HIS MUSICAL OPINIONS AND GROTESQUES
With an Introduction and Edited
BY JAMES HUNEKER
THEODORE PRESSER CO. 1712 Chestnut Street Philadelphia London, Weekes & Co.
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Copyright, 1913, by Theodore Presser Co.
International Copyright Secured.
Third Printing, 1923.
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These Musical Opinions and Grotesques are dedicated to
Whose beautiful art was ever a source of delight to his fellow-countryman,
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My friend the publisher has asked me to tell you what I know about Old Fogy, whose letters aroused much curiosity and comment when they appeared from time to time in the columns of The Etude. I confess I do this rather unwillingly. When I attempted to assemble my memories of the eccentric and irascible musician I found that, despite his enormous volubility and surface-frankness, the old gentleman seldom allowed us more than a peep at his personality. His was the expansive temperament, or, to employ a modern phrase, the dynamic temperament. Antiquated as were his modes of thought, he would bewilder you with an excursion into latter-day literature, and like a rift of light in a fogbank you then caught a gleam of an entirely different mentality. One day I found him reading a book by the French writer Huysmans, dealing with new art. And he confessed to me that he admired Hauptmann's Hannele, though he despised the same dramatist's Weavers. The truth is that no human being is made all of a piece; we are, mentally at least, more of a mosaic than we believe.
Let me hasten to negative the report that I was ever a pupil of Old Fogy. To be sure, I did play for him once a paraphrase of The Maiden's Prayer (in double tenths by Dogowsky), but he laughed so heartily that I feared apoplexy, and soon stopped. The man really existed. There are a score of persons alive in Philadelphia today who still remember him and could call him by his name—formerly an impossible Hungarian one, with two or three syllables lopped off at the end, and for family reasons not divulged here. He assented that he was a fellow-pupil of Liszt's under the beneficent, iron rule of Carl Czerny. But he never looked his age. Seemingly seventy, a very vital threescore-and-ten, by the way, he was as light on his feet as were his fingers on the keyboard. A linguist, speaking without a trace of foreign accent three or four tongues, he was equally fluent in all. Once launched in an argument there was no stopping him. Nor was he an agreeable opponent. Torrents and cataracts of words poured from his mouth.
He pretended to hate modern music, but, as you will note after reading his opinions, collected for the first time in this volume, he very often contradicts himself. He abused Bach, then used the Well-tempered Clavichord as a weapon of offense wherewith to pound Liszt and the Lisztianer. He attacked Wagner and Wagnerism with inappeasable fury, but I suspect that he was secretly much impressed by several of the music-dramas, particularly Die Meistersinger. As for his severe criticism of metropolitan orchestras, that may be set down to provincial narrowness; certainly, he was unfair to the Philharmonic Society. Therefore, I don't set much store on his harsh judgments of Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and other composers. He insisted on the superiority of Chopin's piano music above all others; nevertheless he devoted more time to Hummel, and I can personally vouch that he adored the slightly banal compositions of the worthy Dussek. It is quite true that he named his little villa on the Wissahickon Creek after Dussek.
Nourished by the romantic writers of the past century, especially by Hoffmann and his fantastic Kreisleriana, their influence upon the writing of Old Fogy is not difficult to detect. He loved the fantastic, the bizarre, the grotesque—for the latter quality he endured the literary work of Berlioz, hating all the while his music. And this is a curious crack in his mental make-up; his admiration for the exotic in literature and his abhorrence of the same quality when it manifested itself in tone. I never entirely understood Old Fogy. In one evening he would flash out a dozen contradictory opinions. Of his sincerity I have no doubt; but he was one of those natures that are sincere only for the moment. He might fume at Schumann and call him a vanishing star, and then he would go to the piano and play the first few pages of the glorious A minor concerto most admirably. How did he play? Not in an extraordinary manner. Solidly schooled, his technical attainments were only of a respectable order; but when excited he revealed traces of a higher virtuosity than was to have been expected. I recall his series of twelve historical recitals, in which he practically explored all pianoforte literature from Alkan to Zarembski. These recitals were privately given in the presence of a few friends. Old Fogy played all the concertos, sonatas, studies and minor pieces worth while. His touch was dry, his style neat. A pianist made, not born, I should say.
He was really at his best when he unchained his fancy. His musical grotesques are a survival from the Hoffmann period, but written so as to throw an ironic light upon the artistic tendencies of our time. Need I add that he did not care for the vaporous tonal experiments of Debussy and the new school! But then he was an indifferent critic and an enthusiastic advocate.
He never played in public to my knowledge, nor within the memory of any man alive today. He was always vivacious, pugnacious, hardly sagacious. He would sputter with rage if you suggested that he was aged enough to be called "venerable." How old was he—for he died suddenly last September at his home somewhere in southeastern Europe? I don't know. His grandson, a man already well advanced in years, wouldn't or couldn't give me any precise information, but, considering that he was an intimate of the early Liszt, I should say that Old Fogy was born in the years 1809 or 1810. No one will ever dispute these dates, as was the case with Chopin, for Old Fogy will be soon forgotten. It is due to the pious friendship of the publisher that these opinions are bound between covers. They are the record of a stubborn, prejudiced, well-trained musician and well-read man, one who was not devoid of irony. Indeed, I believe he wrote much with his tongue in his cheek. But he was a stimulating companion, boasted a perverse funny-bone and a profound sense of the importance of being Old Fogy. And this is all I know about the man.
OLD FOGY IS PESSIMISTIC
Once every twelve months, to be precise, as the year dies and the sap sinks in my old veins, my physical and psychologic—isn't that the new-fangled way of putting it?—barometer sinks; in sympathy with Nature I suppose. My corns ache, I get gouty, and my prejudices swell like varicose veins.
Errors! Yes, errors! The word is not polite, nor am I in a mood of politeness. I consider such phrases as the "progress of art," the "improvement of art" and "higher average of art" distinctly and harmfully misleading. I haven't the leisure just now to demonstrate these mistaken propositions, but I shall write a few sentences.
How can art improve? Is art a something, an organism capable of "growing up" into maturity? If it is, by the same token it can grow old, can become a doddering, senile thing, and finally die and be buried with all the honors due its long, useful life. It was Henrik Ibsen who said that the value of a truth lasted about fifteen years; then it rotted into error. Now, isn't all this talk of artistic improvement as fallacious as the vicious reasoning of the Norwegian dramatist? Otherwise Bach would be dead; Beethoven, middle-aged; Mozart, senile. What, instead, is the health of these three composers? Have you a gayer, blither, more youthful scapegrace writing today than Mozart? Is there a man among the moderns more virile, more passionately earnest or noble than Beethoven? Bach, of the three, seems the oldest; yet his C-sharp major Prelude belies his years. On the contrary, the Well-tempered Clavichord grows younger with time. It is the Book of Eternal Wisdom. It is the Fountain of Eternal Youth.
As a matter of cold, hard fact, it is your modern who is ancient; the ancients were younger. Consider the Greeks and their naive joy in creation! The twentieth-century man brings forth his works of art in sorrow. His music shows it. It is sad, complicated, hysterical and morbid. I shan't allude to Chopin, who was neurotic—another empty medical phrase!—or to Schumann, who carried within him the seeds of madness; or to Wagner, who was a decadent; sufficient for the purposes of my argument to mention the names of Liszt, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. Some day when the weather is wretched, when icicles hang by the wall, and "ways be foul" and "foul is fair and fair is foul"—pardon this jumble of Shakespeare!—I shall tell you what I think of the blond madman who sets to music crazy philosophies, bloody legends, sublime tommy-rot, and his friend's poems and pictures. At this writing I have neither humor nor space.
As I understand the rank and jargon of modern criticism, Berlioz is called the father of modern instrumentation. That is, he says nothing in his music, but says it magnificently. His orchestration covers a multitude of weaknesses with a flamboyant cloak of charity. [Now, here I go again; I could have just as easily written "flaming"; but I, too, must copy Berlioz!] He pins haughty, poetic, high-sounding labels to his works, and, like Charles Lamb, we sit open-mouthed at concerts trying to fill in his big sonorous frame with a picture. Your picture is not mine, and I'll swear that the young man who sits next to me with a silly chin, goggle-eyes and cocoanut-shaped head sees as in a fluttering mirror the idealized image of a strong-chinned, ox-eyed, classic-browed youth, a mixture of Napoleon at Saint Helena and Lord Byron invoking the Alps to fall upon him. Now, I loathe such music. It makes its chief appeal to the egotism of mankind, all the time slily insinuating that it addresses the imagination. What fudge! Yes, the imagination of your own splendid ego in a white vest [we called them waistcoats when I was young], driving an automobile down Walnut Street, at noon on a bright Spring Sunday. How lofty!
Let us pass to the Hungarian piano-virtuoso who posed as a composer. That he lent money and thematic ideas to his precious son-in-law, Richard Wagner, I do not doubt. But, then, beggars must not be choosers, and Liszt gave to Wagner mighty poor stuff, musically speaking. And I fancy that Wagner liked far better the solid cash than the notes of hand! Liszt, I think, would have had nothing to say if Berlioz had not preceded him. The idea struck him, for he was a master of musical snippets, that Berlioz was too long-winded, that his symphonies were neither fish nor form. What ho! cried Master Franz, I'll give them a dose homeopathic. He did, and named his prescription a Symphonic Poem or, rather, Poeme Symphonique, which is not quite the same thing. Nothing tickles the vanity of the groundlings like this sort of verbal fireworks. "It leaves so much to the imagination," says the stout man with the twenty-two collar and the number six hat. It does. And the kind of imagination—Oh, Lord! Liszt, nothing daunted because he couldn't shake out an honest throw of a tune from his technical dice-box, built his music on so-called themes, claiming that in this matter he derived from Bach. Not so. Bach's themes were subjects for fugal treatment; Liszt's, for symphonic. The parallel is not fair. Besides, Daddy Liszt had no melodic invention. Bach had. Witness his chorals, his masses, his oratorios! But the Berlioz ball had to be kept a-rolling; the formula was too easy; so Liszt named his poems, named his notes, put dog-collars on his harmonies—and yet no one whistled after them. Is it any wonder?
