PIANO AND SONG
HOW TO TEACH, HOW TO LEARN,
HOW TO FORM A JUDGMENT OF MUSICAL PERFORMANCES.
Translated from the German
BOSTON: LOCKWOOD, BROOKS, & COMPANY. 1875.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by NOYES, HOLMES, AND COMPANY, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Cambridge: Press of John Wilson and Son.
FRIEDRICH WIECK, the author of the work a translation of which is here offered to the public, was during his long life a distinguished teacher of music. He died in the autumn of 1873. He was the father and teacher of the celebrated pianist, Clara Wieck, now Fr. Dr. Clara Schumann, widow of the renowned composer Robert Schumann, who was also a pupil of Wieck. His second daughter, Fraeulein Marie Wieck, is well known in Germany as an artistic performer on the piano-forte.
I have translated this little book, with the belief that a knowledge of the author's views will be no less valuable in America than in his own country; and with the hope that it may find readers who will be glad to receive the suggestions of so experienced a teacher.
In illustration of his method, in addition to the two Etudes, already published by F. Whistling, Leipzig, a number of piano exercises, &c., selected from the literary remains of Wieck, by his daughter Marie Wieck and his pupil Louis Grosse, are, it is said, about to be published.
I have omitted in the translation a few portions on the composition and management of the opera, on the giving of concerts, and on the construction of the piano, thinking that they would be of little interest or practical value to the general public.
MARY P. NICHOLS.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
I here present to the musical public a book written in a style of my own, not a scientific and systematically well-arranged treatise. This no reasonable man would expect of an old music-master, who, in his long practice in the realm of tones, could not arrive at learned and too often fruitless deductions. Nature made me susceptible to that which is good and beautiful; a correct instinct and a tolerable understanding have taught me to avoid the false and the vicious; a desire for increased knowledge has led me to observe carefully whatever I met with in my path in life; and I may say, without hesitation, that I have endeavored, according to my ability, to fill the position to which I have been called. This is no vain boast, but only the justifiable assertion of a good conscience; and this no man needs to withhold. For these reasons, I have been unwilling to refrain from giving to the world a true expression of my opinions and feelings. I trust they will meet with a few sympathizing spirits who are willing to understand my aims; but I shall be still more happy if, here and there, a music-teacher will adopt the views here set forth, at the same time carefully and thoughtfully supplying many things which it did not enter into my plan to explain more in detail. Abundant material lay spread out before me, and even increased upon my hands while I was writing. Art is indeed so comprehensive, and every thing in life is so closely connected with it, that whoever loves and fosters it will daily find in it new sources of enjoyment and new incitements to study. The most experienced teacher of art must be a constant learner.
I have always held and still hold the opinions advanced in this work, and I have neglected no opportunity to impress them upon my pupils.
I may be allowed to mention here, with some satisfaction, my daughters Clara and Marie; and, among numerous other pupils, I speak with equal pleasure of the estimable Herr Waldemar Heller, of Dresden, and Prof. E.F. Wenzel, of Leipzig. I have always enjoyed their affection and gratitude, and I feel a pride that they continue to defend and to teach the principles which they have received from me.
