figure as any amount of voluntary exercise which one only goes through with on principle.
As so many of you in a number of States of this great country are feeling and expressing as well as voting opinions on the subject of whether one should or should not drink intoxicants, you may inquire what practice is most in consonance with a singer’s well being, in my opinion. Here, again, of course, customs vary with the individual. In Italy we habitually drink the light wines of the country with our meals and surely are never the worse for it. I have retained my fondness for my native Chianti, which I have even made on my own Italian estate, but believe and carry out the belief that moderation is the only possible course. I am inclined to condemn the use of spirits, whisky in particular, which is so prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon countries, for it is sure to inflame the delicate little ribbons of tissue which produce the singing tone and then—addio to a clear and ringing high C!
Though I indulge occasionally in a cigarette, I advise all singers, particularly young singers, against this practice, which can certainly not fail to have a bad effect on the delicate lining of the throat, the vocal chords and the lungs.
You will see by all the foregoing that even the gift of a good breath is not to be abused or treated lightly, and that the “goose with the golden egg” must be most carefully nurtured.
Outside of this, however, one of the great temptations that beset any singer of considerable fame is the many social demands that crowd upon him, usually unsought and largely undesired. Many of the invitations to receptions, teas and dinners are from comparative strangers and cannot be considered, but of those from one’s friends which it would be a pleasure to attend very few indeed can be accepted, for the singer’s first care, even if a selfish one, must be for his health and consequently his voice, and the attraction of social intercourse must, alas, be largely foregone.
The continual effort of loud talking in a throng would be extremely bad for the sensitive musical instrument that the vocalist carries in his throat, and the various beverages offered at one of your afternoon teas it would be too difficult to refuse. So I confine myself to an occasional quiet dinner with a few friends on an off night at the opera or any evening at the play, where I can at least be silent during the progress of the acts.
In common with most of the foreign singers who come to America, I have suffered somewhat from the effects of your barbarous climate, with its sudden changes of temperature, but perhaps have become more accustomed to it in the years of my operatic work here. What has affected me most, however, is the overheating of the houses and hotels with that dry steam heat which is so trying to the throat. Even when I took a house for the season I had difficulty in keeping the air moist. Now, however, in the very modern and excellent hotel where I am quartered they have a new system of ventilation by which the air is automatically rendered pure and the heat controlled—a great blessing to the over-sensitive vocalist.
After reading the above the casual person will perhaps believe that a singer’s life is really not a bit of a sinecure, even when he has attained the measure of this world’s approval and applause afforded by the “great horseshoe.”
The question, “How is it done?” as applied to the art of singing brings up so many different points that it is difficult to know where to begin or how to give the layman in any kind of limited space a concise idea of the principles controlling the production of the voice and their application to vocal art.
Every singer or singing master is popularly supposed to have a method by following out which he has come to fame. Yet if asked to describe this method many an artist would be at a loss to do so, or else deny that he had any specific method at all, such a subtle and peculiarly individual matter it is that constitutes the technical part of singing. Most singers—in fact, all of them—do many things in singing habitually, yet so inconspicuously that they could not describe how or why they did them. Yet this little set of “artistic” habits all arise from most logical causes and have become habits from their fitness to the personality of their owner and their special value in enabling that singer to do his best work by their aid. For instance, a singer will know from trials and experience just the proper position of the tongue and larynx to produce most effectively a certain note on the scale, yet he will have come by this knowledge not by theory and reasoning, but simply oft repeated attempts, and the knowledge he has come by will be valuable to him only, for somebody else would produce the same note equally well, but in quite a different way.
So one may see that there are actually as many methods as there are singers, and any particular method, even if accurately set forth, might be useless to the person who tried it. This is what I really would reply to anyone putting this question to me—that my own particular way of singing, if I have any, is, after all, peculiarly suited to me only, as I have above described.
However, there are many interesting and valuable things to be said about the voice in a general way.
Speaking first of the classification of voices, many young singers are put much in doubt and dilemma because they are unable to determine what sort of voice they really possess, whether soprano, mezzo or contralto. Of course, it is easy enough to distinguish between the extremes of these, between a “real” tenor and a low bass, but the difference between a high baritone and tenor is rather more difficult to discern, and a young man studying has often been at great disadvantage by imagining, for instance, that he had a tenor voice and trying constantly to sing music too high for him, since he in reality had only a high baritone.
