A TALE OF A VIOLIN.
BEING THE ARTIST LIFE OF CAMILLA URSO.
By CHARLES BARNARD.
LORING, Publisher, COR. WASHINGTON AND BROMFIELD STREETS, BOSTON.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by A. K. LORING, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
Rockwell & Churchill, Printers and Stereotypers, 122 Washington Street, Boston.
The intelligent reader, on opening a new book, asks why it was written,—what excuse has it for existence. In this particular case the author has more reasons than it is worth while to repeat. If there is any one thing that is attracting the general attention of the American people, it is the art of music. It is a good sign. It shows we are getting beyond the mere tree-felling and prairie-clearing stages of our existence, and coming to something better. This true "Tale of a Violin" has to do with music. It is the story of a real musical life; not wholly American, and therefore instructive. It has much, also, to do with our people and country and our own times, and is therefore interesting and home-like. It has to do with methods of teaching music in foreign countries; and for the student this artist-life is full of valuable suggestions. All of this can be properly said, because it is the artist-life of a person now living among us. These are the excuses for its existence.
The facts and incidents were supplied by Madam Camilla Urso herself at such stray moments of leisure as could be found during a busy concert season at Boston, in the months of January and February, 1874; and the work was done at such spare moments as the writer could find in the midst of journalistic cares. Such events as could be noted in one evening having been written out, they were read aloud before Madam Urso and others, and when brought up to the exact truth in every detail, and fully approved by such persons as were entitled to an opinion, were given to the printer.
So the book came to be. If it leads one reader to see the value of a life devoted to art,—if it helps one lonely student struggling for a musical education, by the splendid example of a life of toil and poverty crowned by a great reward,—the work will not be wholly vain, nor will it want excuse for being.
The author would express his thanks for the kind assistance of the Urso family of New York, and Mr. John S. Dwight and others, of Boston.
THE AUTHOR. BOSTON, September, 1874.
About thirty miles from the sea, on the River Loire, in France, stands the quaint, sleepy old town of Nantes. The Erdre and the Sevre, two smaller streams unite with the Loire just here and the town is spread out in an irregular fashion over the islands, the little capes between the rivers, and the hills that stand round about. The old part of the town is on the hill-side and occupies the two islands called Freydean and Gloriette, the more modern city has spread over the surrounding country among the groves of chestnut, and the vineyards that fill every available spot where the grapes can get a good look at the sun all through the long sunny days.
The river runs swift and bright through the town and flashes under the handsome bridges with their long rows of stone arches. In the river are boats, ships, and steamers, for the good people there spend much of their time in commerce and in catching and curing the silver-white pilchards that swim in such great schools in the neighboring sea.
The broad quays that skirt the river are planted with trees, making a most delightful walk, and near the eastern end of the town one of the quays ends at what remains of an old chateau or palace. The houses are mostly of stone, with slated roofs. There are some fine stores in the Place Royal that are quite as grand as those in Paris. There are also some old, old churches black with age, dim and vast inside, with statuary on the outer walls, and splendid gothic towers that seem to blossom all over with stone flowers as they climb so far up into the sky above the quaint old town.
Round about the town are gardens and summer houses, pleasant walks and drives, vineyards, groves and all the things that go to make a charming rural scene.
In the Place Graslin is a fine theatre and a handsome Town Hall. Of these buildings more presently when we come to see what happened within them.
In this old French town in June 1846 there lived a very little girl just four years old. Her home was on the first floor of a small house on a narrow street not far from the Place de la Monnaie, an open square that led into one of the principal streets known as the Rue Voltaire. The house was built in the usual French fashion with a large arch-way under the house that led into a court-yard in the centre. The front door opened into the shady arch-way, and the window balconies were filled with flowering plants in pots.
Her name was Camilla. Her father Monsieur Salvatore Urso played the flute in the orchestra at the theatre, or opera house, and on Sundays played the organ at the Church of the Holy Cross that stood facing a little square not far from the river.
Her mother Madame Emelie Urso was a young and very handsome woman, and a fine singer. She also helped her husband in his music lessons. She was born in Lisbon in Portugal, but as she had come to France when quite young, she had forgotten her mother tongue and now spoke French and Italian. This last may have been owing to the fact that her husband was from Palermo, Sicily. With Camilla's parents lived her mother's sister, Caroline, whom we shall know as aunt Caroline. This made the Urso household.
Both of Camilla's parents were young and she was their oldest child and only daughter. There was at this time a baby brother and later there were three more brothers. The first four years of the little one's life were passed in an uneventful manner, very much in the fashion of other children everywhere. When she was four years old she began to go to the theatre with her father. Every night she put her small hand in his and trotted off to the Place Graslin to sit with him in the orchestra among the violins and close beside her father's flute. He was a noted player in those days and the little one shared his seat, with the music book spread before her, and the stage in full view.
It was quite a fine theatre and many notable things took place there. Operas, both new and old, were given, and often between the acts, a piano was brought out and such famous players as traveled in that part of France appeared and showed what they could do. Celebrated violinists and great singers also appeared at times. So it happened that the little Camilla almost lived in the midst of an orchestra and before she was five years old had heard many of the best players and singers of the times.
The orchestra became almost a second home to her. The lights, the crowds of people, the music were every day matters and she grew up to be quite indifferent to the public character of such a life. Most children would have soon learned to go to sleep in the midst of it all. Camilla never thought of such a thing. While the music went on she was content. If she could only nestle down in a corner where she could hear those violins and her father's flute she was perfectly happy in a demure and sober fashion that was infinitely amusing in such a very small girl.
On Sundays and on fete days when the church was open she went with her father to the church of the Holy Cross.
The church was an old one and to reach the organ loft high up over the great portal they had to climb a steep and winding stair in the great tower. The stairs were worn deep with footsteps so that it was hard climbing for the little one. Still, she always went with her father and mother. Did he not play the tall organ with its great white pipes, and did her mother not sing? She had a good seat where she could look up at the black arches springing so high overhead, or down on the people who seemed so small in the church far below.
When there was no theatre or church she played about her mother's room or under the trees in the public gardens, very much in the fashion of other French girls.
Playing in an orchestra is not the road to wealth. The pay was very small, and even with the organ salary and the music lessons things did not prosper very happily and the little Camilla had to content herself with such juvenile joys as could be procured without very much money. This, happily, did not make much difference. There was enough to eat and pretty good things to wear and no end of music. This last seemed to quite satisfy her. The orchestra, the organ and the choir afforded her perpetual amusement, and her life was as happy as that of the most favored child in the town.
When not listening to music she was very active and merry and displayed an abundant fund of good health and spirits. She early learned to talk and walk and was considered an unusually bright and precocious girl. Her earliest months gave a hint of her love for music. If fretful or peevish with weariness or ill-health she could soon be pacified by a gentle song from her father as he carried her about in his arms.
The first intimation of a desire to make music herself came when she was three years old. Hearing a hand-organ play in the street while the family were at dinner she softly left the table and went into the next room. Presently the tune on the hand-organ was repeated on the piano in the parlor. Her father opened the door quickly only to find the child trying to hide, as if she had done something wrong.
Before she could talk she could hum over or sing a number of songs, and at four years of age could repeat in a thin piping voice many of the songs and airs sung by her mother and always insisting that the accompaniment should be played while she sang.
She did not go to school. Hardly any children in the town had any such advantage. There were a few small primary schools and that was about all the chance that was open to the young people of Nantes for an education.
So far in Camilla's life it did not make any particular difference. Things were going on quite to her satisfaction and she was perfectly happy even if she could not read or write.
Thus in a quiet way with much music the months had slipped away till she was five years old. Then suddenly came the awakening of a new life. Something happened that cast the rosy glow of coming day over the twilight of her life. The morning star that shone out clear and bright before her young eyes took the shape of a violin solo in a mass called St. Cecilia. She was in the church when its promise-speaking light flashed upon her. There was an orchestra, and a full chorus, with the organ. The little Camilla now almost six years old sat in the old organ loft and heard it all. She listened and dreamed and wondered and wished and wished she could only do something like that solo for the first violin. An ordinary piece of music, indifferently played, but somehow it enchained her whole attention. It threw wide open the pearly gates of a new and fairer life.