This is not the first time that I have appeared as an author. The "Signale fuer die musikalische Welt," as well as the "Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik," have published numerous essays from my pen under various titles. The approval which they met with, at the time of their appearance, has induced me to undertake this larger work. Several of those earlier writings are included in this book, but in a partially altered form. The frequently recurring character, the teacher Dominie, originated with these essays; I need hardly say that he represents my humble self. Those who are otherwise unacquainted with me will through him understand my character, and will moreover see that a man of such caustic brevity can be, by no means, a master of polished style. May this last acknowledgment appease all those critics whose hair is made to stand on end by my inelegant mode of writing. I will make no further apology for my style. I have often availed myself of the dialogue form, because it was conducive to brevity; not less frequently I have made use of the form of the epistle and of personal discourse, as being more congenial to my individual manner than that of a serious treatise. I have also undertaken to say something about singing! A piano-teacher, if he is possessed of mind and talent, as I suppose him to be, whether he teaches the elements or occupies himself with more advanced instruction, should understand the art of singing; he, at least, should show a warm interest in it, and should have an earnest love for it. When I speak in general of singing, I refer to that species of singing which is a form of beauty, and which is the foundation for the most refined and most perfect interpretation of music; and, above all things, I consider the culture of beautiful tones the basis for the finest possible touch upon the piano. In many respects, the piano and singing should explain and supplement each other. They should mutually assist in expressing the sublime and the noble, in forms of unclouded beauty. My book will make this evident to many; but whether it will succeed with all, I doubt. Not a few will even be found who will lay aside my book with contempt, and who will scorn the zeal of the "man of the past age." I am quite prepared for this: it is the fashion at present to undervalue the old times and their defenders; but I shall continue to be conservative, until the "men of the future" shall be able to show me results which shall excel those of the past, or at least shall equal them.
And now I commend my little book to the public, trusting that it will instruct the willing, correct the erring, incite the indolent, and chastise those who wilfully persist in the wrong.
I. ON ELEMENTARY PIANO-FORTE INSTRUCTION
II. AN EVENING ENTERTAINMENT AT HERR ZACH'S
III. MANY STUDENTS OF THE PIANO AND FEW PLAYERS
IV. A CONVERSATION WITH MRS. SOLID, AND FOUR LESSONS TO HER DAUGHTER
V. ON THE PEDAL
VI. THE SOFT-PEDAL SENTIMENT
VII. A MUSICAL TEA-PARTY AT THE HOUSE OF JOHN SPRIGGINS
VIII. SINGING AND SINGING-TEACHERS
IX. THOUGHTS ON SINGING
X. VISIT AT MRS. N.'S
XII. THOUGHTS ON PIANO-PLAYING
XIII. ON MUSICAL TALENT
XIV. EXTRAVAGANCES IN SINGING AND PIANO-PLAYING
PIANO AND SONG.
ON ELEMENTARY PIANO-FORTE INSTRUCTION.
You ask, my dear friend, for some particular information about my piano method, especially with regard to my mode of elementary instruction, which differs essentially from that in common use.
I give you here the main points; and, if you place confidence in my experience of forty years, and if you will supply those details which I have omitted, your own varied experience as a thoughtful, talented, and earnest piano-teacher will enable you to understand my theory, from the following dialogue between my humble self under the title of Dominie, my friend, and the little Bessie:—
DOMINIE. My dear friend, how have you managed to make piano-playing so utterly distasteful to little Susie? and how is it that the instruction which you have given her for the last three years actually amounts to nothing?
FRIEND. Well, I will tell you how I have proceeded. First I taught her the names of the keys, that was pretty dull work for her; then I made her learn the treble notes, which was a difficult matter; after that I taught her the bass notes, which puzzled her still more; then I undertook to teach her a pretty little piece, which she hoped to perform for the delight of her parents. Of course she constantly confused the bass and treble notes, she could not keep time, she always used the wrong fingers and could not learn it at all. Then I scolded her,—she only cried; I tried a little coaxing,—that made her cry worse; finally I put an end to the piano lessons, and she begged me never to begin them again; and there you have the whole story.
DOMINIE. You certainly might have begun more judiciously. How is it possible for a child to climb a ladder when not only the lower rounds, but a great many more, are wanting? Nature makes no leaps, least of all with children.
FRIEND. But did she not begin to climb the ladder at the bottom?
DOMINIE. By no means. She certainly never was able to reach the top. I should say, rather, that she tumbled down head foremost. To speak mildly, she began to climb in the middle; and even then you tried to chase her up, instead of allowing her, carefully and quietly, to clamber up one step at a time. Bring me your youngest daughter, Bessie, and I will show you how I give a first lesson.