In the course of development a voice very often increases its range and changes its quality sufficiently to pass from a baritone to a tenor, and it is sometimes a problem to place it during the transition process. Perhaps the surest way to determine the real character of a voice is to see on what notes words can be most easily pronounced. For the average tenor the notes up to A above middle C, for the baritone, D above middle C, and for the bass up to middle C itself, can be pronounced on the best.
One should never try to change the tessitura, or natural character of the voice. A voice will become higher just when it should by the development due to rational work and never by forcing it. Nothing is easier than to force a voice upward or downward, but to cause it to “recede,” as it were, in either direction, is another matter. A baritone who tries to increase his upper range by main strength will surely in time lose his best lower notes, and a light tenor who attempts to force out notes lower than his range will never be able to sing legitimate tenor rôles, and after two or three years may not be able to sing at all.
It may be well to speak now of a very important point in singing—what is called the “attack” of the tone. In general this may be described as the relative position of the throat and tongue and the quality of voice as the tone is begun. The most serious fault of many singers is that they attack the tone either from the chest or the throat. Even with robust health the finest voice cannot resist this. This is the reason one sees so many artists who have made a brilliant debut disappear from sight very soon or wind up later on a mediocre career. Singers who use their voices properly should be at the height of their talents at forty-five and keep their voices in full strength and virility up to at least fifty. At this latter age, or close after it, it would seem well to have earned the right to close one’s career.
A great artist ought to have the dignity to say farewell to his public when still in full possession of his powers and never let the world apprise him of his falling off.
To have the attack true and pure one must consciously try to open the throat not only in front, but from behind, for the throat is the door through which the voice must pass, and if it is not sufficiently open it is useless to attempt to get out a full, round one; also the throat is the outlet and inlet for the breath, and if it is closed the voice will seek other channels or return quenched within.
It must not be imagined that to open the mouth wide will do the same for the throat. If one is well versed in the art, one can open the throat perfectly without a perceptible opening of the mouth, merely by the power of respiration.
It is necessary to open the sides of the mouth, at the same time dropping the chin well, to obtain good throat opening. In taking higher notes, of course, one must open the mouth a little wider, but for the most part the position of the mouth is that assumed when smiling. It is a good idea to practice opening the throat before a mirror and try to see the palate, as when you show your throat to a doctor.
In pronouncing the sound “ah” one must always attack it in the back part of the throat, taking care, however, before uttering the syllable, to have the throat well open; otherwise what is called “stroke of the glottis” occurs and the tone formed is hard and disagreeable. If you ever hear this stroke of glottis on the attack, you may know that the singer did not attack far enough back in the throat.
The tone once launched, one must think how it may be properly sustained, and this is where the art of breathing is most concerned. The lungs, in the first place, should be thoroughly filled. A tone begun with only half filled lungs loses half its authority and is very apt to be false in pitch. To take a full breath properly, the chest must be raised at the same moment the abdomen sinks in. Then with the gradual expulsion of the breath a contrary movement takes place. The diaphragm and elastic tissue surrounding and containing the stomach and vital organs and the muscles surrounding, by practice acquire great strength and assist considerably in this process of respiration and are vital factors in the matter of controlling the supply which supports the tone. The diaphragm is really like a pair of bellows and serves exactly the same purpose. It is this ability to take in an adequate supply of breath and to retain it until required that makes or, by contrary, mars all singing. A singer with a perfect sense of pitch and all the good intentions possible will often sing off the key and bring forth a tone with no vitality to it, distressing to hear, simply for lack of breath control.
This art of respiration once acquired, the student has gone a considerable step on the road to Parnassus.
To practice deep breathing effectively it is an excellent plan to breathe through the nose, which aids in keeping the confined breath from escaping too soon. The nose also warms and filters the air, making it much more agreeable to the lungs than if taken directly through the mouth. In the practice of slow breathing make sure that the lungs are as nearly emptied as possible on the expulsion of the breath before beginning a new inspiration, as this gives extra impetus to the fresh supply of air and strengthens all the breathing muscles.