Many a time she had heard famous players at the theatre. They had never interested her as did this one. He was not a very fine player. His music was not particularly wonderful, but there was something about it that pleased her greatly. She had been already excited by the music. The majestic and noble character of the mass, the chorus sounding so loud and grand through the church, the orchestra, her father's organ with its great thunder tones rolling under it all, had sent the blood tingling through her veins. The great company kneeling on the floor so far below. The lights and flowers on the altar. The blue clouds of incense rising softly on the air and the dusky bars of colored light slanting across the springing arches. The scene, the music, everything affected her. Then that song on the violin. It was beautiful—and—if she could. No—she never, never could—and it was all a dream. She was even reluctant to leave for home after the service was over and wanted to linger in the vast, dim church and dream it all over again.
If she only could play like that—if she could have a real violin, all her own and play on it, why, that would be just too wonderfully grand and splendid for anything. There were not words in the French language that could express the pleasure it would give her. She could not speak of it. It was too good to talk about.
For several days she thought about it and dreamed of it and wondered if it would do to tell her father and ask him to give her a violin. At last the secret became unbearable and on creeping into her mother's bed before daylight one morning for her regular petting she ventured to lisp to her mother that she wanted a violin—"a real one, to play upon herself."
The morning star faded away quickly, and there was only the dull grey dawn in the child's sky. Her mother treated her request with laughter and put out the little Camilla's hope with a flat refusal.
It was the town talk. The women gathered round the fountain in the Place Royal and filled their water jars and gossiped about Salvatore Urso's silly whim with his child. Madame Dubois settled her cap and gave it as her opinion that no good would come of such a foolish thing. Madame Tilsit knew better, if the child wanted to play, why, let her play. The priest would not forbid it. Madame Perche knew it was far better than teaching children to read. That would lead them to dreadful infidelity, and what not. Besides, what will you? M. Urso will do as he pleases with the child.
At its best Nantes is a sleepy place, and in those days it was more narrow, petty and gossipy than can be imagined. A small town in New England where every mother's daughter can read is bad enough, but in a compact French town where every one must live next door or next floor to everybody else gossip runs wild. Totally ignorant of books or any matter outside of their own town, the people must needs fall back on themselves and quietly pick each other to pieces. Everybody had heard that Salvatore Urso, the flute player intended to teach his little girl the violin. Part of the town approved of this bold, audacious step and part of the town thought it eminently improper, if not positively wicked. There was the Urso party and the anti-Urso party. They talked and quarrelled over it for a long time in a fashion that was quite as narrow minded and petty as could be imagined and it was more than a year before the excitement subsided.
In the meantime the little Camilla was perfectly happy over her new violin. The first refusal had not discouraged her. She waited a few days and then repeated her request to her father. No. It could not be. This did not seem to disconcert her, for in a few days she again asked if she might have a violin and a teacher. This time the refusal was not so decided. Again and again did the little one ask for a violin—only a violin—that was enough. The importunate pleading carried the day and the father took the matter into consideration.
Boys might play the violin, but a girl. That was quite another thing. One girl had been known to play the violin. Mlle. Theresa Melanello had played the violin, why not Camilla? If she wished to play so much it must be that she had genius. Should it prove true she might become a famous artist and win a great fortune. Perhaps, even sooner, much money might come from the child's playing.
Of course the child must at once go to Paris and enter the Conservatory of music. Paris was a long way off. It would cost a deal of money to get there and when there, it would cost a deal more to live, and there was no way of earning anything in Paris. The theatre, the church and the lessons enabled them to live tolerably well in Nantes. To give up these things would be simple folly. It could not be done. The prospect was brilliant, the way seemed inviting, but it was not available. In his doubt and perplexity over the matter M. Urso went to his friend and companion in the orchestra, Felix Simon. M. Simon played the first violin at the theatre, and one night they talked it over between the acts.
If Camilla was so exceedingly anxious to play she must have some latent talent. Should she prove a genius or a prodigy it might be the means of bringing the family a fortune. Paris offered the only field for instruction and Paris meant a very great deal of money. With her present limited resources the thing was not to be considered for a moment.
M. Simon heard it all patiently, talked with the child about it and before her very eyes turned himself into an angel by offering to teach her himself. At first the family could not believe that such good fortune was possible. Still, it was true. M. Simon would teach Camilla one year without pay if he might be allowed to have entire control of her studies. She was to follow his instructions in every thing, she was to have no "pieces" and was to give her whole time to her lessons. If, when the year's instruction was finished, the child really showed a decided genius for the violin it might be well to talk about Paris. If she then exhibited merely a talent for the art, the instruction could be dropped and no harm or serious loss of time would come from it.
This liberal offer was, of course, accepted. M. Simon was a friend, indeed. They could never repay him. It was of no consequence he said. If Camilla proved her genius it would be reward enough to be known as her first teacher.
So it was that the little girl not quite six years of age had her darling wish and took her beloved violin under her arm and trotted off to M. Simon's house at the other side of the city near the beautiful park called the Cours St. Pierre, where she had spent so many pleasant days playing under the trees.
It was a small affair. Her arms and fingers were too short for an instrument of the ordinary size and a little violin costing ten francs ($2) must answer every purpose.
The gossips might talk and quarrel over it in the steep streets of the quaint, sleepy old town. They could say what they pleased. Little did she care. She was going to learn to play the violin. That was happiness enough. Her father was to teach her the elements of music and Felix Simon was to show her how to play.
First she must learn how to stand, how to rest on her left foot with the right partly in front, then how to hold her violin, how it should rest on her shoulder and how to grasp and support it. Hold it perfectly still for ten minutes. Then lay it down for a few moments' rest. Take it up again and hold it firm. With demure patience she bent her small fingers over the strings as if to touch a chord. Head erect, left arm bent and brought forward so that she could see her elbow under the violin. Stand perfectly still with the right arm hanging down naturally. Was she to have no bow? No, not yet. She must first learn to sustain the weight of the violin, and accustom her arm to its shape. In silence and motionless she held the instrument for perhaps ten minutes and then laid it down again till she had become rested. This was the first lesson. For two or three weeks she did this and nothing more, and at the end of that time she had acquired sufficient strength to hold the violin with firmness and steadiness.
Great was her delight when Felix Simon said she might take her bow. Now rest it lightly on the strings and draw it down slowly and steadily. Not a sound! What did that mean? Was she not to play? No. There was no rosin on the bow and it slipped over the strings in silence. How could she learn anything on a dumb violin? How make music on such a discouraging thing?
Most children would have given up in despair. Not play at all? Nothing, but positions and dumb motions? That was all. No music; not even finger exercises. Simply, to learn to stand properly, to put the fingers in the right place, and to make the right motions with the bow. The two hour lesson slipped away quickly, and the little one went home satisfied that she was now really making a good start.
Three times a week she took the long walk through the Rue Voltaire, across the sunny Place Graslin, where the theatre stood, past the handsome stores in the Place Royal, over the little bridge, where the Erdre ran through the town, and then along the narrow Rue d'Orleans till the grey towers of the old Chateau came in sight. Then to M. Simon's, and the lesson on the dumb violin. Not a word of complaint; no asking for "little pieces," after the silly fashion of American children; not even a request for an exercise. With a patience past belief the little one watched, listened, and tried her girlish best to do it right. The violin would become dreadfully heavy. Her poor arms would ache, and her limbs become stiff with standing. M. Simon had a temper, and at times he was particularly cross, and said all sorts of unhappy things to her.
Tears at times, and childish grief over the dreadful weariness in her arms, but with it all not one word of remonstrance or complaint. Felix Simon knew everything. Her father knew what was best.
The violin would swing round to the left, and she would lose sight of her elbow under it. There was nothing to do but to straighten up till the instrument stood in a line with her fat little turned up nose, and that elbow was in sight again. Then, that right wrist! How it did ache with the long, slow motions with the bow. And her limbs grew stiff with standing in one position till they fairly ached.
If the violin was heavy, she would not mind it, and if she was tired, she would keep her eyes fixed on the strings and see that the bow lay flat and square on them as it went up and down, up and down, from the tip to the handle, over and over, again and again. Whatever happened, she would keep on. She was going to play. This was the way to learn. She would have patience.
At home the same thing was repeated. Three hours practice every day with the dumb violin. And not only every day in the week, Sundays and all, but every week. Three whole months passed away, and then they said she had learned the positions, and the right motions. She could have some rosin on her bow and begin to play. This was progress. She was really getting on. Now she was to have some music. Nothing but the very dullest kinds of exercises; still, it was music, or something like it.