DOMINIE. Bessie, can you say your letters after me? so,—c, d, e, f.
BESSIE. c, d, e, f.
DOMINIE. Go on,—g, a, b, c.
BESSIE. g, a, b, c.
DOMINIE. Once more: the first four again, then the next four. That's right: now all the eight, one after the other, c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
BESSIE. c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
DOMINIE. (after repeating this several times). That's good: now you see you have learned something already. That is the musical alphabet, and those are the names of the white keys on the piano-forte. Presently you shall find them out, and learn to name them yourself. But, first, you must take notice (I strike the keys in succession with my finger, from the one-lined c to the highest treble) that these sounds grow higher and become sharper one after the other; and in this way (I strike the keys from one-lined c to the lowest bass) you hear that the sounds grow lower and heavier. The upper half, to the right, is called the treble; the lower half is the bass. You quite understand now the difference between the high sharp tones and the low deep ones? Now we will go on. What you see here, and will learn to play upon, is called the key-board, consisting of white keys and black ones. You shall presently learn to give the right names both to the white keys and the black; you see there are always two black keys and then three black keys together, all the way up and down the key-board. Now put the fore-finger of your right hand on the lower one of any of the two black keys that are together, and let it slip off on to the white key next below it; now you have found the key called c; what is the name of the next key above it? Say the whole musical alphabet.
BESSIE. c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c.
DOMINIE. Well, then, that key is called d.
BESSIE. Then this one must be e.
DOMINIE. And now comes f. Anywhere on the key-board you can find f just as easily, if you put your finger on the lowest of any three black keys that are together, and let it slip off on to the white key next below it. If you remember where these two keys, f and c, are, both in the treble and the bass, you can easily find the names of all the other keys. Now what is the next key above f?
BESSIE. g, and then a, b, c.
DOMINIE. Now we will say over several times the names of the keys, upwards and downwards, and learn to find them skipping about in any irregular order. At the end of the lesson we will try them over once more, and before the next lesson you will know the names of all the white keys. You must practise finding them out by yourself; you can't make a mistake, if you are careful to remember where the c and the f are.
I told you that the sounds this way (I strike the keys upward) grow higher, and this way (I strike them downwards) they grow lower. So you see no tones are just alike: one is either higher or lower than the other. Do you hear the difference? Now turn round so as not to see the keys; I will strike two keys, one after the other; now which is the highest (the sharpest), the first or the second? (I go on in this way, gradually touching keys nearer and nearer together; sometimes, in order to puzzle her and to excite close attention, I strike the lower one gently and the higher one stronger, and keep on sounding them, lower and lower towards the bass, according to the capacity of the pupil.) I suppose you find it a little tiresome to listen so closely; but a delicate, quick ear is necessary for piano-playing, and by and by it will become easier to you. But I won't tire you with it any more now, we will go on to something else. Can you count 3,—1, 2, 3?
BESSIE. Yes, indeed, and more too.
DOMINIE. We'll see; now keep counting 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, as evenly and regularly as you can. (I lead her to count steadily, and strike at the same time a chord in three even quarter-notes.) Now we'll see if you can count evenly by yourself. (I count 1 of the chord with her, and leave her to count 2 and 3 by herself; or else I count with her at 2, and let her count 1 and 3 alone; but I am careful to strike the chord promptly and with precision. Afterwards I strike the chord in eighth-notes, and let her count 1, 2, 3; in short, I give the chord in various ways, in order to teach her steadiness in counting, and to confine her attention. In the same way I teach her to count 1, 2, 1, 2; or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; at the same time telling her that music is sometimes counted in triple time, and sometimes in 2/4 or 4/4 time.) Now, Bessie, you have learned to count very well, and to know the difference in the tones. It is not every child that learns this in the first lesson. If you don't get tired of it, you will some time learn to be a good player. As soon as you are rested, I will tell you about something else, that you will have to listen to very carefully.
BESSIE. But I like it, and will take pains to listen just as closely as I can.