If this is not done, moreover, the effect is like two people trying to get in and out of the same narrow door at the same time.
The voice is naturally divided into three registers—the chest, medium and head. In a man’s voice of lower quality this last is known as “falsetto,” but in the case of a tenor he may use a tone which in sound is almost falsetto, but is really a mezza voce, or half voice. This latter legitimately belongs to a man’s compass; a falsetto does not. The most important register is the medium, particularly of tenors, for this includes the greater part of the tenor’s voice and can be utilized even to the top of his range if rightly produced.
In the matter of taking high notes one should remember that their purity and ease of production depend very much on the way the preceding notes leading up to them are sung. Beginning in the lower register and attacking the ascending notes well back, a balance must be maintained all the way up, so that the highest note receives the benefit and support of the original position of the throat, and there is no danger, consequently, of the throat closing and pinching the quality of the top notes.
Singers, especially tenors, are very apt to throw the head forward in producing the high notes, and consequently get that throaty, strained voice which is so disagreeable. To avoid this one should try to keep the supply of breath down as far toward the abdomen as possible, thus maintaining the upper passages to the head quite free for the emission of the voice. Remember also to sing within yourself, as it were—to feel the tones all through your being; otherwise your singing will possess no sentiment, emotion or authority. It is the failure to accomplish this which has produced so many soulless artists—singers endowed with magnificent voices, capable of surmounting every technical difficulty, but devoid of that charm of intonation which is so vital to success on the operatic stage.
I have previously mentioned mezza voce and will now say a word on this subject, for the artistic use of the “half voice” is a very valuable adjunct in all singing. It may be defined simply as the natural voice produced softly, but with an extra strength of breath. It is this breathy quality, however—which one must be careful never to exaggerate or the tone will not carry—that gives that velvety effect to the tone that is so delightful.
Mezza voce is just a concentration of the full voice, and it requires, after all, as much breath support. A soft note which is taken with the “head voice” without being supported by a breath taken from the diaphragm is a helpless sort of thing. It does not carry and is inaudible at any distance, whereas the soft note which does possess the deep breath support is penetrating, concentrated and most expressive.
Another important point is that, with a “piano” note properly taken in the register which is proper to it, there is no danger of having to change the position of the throat and consequently the real character of the note when making a crescendo and again diminishing it. It will be the same note continuing to sound.
On the other hand, with a soft note taken in a register foreign to it, as soon as its strength is augmented the register must suddenly be changed and the result is like a Tyrolean yodel.
So remember in a mezza voce to see that the register is right and to use a double breath strength. I speak of the matter of register here for the benefit of those who must keep this constantly in mind. I myself have been blessed with what is called a naturally placed voice, and never had trouble with the mezza voce. The majority of Italian singers come to it easily.
There are a number of wrong sorts of voices which should be mentioned to be shunned—the “white” voice, the “throaty” voice, the “nasal” voice, and the “bleat.” The nasal quality is the most difficult to correct. Many teachers, especially the French, make a point of placing the voice in the nasal cavity on the pretext of strengthening it, and this nasal quality, partly on account of the sound of many of the French words, is only too prevalent. The voice, however, can only be strengthened by legitimate means; otherwise it can easily be ruined. One can breathe through the nose, but never attack or sing through it.
The “white voice” (voce bianca) is a head voice without deep support and consequently without color; hence its appellation. One can learn to avoid it by practicing with the mouth closed and by taking care to breathe through the nose, which forces the respiration to descend to the abdomen.
The “throaty” voice comes from singing with the throat insufficiently opened, so that the breath does not pass easily through the nose and head cavities and, again, from not attacking the tone deeply enough.
To cure oneself of this throaty quality attack your notes from the abdomen, the mouth well open, standing in front of a mirror. The force of the respiration will keep the tongue depressed and the throat will remain free.
As for the fault of nasality, it is, as I have said, the most difficult to get rid of. Sometimes one never does lose it. The only remedy is what I have previously indicated—to attack from the abdomen, with the throat open, and carry the voice over the soft palate, for if the voice is placed in the nose it indicates that one is singing too far forward, which is against the rules of song. If the student has a tendency to sing in this way it is well to practice in vowel sounds only (ah-eh-ee-la-lay-lee, etc.) in order to be cured of this serious fault.