Long sustained notes by the hour. The exercises were all written out with a pen by her master. Nothing but long slow notes. Not very interesting, certainly. She would not have agreed with you. To get a good tone, to make one pure, smooth note was worth the trying for, and she was content.
The bow hardly moved, so slowly did she draw it up and down. The right arm stretched out to the full length, and then slowly back again, while the wrist bent slowly and gracefully. If she obtained nothing else, she would have a strong, clear tone, and learn to make a grand, full sweep with her bow. Speed and brilliancy would come in good time. Strength, power, and purity of tone were the things worth trying to reach. She would have no feeble, short strokes, but the wide, bold movements of a master hand.
As the weeks grew to months, her fingers and arms gained in power and her child's violin was exchanged for a larger and finer one, to her great joy and satisfaction.
Slowly and patiently she crept along. By day and by night the beloved violin was ever near her. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes late at night, when ever her teacher could find the time, she listened to his instructions and played over the endless exercises. Seven hours practice every day. Three lessons a week; nothing allowed to interfere. Sleep, eat, a little exercise in the open air, practice and lessons, lessons and practice. Such was her young artist life.
The lessons gradually increased in variety and difficulty. Scales in every key, running passages of every imaginable character; and with it all not a single piece, song, or pretty melody of any kind. Ten months of finger exercises; nearly a year of dry scales.
As we have already mentioned, Nantes was very much given to talking about the little Camilla's studies. The men in the orchestra laughed at Felix Simon and Salvatore Urso for their silly experiment with the child. The idea of a girl playing a violin! It was too absurd! And of all children, that mite of a Camilla; thin, pale, and too small for her age, she was the last one to think of such a thing.
One day a famous violinist, Apollinaire DeKonstki, now the director of the Conservatory of Music, at Warsaw, visited Nantes, and gave a concert at the theatre. Perhaps it would be well to ask him to hear the child play. His opinion might be of great value, and perhaps it would silence the miserable chatter in the town. "Would DeKonstki kindly hear the little one play?" Yes. He would, with pleasure. He intended to give a banquet to some of his friends that evening, and after the opera, and when the supper was over, she might come to his rooms at the Hotel de France. She sat in her usual corner in the orchestra all through the evening, and then, near midnight, with her violin under her arm, she crossed the Place Graslin and called at the Hotel de France. The great artist was sitting in the dining room by the long table where the banquet had been given. There were goblets and champagne glasses on the table, and after talking about her music for a few moments he took a fork, and gently tapping on a wine-glass, asked her what note that was. It was E. And this one? A. And this one? D. The next? A flat. And the next? G. Round the table he marched, fork in hand, striking the glasses and asking their notes. Camilla followed after, and named every tone correctly and without hesitation. He was greatly pleased with the experiment, and said he would hear her play. "Only, you must mind, I don't like false notes." This was too much, and she replied indignantly "I never give 'em, sir."
He laughed; and then, with demure seriousness, she began to play some of her more difficult exercises from memory. She was a bold and sturdy player, and astonished the master with the graceful sweep of her thin, childish arm. He complimented her in a cordial manner, and hoped she would go on with her studies. "Oh! she would, she would; she meant to study all the time. Some day she would learn to play better still." And then she went home, well pleased that the master had approved of the method of instruction she had pursued. Let the gossips talk. She was on the right road, and she didn't care for them.
This was the only time that Camilla played to any one outside her own family during the first year of her musical life. Many musicians and others asked to hear her, but M. Urso thought it best to refuse them. No one was ever allowed to hear her practice, and her musical progress was kept a profound secret. Naturally enough, this only excited curiosity, and the gossip ran wilder than ever.
Her outward life was unchanged. She appeared regularly at the theatre with her father, and sat by his side through the performance. The other players often teased her, and asked her perplexing questions about the music. What note was that? What key were they playing in now, and now and now? Every time the music modulated from key to key, she followed it, and named the notes and keys correctly, without hesitation.
Then something happened that made them think it might be well to let her have a piece to play. And such a splendid piece! Not a mere child's song for the violin, or a little dance. Nothing like that. A grand concert piece such as the Masters played. De Beriot's famous "Seventh air varie." A melody with variations, by the great composer De Beriot. To be sure it was not equal to some of the grand works of Haydn or Beethoven, but for those days it was considered a remarkable composition. Since the little Camilla has grown up people have learned more about violin playing, and what was then thought to be a great piece of music would not now be considered as anything very remarkable.
As it was, Camilla thought the piece something quite wonderful, and took it up with the greatest eagerness. Utterly absorbed in her work, knowing little or nothing of what was going on outside her lessons, she studied and practiced day after day without a thought of anything else. The new piece and the exercises took her whole time for the next two months. That one "air varie" was in hand every day. She played it through hundreds of times. Every phrase was studied. Hours were spent over one note. A week on a single page was good progress. One little passage cost her many a sorrowful hour. Somehow she could not get it right for a long time. Once she played it over forty-seven times before her nervous and irritable master would let her off. Other pupils were waiting. They could wait. She was to play that measure just right if it took all day. It was useless to cry. If she was obstinate and naughty about it she should be punished. She must play it right. How her arms ached over that passage. The tears dropped on the violin. It didn't do any good, and only made the master still more angry. At last she did it right, played it over several times, went home and never played it wrong again in her life.
Such was the child's artist life for the first twelve months. Outside of it the gossips fairly raged and warred with their nimble tongues. Salvatore Urso's experiment with his little girl was much talked about. Some could not say too hard things of him. Felix Simon was blamed, her mother was blamed. It was all wrong. It was wicked to teach the child to play. Others said no, let her try, if she failed they would be well punished for their work. If she succeeded it would be a fine thing. It was rumored that the girl had great talent and would in time do wonderful things.
In such a dull, sleepy town as Nantes, where there is nothing in particular going on, and where the people have little or nothing to talk about outside their own petty lives, such an experiment as this was naturally the subject of much talk. It was such a bold step, and, really, there was nothing else to talk about. Imagine the excitement when it was announced that the little Camilla would give a public performance at the Hotel de Ville.
It came about in this way. The Bassoon in the orchestra died. That was the curious way they expressed it. The instrument had not died, but the man who played it. He left a widow and one child, and no money. Nobody had ever heard of an orchestral player who had left much. The pay was too small for him to save anything, and so the poor widow was left without a franc. Of course, they must give her a benefit concert. M. Urso heard of it, and on talking it over with Felix Simon they decided to prepare Camilla to take part in the charity concert for the benefit of the widow of the Bassoon. So it happened that she took up the "air varie" as her first piece.
It takes a long time to do anything in Europe. Here we would decide to give a concert, advertise it, and hire the hall all in the same day, and have it all over within a week. In Nantes it took six weeks to arrange everything, see who would offer to play, and to properly announce the event. This slow and deliberate way of doing things was an advantage to Camilla as it gave her plenty of time to study the piece and to commit it to memory past forgetting.
They collected a grand orchestra. Mdlle. Masson, who was quite a fine artist volunteered to sing, and the little Camilla would play the famous "Seventh air varie" from De Beriot.
The excitement was tremendous. Everybody wanted to go. The Italian opera company, the French opera company, the dramatic company, all the grand families, every musician in town, bought tickets. There was not a seat or standing place in the Hotel de Ville to be had, and the Bassoon's widow received a most remarkable benefit. All the friends of the Urso family were there to encourage the child, and all her father's enemies were on hand ready to laugh at her failure.
She was expected to fail. She might be able to struggle through the piece without really breaking down, but of course she would stand awkwardly, handle her bow like a stick, and do everything else that was bad and inelegant. They might assert that she would play like an artist—she could not do it. And so they waited to see Salvatore Urso's silly experiment come to a wretched end.
How amiable in them! We can forgive them. There was nothing else to talk about in Nantes, and it was certainly a very bold thing to bring out the six year old girl in this public manner. She must be a truly wonderful child, or her father and teacher had quite lost their heads.
The concert began and went on very much as concerts do everywhere. The orchestra played and the artists sang, and then there was a little rustle and hush of expectation as they brought in a box or platform for the child to stand upon so that all could see her. The piano was rolled out into a convenient place, and then the slight, blue eyed girl, gay in a white dress, white satin shoes, and a pink sash, appeared. They placed the dot of a child, violin in hand, upon the raised platform before them all. Felix Simon, with trembling fingers, sat down to the piano to play the accompaniment. Her father stood near to turn the leaves of the music book, though he was so nervous and excited he hardly knew what he was about. In the audience sat her aunt Caroline, surrounded by a few of her friends, and all of them in no enviable frame of mind. Her mother was too nervous and excited to appear, and remained in the ante-room.