DOMINIE. When several tones are struck at the same time, if they sound well together, they make what we call a chord. But there are both major and minor chords: the major chord sounds joyous, gay; the minor, sad, dull, as you would say; the former laugh, the latter weep. Now take notice whether I am right. (I strike the chord of C major; then, after a short pause, that of C minor; and try, by a stronger or lighter touch, to make her listen first to the major and then to the minor chords. She usually distinguishes correctly; but it will not do to dwell too long upon these at first, or to try to enforce any thing by too much talk and explanation.) Now I will tell you that the difference in the sounds of these chords is in the third, counted upwards from the lower note c, and depends upon whether you take it half a tone higher or lower, e or e flat. I shall explain this better to you by and by, when you come to learn about the tonic, the third, the fifth or dominant, the octave, and so on. (It is advantageous and psychologically correct to touch occasionally, in passing, upon points which will be more thoroughly taught later. It excites the interest of the pupil. Thus the customary technical terms are sometimes made use of beforehand, and a needful, cursory explanation given of them.) That is right; you can tell them pretty well already; now we will repeat once more the names of the keys, and then we will stop for to-day. Just see how many things you have learned in this lesson.
BESSIE. It was beautiful!
DOMINIE. I hope you will always find it so.
BESSIE. When may I have another lesson?
DOMINIE. Day after to-morrow; at first, you must have at least three lessons a week.
BESSIE. What shall I do in the next lesson?
DOMINIE. I shall repeat all that I have taught you to-day; but I shall teach you a great deal of it in a different way, and every time I shall teach it to you differently, so that it shall always be interesting to you. In the next lesson we will begin to play, first on the table, and at last on the piano. You will learn to move your fingers lightly and loosely, and quite independently of the arm, though at first they will be weak; and you will learn to raise them and let them fall properly. Besides that, we will contrive a few exercises to teach you to make the wrist loose, for that must be learned in the beginning in order to acquire a fine touch on the piano; that is, to make the tones sound as beautiful as possible. I shall show you how to sit at the piano and how to hold your hands. You will learn the names of the black keys and the scale of C, with the half-step from the 3d to the 4th and also that from the 7th to the 8th, which latter is called the leading note, which leads into C. (This is quite important for my method, for in this way the different keys can be clearly explained.) You will learn to find the chord of C in the bass and the treble, and to strike them with both hands together. And then in the third or fourth lesson, after you know quite perfectly all that I have already taught you, I will teach you to play a little piece that will please you, and then you will really be a player, a pianist.
FRIEND. From whom have you learned all this? It goes like the lightning-train.
DOMINIE. A great many people can learn what is to be taught; but how it is to be taught I have only found out by devoting my whole mind, with real love and constant thought, to the musical improvement and general mental development of my pupils. The advancement will unquestionably be rapid, for it proceeds step by step, and one thing is founded upon another; the pupil learns every thing quietly, thoughtfully, and surely, without going roundabout, without any hindrances and mistakes to be unlearned. I never try to teach too much or too little; and, in teaching each thing, I try to prepare and lay the foundation for other things to be afterwards learned. I consider it very important not to try to cram the child's memory with the teacher's wisdom (as is often done in a crude and harsh way); but I endeavor to excite the pupil's mind, to interest it, and to let it develop itself, and not to degrade it to a mere machine. I do not require the practice of a vague, dreary, time and mind killing piano-jingling, in which way, as I see, your little Susie was obliged to learn; but I observe a musical method, and in doing this always keep strictly in view the individuality and gradual development of the pupil. In more advanced instruction, I even take an interest in the general culture and disposition of the pupil, and improve every opportunity to call forth the sense of beauty, and continually to aid in the intellectual development.
FRIEND. But where are the notes all this time?