After all, however, those who have practiced the art of right breathing need have none of the defects mentioned above.
The “bleat” or goat voice, a particular fault of French singers, proceeds from the habit of forcing the voice, which, when it is of small volume, cannot stand the consequent fatigue of the larynx. Many singers with voices suitable only for light opera are constantly trying to branch out into big dramatic arias. Such performances are assuredly distressing to hear and are certainly disastrous for the voices concerned. It is no wonder that these people are often ill, for one cannot make such efforts without injuring the health. I realize that they often do it to please their directors and to be obliging in an emergency, but when they are down and out others will easily replace them and they are heard from no more.
To keep the voice fresh for the longest possible time one should not only never overstep his vocal “means,” but should limit his output as he does the expenses of his purse.
There is only one way to cure a bleaty voice, and that is to cultivate an absolute rest; then, on taking up singing again, to use the “closed mouth” method until the time the strength of respiration shall be such that one can open his mouth and let the restored voice take its course.
A few words on practicing with closed mouth may here be appropriate. This method of study is really all that is necessary to place certain voices, but is bad for others. It all depends on the formation of the mouth and throat. For example, a singer troubled with the fault of closing the throat too much should never work with the mouth closed. When one can do it safely, however, it is a most excellent resource for preparatory exercises in respiration. Since, as I have already explained, breathing through the nose with closed mouth throws back the respiration to the abdomen, it is best to do the exercise seated in a comfortable, natural position.
Vocal work with closed mouth is also a powerful auxiliary to vocal agility. Many great artists perform their daily vocal exercises with the mouth shut, and I can personally testify to the excellency of this practice. It most certainly strengthens the breathing powers and at the same time rests the voice. But one should know how to do it properly. I know of many badly fatigued voices that have been restored to their normal condition in this way.
Singers, of all musicians, have the reputation of displaying the least regard for time. In operatic work, however, with an orchestra to follow or be followed, it is especially essential to observe a sane respect for the proper tempo. Otherwise one is liable to get into immediate trouble with the conductor. Of course I do not mean that one should sing in a mechanical way and give nothing of one’s own personality. This would naturally rob the music of all charm. There are many singers who cannot or will not count the time properly. There are those who sing without method, who do not fit their breathing, which is really the regulator of vocal performance, to the right periods, and who consequently are never in time. They make all kinds of rallentandos where they are not necessary, to gain time to recover the breath that they have not taken when they should. It is not enough to give the notes their full value. The rests, above all, should be carefully observed in order to have sufficient opportunity to get a good breath and prepare for the next phrase. It is this exactitude that gives certainty to one’s rendition and authority in singing—something many artists do not possess. A singer may make all the efforts he desires and still keep the time, and he must keep it.
Those who roar most loudly rarely sing in time. They give every thought to the volume of tone they are producing and do not bother themselves about anything else. The right accents in music depend very much on the exact time. Tone artists, while still making all their desired “effects” in apparent freedom of style and delivery, nevertheless do not ever lose sight of the time. Those who do are usually apt to be amateurs and are not to be imitated.
Good diction, or the art of pronouncing the words of a song or opera properly and intelligently, is a matter sadly neglected by many singers, and indeed is not considered important by a large proportion of the audiences in this country, who do not understand foreign language, at any rate. And in an opera sung in a language unknown to most of the audience it is apparently unimportant whether the words are understood or not as long as there is a general knowledge of the plot, and the main consideration is, of course, the music.
Yet for those who are conversant with the language in which the opera is written, how common an experience it is (in concert, also) to be able, in spite of their linguistic knowledge, to understand little of what is being sung, and what a drawback this really is! How many singers there are who seem to turn all their attention to the production of beautiful sounds and neglect in most cases the words that often are equally beautiful, or should be!
One hears a great deal just now about the advisability of giving operas in the native language, as it is done in France and Germany, and the idea would seem to have its advantages, as has already been demonstrated in some excellent performances of German, French and Italian operas in English. But of what avail would such a project be if, after all, one could not understand the words of his own language as they were sung?