Tchaikovsky studied Liszt with one eye; the other he kept on Bellini and the Italians. What might have happened if he had been one-eyed I cannot pretend to say. In love with lush, sensuous melody, attracted by the gorgeous pyrotechnical effects in Berlioz and Liszt and the pomposities of Meyerbeer, this Russian, who began study too late and being too lazy to work hard, manufactured a number of symphonic poems. To them he gave strained, fantastic names—names meaningless and pretty—and, as he was short-winded contrapuntally, he wrote his so-called instrumental poems shorter than Liszt's. He had no symphonic talent, he substituted Italian tunes for dignified themes, and when the development section came he plastered on more sentimental melodies. His sentiment is hectic, is unhealthy, is morbid. Tchaikovsky either raves or whines like the people in a Russian novel. I think the fellow was a bit touched in the upper story; that is, I did until I heard the compositions of R. Strauss, of Munich. What misfit music for such a joyous name, a name evocative of all that is gay, refined, witty, sparkling, and spontaneous in music! After Mozart give me Strauss—Johann, however, not Richard!
No longer the wheezings, gaspings, and short-breathed phrases of Liszt; no longer the evil sensuality, loose construction, formlessness, and drunken peasant dances of Tchaikovsky; but a blending of Wagner, Brahms, Liszt—and the classics. Oh, Strauss, Richard, knows his business! He is a skilled writer. He has his chamber-music moments, his lyric outbursts; his early songs are sometimes singable; it is his perverse, vile orgies of orchestral music that I speak of. No sane man ever erected such a mad architectural scheme. He should be penned behind the bars of his own mad music. He has no melody. He loves ugly noises. He writes to distracting lengths; and, worst of all, his harmonies are hideous. But he doesn't forget to call his monstrosities fanciful names. If it isn't Don Juan, it is Don Quixote—have you heard the latter? [O shades of Mozart!] This giving his so-called compositions literary titles is the plaster for our broken heads—and ear-drums. So much for your three favorite latter-day composers.
Now for my Coda! If the art of today has made no progress in fugue, song, sonata, symphony, quartet, oratorio, opera [who has improved on Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert? Name! name! I say], what is the use of talking about "the average of today being higher"? How higher? You mean more people go to concerts, more people enjoy music than fifty or a hundred years ago! Do they? I doubt it. Of what use huge places of worship when the true gods of art are no longer worshiped? Numbers prove nothing; the majority is not always in the right. I contend that there has been no great music made since the death of Beethoven; that the multiplication of orchestras, singing societies, and concerts are no true sign that genuine culture is being achieved. The tradition of the classics is lost; we care not for the true masters. Modern music making is a fashionable fad. People go because they think they should. There was more real musical feeling, uplifting and sincere, in the Old St. Thomaskirche in Leipsic where Bach played than in all your modern symphony and oratorio machine-made concerts. I'll return to the charge again!
Dussek Villa-on-Wissahickon, Near Manayunk, Pa.
OLD FOGY GOES ABROAD
Before I went to Bayreuth I had always believed that some magic spell rested upon the Franconian hills like a musical benison; some mystery of art, atmosphere, and individuality evoked by the place, the tradition, the people. How sadly I was disappointed I propose to tell you, prefacing all by remarking that in Philadelphia, dear old, dusty Philadelphia, situated near the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill, I have listened to better representations of the Ring and Die Meistersinger.
It is just thirty years since I last visited Germany. Before the Franco-Prussian War there was an air of sweetness, homeliness, an old-fashioned peace in the land. The swaggering conqueror, the arrogant Berliner type of all that is unpleasant, modern and insolent now overruns Germany. The ingenuousness, the naive quality that made dear the art of the Fatherland, has disappeared. In its place is smartness, flippancy, cynicism, unbelief, and the critical faculty developed to the pathological point. I thought of Schubert, and sighed in the presence of all this wit and savage humor. Bayreuth is full of doctrinaires. They eagerly dispute Wagner's meanings, and my venerable notions of the Ring were not only sneered at, but, to be quite frank with you, dissipated into thin, metaphysical smoke.
In 1869 I fancied Reinecke a decent composer, Schopenhauer remarkable, if somewhat bitter in his philosophic attitude towards life. Reinecke is now a mere ghost of a ghost, a respectable memory of Leipsic, whilst Schopenhauer has been brutally elbowed out of his niche by his former follower, Nietzsche. In every cafe, in every summer-garden I sought I found groups of young men talking heatedly about Nietzsche, and the Over-Man, the Uebermensch, to be quite German. I had, in the innocence of my Wissahickon soul, supposed Schopenhauer Wagner's favorite philosopher. Mustering up my best German, somewhat worn from disuse, I gave speech to my views, after the manner of a garrulous old man who hates to be put on the shelf before he is quite disabled.
Ach! but I caught it, ach! but I was pulverized and left speechless by these devotees of the Hammer-philosopher, Nietzsche. I was told that Wagner was a fairly good musician, although no inventor of themes. He had evolved no new melodies, but his knowledge of harmony, above all, his constructive power, were his best recommendations. As for his abilities as a dramatic poet, absurd! His metaphysics were green with age, his theories as to the syntheses of the arts silly and impracticable, while his Schopenhauerism, pessimism, and the rest sheer dead weights that were slowly but none the less surely strangling his music. When I asked how this change of heart came about, how all that I had supposed that went to the making of the Bayreuth theories was exploded moonshine, I was curtly reminded of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche again, always this confounded Nietzsche, who, mad as a hatter at Naumburg, yet contrives to hypnotize the younger generation with his crazy doctrines of force, of the great Blond Barbarian, of the Will to Destroy—infinitely more vicious than the Will to Live—and the inherent immorality of Wagner's music. I came to Bayreuth to criticize; I go away praying, praying for the mental salvation of his new expounders, praying that this poisonous nonsense will not reach us in America. But it will.
The charm of this little city is the high price charged for everything. A stranger is "spotted" at once and he is the prey of the townspeople. Beer, carriages, food, pictures, music, busts, books, rooms, nothing is cheap. I've been all over, saw Wagner's tomb, looked at the outside of Wahnfried and the inside of the theater. I have seen Siegfried Wagner—who can't conduct one-quarter as well as our own Walter Damrosch—walking up and down the streets, a tin demi-god, a reduced octavo edition of his father bound in cheap calf. Worse still, I have heard the young man try to conduct, try to hold that mighty Bayreuth orchestra in leash, and with painful results. Not one firm, clanging chord could he extort; all were more or less arpeggioed, and as for climax—there was none.
I have sat in Sammett's garden, which was once Angermann's, famous for its company, kings, composers, poets, wits, and critics, all mingling there in discordant harmony. Now it is overrun by Cook's tourists in bicycle costumes, irreverent, chattering, idle, and foolish. Even Wagner has grown gray and the Ring sounded antique to me, so strong were the disturbing influences of my environment.
The bad singing by ancient Teutons—for the most part—was to blame for this. Certainly when Walhall had succumbed to the flames and the primordial Ash-Tree sunk in the lapping waters of the treacherous Rhine, I felt that the end of the universe was at hand and it was with a sob I saw outside in the soft, summer-sky, riding gallantly in the blue, the full moon. It was the only young thing in the world at that moment, this burnt-out servant planet of ours, and I gazed at it long and fondly, for it recalled the romance of my student years, my love of Schumann's poetic music and other illusions of a vanished past. In a word, I had again surrendered to the sentimental spell of Germany, Germany by night, and with my heart full I descended from the terrace, walked slowly down the arbored avenue to Sammett's garden and there sat, mused and—smoked my Yankee pipe. I realize that I am, indeed, an old man ready for that shelf the youngsters provide for the superannuated and those who disagree with them.
I had all but forgotten the performances. They were, as I declared at the outset, far from perfect, far from satisfactory. The Ring was depressing. Rosa Sucher, who visited us some years ago, was a flabby Sieglinde. The Siegmund, Herr Burgstalles, a lanky, awkward young fellow from over the hills somewhere. He was sad. Ernst Kraus, an old acquaintance, was a familiar Siegfried. Demeter Popovici you remember with Damrosch, also Hans Greuer. Van Rooy's Wotan was supreme. It was the one pleasant memory of Bayreuth, that and the moon. Gadski was not an ideal Eva in Meistersinger, while Demuth was an excellent Hans Sachs. The Bruennhilde was Ellen Gulbranson, a Scandinavian. She was an heroic icicle that Wagner himself could not melt. Schumann-Heink, as Magdalene in Meistersinger, was simply grotesque. Van Rooy's Walther I missed. Hans Richter conducted my favorite of the Wagner music dramas, the touching and pathetic Nuremberg romance, and, to my surprise, went to sleep over the tempi. He has the technique of the conductor, but the elbow-grease was missing. He too is old, but better one aged Richter than a caveful of spry Siegfried Wagners!
I shan't bother you any more as to details. Bayreuth is full of ghosts—the very trees on the terrace whisper the names of Liszt and Wagner—but Madame Cosima is running the establishment for all there is in it financially—excuse my slang—and so Bayreuth is deteriorating. I saw her, Liszt's daughter, von Buelow, and Wagner's wife—or rather widow—and her gaunt frame, strong if angular features, gave me the sight of another ghost from the past. Ghosts, ghosts, the world is getting old and weary, and astride of it just now is the pessimist Nietzsche, who, disguised as a herculean boy, is deceiving his worshippers with the belief that he is young and a preacher of the joyful doctrines of youth. Be not deceived, he is but another veiled prophet. His mask is that of a grinning skeleton, his words are bitter with death and deceit.