DOMINIE. Before that, we have a great deal to do that is interesting and agreeable. I keep constantly in view the formation of a good technique; but I do not make piano-playing distasteful to the pupil by urging her to a useless and senseless mechanical "practising." I may perhaps teach the treble notes after the first six months or after sixty or eighty lessons, but I teach them in my own peculiar way, so that the pupil's mind may be kept constantly active. With my own daughters I did not teach the treble notes till the end of the first year's instruction, the bass notes several months later.
FRIEND. But what did you do meanwhile?
DOMINIE. You really ought to be able to answer that question for yourself after hearing this lesson, and what I have said about it. I have cultivated a musical taste in my pupils, and almost taught them to be skilful, good players, without knowing a note. I have taught a correct, light touch of the keys from the fingers, and of whole chords from the wrist; to this I have added the scales in all the keys; but these should not be taught at first, with both hands together. The pupil may gradually acquire the habit of practising them together later; but it is not desirable to insist on this too early, for in playing the scales with both hands together the weakness of the fourth finger is concealed, and the attention distracted from the feeble tones, and the result is an unequal and poor scale.
At the same time, I have in every way cultivated the sense of time, and taught the division of the bars. I have helped the pupils to invent little cadences with the dominant and sub-dominant and even little exercises, to their great delight and advantage; and I have, of course, at the same time insisted on the use of the correct fingering. You see that, in order to become practical, I begin with the theory. So, for instance, I teach the pupil to find the triad and the dominant chord of the seventh, with their transpositions in every key, and to practise them diligently; and to make use of these chords in all sorts of new figures and passages. But all this must be done without haste, and without tiring the pupil too much with one thing, or wearing out the interest, which is all-important.
After that, I teach them to play fifty or sixty little pieces, which I have written for this purpose. They are short, rhythmically balanced, agreeable, and striking to the ear, and aim to develop gradually an increased mechanical skill. I require them to be learned by heart, and often to be transposed into other keys; in which way the memory, which is indispensable for piano playing, is unconsciously greatly increased. They must be learned perfectly and played well, often, according to the capacity of the pupil, even finely; in strict time (counting aloud is seldom necessary) and without stumbling or hesitating; first slowly, then fast, faster, slow again, staccato, legato, piano, forte, crescendo, diminuendo, &c. This mode of instruction I find always successful; but I do not put the cart before the horse, and, without previous technical instruction, begin my piano lessons with the extremely difficult acquirement of the treble and bass notes. In a word, I have striven, as a psychologist and thinker, as a man and teacher, for a many-sided culture. I have also paid great attention to the art of singing, as a necessary foundation for piano-playing. I have devoted some talent, and at least an enthusiastic, unwearied love to the subject. I have never stood still; have learned something of teaching every day, and have sought always to improve myself; I have always been something new and different, in every lesson and with every child; I have always kept up a cheerful, joyous courage, and this has usually kindled the same in my pupil, because it came from the heart. Moreover, I have never been a man of routine, have never shown myself a pedant, who is obliged to hold fast to certain ideas and views.
I have lived up to the century, and have tried to understand and to advance the age; have heard every thing great and fine in music, and have induced my pupils also to hear it. I have opposed with determination all the prejudices and false tendencies of the times, and never have allowed impatient parents to give advice about my lessons. I have insisted upon a good and well-tuned instrument for my pupils, and have endeavored to merit the love and confidence both of my pupils and of their parents. In fact, I have devoted myself thoroughly to my calling, and have been wholly a teacher, always fixing my eye on the true, the beautiful, and the artistic; and in this way have been of service to my pupils.
FRIEND. But how do you find parents who sympathize with your ideas and with your lofty views?
DOMINIE. I have found that almost all the parents of my pupils have entered into my views, if not immediately, at least after they had been present at a few lessons. In the case of those few who would not enter into them, I have abandoned the lessons; but, nevertheless, I have found that my time has been fully occupied. My friend, do you not think that views like these will assist in the training of young and inexperienced teachers, who are striving for improvement? and do you not think they will be useful even to those who already possess general mental culture, and who are animated by an ardent love for their calling? I especially avoid giving here any exclusive method, a servile following of which would be entirely contrary to my intentions, and, in fact, contrary to my method.