The language might as well be Sanskrit or Chinese.
In France the matter of diction is probably given the greatest attention, and singers at the Opera Comique, for instance, are noted for their pure and distinct enunciation of every syllable. Indeed, it is as much of a sine qua non there as good singing, if not more so, and the numerous subtleties in the French language are difficult enough to justify this special stress laid upon correct pronunciation.
It requires a very particular ability in a foreigner to attain the atmosphere of perfect French to any very high degree. Italian is generally considered an easier language to pronounce in song, as indeed it is, all the vowel sounds being full and sonorous and lacking that “covered” or mixed quality so often occurring in the French. Nevertheless, Italian has its difficulties, particularly in the way of distinctly enunciating the double consonants and proper division of the liaisons, or combining of final vowels with initial vowels, and the correct amount of softness to be given to the letter C.
All this, of course, is from the standpoint of those to whom these languages are foreign.
Certainly no singer can be called a great artist unless his diction is good, for a beautiful voice alone will not make up for other deficiencies. A singer endowed with a small voice or even one of not very pleasing quality can give more pleasure than a singer possessing a big, impressive voice, but no diction.
Some people claim that a pronunciation too distinct or too much insisted upon spoils the real voice quality, but this should not be the case if the words are correctly and naturally brought out. Doubtless, this impression has come from the fact that, particularly in France, many singers possessed of small voices must exaggerate their diction to obtain their effects. But if they did not have this perfect diction they often would have little else to recommend them. I would aver that a fine enunciation, far from interfering with it, aids the voice production, makes it softer and more concentrated, but diction should act rather as a frame for the voice and never replace it.
Each of the three languages, French, German and Italian, has its peculiar characteristics, which are of aid to the student in the general study of pronunciation, and it is well to have a knowledge of them all outside of the fact that an artist nowadays needs to have this knowledge in order not only to rank with the greatest, but to cope with the demands of an operatic career.
The Italian language in its very essence is rich in vowels and vowel combinations, from which comes principally the color in tones, and it has consequently been called the “language of song.” Italians thus have naturally what it is so much trouble for singers of other nations to acquire—the numerous variations of vowel sounds.
French has the nasal sounds as its dominating characteristic and is very valuable in the cultivation of “nasal resonance.”
As I said before, it is so easy to exaggerate and the voice is so apt to get too much “in the nose” that one has to be extremely careful in the use of the French “n” and “ng.”
German is so full of consonants that one needs to have exceptional control of the tongue and lips to give their proper value.
English possesses the features of all the other languages—of course, in less marked degree—resembling most, perhaps, the German. The “th” is the most difficult sound to make effective in singing.
I have already spoken of the various phases of nervousness which an artist feels before the performance, but I wish to say here a word in regard to the practical significance of such nervousness. Artists who do not experience it are those who lack real genius. There are really two kinds of fear—that arising from a realization of the importance of what is to be done, the other from a lack of confidence in one’s power. If a singer has no conscience in his performance he is never nervous, but full of assurance.
It is seldom that true artists are much troubled with nervousness after going upon the stage. Generally, as I have before mentioned, they are apt to be ill during the day of the performance, but before the public they forget everything and are dominated only by the real love of their art and sustained by the knowledge of possessing a proper “method.”
It is certain with a good breath support even nervousness need not prevent one from singing well, although one may be actually suffering from trepidation. Yet we know that sometimes the greatest of artists are prevented thus from doing their best work. The principle, however, remains unshaken that singing in a correct way is the greatest possible “bracer.”
It is best to remain absolutely quiet and see no one on the day of the performance, so as not to be enervated by the effort of talking much, to say nothing of tiring the vocal chords. One prima donna of my acquaintance occupies herself in trimming hats on the day when she sings, believing that this provides a distraction and rests her nerves. It is just as well not to “pass through” the rôle that is to be sung on the day of the appearing, but in the morning a few technical exercises to keep the voice in tune, as it were, are to be recommended. The great Italian singers of other days followed this rule, and it still holds good.