I stopped over at Nuremberg and at a chamber concert heard Schubert's quintet for piano and strings, Die Forelle—and although I am no trout fisher, the sweet, boyish loquacity, the pure music made my heart glad and I wept.
THE WAGNER CRAZE
The new century is at hand—I am not one of those chronologically stupid persons who believes that we are now in it—and tottering as I am on its brink, the brink of my grave, and of all born during 1900, it might prove interesting as well as profitable for me to review my musical past. I hear the young folks cry aloud: "Here comes that garrulous old chap again with his car-load of musty reminiscences! Even if Old Fogy did study with Hummel, is that any reason why we should be bored by the fact? How can a skeleton in the closet tell us anything valuable about contemporary music?"
To this youthful wail—and it is a real one—I can raise no real objection. I am an Old Fogy; but I know it. That marks the difference between other old fogies and myself. Some English wit recently remarked that the sadness of old age in a woman is because her face changes; but the sad part of old age in a man is that his mind does not change. Well, I admit we septuagenarians are set in our ways. We have lived our lives, felt, suffered, rejoiced, and perhaps grown a little tolerant, a little apathetic. The young people call it cynical; yet it is not cynicism—only a large charity for the failings, the shortcomings of others. So what I am about to say in this letter must not be set down as either garrulity or senile cynicism. It is the result of a half-century of close observation, and, young folks, let me tell you that in fifty years much music has gone through the orifices of my ears; many artistic reputations made and lost!
I repeat, I have witnessed the rise and fall of so many musical dynasties; have seen men like Wagner emerge from northern mists and die in the full glory of a reverberating sunset. And I have also remarked that this same Richard the Actor touched his apogee fifteen years ago and more. Already signs are not wanting which show that Wagner and Wagnerism is on the decline. As Swinburne said of Walt Whitman: "A reformer—but not founder." This holds good of Wagner, who closed a period and did not begin a new one. In a word, Wagner was a theater musician, one cursed by a craze for public applause—and shekels—and knowing his public, gave them more operatic music than any Italian who ever wrote for barrel-organ fame. Wagner became popular, the rage; and today his music, grown stale in Germany, is being fervently imitated, nay, burlesqued, by the neo-Italian school. Come, is it not a comical situation, this swapping of themes among the nations, this picking and stealing of styles? And let me tell you that of all the Robber Barons of music, Wagner was the worst. He laid hands on every score, classical or modern, that he got hold of.
But I anticipate; I put the coda before the dog. When Rienzi appeared none of us were deceived. We recognized our Meyerbeer disfigured by clumsy, heavy German treatment. Wagner had been to the opera in Paris and knew his Meyerbeer; but even Wagner could not distance Meyerbeer. He had not the melodic invention, the orchestral tact, or the dramatic sense—at that time. Being a born mimicker of other men, a very German in industry, and a great egotist, he began casting about for other models. He soon found one, the greatest of all for his purpose. It was Weber—that same Weber for whose obsequies Wagner wrote some funeral music, not forgetting to use a theme from the Euryanthe overture. Weber was to Wagner a veritable Golconda. From this diamond mine he dug out tons of precious stones; and some of them he used for The Flying Dutchman. We all saw then what a parody on Weber was this pretentious opera, with its patches of purple, its stale choruses, its tiresome recitatives. The latter Wagner fondly imagined were but prolonged melodies. Already in his active, but musically-barren brain, theories were seething. "How to compose operas without music" might be the title of all his prose theoretical works. Not having a tail, this fox, therefore, solemnly argued that tails were useless appanages. You remember your AEsop! Instead of melodic inspiration, themes were to be used. Instead of broad, flowing, but intelligible themes, a mongrel breed of recitative and parlando was to take their place.
It was all very clever, I grant you, for it threw dust in the public eye—and the public likes to have its eyes dusted, especially if the dust is fine and flattering. Wagner proceeded to make it so by labeling his themes, leading motives. Each one meant something. And the Germans, the vainest race in Europe, rose like catfish to the bait. Wagner, in effect, told them that his music required brains—Aha! said the German, he means me; that his music was not cheap, pretty, and sensual, but spiritual, lofty, ideal—Oho! cried the German, he means me again. I am ideal. And so the game went merrily on. Being the greatest egotist that ever lived, Wagner knew that this music could not make its way without a violent polemic, without extraneous advertising aids. So he made a big row; became socialist, agitator, exile. He dragged into his music and the discussion of it, art, politics, literature, philosophy, and religion. It is a well-known fact that this humbugging comedian had written the Ring of the Nibelungs before he absorbed the Schopenhauerian doctrines, and then altered the entire scheme so as to imbue—forsooth!—his music with pessimism.
Nor was there ever such folly, such arrant "faking" as this! What has philosophy, religion, politics to do with operatic music? It cannot express any one of them. Wagner, clever charlatan, knew this, so he worked the leading-motive game for all it was worth. Realizing the indefinite nature of music, he gave to his themes—most of them borrowed without quotation marks—such titles as Love-Death; Presentiment of Death; Cooking motive—in Siegfried; Compact theme, etc., etc. The list is a lengthy one. And when taxed with originating all this futile child's-play he denied that he had named his themes. Pray, then, who did? Did von Wolzogen? Did Tappert? They worked directly under his direction, put forth the musical lures and decoys and the ignorant public was easily bamboozled. Simply mention the esoteric, the mysterious omens, signs, dark designs, and magical symbols, and you catch a certain class of weak-minded persons.
Wagner knew this; knew that the theater, with its lights, its scenery, its costumes, orchestra, and vocalizing, was the place to hoodwink the "cultured" classes. Having a pretty taste in digging up old fables and love-stories, he saturated them with mysticism and far-fetched musical motives. If The Flying Dutchman is absurd in its story—what possible interest can we take in the Salvation of an idiotic mariner, who doesn't know how to navigate his ship, much less a wife?—what is to be said of Lohengrin? This cheap Italian music, sugar-coated in its sensuousness, the awful borrowings from Weber, Marschner, Beethoven, and Gluck—and the story! It is called "mystic." Why? Because it is not, I suppose. What puerile trumpery is that refusal of a man to reveal his name! And Elsa! Why not Lot's wife, whose curiosity turned her into a salt trust!
You may notice just here what the Wagnerians are pleased to call the Master's "second" manner. Rubbish! It is a return to the Italians. It is a graft of glistening Italian sensuality upon Wagner's strenuous study of Beethoven's and Weber's orchestras. Tannhaeuser is more manly in its fiber. But the style, the mixture of styles; the lack of organic unity, the blustering orchestration, and the execrable voice-killing vocal writing! The Ring is an amorphous impossibility. That is now critically admitted. It ruins voices, managers, the public purse, and our patience. Its stories are indecent, blasphemous, silly, absurd, trivial, tiresome. To talk of the Ring and Beethoven's symphonies is to put wind and wisdom in the same category. Wagner vulgarized Beethoven's symphonic methods—noticeably his powers of development. Think of utilizing that magnificent and formidable engine, the Beethoven symphonic method, to accompany a tinsel tale of garbled Norse mythology with all sorts of modern affectations and morbidities introduced! It is maddening to any student of pure, noble style. Wagner's Byzantine style has helped corrupt much modern art.
Tristan und Isolde is the falsifying of all the pet Wagner doctrines—Ah! that odious, heavy, pompous prose of Wagner. In this erotic comedy there is no action, nothing happens except at long intervals; while the orchestra never stops its garrulous symphonizing. And if you prate to me of the wonderful Wagner orchestration and its eloquence, I shall quarrel with you. Why wonderful? It never stops, but does it ever say anything? Every theme is butchered to death. There is endless repetition in different keys, with different instrumental nuances, yet of true, intellectual and emotional mood-development there is no trace; short-breathed, chippy, choppy phrasing, and never ten bars of a big, straightforward melody. All this proves that Wagner had not the power of sustained thoughts like Mozart or Beethoven. And his orchestration, with its daubing, its overladen, hysterical color! What a humbug is this sensualist, who masks his pruriency back of poetic and philosophical symbols. But it is always easy to recognize the cloven foot. The headache and jaded nerves we have after a night with Wagner tell the story.
I admit that Die Meistersinger is healthy. Only it is not art. And don't forget, my children, that Wagner's prettiest lyrics came from Schubert and Schumann. They have all been traced and located. I need not insult your intelligence by suggesting that the Wotan motive is to be found in Schubert's Wanderer. If you wish for the Waldweben just go to Spohr's Consecration of Tones symphony, first movement. And Weber also furnishes a pleasing list, notably the Sword motive from the Ring, which may be heard in Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster. Parsifal I refuse to discuss. It is an outrage against religion, morals, and music. However, it is not alone this plagiarizing that makes Wagner so unendurable to me. It is his continual masking as the greatest composer of his century, when he was only a clever impostor, a theater-man, a wearer of borrowed plumage. His influence on music has been deplorably evil. He has melodramatized the art, introduced in it a species of false, theatrical, personal feeling, quite foreign to its nature. The symphony, not the stage, is the objective of musical art. Wagner—neither composer nor tragedian, but a cunning blend of both—diverted the art to his own uses. A great force? Yes, a great force was his, but a dangerous one. He never reached the heights, but was always posturing behind the foot-lights. And he has left no school, no descendants. Like all hybrids, he is cursed with sterility. The twentieth century will find Wagner out. Nunc Dimittis!
IN MOZARTLAND WITH OLD FOGY
The greatest musician the world has yet known—Mozart. The greatest? Yes, the greatest; greater than Bach, because less studied, less artificial, professional, and doctrinaire; greater than Beethoven, because Mozart's was a blither, a more serene spirit, and a spirit whose eyes had been anointed by beauty. Beethoven is not beautiful. He is dramatic, powerful, a maker of storms, a subduer of tempests; but his speech is the speech of a self-centered egotist. He is the father of all the modern melomaniacs, who, looking into their own souls, write what they see therein—misery, corruption, slighting selfishness, and ugliness. Beethoven, I say, was too near Mozart not to absorb some of his sanity, his sense of proportion, his glad outlook upon life; but the dissatisfied peasant in the composer of the Eroica, always in revolt, would not allow him tranquillity. Now is the fashion for soul hurricanes, these confessions of impotent wrath in music.