But as for the rest! Alas, all those who do not understand me, or who choose to misunderstand me, those are the worst!—especially the ill-natured people, the classical people who bray about music, stride straight to the notes, and have no patience till they come to Beethoven; who foolishly prate and fume about my unclassical management, but at bottom only wish to conceal their own unskilfulness, their want of culture and of disinterestedness, or to excuse their habitual drudgery. Lazy people without talent I cannot undertake to inspirit, to teach, and to cultivate.
This chapter will, almost by itself, point out to unprejudiced minds my method of giving more advanced instruction, and will show in what spirit I have educated my own daughters, even to the highest point of musical culture, without using the slightest severity. It will, indeed, cause great vexation to the ill-minded and even to the polite world, who attribute the musical position of my daughters in the artistic world to a tyranny used by me, to immoderate and unheard-of "practising," and to tortures of every kind; and who do not hesitate to invent and industriously to circulate the most absurd reports about it, instead of inquiring into what I have already published about teaching, and comparing it with the management which, with their own children, has led only to senseless thrumming.
AN EVENING ENTERTAINMENT AT HERR ZACH'S.
HERR ZACH, formerly a flute-player, not very wealthy. HIS WIFE, of the family of Tz. (rather sharp-tempered). STOCK, her son, 17 years old (is studying the piano thoroughly). MR. BUFFALO, music-master of the family. DOMINIE, piano-teacher (rather gruff). CECILIA, his daughter, 13 years old (shy).
ZACH (to Dominie). I regret that I was unable to attend the concert yesterday. I was formerly musical myself and played on the flute. Your daughter, I believe, plays pretty well.
DOMINIE. Well, yes! perhaps something more than pretty well. We are in earnest about music.
MADAME, of the Tz. family (envious because Cecilia received applause for her public performance yesterday, and because Mr. Buffalo had been unable to bring out Stock,—all in one breath). When did your daughter begin to play? Just how old is she now? Does she like playing? They say you are very strict, and tie your daughters to the piano-stool. How many hours a day do you make her practise? Don't you make her exert herself too much? Has she talent? Isn't she sickly?
DOMINIE. Don't you think she looks in good health, madam,—tall and strong for her years?
MADAME, of the Tz. family. But perhaps she might look more cheerful, if she was not obliged to play on the piano so much.
DOMINIE (bowing). I can't exactly say.
ZACH (suddenly interrupting, and holding Dominie by the button-hole). They say you torment and ill-treat your daughters dreadfully; that the eldest was obliged to practise day and night. Well, you shall hear my Stock play this evening, who, some time, by the grace of God, is to take the place of Thalberg in the world. Now give me your opinion freely (of course, I was only to praise): we should like very much to hear what you think about his playing, though perhaps Mr. Buffalo may not agree with you.
(Mr. Buffalo is looking through the music-case and picking out all the Etudes, by listening to which Dominie is to earn his supper.)
DOMINIE (resigned and foreseeing that he shall be bored). I have heard a great deal of the industry of your son, Stock. What are you studying now, Mr. Stock?
STOCK (in proud self-consciousness, rather Sophomoric). I play six hours a day, two hours scales with both hands together, and four hours Etudes. I have already gone through the first book of Clementi and four books of Cramer. Now I am in the Gradus ad Parnassum: I have already studied the right fingering for it.
DOMINIE. Indeed, you are very much in earnest: that speaks well for you, and for Mr. Buffalo. But what pieces are you studying with the Etudes? Hummel, Mendelssohn, Chopin, or Schumann?
STOCK (contemptuously). Mr. Buffalo can't bear Chopin and Schumann. Mr. Buffalo lately played through Schumann's "Kinderscenen," that people are making such a talk about. My mamma, who is also musical, and used to sing when papa played the flute, said, "What ridiculous little things are those? Are they waltzes for children? and then the babyish names for them! He may play such stuff to his wife, but not to us."