As for Camilla, she was absorbed in that remarkable pink sash and those satin shoes. There was never anything quite so fine, and she did hope all the people noticed how very becoming they were. That they were really watching her, never entered her head. With perfect self-possession she put the violin to her shoulder, and stood ready to play. No awkwardness, no fear, no attempt at display; a simple girl, with a girl's manners. The critics admitted to themselves that she knew how to hold her instrument, and could handle her bow with a certain amount of grace. But, then, that was to be expected. Could she play?
There was not much doubt of it. The tone came, strong, full, and true. The notes came in exact time, and with precision and certainty. The people were hushed to a painful silence, as the child went steadily on with the work. M. Simon was breathless with excitement, and her father hardly knew where he was. In his haste, he turned two leaves of the music-book at once. What a dreadful disaster! It was all over now. She would break down at once, if the accompaniment should falter.
Not much danger; for she quietly turned her head, and in a hurried, lisping, whisper said: "You've turned two pages, papa."
The whole house heard every word, and a smile spread over the company. Little did she care. She went straight on; not a note lost, not a break or a sign of hesitation. The page was turned back without a pause, and the music went on.
This piece of music begins with an introduction in adagio. The opening bars are smooth and graceful, and then the melody becomes more difficult, and moves in sixths and thirds. It ends in a brilliant cadenza, that leads to the theme in moderato time. This part is not very difficult in rhythm, and is bright and pleasing in character. The first variation is poco piu lento, and at once demands great skill to execute its difficult running movements. The second variation is still more difficult, and abounds in rapid scales and open chords. The third variation is in G, and in adagio time, and is full of trills and abrupt changes from high to low notes. A long cadenza leads to the last movement in moderato time and in the key of E. It finally ends in an allegro coda that abounds in brilliant and difficult writing.
What a dreadful uproar they did make over the child. It seemed as if they never would stop clapping and cheering. She could not go, but must stay and bow in a demure fashion, that was perfectly captivating. They did not expect her to play the piece again. That was not the custom in Nantes. M. Sollie, the leader of the orchestra, in the name of all the musicians, offered to crown her young head with a wreath of white camelias. The attempt was amusing, and they all laughed and cheered again. The wreath was too big, or she was too small, and it slipped over her head and shoulders, and fell to the floor, and there she stood in the middle of it.
Some enthusiastic ladies presented her with a tiny ring for her finger, and a handsome bracelet; and more wonderful than all, they brought out a magnificent Paris doll, in a big white box, and set her quite wild with joy by presenting it to her. With the doll under one arm, and her precious violin under the other, she bowed her thanks from the middle of the wreath. Then they cheered again, and laughed, and offered her flowers. She was taken down from the platform and led away, but they had her back again three times, doll, violin, and all. Altogether, it was a very remarkable experience for father, mother, teacher, and wonderful little girl.
Perhaps you think this overdrawn. This is a true story. Here is an extract from one of the newspapers of Nantes, that only says the same thing:
——"Never had violinist a pose more exact, firmer, and, at the same time, perfectly easy; never was bow guided with greater precision, than by this little Urso, whose delivery made all the mothers smile. Listen, now, to the Air Variee of the celebrated Beriot; under these fingers, which are yet often busied with dressing a doll, the instrument gives out a purity and sweetness of tone, with an expression most remarkable. Every light and shade is observed, and all the intentions of the composer faithfully rendered. Here comes more energetic passages, the feeble child will find strength necessary, and the voice of the instrument assumes a fullness of tone which one could not look for in the diminutive violin. Effects of double stopping, staccato, rapid arpeggios—everything is executed with the same precision, the same purity, the same grace. Repeatedly interrupted by applause and acclamations, she was saluted at the end by salvos of bravos and a shower of bouquets."
As for the anti-Urso party, they were completely demoralized and had not a word to say. Camilla was a success, and they gracefully retired from the field.
THE DAY BEGINS.
The next morning Camilla trotted off to Felix Simon's just as if nothing had happened. The Ursos were too sensible to be upset by vanity. The triumph of their child only caused them to soberly consider what was to be done next. Camilla must lose no time. The lessons must go on precisely as before and until matters were properly arranged her life would be unchanged. She must prepare for more difficult tasks. Having proved her skill she must now improve it. Greater tests and severer trials were in store for her. She must go to Paris. She must enter the Conservatory of Music. But how, and when?
Long and earnestly they talked over the matter and laid their plans as best they could. M. Urso was a fine flute player. Of course, he could readily obtain a place in some theatre in Paris. Camilla's mother was a charming singer and a good teacher. She could give lessons, and perhaps sing in some church. Oh! and then there was the organ! Certainly so fine an organist as M. Urso would soon get a good place with a comfortable salary. Aunt Caroline must go too. She would keep house and help the children. None of them had ever been to Paris, but the prospect seemed brilliant and for Camilla's sake they ought to go as soon as possible. Having decided to move they sold all their furniture, collected whatever was due for music lessons and salaries and prepared for the flitting.
Camilla, her father and aunt Caroline were to go first. The baby brother was too young to bear the journey, and when they were comfortably settled in Paris, mother could follow them. The journey was a slow one. It was mid-summer, and on the road came the news that the cholera was raging in Paris. It would not do to enter the city till cooler weather came. So they tarried at Tours for six weeks till the sickness abated.
The Conservatory of Music stood at the corner of the Rue Faubourg—Poissoniere and the Rue Bergere in the old part of the city of Paris. They must take rooms as near it as possible so that Camilla would not have too far to walk on stormy days. With all their hopeful prospects and though they had quite a large sum of ready money in hand they took simple quarters in a house on the Rue St. Nicholas d'Antin.
As soon as they were comfortably settled Salvatore Urso went to the conservatory to ask if the little Camilla might be admitted as a pupil.
The Director, Auber, received him politely and asked what he wanted. "Could Camilla enter the Conservatory?" The little shrivelled up gentleman opened his small eyes as wide as he could and said, in a squeaking voice, "Camilla! That's a girl!" Yes. Camilla was a girl. How very shocking in her. Why was she not a boy? A girl. Oh! No it couldn't be considered for a moment. A girl enter the great Conservatory of Music! Such a thing had never been heard of in the whole history of the world. The Conservatory was not for girls and they couldn't be admitted.
This was discouraging and M. Urso retired from the interview not knowing what to do next. The idea that the great composer Auber would utterly refuse to take the child had never entered his head. Of course, with her undoubted genius the Conservatory would be proud to teach her. What difference did it make if she did happen to be a girl?
It made a great deal of difference to the worthy officers of the Conservatory. Not one of them would consider her case. The Secretary, De Beauchesne was applied to with more success, but he was only one of the officers and he could do nothing alone. He heard Camilla play and did everything he could for her. He visited the family and was in every way a friend. When Camilla's third brother, Salvatore, was born, he stood Godfather to the child, so we may infer that he was quite intimate at the Ursos'.
It would not do to give it up so. Day after day slipped past, the time grew to weeks and still the doors of the Conservatory were fast closed against the child. M. Urso called on Auber several times. Would he not interest himself in the child? Would he only hear her play? No. It was useless. She was a girl. She could not enter. Why had M. Urso been so foolish as to come to Paris when he might have known that they never took in girls. Besides, she was not old enough. Not even a boy could enter under ten.
People of influence were consulted, and in vain. If the Directors of the Conservatory would not take the child it was no affair of theirs. They could do nothing about it. It did seem as if everything was against her and she began to realize what a very unhappy thing it is to be a girl. Still, she would not despair nor relax one effort to obtain her darling wish. She would keep on studying just the same and all through the weary weeks of waiting she practiced and studied as best she could under her father's instruction.
The Winter passed away and the Spring came. It brought very little hope with it. Camilla could not enter the Conservatory. There were only nine places and there were seventy-six applicants and every one of them boys. When they grew up they could play in the theatres. That was the aim of their lives. The Conservatory was opened to teach them, to prepare them for this very work. Camilla would not play in an orchestra and, of course, she would be of no use to the country and it was idle to admit her to the classes.