Beethoven began this fashion; Mozart did not. Beethoven had himself eternally in view when he wrote. His music mirrors his wretched, though profound, soul; it also mirrors many weaknesses. I always remember Beethoven and Goethe standing side by side as some royal nobody—I forget the name—went by. Goethe doffed his bonnet and stood uncovered, head becomingly bowed. Beethoven folded his arms and made no obeisance. This anecdote, not an apochryphal one, is always hailed as an evidence of Beethoven's sturdiness of character, his rank republicanism, while Goethe is slightly sniffed at for his snobbishness. Yet he was only behaving as a gentleman should. If Mozart had been in Beethoven's place, how courtly would have been the bow of the little, graceful Austrian composer! No, Beethoven was a boor, a clumsy one, and this quality abides in his music—for music is always the man. Put Beethoven in America in the present time and he would have developed into a dangerous anarchist. Such a nature matures rapidly, and a century might have marked the evolution from a despiser of kings to a hater of all forms of restrictive government. But I'm getting in too deep, even for myself, and also far away from my original theme.
Suffice to say that Bach is pedantic when compared to Mozart, and Beethoven unbeautiful. Some day, and there are portents on the musical horizon, some day, I repeat, the reign of beauty in art will reassert its sway. Too long has Ugly been king, too long have we listened with half-cracked ear-drums to the noises of half-cracked men. Already the new generation is returning to Mozart—that is, to music for music's sake—to the Beautiful.
I went to Salzburg deliberately. I needed a sight of the place, a glimpse of its romantic surroundings, to still my old pulse jangled out of tune by the horrors of Bayreuth. Yes, the truth must out, I went to Bayreuth at the express suggestion of my grandson, Old Fogy 3d, a rip-roaring young blade who writes for a daily paper in your city. What he writes I know not. I only hope he lets music alone. He is supposed to be an authority on foot-ball and Russian caviar; his knowledge of the latter he acquired, so he says, in the great Thirst Belt of the United States. I sincerely hope that Philadelphia is not alluded to! I am also informed that the lad occasionally goes to concerts! Well, he begged me to visit Bayreuth just once before I died. We argued the thing all last June and July at Dussek Villa—you remember my little lodge up in the wilds of Wissahickon!—and at last was I, a sensible old fellow who should have known better, persuaded to sail across the sea to a horrible town, crowded with cheap tourists, vulgar with cheap musicians, and to hear what? Why, Wagner! There is no need of telling you again what I think of him. You know! I really think I left home to escape the terrible heat, and I am quite sure that I left Bayreuth to escape the terrible music. Apart from the fact that it was badly sung and played—who ever does play and sing this music well?—it was written by Wagner, and though I am not a prejudiced person—ahem!—I cannot stand noise for noise's sake. Art for art they call it nowadays.
I fled Bayreuth. I reached Munich. The weather was warm, yet of a delightful balminess. I was happy. Had I not got away from Wagner, that odious, bourgeois name and man! Munich, I argued, is a musical city. It must be, for it is the second largest beer-drinking city in Germany. Therefore it is given to melody. Besides, I had read of Munich's model Mozart performances. Here, I cried, here will I revel in a lovely atmosphere of art. My German was rather rusty since my Weimar days, but I took my accent, with my courage, in both hands and asked a coachman to drive me to the opera-house. Through green and luscious lanes of foliage this dumpy, red-faced scoundrel drove; by the beautiful Isar, across the magnificent Maximilian bridge over against the classic facade of the Maximilineum. Twisting tortuously about this superb edifice, we tore along another leafy road lined on one side by villas, on the other bordered by a park. Many carriages by this time had joined mine in the chase. What a happy city, I reflected, that enjoys its Mozart with such unanimity! Turning to the right we went at a grand gallop past a villa that I recognized as the Villa Stuck from the old pictures I had seen; past other palaces until we reached a vast space upon which stood a marmoreal pile I knew to be the Mozart theater. What a glorious city is Munich, to thus honor its Mozart! And the building as I neared it resembled, on a superior scale, the Bayreuth barn. But this one was of marble, granite, gold, and iron. Up to the esplanade, up under the massive portico where I gave my coachman a tip that made his mean eyes wink. Then skirting a big beadle in blue, policemen, and loungers, I reached the box-office.
"Have you a stall?" I inquired. "Twenty marks" ($5.00), he asked in turn. "Phew!" I said aloud: "Mozart comes high, but we must have him." So I fetched out my lean purse, fished up a gold piece, put it down, and then an inspiration overtook me—I kept one finger on the money. "Is it Don Giovanni or Magic Flute this afternoon?" I demanded. The man stared at me angrily. "What you talk about? It is Tristan und Isolde. This is the new Wagner theater!" I must have yelled loudly, for when I recovered the big beadle was slapping my back and urging me earnestly to keep in the open air. And that is why I went to Salzburg!
Despite Bayreuth, despite Munich, despite Wagner, I was soon happy in the old haunts of the man whose music I adore. I went through the Mozart collection, saw all the old pictures, relics, manuscripts, and I reverently fingered the harpsichord, the grand piano of the master. Even the piece of "genuine Court Plaister" from London, and numbered 42 in the catalogue, interested me. After I had read the visitors' book, inscribed therein my own humble signature, after talking to death the husband and wife who act as guardians of these Mozart treasures, I visited the Mozart platz and saw the statue, saw Mozart's residence, and finally—bliss of bliss—ascended the Kapuzinberg to the Mozart cottage, where the Magic Flute was finished.
Later, several weeks later, when the Wagner municipal delirium had passed, I left Salzburg with a sad heart and returned to Munich. There I was allowed to bathe in Mozart's music and become healed. I heard an excellent performance of his Cosi Fan Tutti at the Residenztheater, an ideal spot for this music. With the accompaniment of an orchestra of thirty, more real music was made and sung than the whole Ring Cycle contains. Some day, after my death, without doubt, the world will come back to my way of thinking, and purge its eyes in the Pierian spring of Mozart, cleanse its vision of all the awful sights walled by the dissonantal harmonies of Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, and Richard Strauss.
I fear that this letter will enrage my grandson; I care not. If he writes, do not waste valuable space on his "copy." I inclose a picture of Mozart that I picked up in Salzburg. If you like it, you have my permission to reproduce it. I am here once more in Mozartland!
OLD FOGY DISCUSSES CHOPIN
Since my return from the outskirts of Camden, N. J., where I go fishing for planked shad in September, I have been busying myself with the rearrangement of my musical library, truly a delectable occupation for an old man. As I passed through my hands the various and beloved volumes, worn by usage and the passage of the years, I pondered after the fashion of one who has more sentiment than judgment; I said to myself:
"Come, old fellow, here they are, these friends of the past forty years. Here are the yellow and bepenciled Bach Preludes and Fugues, the precious 'forty-eight'; here are the Beethoven Sonatas, every bar of which is familiar; here are—yes, the Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann Sonatas [you notice that I am beginning to bracket the batches]; here are Mendelssohn's works, highly glazed as to technical surface, pretty as to sentiment, Bach seen through the lorgnette of a refined, thin, narrow nature. And here are the Chopin compositions." The murder is out—I have jumped from Bach and Beethoven to Chopin without a twinge of my critical conscience. Why? I hardly know why, except that I was thinking of that mythical desert island and the usual idiotic question: What composers would you select if you were to be marooned on a South Sea Island?—you know the style of question and, alas! the style of answer. You may also guess the composers of my selection. And the least of the three in the last group above named is not Chopin—Chopin, who, as a piano composer pure and simple, still ranks his predecessors, his contemporaries, his successors.
I am sure that the brilliant Mr. Finck, the erudite Mr. Krehbiel, the witty Mr. Henderson, the judicial Mr. Aldrich, the phenomenal Philip Hale, have told us and will tell us all about Chopin's life, his poetry, his technical prowess, his capacity as a pedagogue, his reforms, his striking use of dance forms. Let me contribute my humble and dusty mite; let me speak of a Chopin, of the Chopin, of a Chopin—pardon my tedious manner of address—who has most appealed to me since my taste has been clarified by long experience. I know that it is customary to swoon over Chopin's languorous muse, to counterfeit critical raptures when his name is mentioned. For this reason I dislike exegetical comments on his music. Lives of Chopin from Liszt to Niecks, Huneker, Hadow, and the rest are either too much given over to dry-as-dust or to rhapsody. I am a teacher of the pianoforte, that good old keyboard which I know will outlive all its mechanical imitators. I have assured you of this fact about fifteen years ago, and I expect to hammer away at it for the next fifteen years if my health and your amiability endure. The Chopin music is written for the piano—a truism!—so why in writing of it are not critics practical? It is the practical Chopin I am interested in nowadays, not the poetic—for the latter quality will always take care of itself.
Primarily among the practical considerations of the Chopin music is the patent fact that only a certain section of his music is studied in private and played in public. And a very limited section it is, as those who teach or frequent piano recitals are able to testify. Why should the D-flat Valse, E-flat and G minor Nocturnes, the A-flat Ballade, the G minor Ballade, the B-flat minor Scherzo, the Funeral March, the two G-flat Etudes, or, let us add, the C minor, the F minor and C-sharp minor studies, the G major and D-flat preludes, the A-flat Polonaise—or, worse still, the A major and C-sharp minor Polonaises—the B minor, B-flat major Mazurkas, the A-flat and C-sharp minor Impromptus, and last, though not least, the Berceuse—why, I insist, should this group be selected to the exclusion of the rest? for, all told, there is still as good Chopin in the list as ever came out of it.