If the singer gives much of himself as well as of his voice to the public he should still hold his breathing supply in, so to speak, as he would guard the capital from which comes his income. Failure should thus be impossible if there is always a reserve to draw on. So the more one sings with good breath support the more beautiful the voice becomes. On the other hand, those who sing haphazard sometimes begin the evening well, but deteriorate more and more as the performance advances and at the end are uttering mere raucous sounds. They are like a man unable to swim who is in a deep river—their voices control them in place of they controlling their voices. They struggle vainly against obstacles, but are carried away by the flood and are finally engulfed in the waters.
Many too ambitious students are their own worst enemies in the culture of their voices. Because they have a large vocal power they want to shout all the time in spite of the repeated admonitions of their masters, who beg them to sing piano. But they hear nothing except the noise they make themselves. Such headstrong ones will never make a career, even with the finest voices in the world. Their teachers should give up trying to make them listen to reason and devote their attention to those who merit it and want to study seriously. Singing as an art is usually not considered with enough earnestness. One should go to a singing master as one goes to a specialist for a consultation and follow with the greatest care his directions. If one does not have the same respect and confidence one places in a physician it must be because the singing master does not really merit it, and it would be much better to make a change at once.
In general it is better not to stick entirely to one teacher, for it is easy to get into a rut in this way, and someone else may have a quite different and more enlightening way of setting forth his ideas.
In taking up operatic work it is understood, of course, that the singer must have mastered most of the technical difficulties, so as not to be troubled with them when they are encountered in some aria.
It is a most excellent thing to secure an engagement in one of the small theatres abroad, where one may get a large experience before trying to effect an entrance into the bigger organizations of the great capitals.
But be sure that the voice is well placed before trying any of this sort of work, and never attempt to sing a rôle above your powers in the earlier stage of your career, which otherwise may be compromised permanently.
One more bit of advice in closing. The best sort of lesson possible is to go often to the opera and note well the methods of the great artists. This personal example is worth more and is more illuminating than many precepts.
This is not so much that any form of imitation may be attempted as to teach the would-be artist how to present at his best all those telling qualities with which he may be endowed. It is the best of schools.
The most visible phase of the opera singer’s life when he or she is in view of the public on the stage is naturally the one most intimately connected in the minds of the majority of people with the singer’s personality, and yet there are many happenings, amusing or tragic, from the artist’s point of view, which, though often seen, are as often not realized in their true significance by the audience in front of the orchestra. One might naturally think that a singer who has been appearing for years on the operatic stage in many lands would have overcome or outgrown that bane of all public performers, stage fright. Yet such is far from the case, for it seems as though the greater the artistic temperament the more truly the artist feels and the more of himself he puts into the music he sings the greater his nervousness beforehand. The latter is of course augmented if the performance is a first night and the opera has as yet been untried before a larger public.
This advance state of miserable physical tension is the portion of all great singers alike, though in somewhat varying degrees, and it is interesting to note the forms it assumes with different people. In many it is shown by excessive irritability and the disposal to pick quarrels with anyone who comes in contact with them. This is an unhappy time for the luckless “dressers,” wig man and stage hands, or even fellow artists who encounter such singers before their first appearance in the evening. Trouble is the portion of all such.
In other artists the state of mind is indicated by a stern set countenance and a ghastly pallor, while still others become slightly hysterical, laugh uproariously at nothing or burst into weeping. I have seen a big six-foot bass singer, very popular at the opera two or three seasons ago, walking to and fro with the tears running down his cheeks for a long time before his entrance, and one of our greatest coloratura prima donnas has come to me before the opera, sung a quavering note in a voice full of emotion and said, with touching accents: “See, that is the best I can do. How can I go on so?”
I myself have been affected often by such fright, though not always in the extreme degree above described. This nervousness, however, frequently shows itself in one’s performance in the guise of indifferent acting, singing off the key, etc. Artists are generally blamed for such shortcomings, apparent in the early part of the production, when, as a matter of fact, they themselves are hardly conscious of them and overcome them in the course of the evening. Yet the public, even critics, usually forget this fact and condemn an entire performance for faults which are due at the beginning to sheer nervousness.
The oft-uttered complaint that operatic singers are the most difficult to get on with of any folk, while justified, perhaps, can certainly be explained by the foregoing observations.