Persistence finally carried the day. M. Urso fairly worried the learned officers of the Conservatory into a consent. The irritable little Director, Auber, lost his temper and said "Well, bring the girl. She is sure to fail. We will hear her play, but she cannot enter."
The Ursos were greatly pleased with this concession. If they would hear Camilla just once it would be enough. They could hardly refuse to take a child of her great talents even if she did have the misfortune to be a girl.
At last the eventful day arrived. The seventy-six boys and the one girl were to be examined. Her case was quite hopeless, they said. She might play like an angel and it would avail nothing. The boys would have the places.
She never lost her courage, but with that quiet, serious manner that only served to hide her sturdy character, she took her father's hand and soberly trotted through the streets without a fear. She knew what she could do, she had her piece by heart; she meant to break into that Conservatory, it was her only hope and she would try hard to do her very, very best.
M. Urso was excited and nervous. How would it all end? Would Camilla be admitted. It was doubtful, still, her genius might win the day in spite of the determined opposition that was raised against her. As for Camilla she clung to her violin in stubborn silence, and patiently waited for the great trial. All the candidates met in one room, the seventy-six boys and their friends and the one girl with her father.
All the names were numbered and the numbers placed in a box and shaken up. Then, some one drew them out, one at a time, and called off the numbers. Camilla's number was nine, so her turn came quite early in the day. This was fortunate, for she was fresh and eager to begin and the jury had not become weary with their task. One at a time the boys were admitted to the presence of the grand jury. Big fellows, fourteen and fifteen years old, who had played before she was born. The case really looked discouraging and desperate. Would she ever get in? She was only seven, and looked hardly six. Her fingers were thin and her face pale. She hardly seemed fitted to compete with grown up lads. It did not deter her from trying, and when her number was called she felt sure she would do her best.
They led her into a room where eight solemn looking men sat in big green-backed chairs round a large table. Each had an inkstand and pen and paper and every one had a look of severe dignity that was positively appalling. There was the little Auber, the Director, Rossini the great composer looking fat and grand in his impressive wig, Carraffa the celebrated composer, Allard the violinist and four others looking equally wise and solemn.
They placed her before the double quartette of players who were to give the accompaniment and prepared to hear her work. She would try the andante and finale from the Fourth Concerto, by Rode with accompaniment for violin, second, viola, and violincello.
Here was her one grand chance. She must do her very best, stand just right, and remember everything Felix Simon had said. Her father and mother depended upon her.
The double quartette began to play and she forgot everything save the music. The solemn judges never spoke, nor made a sign in any way expressive of pleasure or disappointment. Some of them scratched their pens over the paper through it all. Others looked straight at her in a severe manner that was perfectly dreadful.
At last it was over. The eight gentlemen never smiled or uttered a word or gave even a look that seemed like hope. She couldn't guess whether she had failed or won. Somebody led her back to her father in the room where the seventy and six boys were still waiting the result of the trial.
Those men looked so black and really it was all so grim and solemn that she was depressed and discouraged and for six long hours she sat in the room by her father waiting for the verdict to be pronounced. It was eleven o'clock in the morning when her turn came and it was not till five in the afternoon when the last boy had been heard.
There was a tremendous excitement when the Janitor came out to read the names of the nine successful ones. Every one sat perfectly still while the names were pronounced. First a boy's name. She expected that and was resigned. Then another boy's name was given. It began to be discouraging. Then one more boy's name. Her chances were slipping away. She would not be taken in. One more boy's name. There were murmurs of disappointment from the crowd. Half the names gone. Poor Camilla was ready to cry with disappointment.
Just here Allard, one of the jury passed through the room and stopping a moment said to Camilla's father:
"The little Urso is admitted."
Nobody could believe it! There was some mistake! That mite of a girl taken in? The four remaining names given by the Janitor were hardly heard in the uproar and confusion that broke out. The boys who had failed and even their friends were for mobbing the child. It was dreadful, an outrage, perfectly unheard of, a shame, and all that. What right had a girl to come and take the place away from some good boy who could undoubtedly play much better? M. Urso had used influence with the jury and done many wicked things to bring about this unheard of result.
M. Urso threw up his hat in the air, behaved in a wild and happy manner and gave no heed to the taunts of the people. He gave Camilla a ten franc gold piece and conducted himself in a startling and peculiar fashion generally that would have astonished his friends had they seen him. As for Camilla her mind was absorbed in that gold piece. She had never seen anything quite so magnificent. Here were riches, indeed, and she didn't care a pin for the silly boys who stormed and roared about her. What a noise they did make over it! "Stupid boys, they couldn't play, and that was the reason they were so mad about it." She must go home and show her prize to her aunt. How glad her mother would be to hear of her success. Hugging her violin close she paid no attention to the rude people in the room and silently suffered her father to lead her away.
It was a happy day for the Ursos. To think that the little one had fairly broken down the bars of the Conservatory and compelled them to take her in by the simple strength of her genius. Soon after her mother joined them from Nantes and the reunited family was indeed a happy one.
Since that time several girls have been admitted to the Paris Conservatory, but they have to thank Camilla, the youngest of them all, for clearing the way.
Now she began to think that all the weary months with the dumb violin, the long hours of practice, the days and nights spent with dear, cross, old Felix Simon were happily rewarded. With all the elation and pride of her parents she seemed only to be glad, in a quiet way, that she could now go on and learn more and more.
Many weeks must pass before the long summer vacation would be over and the Fall term of the school begin. In the meantime not a day was lost. Three or four hours practice every morning with her father, a walk after dinner, and then two hours more practice. No pieces. Nothing but exercises in long, slow notes to keep up the strong, pure tone, and scales in every key.
There is nothing so successful as success. Just as the vacation was nearly over the little Camilla had another most flattering offer of instruction. De Beriot, whose music she had played at the concert at Nantes, visited Paris and gave several concerts. While he was in the city M. Urso called upon him and asked permission to bring Camilla to his room. Yes. He would gladly hear her play. This was certainly a great favor and soon after she went to his hotel and played some of his music to him. He was greatly pleased with the child and at once offered to take her to Brussels where he lived, and give her a complete musical education at his own expense. He was at that time the first teacher of the violin at the Conservatory of music at Brussels, a place that is now filled by Vieuxtemps, and he was certainly a master of the violin. He would do this freely if he might have entire control of her education. She was not to appear in public till he was quite ready. It might not be for many years. To be sure, in three years, by the time she was ten, she would be a wonderful player, but by waiting longer she would become one of the few great violinists of the world.
This was indeed generous. They were thankful and would be delighted to place her under his instruction if they could go too, and be near her all the time. They had no means of supporting her in another city. She could not leave father and mother. They already found it difficult to get along. Paris seemed very different from their anticipations. It was hard to decline such a splendid offer, but it was harder to part with Camilla, and she could not go.
Then came the Conservatory. There were several teachers of the violin. She might have the choice, and decided to go into Lambert Massart's class. He was the most popular teacher. He was known to be cross and irritable. His pupils had a sorry time of it but they generally became good artists. She meant to be an artist and she would go to him. It was fortunate, for as soon as he heard her play and learned something of her history and circumstances, he generously offered to give her private lessons at his own house without money and without price.
"Heaven helps those who help themselves." Salvatore Urso saw his store of money melting away fast. It was not easy to find a place in the orchestras in Paris. There was not a church in the city that did not have several applicants waiting for the position of organist. Evil days were beginning to come upon them. Nearly nine months had slipped away and Camilla had only just succeeded in entering the Conservatory. For all that, she had entered and her talents had won a good friend in the great teacher Massart. They had no noble patron to aid them, there was no wealthy friend to help them along. Everything depended upon themselves and Camilla. She, brave little girl had done well and could now go on and fulfill her splendid destiny.
Her first lesson at the Conservatory opened her eyes to the life that was before her. There were eight boys in Massart's class besides herself. At first the boys sneered at her and resented her presence. Not content with this they tried to annoy her with rudeness and to plague her with boyish pranks. She took it all patiently, replied to nothing and clung to her violin in stubborn silence.