I know we hear and read much about the "Heroic Chopin", and the "New Chopin"—forsooth!—and "Chopin the Conqueror"; also how to make up a Chopin program—which latter inevitably recalls to my mind the old crux: how to be happy though hungry. [Some forms of this conundrum lug in matrimony, a useless intrusion.] How to present a program of Chopin's neglected masterpieces might furnish matter for afternoon lectures now devoted to such negligible musical debris as Parsifal's neckties and the chewing gum of the flower maidens.
As a matter of fact, the critics are not to blame. I have read the expostulations of Mr. Finck about the untilled fields of Chopin. Yet his favorite Paderewski plays season in and season out a selection from the scheme I have just given, with possibly a few additions. The most versatile—and—also delightful—Chopinist is Pachmann. From his very first afternoon recital at old Chickering Hall, New York, in 1890, he gave a taste of the unfamiliar Chopin. Joseffy, thrice wonderful wizard, who has attained to the height of a true philosophic Parnassus—he only plays for himself, O wise Son of Light!—also gives at long intervals fleeting visions of the unknown Chopin. To Pachmann belongs the honor of persistently bringing forward to our notice such gems as the Allegro de Concert, many new mazurkas, the F minor, F major—A minor Ballades, the F-sharp and G-flat Impromptus, the B minor Sonata, certain of the Valses, Fantasies, Krakowiaks, Preludes, Studies and Polonaises—to mention a few. And his pioneer work may be easily followed by a dozen other lists, all new to concert-goers, all equally interesting. Chopin still remains a sealed book to the world, notwithstanding the ink spilled over his name every other minute of the clock's busy traffic with Eternity.
A fair moiety of this present chapter could be usurped by a detailed account of the beauties of the Unheard Chopin—you see I am emulating the critics with my phrase-making. But I am not the man to accomplish such a formidable task. I am too old, too disillusioned. The sap of a generous enthusiasm no longer stirs in my veins. Let the young fellows look to the matter—it is their affair. However, as I am an inveterate busybody I cannot refrain from an attempt to enlist your sympathies for some of my favorite Chopin.
Do you know the E major Scherzo, Op. 54, with its skimming, swallowlike flight, its delicate figuration, its evanescent hintings at a serious something in the major trio? Have you ever heard Pachmann purl through this exquisitely conceived, contrived and balanced composition, truly a classic? Whaur is your Willy Mendelssohn the noo? Or are you acquainted with the G-sharp minor Prelude? Do you play the E-flat Scherzo from the B minor Sonata? Have you never shed a furtive tear—excuse my old-fashioned romanticism—over the bars of the B major Larghetto in the same work? [The last movement is pure passage writing, yet clever as only Chopin knew how to be clever without being offensively gaudy.]
How about the first Scherzo in B minor? You play it, but do you understand its ferocious irony? [Oh, author of Chopin: the Man and his Music, what sins of rhetoric must be placed at your door!] And what of the E-flat minor Scherzo? Is it merely an excuse for blacksmith art and is the following finale only a study in unisons? There is the C-sharp minor Prelude. In it Brahms is anticipated by a quarter of a century. The Polonaise in F-sharp minor was damned years ago by Liszt, who found that it contained pathologic states. What of it? It is Chopin's masterpiece in this form and for that reason is seldom played in public. Why? My children, do you not know by this time that the garden variety of pianoforte virtuoso will play difficult music if the difficulties be technical not emotional, or emotional and not spiritual?
The F-sharp minor Polonaise is always drummed on the keyboard because some silly story got into print about Chopin's aunt asking the composer for a picture of his soul battling with the soul of his pet foe, the Russians. Militant the work is not, as swinging as are its resilient rhythms: granted that the gloomy repetitions betray a morbid dwelling upon some secret, exasperating sorrow; but as the human soul never experiences the same mood twice in a lifetime, so Chopin never means his passages, identical as they may be, to be repeated in the same mood-key. Liszt, Tausig, and Rubinstein taught us the supreme art of color variation in the repetition of a theme. Paderewski knows the trick; so do Joseffy and Pachmann—the latter's pianissimi begin where other men's cease. So the accusation of tonal or thematic monotony should not be brought against this Polonaise. Rather let us blame our imperfect sympathies and slender stock of the art of nuance.
But here I am pinning myself down to one composition, when I wish to touch lightly on so many! The F minor Polonaise, the E-flat minor Polonaise, called the Siberian—why I don't know; I could never detect in its mobile measures the clanking of convict chains or the dreary landscape of Siberia—might be played by way of variety; and then there is the C minor Polonaise, which begins in tones of epic grandeur [go it, old man, you will be applying for a position on the Manayunk Herbalist soon as a critic!] The Nocturnes—are they all familiar to you? The F-sharp minor was a positive novelty a few years ago when Joseffy exhumed it, while the C-sharp minor, with its strong climaxes, its middle sections so evocative of Beethoven's Sonata in the same key—have you mastered its content? The Preludes are a perfect field for the "prospector"; though Essipoff and Arthur Friedheim played them in a single program. Nor must we overlook the so-called hackneyed valses, the tinkling charm of the one in G-flat, the elegiac quality of the one in B minor. The Barcarolle is only for heroes. So I do not set it down in malice against the student or the everyday virtuosos that he—or she—does not attempt it. The F minor Fantaisie, I am sorry to say, is beginning to be tarnished like the A-flat Ballade, by impious hands. It is not for weaklings; nor are the other Fantaisies. Why not let us hear the Bolero and Tarantella, not Chopin at his happiest, withal Chopin. Emil Sauer made a success of other brilliant birdlike music before an America public. As for the Ballades, I can no longer endure any but Op. 38 and Op. 52. Rosenthal played the beautiful D-flat Study in Les Trois nouvelles Etudes with signal results. It is a valse in disguise. And its neighbors in A-flat and F minor are Chopin in his most winning moods. Who, except Pachmann, essays the G-flat major Impromptu—wrongfully catalogued as Des Dur in the Klindworth edition? To be sure, it resumes many traits of the two preceding Impromptus, yet is it none the less fascinating music. And the Mazurkas—I refuse positively to discuss at the present writing such a fertile theme. I am fatigued already, and I feel that my antique vaporings have fatigued you. Next month I shall stick to my leathery last, like the musical shoemaker that I am—I shall consider to some length the use of left-hand passage work in the Hummel sonatas. Or shall I speak of Chopin again, of the Chopin mazurkas! My sour bones become sweeter when I think of Chopin—ah, there I go again! Am I, too, among the rhapsodists?
MORE ANENT CHOPIN
I had fully intended at the conclusion of my last chapter to close the curtain on Chopin and his music, for I agree with the remark Deppe once made to Amy Fay about the advisability of putting Chopin on the shelf for half a century and studying Mozart in the interim. Bless the dear Germans and their thoroughness! The type of teacher to which Deppe belonged always proceeded as if a pupil, like a cat, had nine lives. Fifty years of Chopin on the shelf! There's an idea for you. At the conclusion of this half century's immurement what would the world say to the Polish composer's music? That is to say, in 1955 the unknown inhabitants of the musical portion of this earth would have sprung upon them absolutely new music. The excitement would be colossal, colossal, too, would be the advertising. And then? And then I fancy a chorus of profoundly disappointed lovers of the tone art. Remember that the world moves in fifty years. Perhaps there would be no longer our pianoforte, our keyboard. How childish, how simple would sound the timid little Chopin of the far-away nineteenth century.
In the turbulent times to come music will have lost its personal flavor. Instead of interpretative artists there will be gigantic machinery capable of maniacal displays of virtuosity; merely dropping a small coin in a slot will sound the most abstruse scores of Richard Strauss—then the popular and bewhistled music maker. And yet it is difficult for us, so wedded are we to that tragic delusion of earthly glory and artistic immortality, to conjure up a day when the music of Chopin shall be stale and unprofitable to the hearing. For me the idea is inconceivable. Some of his music has lost interest for us, particularly the early works modeled after Hummel. Ehlert speaks of the twilight that is beginning to steal over certain of the nocturnes, valses, and fantasias. Now Hummel is quite perfect in his way. To imitate him, as Chopin certainly did, was excellent practice for the younger man, but not conducive to originality. Chopin soon found this out, and dropped both Hummel and Field out of his scheme. Nor shall I insist on the earlier impositions being the weaker; Op. 10 contains all Chopin in its twelve studies. The truth is, that this Chopin, to whom has been assigned two or three or four periods and styles and manners of development, sprang from the Minerva head of music a full-fledged genius. He grew. He lived. But the exquisite art was there from the first. That it had a "long foreground" I need not tell you.
What compositions, then, would our mythic citizens of 1955 prefer?—can't you see them crowding around the concert grand piano listening to the old-fashioned strains as we listen today when some musical antiquarian gives a recital of Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau on a clavecin! Still, as Mozart and Bach are endurable now, there is no warrant for any supposition that Chopin would not be tolerated a half century hence. Fancy those sprightly, spiritual, and very national dances, the mazurkas, not making an impression! Or at least two of the ballades! Or three of the nocturnes! Not to mention the polonaises, preludes, scherzos, and etudes. Simply from curiosity the other night—I get so tired playing checkers—I went through all my various editions of Chopin—about ten—looking for trouble. I found it when I came across five mazurkas in the key of C-sharp minor. I have arrived at the conclusion that this was a favorite tonality of the Pole. Let us see.
Two studies in Op. 10 and 25, respectively; the Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66; five Mazurkas, above mentioned; one Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 1; one Polonaise, Op. 26, No. 1; one Prelude, Op. 45; one Scherzo, Op. 39; and a short second section, a cantabile in the E major Scherzo, Op. 54; one Valse, Op. 64, No. 2—are there any more in C-sharp minor? If there are I cannot recall them. But this is a good showing for one key, and a minor one. Little wonder Chopin was pronounced elegiac in his tendencies—C-sharp minor is a mournful key and one that soon develops a cloying, morbid quality if too much insisted upon.