We of the opera are often inclined to be superstitious in a way that might annul matter of fact Americans. One woman, a distinguished and most intelligent artist, crosses herself repeatedly before taking her “cue,” and a prima donna who is a favorite on two continents and who is always escorted to the theatre by her mother, invariably goes through the very solemn ceremony of kissing her mother good-by and receiving her blessing before going on to sing. The young woman feels that she could not possibly sing a note if the mother’s eye were not on her every moment from the wings.
Another famous singer wears a small bracelet that was given to her when an infant by Gounod. She has grown somewhat stout of late years, and the hoop of gold has been reënforced so often that there is hardly any of the great composer’s original gift left. Still, she feels that it is a charm which has made her success, and whether she sings the part of a lowly peasant or of a princess the bracelet is always visible.
And these little customs are not confined to the woman singers either, for the men are equally fond of observing some little tradition to cheer them in their performance. These little traits, trivial perhaps in themselves, are of vital importance in that they create a sense of security in the soul of the artist, who goes on his way, if not rejoicing, at least convinced that the fates are not against him.
One of the penalties paid by the singers who are much in the public eye is the constant demand made on them to listen to voices of vocal aspirants—not always very young ones, strange to say. It is sad to contemplate the number of people who think they can sing and are destined by talent and temperament for operatic careers, who have been led by misguided or foolish friends and too often by overambitious and mercenary singing masters into spending time and money on their voices in the fond hope of some day astonishing the world. Alas, they do not realize that the great singers who are heard in the New York opera houses have been picked from the world’s supply after a process of most drastic selection, and that it is only the most rarely exceptional voice and talent which after long years of study and preparation become worthy to join the elect.
I am asked to hear many who have voices with promise of beauty, but who have obviously not the intelligence necessary to take up a career, for it does require considerable intelligence to succeed in opera, in spite of opinions to the contrary expressed by many. Others, who have keen and alert minds and voices of fine quality, yet lack that certain esprit and broadness of musical outlook required in a great artist. This lack is often so apparent in the person’s manner or bearing that I am tempted to tell him it is no use before he utters a note. Yet it would not do to refuse a hearing to all these misfits, for there is always the chance of encountering the unknown genius, however rare a bird he may be.
And how often have the world’s great voices been discovered by chance, but fortunately by some one empowered to bring out the latent gift!
One finds in America many beautiful voices, and when one thinks of the numerous singers successfully engaged in operatic careers both here and abroad, it cannot with justice be said as it used to be several years ago that America does not produce opera singers. Naturally a majority of those to whom I give a hearing here in New York are Americans, and of these are a number of really remarkable voices and a fairly good conception of what is demanded of an opera singer.
Sometimes, however, it would be amusing if it were not tragic to see how much off the track people are who have been led to think they have futures. One young man who came recently to sing for me carried a portentous roll of music and spoke in the deepest of bass voices. When asked what his main difficulty was he replied that he “didn’t seem to be able to get on the key.” And this was apparent when he started in and wandered up and down the tonal till he managed to strike the tonic. Then he asked me whether I would rather hear “Qui sdegno,” from Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” or “Love Me and the World is Mine.” Upon the latter being chosen he asked the accompanist to transpose it, and upon this gentleman’s suggesting a third lower, he said: “No, put it down an octave.” And that’s where he sang it, too. I gently but firmly advised the young man to seek other paths than musical ones. However, such extreme examples as that are happily rare.
I would say to all young people who are ambitious to enter on a career of opera: Remember, it is a thoroughly hard-worked profession, after all; that even with a voice of requisite size and proper cultivation there is still a repertory of rôles to acquire, long months and years of study for this and requiring a considerable feat of memory to retain them even after they are learned. Then there is the art of acting to be studied, which is, of course, an entire occupation in itself and decidedly necessary in opera, including fencing—how to fall properly, the various gaits and gestures wherewith to portray different emotions, etc. Then, as opera is sung nowadays, the knowledge of the diction of at least three languages—French, German and Italian—if not essential, is at least most helpful.
***END OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CARUSO AND TETRAZZINI ON THE ART OF SINGING***
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