Massart was a large, rosy faced man with an uncertain temper. He seemed much younger than he really was, and though at times he was dreadfully cross and savage, he was at heart a kind and generous man. His manner of teaching was peculiar. One pupil played at a time and the rest looked on in silence while the master walked up and down the room with a long slender stick in his hand. At first she thought it was a baton to beat time with or to point to the music. Presently she found it had quite another use. One stupid boy did not take the proper position. Massart told him how to stand and the boy put his feet in the right place. Presently he changed one foot and down come the stick with a snap on the boy's legs. "Oh! M. Massart that hurt" cried the boy. "I meant it should," said he. "Do it right next time."
If, thought Camilla, that is the way, I'll remember it. Somehow it was not so easy. Massart gave a direction once and then came the stick. They must do it right once and for all. Before she knew it there was a slap on her own limbs. It didn't hurt much because her skirts warded off the blow. As for the boys they had to take it sharp and heavy.
Then that little finger on her right hand. It would spring up as she moved the bow. Massart said very pleasantly that she must keep it down. She put it down but presently it flew up again and then came a stinging blow from the slender stick that was not so pleasant.
That poor little finger had a sorry time of it before it would lay down properly. Many a time it ached with the blows of the switch, and once she thought it was certainly broken. She was obliged to nurse it in a cot for two days. At last it came just right and has never gone wrong since.
Some days Massart was in a terrible passion and stormed up and down the room, and the stick danced about the boys legs till the little Camilla felt sore all over, out of pure sympathy. It made her very cautious and careful and as a natural result she escaped much of the shower of blows that the master offered so freely. One day a stupid boy persisted in holding his violin wrong and suddenly it flew up to the ceiling in a hundred fragments. Poor Camilla fairly cried with fright when the master kicked it out of the pupil's hands and really had to take refuge in sudden tears. She clung to her instrument with might and main after that. He would not be able to kick it away in that style from her hands.
Up early in the morning, breakfast, then three hours practice at home with her father, then to her lessons from two till four at the Conservatory. Then home again to study till bed time. Such was her day.
Three times a week, at all sorts of hours, as happened to be convenient, she went to Massart's house for the extra lessons he gave her as a private pupil. He was a famous teacher and pupils gladly paid him twenty francs an hour for instruction on the violin. Camilla had it all for nothing. It was the only gift she ever did have. Nobody had ever given her money. They gave her an education and that was worth more than money. She must work hard and show that she appreciated the master's kindness.
Besides these lessons, she studied harmony and practiced solfeggio at the Conservatory. Her every hour was taken up with something. When her fingers were weary with playing she could write out her exercises in harmony.
So the days and weeks slipped away. Busy over her studies she hardly noticed that the winter had come again till she began to need warmer clothing. She went to aunt Caroline. Mother was busy on some embroidery. It was strange how much time mother gave to that work now. She had not done so at Nantes. Aunt Caroline gave her an old dress that had been mended several times. Camilla put it on without remark. She thought it odd, that there was no new dress for the winter but said nothing. Somehow things seemed to be changed. Her father was discouraged and her mother never went out, and worked hard all day at embroidery. What had happened? She could not tell.
THE WOLF GROWLS.
It was a busy life for Camilla. As the winter advanced her hours of study increased. More practice at home and more difficult lessons at the school. Studies from Rode, Baillot, Fiorillo, Viotti, Kreutzer, Sporha and the great masters of the violin, were taken up in turn. It was designed that she should become acquainted with all the master works of the day. In addition to regular studies in scales, finger exercises and the like, she went through all the works of the masters that she might become familiar with their style and learn to appreciate the best art. There were no trifling songs, no silly pieces designed to show how fast she could scrabble through a great many notes. Nothing of this kind allowed. Solid work, grand concertos, sonatas and solos passed under her hand in review and in an artistic atmosphere, she began to grow to the stature of an artist while only a child.
The boys in the class soon laid aside their rude manners and forgot their jealousy in admiration. Massart laughed at them and said: "Fie! Boys! The hen is beating the roosters." Much truth was hidden in the master's pleasantry. Camilla was rapidly distancing them all. She was the favorite scholar. She had the advantage of Massart's private instruction three times a week and exhibited an aptitude for the work that advanced her quickly to the head of the class. This was an honor, for it must be remembered, that these boys had been selected as the cream of all the candidates. Each had displayed marked talent for the violin. Had it been otherwise they would not have been in the Conservatory.
All were like Camilla, quite poor. Some were even supported by pensions from their native towns, and nearly all of them afterwards became good players. There was Lacham, Leon Regnier, and Isidor Lotto who afterwards became so famous, and several others.
Henri Wieniawski was in the class before Camilla, but at the time was still about the school. They often met and there began a friendship that has continued to this day. Of Massart's pupils, three, Camilla, Lotto and Wieniawski have become famous the world over and are among the great artists now living.
Besides her regular studies Massart advised Camilla to join a quartette in order to perfect herself in reading music at sight. Once a week she spent an hour or two in playing with three others at the Conservatory and in this way heard much fine music and accustomed her young eyes to read the notes quickly and taught her slender fingers to interpret the music at command.
Not all of her days were happy. Massart was dreadfully cross at times. He would detect the slightest flaw in the work. Once he marched a stupid boy out of the room by the ear and told him never to come back again. If she should be treated like that it would really break her heart. She would try her best to attend to all that was said and to do everything just right. Massart might storm and rage about the room, but it should not be from any neglect on her part. Altogether it was not a very lovely life. Try as hard as she could it did not always please, and some days it was really pretty tough for such a very small girl.
Another trouble came. Mother would bend over that dreadful embroidery all day long, and things did not seem so prosperous as in Nantes. Father was busy looking about for new rooms and almost before Camilla was aware of it they were ready for a change of residence.
They could not afford the rent of the rooms on the Rue St. Nicholas d'Antin, and they found cheaper quarters in a flat just under the roof in an old house on the Rue Lamartine, and up six flights of long, dark stairs.
It was a sad change from their comfortable home in sunny Nantes. There was nothing to be seen out of the windows save steep, red roofs, the sky, and sundry wild cats that roamed over the tiles. The streets thereabouts were narrow and crooked, with mean little sidewalks hardly wide enough for one.
It was not the Paris of to-day. The wide and handsome Rue de La Fayette that now passes near the Rue Lamartine and the beautiful Square Montholon with its trees and gardens was not in existence then. Camilla first knew Paris as a city of short, crowded streets lined with tall houses and cheap shops and crowded with work people and small householders.
They had only been settled in the new home a few weeks when a greater trouble came to them. The wolf began to growl in the echoing entry way of the tall house. They began to think he would climb the stairs or come in over the tiles and scare even the starved cats away.
The store of money they had brought from dear, old Nantes had melted away long ago. There was "little to earn and many to keep." M. Urso tried and tried, but could get no permanent position at any of the theatres. There were scores of flute players in the city. As for organists, there were a dozen for every organ. Once in a while he had a chance to play for a single Sunday, as a substitute. Occasionally there was a party or other gathering where a few francs could be earned by playing.
Even mother had to help. At Nantes she had spent many a happy hour in fancy needle-work and embroidery. In Paris the work was followed for twelve hours a day that she might earn two francs and so help keep that terrible wolf from coming up the stairs. Aunt Caroline kept house and made the children's clothing go as far as possible. All helped as well as they could. They must stay in Paris. Camilla must keep on at the Conservatory. There were two years more of study before her. She had put her hand to the plow and could not turn back. They must all stay and help her through.
The Winter passed away and the Spring came. Absorbed in her studies Camilla hardly noticed it except to observe that her thin clothing was more comfortable. It cost less to live in the Summer, and when in June her ninth birth-day came and she was eight years old, they became more hopeful. Perhaps they could pull through after all.
It was in vain. With the Summer came the dull times in business and their case grew more and more desperate. There was no wealthy friend near to help them. No grand Prince stood ready to pay the bills, after the fashion of the good Prince who helped the young Haydn on in his studies. They had not a single rich friend in the world.
Camilla might get on very well through the warm weather with her present suit. But, to study or practice she must have good food and plenty of it. She looked pale and pinched enough, poor child, and her dress was too small for comfort. Something must be done or they would all starve. They must take her away from the Conservatory or find more money.
In their distress they applied to Massart and the officers of the Conservatory. The master was very angry. "What! Go away for six months! Give concerts! It was a shame to lose so much time just when she was doing so well."
No. If Camilla left the Conservatory she could not come back. That is what they said. And so it was all over and this was the wretched end of all their trying. It was hard to give up. What could they do? The Summer term was almost over. The summer vacation was at hand. Camilla might give a few concerts during the vacation. The money might help them along another winter and then they would be in want again. The vacation would not give them time to accomplish all they wished. They hoped by making an extended tour to earn enough money to support them a year or more.