The mazurkas are worthy specimens of their creator's gift for varying not only a simple dance form, but also in juggling with a simple melodic idea so masterfully that the hearer forgets he is hearing a three-part composition on a keyboard. Chopin was a magician. The first of the Mazurkas in C-sharp minor bears the early Op. 6, No. 2. By no means representative, it is nevertheless interesting and characteristic. That brief introduction with its pedal bass sounds the rhythmic life of the piece. I like it; I like the dance proper; I like the major—you see the peasant girls on the green footing away—and the ending is full of a sad charm. Op. 30, No. 4, the next in order, is bigger in conception, bigger in workmanship. It is not so cheerful, perhaps, as its predecessor in the same key; the heavy basses twanging in tenths like a contrabasso are intentionally monotone in effect. There is defiance and despair in the mood. And look at the line before the last—those consecutive fifths and sevenths were not placed there as a whim; they mean something. Here is a mazurka that will be heard later than 1955! By the way, while you are loitering through this Op. 30 do not neglect No. 3, the stunning specimen in D-flat. It is my favorite mazurka.
Now let us hurry on to Op. 41, No. 1. It well repays careful study. Note the grip our composer has on the theme, it bobs up in the middle voices; it comes thundering at the close in octave and chordal unisons, it rumbles in the bass and is persistently asserted by the soprano voice. Its scale is unusual, the atmosphere not altogether cheerful. Chopin could be depressingly pessimistic at times. Op. 50, No. 3, shows how closely the composer studied his Bach. It is by all odds the most elaborately worked out of the series, difficult to play, difficult to grasp in its rather disconnected procession of moods. To me it has a clear ring of exasperation, as if Chopin had lost interest, but perversely determined to finish his idea. As played by Pachmann, we get it in all its peevish, sardonic humors, especially if the audience, or the weather, or the piano seat does not suit the fat little blackbird from Odessa. Op. 63, No. 3, ends this list of mazurkas in C-sharp minor. In it Chopin has limbered up, his mood is freer, melancholy as it is. Louis Ehlert wrote of this: "A more perfect canon in the octave could not have been written by one who had grown gray in the learned arts." Those last few bars prove that Chopin—they once called him amateurish in his harmonies!—could do what he pleased in the contrapuntal line.
Shall I continue? Shall I insist on the obvious; hammer in my truisms! It may be possible that out here on the Wissahickon—where the summer hiccoughs grow—that I do not get all the news of the musical world. Yet I vainly scan piano recital programs for such numbers as those C-sharp minor mazurkas, for the F minor Ballade, for that beautiful and extremely original Ballade Op. 38 which begins in F and ends in A minor. Isn't there a legend to the effect that Schumann heard Chopin play his Ballade in private and that there was no stormy middle measures? I've forgotten the source, possibly one of the greater Chopinist's—or Chopine-ists, as they had it in Paris. What a stumbling-block that A minor explosion was to audiences and students and to pianists themselves. "Too wild, too wild!" I remember hearing the old guard exclaim when Rubinstein, after miraculously prolonging the three A's with those singing fingers of his, not forgetting the pedals, smashed down the keyboard, gobbling up the sixteenth notes, not in phrases, but pages. How grandly he rolled out those bass scales, the chords in the treble transformed into a Cantus Firmus. Then, his Calmuck features all afire, he would begin to smile gently and lo!—the tiny, little tune, as if children had unconsciously composed it at play! The last page was carnage. Port Arthur was stormed and captured in every bar. What a pianist, what an artist, what a man!
I suppose it is because my imagination weakens with my years—remember that I read in the daily papers the news of Chopin's death! I do long for a definite program to be appended to the F-major Ballade. Why not offer a small prize for the best program and let me be judge? I have also reached the time of life when the A-flat Ballade affects my nerves, just as Liszt was affected when a pupil brought for criticism the G minor Ballade. Preserve me from the Third Ballade! It is winning, gracious, delicate, capricious, melodic, poetic, and what not, but it has gone to meet the D-flat Valse and E-flat Nocturne—as the obituaries say. The fourth, the F minor Ballade—ah, you touch me in a weak spot. Sticking for over a half century to Bach so closely, I imagine that the economy of thematic material and the ingeniously spun fabric of this Ballade have made it my pet. I do not dwell upon the loveliness of the first theme in F minor, or of that melodious approach to it in the major. I am speaking now of the composition as a whole. Its themes are varied with consummate ease, and you wonder at the corners you so easily turn, bringing into view newer horizons; fresh and striking landscapes. When you are once afloat on those D-flat scales, four pages from the end nothing can stop your progress. Every bar slides nearer and nearer to the climax, which is seemingly chaos for the moment. After that the air clears and the whole work soars skyward on mighty pinions. I quite agree with those who place in the same category the F minor Fantaisie with this Ballade. And it is not much played. Nor can the mechanical instruments reproduce its nuances, its bewildering pathos and passion. I see the musical mob of 1955 deeply interested when the Paderewski of those days puts it on his program as a gigantic novelty!
You see, here I have been blazing away at the same old target again, though we had agreed to drop Chopin last month. I can't help it. I felt choked off in my previous article and now the dam has overflowed, though I hope not the reader's! While I think of it, some one wrote me asking if Chopin's first Sonata in C minor, Op. 4, was worth the study. Decidedly, though it is as dry as a Kalkbrenner Sonata for Sixteen Pianos and forty-five hands. The form clogged the light of the composer. Two things are worthy of notice in many pages choked with notes: there is a menuet, the only essay I recall of Chopin's in this graceful, artificial form; and the Larghetto is in 5/4 time—also a novel rhythm, and not very grateful. How Chopin reveled when he reached the B-flat minor and B minor Sonatas and threw formal physic to the dogs! I had intended devoting a portion of this chapter to the difference of old-time and modern methods in piano teaching. Alas! my unruly pen ran away with me!
PIANO PLAYING TODAY AND YESTERDAY
How to listen to a teacher! How to profit by his precepts! Better still—How to practice after he has left the house! There are three titles for essays, pedagogic and otherwise, which might be supplemented by a fourth: How to pay promptly the music master's bills. But I do not propose indulging in any such generalities this beautiful day in late winter. First, let me rid the minds of my readers of a delusion. I am no longer a piano teacher, nor do I give lessons by mail. I am a very old fellow, fond of chatting, fond of reminiscences; with the latter I bore my listeners, I am sure. Nevertheless, I am not old in spirit, and I feel the liveliest curiosity in matters pianistic, matters musical. Hence, this month I will make a hasty comparison between new and old fashions in teaching the pianoforte. If you have patience with me you may hear something of importance; otherwise, if there is skating down your way don't miss it—fresh air is always healthier than esthetic gabbling.
Do they teach the piano better in the twentieth century than in the nineteenth? Yes, absolutely yes. When a young man survived the "old fogy" methods of the fifties, sixties and seventies of the past century, he was, it cannot be gainsaid, an excellent artist. But he was, as a rule, the survival of the fittest. For one of him successful there were one thousand failures. Strong hands, untiring patience and a deeply musical temperament were needed to withstand the absurd soulless drilling of the fingers. Unduly prolonged, the immense amount of dry studies, the antique disregard of fore-arm and upper-arm and the comparatively restricted repertory—well, it was a stout body and a robust musical temperament that rose superior to such cramping pedagogy. And then, too, the ideals of the pianist were quite different. It is only in recent years that tone has become an important factor in the scheme—thanks to Chopin, Thalberg and Liszt. In the early sixties we believed in velocity and clearness and brilliancy. Kalkbrenner, Herz, Dreyschock, Doehler, Thalberg—those were the lively boys who patrolled the keyboard like the north wind—brisk but chilly. I must add that the most luscious and melting tone I ever heard on the piano was produced by Thalberg and after him Henselt. Today Paderewski is the best exponent of their school; of course, modified by modern ideas and a Slavic temperament.
But now technic no longer counts. Be ye as fleet as Rosenthal and as pure as Pachmann—in a tonal sense—ye will not escape comparison with the mechanical pianist. It was their astounding accuracy that extorted from Eugen d'Albert a confession made to a friend of mine just before he sailed to this country last month:
"A great pianist should no longer bother himself about his technic. Any machine can beat him at the game. What he must excel in is—interpretation and tone."
Rosenthal, angry that a mere contrivance manipulated by a salesman could beat his speed, has taken the slopes of Parnassus by storm. He can play the Liszt Don Juan paraphrase faster than any machine in existence. (I refer to the drinking song, naturally.) But how few of us have attained such transcendental technic? None except Rosenthal, for I really believe if Karl Tausig would return to earth he would be dazzled by Rosenthal's performances—say, for example, of the Brahms-Paganini Studies and, Liszt, in his palmy days, never had such a technic as Tausig's; while the latter was far more musical and intellectual than Rosenthal. Other days, other ways!
So tone, not technic alone, is our shibboleth. How many teachers realize this? How many still commit the sin of transforming their pupils into machines, developing muscle at the expense of music! To be sure, some of the old teachers considered the second F minor sonata of Beethoven the highest peak of execution and confined themselves to teaching Mozart and Field, Cramer and Mendelssohn, with an occasional fantasia by Thalberg—the latter to please the proud papa after dessert. Schumann was not understood; Chopin was misunderstood; and Liszt was anathema. Yet we often heard a sweet, singing tone, even if the mechanism was not above the normal. I am sure those who had the pleasure of listening to William Mason will recall the exquisite purity of his tone, the limpidity of his scales, the neat finish of his phrasing. Old style, I hear you say! Yes, old and ever new, because approaching more nearly perfection than the splashing, floundering, fly-by-night, hysterical, smash-the-ivories school of these latter days. Music, not noise—that's what we are after in piano playing, the higher piano playing. All the rest is pianola-istic!
Singularly enough, with the shifting of technical standards, more simplicity reigns in methods of teaching at this very moment. The reason is that so much more is expected in variety of technic; therefore, no unnecessary time can be spared. If a modern pianist has not at fifteen mastered all the tricks of finger, wrist, fore-arm and upper-arm he should study bookkeeping or the noble art of football. Immense are the demands made upon the memory. Whole volumes of fugues, sonatas of Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and the new men are memorized, as a matter of course. Better wrong notes, in the estimation of the more superficial musical public, than playing with the music on the piano desk. And then to top all these terrible things, you must have the physique of a sailor, the nerves of a woman, the impudence of a prize-fighter, and the humility of an innocent child. Is it any wonder that, paradoxical as it may sound, there are fewer great pianists today in public than there were fifty years ago, yet ten times as many pianists!
The big saving, then, in the pianistic curriculum is the dropping of studies, finger and otherwise. To give him his due, Von Buelow—as a pianist strangely inimical to my taste—was among the first to boil down the number of etudes. He did this in his famous preface to the Cramer Studies. Nevertheless, his list is too long by half. Who plays Moscheles? Who cares for more than four or six of the Clementi, for a half dozen of the Cramer? I remember the consternation among certain teachers when Deppe and Raif, with his dumb thumb and blind fingers, abolished all the classic piano studies. Teachers like Constantine von Sternberg do the same at this very hour, finding in the various technical figures of compositions all the technic necessary. This method is infinitely more trying to the teacher than the old-fashioned, easy-going ways. "Play me No. 22 for next time!" was the order, and in a soporific manner the pupil waded through all the studies of all the Technikers. Now the teacher must invent a new study for every new piece—with Bach on the side. Always Bach! Please remember that. B-a-c-h—Bach. Your daily bread, my children.
We no longer play Mozart in public—except Joseffy. I was struck recently by something Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler said in this matter of Mozart. Yes, Mozart is more difficult than Chopin, though not so difficult as Bach. Mozart is so naked and unafraid! You must touch the right key or forever afterward be condemned by your own blundering. Let me add here that I heard Fannie Bloomfield play the little sonata, wrongfully called facile, when she was a tiny, ox-eyed girl of six or seven. It was in Chicago in the seventies. Instead of asking for candy afterwards she begged me to read her some poetry of Shelley or something by Schopenhauer! Veritably a fabulous child!
Let me add three points to the foregoing statements: First, Joseffy has always been rather skeptical of too few piano studies. His argument is that endurance is also a prime factor of technic, and you cannot compass endurance without you endure prolonged finger drills. But as he has since composed—literally composed—the most extraordinary time-saving book of technical studies (School of Advanced Piano Playing), I suspect the great virtuoso has dropped from his list all the Heller, Hiller, Czerny, Haberbier, Cramer, Clementi and Moscheles. Certainly his Exercises—as he meekly christens them—are multum in parvo. They are my daily recreation.
The next point I would have you remember is this: The morning hours are golden. Never waste them, the first thing, never waste your sleep-freshened brain on mechanical finger exercise. Take up Bach, if you must unlimber your fingers and your wits. But even Bach should be kept for afternoon and evening. I shall never forget Moriz Rosenthal's amused visage when I, in the innocence of my eighteenth century soul, put this question to him: "When is the best time to study etudes?" "If you must study them at all, do so after your day's work is done. By your day's work I mean the mastery of the sonata or piece you are working at. When your brain is clear you can compass technical difficulties much better in the morning than the evening. Don't throw away those hours. Any time will do for gymnastics." Now there is something for stubborn teachers to put in their pipes and smoke.
My last injunction is purely a mechanical one. All the pianists I have heard with a beautiful tone—Thalberg, Henselt, Liszt, Tausig, Heller—yes, Stephen of the pretty studies—Rubinstein, Joseffy, Paderewski, Pachmann and Essipoff, sat low before the keyboard. When you sit high and the wrists dip downward your tone will be dry, brittle, hard. Doubtless a few pianists with abnormal muscles have escaped this, for there was a time when octaves were played with stiff wrists and rapid tempo. Both things are an abomination, and the exception here does not prove the rule. Pianists like Rosenthal, Busoni, Friedheim, d'Albert, Von Buelow, all the Great Germans (Germans are not born, but are made piano players), Carreno, Aus der Ohe, Krebs, Mehlig are or were artists with a hard tone. As for the much-vaunted Leschetizky method I can only say that I have heard but two of his pupils whose tone was not hard and too brilliant. Paderewski was one of these. Paderewski confessed to me that he learned how to play billiards from Leschetizky, not piano; though, of course, he will deny this, as he is very loyal. The truth is that he learned more from Essipoff than from her then husband, the much-married Theodor Leschetizky.
Pachmann, once at a Dohnanyi recital in New York, called out in his accustomed frank fashion: "He sits too high." It was true. Dohnanyi's touch is as hard as steel. He sat over the keyboard and played down on the keys, thus striking them heavily, instead of pressing and moulding the tone. Pachmann's playing is a notable example of plastic beauty. He seems to dip his hands into musical liquid instead of touching inanimate ivory, and bone, wood, and wire. Remember this when you begin your day's work: Sit so that your hand is on a level with, never below, the keyboard; and don't waste your morning freshness on dull finger gymnastics! Have I talked you hoarse?
FOUR FAMOUS VIRTUOSOS
Such a month of dissipation! You must know that at my time of life I run down a bit every spring, and our family physician prescribed a course of scale exercises on the Boardwalk at Atlantic City, and after that—New York, for Lenten recreation! Now, New York is not quiet, nor is it ever Lenten. A crowded town, huddled on an island far too small for its inconceivably uncivilized population, its inhabitants can never know the value of leisure or freedom from noise. Because he is always in a hurry a New York man fancies that he is intellectual. The consequences artistically are dire. New York boasts—yes, literally boasts—the biggest, noisiest, and poorest orchestra in the country. I refer to the Philharmonic Society, with its wretched wood-wind, its mediocre brass, and its aggregation of rasping strings. All the vaudeville and lightning-change conductors have not put this band on a level with the Boston, the Philadelphia, or the Chicago organizations. Nor does the opera please me much better. Noise, at the expense of music; quantity, instead of quality; all the tempi distorted and fortes exaggerated, so as to make effect. Effect, effect, effect! That is the ideal of New York conductors. This coarsening, cheapening, and magnification of details are resultants of the restless, uncomfortable, and soulless life of the much overrated Manhattan.
Naturally, I am a Philadelphian, and my strictures will be set down to old fogyism. But show me a noise-loving city and I will show you an inartistic one. Schopenhauer was right in this matter; insensibility to noise argues a less refined organism. And New York may spend a million of money on music every season, and still it is not a musical city. The opera is the least sign; opera is a social function—sometimes a circus, never a temple of art. The final, the infallible test is the maintenance of an orchestra. New York has no permanent orchestra; though there is an attempt to make of the New York Symphony Society a worthy rival to the Philadelphia and Boston orchestras. So much for my enjoyment in the larger forms of music—symphony, oratorio and opera.
But my visit was not without compensations. I attended piano concerts by Eugen d'Albert, Ignace Jan Paderewski, and Rafael Joseffy. Pachmann I had heard earlier in the season in my own home city. So in one season I listened to four out of six of the world's greatest pianists. And it was very stimulating to both ears and memory. It also affords me an opportunity to preach for you a little sermon on Touch (Tone and Technic were the respective themes of my last two letters), which I have had in my mind for some time. Do not be alarmed. I say "sermon," but I mean nothing more than a comparison of modern methods of touch, as exemplified by the performances of the above four men, with the style of touch employed by the pianists of my generation: Thalberg, Liszt, Gottschalk, Tausig, Rubinstein, Von Buelow, Henselt, and a few others.
Pachmann is the same little wonder-worker that I knew when he studied many years ago in Vienna with Dachs. This same Dachs turned out some finished pupils, though his reputation, curiously enough, never equalled that of the over-puffed Leschetizky, or Epstein, or Anton Door, all teachers in the Austrian capital. I recall Anthony Stankowitch, now in Chicago, and Benno Schoenberger, now in London, as Dachs' pupils. Schoenberger has a touch of gold and a style almost as jeweled as Pachmann's—but more virile. It must not be forgotten that Pachmann has fine nerves—with such an exquisite touch, his organization must be of supernal delicacy—but little muscular vigor. Consider his narrow shoulders and slender arms—height of figure has nothing to do with muscular incompatibility; d'Albert is almost a dwarf, yet a colossus of strength. So let us call Pachmann, a survival of an older school, a charming school. Touch was the shibboleth of that school, not tone; and technic was often achieved at the expense of more spiritual qualities. The three most beautiful touches of the piano of the nineteenth century were those of Chopin, Thalberg, and Henselt. Apart from any consideration of other gifts, these three men—a Pole, a Hebrew, and a German—possessed touches that sang and melted in your ears, ravished your ears. Finer in a vocal sense was Thalberg's touch than Liszt's; finer Henselt's than Thalberg's, because more euphonious, and nobler in tonal texture; and more poetic than either of these two was Chopin's ethereal touch. To-day Joseffy is the nearest approach we have to Chopin, Paderewski to Henselt, Pachmann to Thalberg—save in the matter of a robust fortissimo, which the tiny Russian virtuoso does not boast.
After Chopin, Thalberg, and Henselt, the orchestral school had its sway—it still has. Liszt, Tausig, Rubinstein set the pace for all latter-day piano playing. And while it may sound presumptuous, I am inclined to think that their successors are not far behind them in the matter of tonal volume. If Liszt or Tausig, or, for that matter, Rubinstein, produced more clangor from their instruments than Eugen d'Albert, then my aural memory is at fault. My recollection of Liszt is a vivid one: to me he was iron; Tausig, steel; Rubinstein, gold. This metallic classification is not intended to praise gold at the expense of steel, or iron to the detriment of gold. It is merely my way of describing the adamantine qualities of Liszt and Tausig—two magnetic mountains of the kind told of in Sinbad, the Sailor, to which was attracted whatever came within their radius. And Rubinstein—what a man, what an artist, what a heart! As Joseffy once put it, Rubinstein's was not a pianist's touch, but the mellow tone of a French horn!