It was the only thing to be done and after making proper representation to the authorities of the Conservatory permission was given. Camilla might be absent six months and then resume her place in the classes. This was a great concession. Only Camilla's undoubted genius, her desire to study, and her poverty caused them to break over their rules in this matter. Massart too, gave his consent and said he would resume her instruction without charge when she returned.
Now she was to prove what she could do. It was a pity to interrupt her studies. Her education was not half finished and she must appear in public before she was really ready. If she succeeded now, how great would be her triumph when the three years at the Conservatory were finished.
It was impossible to break up the family, and the entire household prepared for the expedition. As they had no money they must move slowly and cautiously. Salvatore Urso would play the flute and accompany Camilla on the piano. Her mother could sing. That would make three performers, and with two pieces for each they could give quite a programme. To make a variety they should have one more singer. So they hired a gentleman to join their Company and sing buffo and other songs. Aunt Caroline would stay in Paris with the boys. When all was ready Camilla and her father and mother packed up and started off in search of fame and money. They must do something, and this seemed the most feasible plan.
The first journey was a short one and they landed at the town of Verdun. As soon as they were comfortably settled in lodgings Camilla and her father started out to present their letters of introduction. These letters were to wealthy amateurs who might be interested in the child and her playing.
The good people received them politely and after they had made a short call they were formally invited to call soon and spend the evening with a few musical friends. This was all that was wanted. If the ladies and gentlemen once heard Camilla play they would be pleased and perhaps they would take tickets to her concert. Things move slowly in France and several days, perhaps a week, would pass before the musical party would come off. In the mean time Camilla lost not an hour. From six to ten hours a day she went through her exercises and studied such pieces as she intended to perform in public. Her father was constantly with her, guiding her studies, overlooking her practice and aiding her in every way possible.
When the important evening came her long, brown hair was braided in two long braids and secured with bows of blue ribbon. With her new frock and simple manners, large blue eyes and thin, pale face she presented an interesting appearance. A little too quiet and sober for such a young girl. She seldom spoke, and was reserved and thoughtful. Her life had not been a very happy one. Had it not been for her intense love for music, had her heart not been bound up in her violin it would have been a sad, dull life, full of toil and wearisome labor. In after years, when the showers that fell so steadily during her younger days, cleared away, the bright, animated and merry side of her nature came out and the demure little girl became a vivacious and sparkling woman.
It was small wonder that the two or three hundred people who met to hear her play were delighted. She seemed so earnest, her large eyed intensity of expression, the bold and striking method of playing, the masterly sweep of her bow captivated and charmed them all. She gave such pieces from memory as she thought most pleasing and then after some little conversation about her music they asked if she would give a concert in Verdun. Yes, in a few days. Would they not take some tickets? Oh! with the greatest pleasure. They would all attend and bring their friends. Were the tickets ready? Yes. Her father had them. So they crowded round her father and bought some ten, some twenty, some fifty, and some a hundred. So most of the tickets were taken at once and success was secured in advance.
To American eyes this seems a strange fashion. The idea of playing at a private house and then selling the tickets strikes us as peculiar and perhaps unpleasant.
The Ursos did not think so. It was the custom of the country. It is the custom now. All the great players and singers have taken just such steps as this and it seems quite proper and so no one thinks ill of them.
Then she took her violin again. Felix Simon knew what he was about in Nantes. Massart's instructions had not been thrown away. Camilla was an artist in little. If she had not the expression and feeling that comes with maturity, her playing was brilliant, strong and powerful. The tones were pure and steady and technical difficulties seemed to be of no consequence. She went through it all without effort and as easily and gracefully as can be imagined.
The audience was charmed with her simple manners and her wonderful playing. They fairly overwhelmed her with endearments and attentions. Was there any thing they could do to gratify such a dear little girl? One offered her one thing, another something else. She had a delightful lunch with her new friends and at last went home laden with bon bons and presents.
Then she must give a concert. They would ask all their friends and really it would be quite a grand affair. Of course all this took time. There was the permission of the Mayor to be obtained, and the hall to be engaged, the tickets to be prepared, and posters and advertisements to be sent out and tickets to be sold among the rich families of the town.
Her father must attend to it all. There was no one to help and he had to attend to everything.
In a few days the concert came off at one of the small halls in the town. There was "a good house," as they say. Camilla played the violin while her father played the accompaniment on the piano. Her mother sang and the buffo singer gave some of his songs. The great attraction was the pale little one with the long braids. How she raced through the rapid passages and drew her wonderful bow with a great sweep that made the tones roll out full and grand. Then those strange, airy harmonies made by pressing one finger firmly on a string to give one note and then lightly touching the same string a fifth above so that the lower note was partially obscured by the note above it. Double stopping they call it. We know it as harmonics. With either name it is difficult enough for even a man's hand. It was small wonder that the people cheered and cried bravo! bravo! and threw flowers on the stage and actually filled her arms with comfits and bon bons. Verdun was a great place for sugared sweets and candied fruits and they thought they were doing quite the proper thing by presenting some to her.
The next day they counted the money, paid all the few small bills and found that they had four hundred francs left. Really! Things were looking up. Their prospects were improving. Camilla was certainly a great success. Collecting such letters of introduction as they could obtain, they packed up and started for the next town on their programme. Where was the wolf now? Nobody knew. Camilla had driven him away with her violin.
A GOOD FIGHT.
Then a short journey to Bar le Duc. As soon as they were comfortably settled in the new place the whole ceremony was repeated. The good friends they had found at Verdun gave them letters of introduction to the best people and in about three weeks they had made their calls, played at some of the grand houses and given a concert with the same interesting result in the way of good, sound francs. How they treasured up the little Camilla's winnings. Every franc must be saved and they lived as cheaply and simply as possible at all times. Every centime would be needed to carry Camilla through the two more years at the Conservatory.
Then to Metz and Strasburg and to the Rhine. It was to be a grand tour. The Germans must hear Camilla play. They were true lovers of music. If they were pleased it would be a great triumph and the concerts would be very successful. From Strasburg they went to Manheim, then up the Rhine to Bale in Switzerland. Then back again to Baden Baden, and to Heidelberg.
What a glorious time she had. There were rides and walks among the beautiful hills just as the grapes were ripe. Her spirits became more animated and childlike and her color returned. It was like some strange dream. Mother, too was happier, and as for father he had never been so gay and merry since they left Nantes. How that pile of francs had grown. From hundreds it had become thousands.
At Heidelberg she had a ride on the donkeys and visited the ruined castle high on the hill. It seemed a kind of continual picnic. It was no longer a weariness to practice. The weeks flew away so happily that they hardly noticed that the Fall was near. They must return to Paris soon. The vacation was over long ago. Still, the handsome pile of francs was not large enough yet, and they kept on to Calsrue and Homburg. Every where it was the same. Presents of every imaginable kind, flowers and jewelry were showered upon her. At one place they gave her more preserves and sugared fruits than she could eat in a month, and a German Countess at Manheim was so charmed with the child that she took off a beautiful pearl cross and chain and put it round Camilla's neck. It was the cross the lady had when she was confirmed at Church and she valued it highly on that account. Camilla kept the beautiful present for a long time till it was lost in New York, as we shall see later in the story.
The tour was really not a very extensive one. A part of Eastern France and a part of the Rhine country was all she saw, but it took seven long months to get through with it. Were she to undertake the tour now it could be done in two weeks. They had no active agent traveling ahead to hire the halls and secure the rooms at the hotels. There were no advertising facilities, and no telegraphs. M. Urso had to do everything himself. The ceremonious calls upon the great families took a great deal of time. The subscription list and the sale of tickets could not be started till they were fairly settled in the town. Three weeks in one city was hardly enough time to prepare for one concert and during it all Camilla's practice could not be neglected for a single day. Her father was always present watching and guiding her, and, in fact keeping her steadily to her work.
To off-set all this, it cost them very little to live, and their concert expenses were light. The rent of the halls was low, and they had very few advertising bills to pay. This made it easy to make the tour profitable, and when at last they returned to Paris they found they had 5,000 francs on hand, more money than they had ever dreamed about in sleepy old Nantes. This represented Camilla's first earnings. Aunt Caroline had received part of the money to help along the little home in the Rue Lamartine and when they came back she stood ready to welcome them at the top of the six flights of stairs. The cats were all there on the red roofs, but that wolf had run away in dismay. It is thought he did not appreciate music. Camilla was sure he did not like her style of bowing.