Rosenthal's art probably matches Tausig's in technic and tone. Paderewski, who has broadened and developed amazingly during ten years, has many of Henselt's traits—and I am sure he never heard the elder pianist. But he belongs to that group: tonal euphony, supple technic, a caressing manner, and a perfect control of self. Remember, I am speaking of the Henselt who played for a few friends, not the frightened, semi-limp pianist who emerged at long intervals before the public. Paderewski is thrice as poetic as Henselt—who in the matter of emotional depth seldom attempted any more than the delineation of the suave and elegant, though he often played Weber with glorious fire and brilliancy.
At this moment it is hard to say where Paderewski will end. I beg to differ from Mr. Edward Baxter Perry, who once declared that the Polish virtuoso played at his previous season no different from his earlier visits. The Paderewski of 1902 and 1905 is very unlike the Paderewski of 1891. His style more nearly approximates Rubinstein's plus the refinement of the Henselt school. He has sacrificed certain qualities. That was inevitable. All great art is achieved at the expense—either by suppression or enlargement—of something precious. Paderewski pounds more; nor is he always letter perfect; but do not forget that pounding from Paderewski is not the same as pounding from Tom, Dick, and Harry. And, like Rubinstein, his spilled notes are more valuable than other pianist's scrupulously played ones. In reality, after carefully watching the career of this remarkable man, I have reached the conclusion that he is passing through a transition period in his "pianism." Tired of his old, subdued, poetic manner; tired of being called a salon pianist by—yes, Oskar Bie said so in his book on the pianoforte; and in the same chapter wrote of the fire and fury of Gabrilowitsch ("he drives the horses of Rubinstein," said Bie; he must have meant "ponies!")—critics, Paderewski began to study the grand manner. He may achieve it, for his endurance is phenomenal. Any pianist who could do what I heard him do in New York—give eight encores after an exhausting program—may well lay claim to the possession of the grand manner. His tone is still forced; you hear the chug of the suffering wires; but who cares for details—when the general performance is on so exalted a plane? And his touch is absolutely luscious in cantabile.
With d'Albert our interest is, nowadays, cerebral. When he was a youth he upset Weimar with his volcanic performances. Rumor said that he came naturally by his superb gifts (the Tausig legend is still believed in Germany). Now his indifference to his medium of expression does not prevent him from lavishing upon the interpretation of masterpieces the most intellectual brain since Von Buelow's—and entre nous, ten times the musical equipment. D'Albert plays Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms as no one else on this globe—and he matches Paderewski in his merciless abuse of the keyboard. Either a new instrument, capable of sustaining the ferocious attacks upon it, must be fabricated, or else there must be a return to older styles.
And that fixed star in the pianistic firmament, one who refuses to descend to earth and please the groundlings—Rafael Joseffy—is for me the most satisfying of all the pianists. Never any excess of emotional display; never silly sentimentalizings, but a lofty, detached style, impeccable technic, tone as beautiful as starlight—yes, Joseffy is the enchanter who wins me with his disdainful spells. I heard him play the Chopin E minor and the Liszt A major concertos; also a brace of encores. Perfection! The Liszt was not so brilliant as Reisenauer; but—again within its frame—perfection! The Chopin was as Chopin would have had it given in 1840. And there were refinements of tone-color undreamed of even by Chopin. Paderewski is Paderewski—and Joseffy is perfection. Paderewski is the most eclectic of the four pianists I have taken for my text; Joseffy the most subtly poetic; D'Albert the most profound and intellectually significant, and Pachmann—well, Vladimir is the enfant terrible of the quartet, a whimsical, fantastic charmer, an apparition with rare talents, and an interpreter of the Lesser Chopin (always the great Chopin) without a peer. Let us be happy that we are vouchsafed the pleasure of hearing four such artists.
THE INFLUENCE OF DADDY LISZT
Have you read Thoreau's Walden with its smell of the woods and its ozone-permeated pages? I recommend the book to all pianists, especially to those pianists who hug the house, practising all day and laboring under the delusion that they are developing their individuality. Singular thing, this rage for culture nowadays among musicians! They have been admonished so often in print and private that their ignorance is not blissful, indeed it is baneful, that these ambitious ladies and gentlemen rush off to the booksellers, to libraries, and literally gorge themselves with the "ologies" and "isms" of the day. Lord, Lord, how I enjoy meeting them at a musicale! There they sit, cocked and primed for a verbal encounter, waiting to knock the literary chip off their neighbor's shoulder.
"Have you read"—begins some one and the chattering begins, furioso. "Oh, Nietzsche? why of course,"—"Tolstoi's What is Art? certainly, he ought to be electrocuted"—"Nordau! isn't he terrible?" And the cacophonous conversational symphony rages, and when it is spent, the man who asked the question finishes:
"Have you read the notice of Rosenthal's playing in the Koelnische Zeitung?" and there is a battery of suspicious looks directed towards him whilst murmurs arise, "What an uncultured man! To talk 'shop' like a regular musician!" The fact being that the man had read everything, but was setting a trap for the vanity of these egregious persons. The newspapers, the managers and the artists before the public are to blame for this callow, shallow attempt at culture. We read that Rosenthal is a second Heine in conversation. That he spills epigrams at his meals and dribbles proverbs at the piano. He has committed all of Heine to memory and in the greenroom reads Sanscrit. Paderewski, too, is profoundly something or other. Like Wagner, he writes his own program—I mean plots for his operas. He is much given to reading Swinburne because some one once compared him to the bad, mad, sad, glad, fad poet of England, begad! As for Sauer, we hardly know where to begin. He writes blank verse tragedies and discusses Ibsen with his landlady. Pianists are now so intellectual that they sometimes forget to play the piano well.
Of course, Daddy Liszt began it all. He had read everything before he was twenty, and had embraced and renegaded from twenty religions. This volatile, versatile, vibratile, vivacious, vicious temperament of his has been copied by most modern pianists who haven't brains enough to parse a sentence or play a Bach Invention. The Weimar crew all imitated Liszt's style in octaves and hair dressing. I was there once, a sunny day in May, the hedges white with flowers and the air full of bock-bier. Ah, thronging memories of youth! I was slowly walking through a sun-smitten lane when a man on horse dashed by me, his face red with excitement, his beast covered with lather. He kept shouting "Make room for the master! make way for the master!" and presently a venerable man with a purple nose—a Cyrano de Cognac nose—came towards me. He wore a monkish habit and on his head was a huge shovel-shaped hat, the sort affected by Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville.
"It must be Liszt or the devil!" I cried aloud, and Liszt laughed, his warts growing purple, his whole expression being one of good-humor. He invited me to refreshment at the Czerny House, but I refused. During the time he stood talking to me a throng of young Liszts gathered about us. I call them "young Liszts" because they mimicked the old gentleman in an outrageous manner. They wore their hair on their shoulders, they sprinkled it with flour; they even went to such lengths as to paint purplish excrescences on their chins and brows. They wore semi-sacerdotal robes, they held their hands in the peculiar and affected style of Liszt, and they one and all wore shovel hats. When Liszt left me—we studied together with Czerny—they trooped after him, their garments ballooning in the breeze, and upon their silly faces was the devotion of a pet ape.
I mention this because I have never met a Liszt pupil since without recalling that day in Weimar. And when one plays I close my eyes and hear the frantic effort to copy Liszt's bad touch and supple, sliding, treacherous technic. Liszt, you may not know, had a wretched touch. The old boy was conscious of it, for he told William Mason once, "Don't copy my touch; it's spoiled." He had for so many years pounded and punched the keyboard that his tactile sensibility—isn't that your new-fangled expression?—had vanished. His "orchestral" playing was one of those pretty fables invented by hypnotized pupils like Amy Fay, Aus der Ohe, and other enthusiastic but not very critical persons. I remember well that Liszt, who was first and foremost a melodramatic actor, had a habit of striding to the instrument, sitting down in a magnificent manner and uplifting his big fists as if to annihilate the ivories. He was a master hypnotist, and like John L. Sullivan he had his adversary—the audience—conquered before he struck a blow. His glance was terrific, his "nerve" enormous. What he did afterward didn't much matter. He usually accomplished a hard day's threshing with those flail-like arms of his, and, heavens, how the poor piano objected to being taken for a barn-floor!
Touch! Why, Thalberg had the touch, a touch that Liszt secretly envied. In the famous Paris duel that followed the visits of the pair to Paris, Liszt was heard to a distinct disadvantage. He wrote articles about himself in the musical papers—a practice that his disciples have not failed to emulate—and in an article on Thalberg displayed his bad taste in abusing what he could not imitate. Oh yes, Liszt was a great thief. His piano music—I mean his so-called original music—is nothing but Chopin and brandy. His pyrotechnical effects are borrowed from Paganini, and as soon as a new head popped up over the musical horizon he helped himself to its hair. So in his piano music we find a conglomeration of other men's ideas, other men's figures. When he wrote for orchestra the hand is the hand of Liszt, but the voice is that of Hector Berlioz. I never could quite see Liszt. He hung on to Chopin until the suspicious Pole got rid of him and then he strung after Wagner. I do not mean that Liszt was without merit, but I do assert that he should have left the piano a piano, and not tried to transform it to a miniature orchestra.
Let us consider some of his compositions.
Liszt began with machine-made fantasias on faded Italian operas—not, however, faded in his time. He devilled these as does the culinary artist the crab of commerce. He peppered and salted them and then giving for a background a real New Jersey thunderstorm, the concoction was served hot and smoking. Is it any wonder that as Mendelssohn relates, the Liszt audience always stood on the seats to watch him dance through the Lucia fantasia? Now every school girl jigs this fatuous stuff before she mounts her bicycle.