The very next day after the journey was over Camilla returned to the little room in the corner of the Conservatory and took her place by the window that looked out into the court-yard where the school bell hung in its tower, where she could see fat and rosy Massart tramp up and down the floor and scold the boys in his dear, cross old fashion. That stick flourished about as lively as ever. Her own fingers and limbs felt it once in a while when she became careless. It was not often now. She would be nine next Spring. She was getting to be a big girl and knew too much to be caught napping by Massart. The "German Tour" as she proudly called it had sharpened her wits and made her even more attentive and careful. She took up her studies in solfeggio and harmony and settled down into the routine of hard, persistent study with renewed vigor. Those boys were far ahead of her. Never mind. She would catch them presently.
When we see Madam Urso play to-day we think her steadiness of posture and grace of playing very easy. None can count the days, months and years of trial and labor she spent to attain such skill and grace. In playing it may be noticed that she stands very firm and erect on her left foot, with the right slightly advanced in front. Even so simple a matter as this cost weeks of painful effort and many a bitter tear. They put her right foot into a china saucer in such a way that the slightest weight upon it would crush it. She broke several before she fully acquired the proper position. It cost tears and china ware, at first. Now it is as nothing.
The playing appears to be easy enough to spectators. Her fingers fly over the strings with unerring certainty. It seems as if it would be impossible to go wrong. We look on the strings to see if there are finger prints, or other marks to show where the strings should be touched. There is nothing. On the piano each key is plainly marked out. Knowing the notes and the keys we may in time touch them with absolute certainty. On the violin, the fingers must find the right place without assistance. The notes must be found, as it were, in the dark. Only by learning just how far to stretch the fingers and by the employment of years and years of practice can any degree of skill be obtained.
In spite of all this, here was our nine year old Camilla getting ready to compete for the prizes at the end of her second year. It was not to be a mere concert where each pupil was to come out and play such pieces as they liked before a mixed audience. There was a long difficult concerto, to be learned, and each was to play the same piece before the severe and critical jury, and before such musicians and others as chose to attend. It was held in the theatre attached to the Conservatory. Besides that, there were three difficult questions to answer in harmony, and a piece of music written in a most extraordinary manner was to be sung at first sight.
In this country we now write vocal music in two clefs, known as the bass and treble clefs. This makes it easy to read and any singer after having mastered them both can get along without much difficulty. Some of the more lazy ones think it hard to sing in even one and are quite upset if they try to sing in any, save their own. What would the poor alto who "didn't know anything about the bass clefs" think of singing at first sight in seven different clefs. Camilla's trial piece at the examination in solfeggio was a song that began in one clef, went a few bars and then jumped into another, then into another and back again, then another and so on in a manner perfectly bewildering and distracting. She had never seen it before and went through it without missing a note. The result was that she carried off the first diploma, and the jury and audience were greatly pleased.
Then they placed a large basket before her in which were hundreds of bits of folded paper. She was to take out three, open them, read them aloud and give a verbal answer to each. The first question was something about the relative minor of a certain major key and its signature. That was easy enough and she answered at once without hesitation. The next question nearly took her breath away. It was some deep and perplexing thing about the construction of a chord. Many a music teacher would be puzzled to answer it. She thought some wicked person had put it in the basket just to annoy her. Nobody could answer such a tremendously hard question. She paused perplexed. It would not do to fail, and calling up her sturdy will she compelled herself to think it out. In a moment a bright gleam passed over her face and she began to answer the question slowly. Feeling more confident, she went on explaining the matter, and suddenly went wrong. She caught herself at once and in a flash corrected it and gave the right answer.
This was against the rules. No pupil was allowed to correct himself. He must have it right the first time. She was greatly frightened, and thought she had made a failure. She was so earnest and anxious over it, and moreover she was a girl, the first girl on the violin ever admitted to the Conservatory, and with a smile and a word of encouragement the jury forgave her and accepted her answer. The third question was quickly answered and the great trial was successfully finished. This trial of skill, or examination as we should call it, lasted several days. One day she was examined in harmony. The singing came another day, the violin concerto another, and the playing at sight in a string quartette on still another. The poor girl was quite worn out and thankful that the summer vacation came soon after. At our Conservatories and music schools the pupils take the vacation as a time of rest and enjoyment. They say it is too hot to work. It is quite as warm in Paris, and Camilla was as weary as ever they could be at such a time. Still she rose with the sun, practiced all the forenoon with her father, went to Massart's house three times a week, and with the exception of the hours spent at the Conservatory, her time passed exactly as if there was no vacation at all. Work, work, work, all the time. Just enough exercise to keep her in good health. Only a little play, now and then. Hours and hours of practice day after day. Such was her life. A great and splendid reward was in view. By and by she would win every thing. When her day of success came she could rest and enjoy herself. Could she? Did she ever rest? We shall see.
THE ROSE OF MONTHOLON.
The last year at the Conservatory was drawing to an end. It was early summer and Camilla was just ten years old. The long and difficult course of study that many a boy was proud to finish when he was nineteen, was almost over before she had entered her teens. She was paler and thinner than ever and felt glad the warm weather had come, for really, her frock was not thick enough for comfort. That terrible wolf had again howled in the dark echoing entry way of the house on the Rue Lamartine. The goodly pile of francs she had won on the German tour had melted wholly away. Mother had taken up that dreary embroidery again. There were four boys to be clothed and fed now, and Salvatore Urso found it hard work to get along.
Camilla absorbed in her music hardly knew how serious the case had become. Many a time she came home from her lessons to find that the family had been to dinner, and that something nice and warm had been saved for her. They said they had dined, but in truth they had only eaten a cheap lunch of fried potatoes or something a few sous would buy that Camilla might have a better dinner. She must be maintained in good health, and no sacrifice on their part was too great. When they had but little they took the best for her and concealed from her their own scanty meals. She was an exceedingly affectionate child and would have shared her best with her mother had she known what they silently suffered for her sake.
Her father was constantly with her when she practiced. Many an hour he stood by her side and held her left arm to help sustain the weight of her weary violin. At times he let her sit on a stool though the good student always stands with the violin. She was a growing girl and something of the rules must be relaxed. At the same time her father was a strict master and never suffered her to slight or neglect her practice. During the three years at the Conservatory he never was absent while she practiced though it averaged ten hours a day during the last year. During it all Camilla never once refused to go to her lessons and in company with her aunt or father daily walked to the Conservatory and to Massart's house.
Could they go on much longer? Their case was getting positively desperate. They had nearly struggled through the three years. It was almost over and Camilla was well nigh ready to try her fortune in the world. She must play before some of the wealthy amateur musicians and show her talents. No money would come of it but it might serve as an introduction to public life and bring her into notice so that when she did leave the Conservatory she would not be wholly unknown.
One day there came an invitation to spend the evening at some private house and she prepared to go. She had passably good clothing and was, as far as appearance was concerned, ready to go. Then came a dreadful discovery. The wolf was at the door. He had come up the stairs and was scratching and snarling at the threshold. What were they to do? There was not a thing to eat in the house. The very last franc had been spent. There was nothing left but that pearl cross the Countess had given her at Manheim. They might sell it. No they could not and would not. They would go supperless to bed first. But Camilla, poor child, was going out. Perhaps she would have a supper at the friend's house where she was to play. And perhaps not. Besides, she had eaten nothing since morning. She might faint before the supper hour came. She could not give it up and go to bed as her brothers had done. In their perplexity and trouble Aunt Caroline came with the joyful news that she had found a sou in an old coat pocket. Only a sou—a copper cent. Camilla dressed hastily, and with her father set out for the private concert where she was to play. As they walked through the streets they stopped at one of the little cooking stands that are so common in Paris. With the one cent they bought a paper bag holding perhaps a pint of fried potatoes. M. Urso carried the violin and Camilla took the bag and ate her supper as she passed along. Franklin's breakfast of rolls in the streets of Philadelphia was a royal feast beside Camilla's supper. Using her handkerchief for a napkin she finished the meal and throwing the paper bag away entered the grand mansion as the honored little guest and artist. As for her father he had no supper at all.