DOMINIE. Well, these "Kinderscenen" are curious little bits for grown-up men's hands. Your mother is right, they are too short: there certainly ought to be more of them. But they are not waltzes!
STOCK. Indeed, I am not allowed to play waltzes at all. My teacher is very thorough: first, I shall have to dig through all the Gradus ad Parnassum; and then he is going to undertake a concerto of Beethoven's with me, and will write the proper fingering over it. I shall play that in public; and then, as he and my aunt say, "I shall be the death of you all."
MR. BUFFALO (who has overheard him, steps up). Now, Herr Dominie, how do you like my method? Perhaps you have a different one? Nevertheless, that shan't prevent our being good friends. Certainly, if any thing is to be accomplished in these times, it is necessary to keep at work,—that is my doctrine. But Stock, here, has unusual patience and perseverance. He has worked through all Cramer's 96 Etudes in succession without grumbling. He was wretched enough over them; but his papa bought him a saddle-horse to ride round on every day, and he revived in the fresh air.
(Herr Zach with his wife and an old aunt are playing cards in the further room.)
DOMINIE. But do you not combine the study of musical pieces with the study of exercises, in order that the cultivation of the taste may go hand in hand with mechanical improvement?
MR. BUFFALO. My dear friend, you are too narrow-minded there,—you make a mistake: taste must come of itself, from much playing and with years. Your Cecilia played the two new waltzes, and the Nocturne of Chopin, and Beethoven's trio very nicely. But then that was all drilled into her: we could tell that well enough by hearing it,—Stock and I.
DOMINIE. Did it sound unnatural to you,—mannered? and did you think it wooden, dry, dull?
MR. BUFFALO. Not exactly that; but the trouble was it sounded studied. The public applauded, it is true; but they don't know any thing. Stock and I thought—
DOMINIE. Do you not think that the taste for a beautiful interpretation may be early awakened, without using severity with the pupil? and that to excite the feeling for music, to a certain degree, even in early years, is in fact essential? The neglect of this very thing is the reason that we are obliged to listen to so many players, who really have mechanically practised themselves to death, and have reduced musical art to mere machinery,—to an idle trick of the fingers.
MR. BUFFALO. That's all nonsense. I say teach them the scales, to run up and down the gamut! Gradus ad Parnassum's the thing! Classical, classical! Yesterday you made your daughter play that Trill-Etude by Carl Meyer. Altogether too fine-sounding! It tickles the ear, to be sure, especially when it is played in such a studied manner. We stick to Clementi and Cramer, and to Hummel's piano-school,—the good old school. You have made a great mistake with your eldest daughter.
DOMINIE. The world does not seem to agree with you.
MADAME, of the Tz. family (has listened and lost a trick by it, steps up quickly, and says maliciously). You must agree that she would have played better, if you had left her for ten years with Cramer and Clementi. We don't like this tendency to Schumann and Chopin. But what folly to talk! One must be careful what one says to the father of such a child! It is quite a different thing with us. Mr. Buffalo is bound to our Stock by no bond of affection. He follows out his aim without any hesitation or vanity, and looks neither to the right nor to the left, but straightforward.
DOMINIE. I beg your pardon, madam: you may be right,—from your point of view. We must be a little indulgent with sensitive people. But will not your son play to us?
(Stock plays two Etudes of Clementi, three of Cramer, and four from the Gradus, but did not even grow warm over them. The horse his father gave him has made him quite strong.)
* * * * *
I may be asked, "But how did Stock play?" How? I do not wish to write a treatise: my plan is only to give hints and suggestions. I am not writing in the interest of Stock, Buffalo, & Co.
After the playing, we went to supper: the oysters were good, but the wine left a little sharp taste. My timid daughter did not like oysters; but she ate a little salad, and at table listened instead of talking.
A few innocent anecdotes were related at table about horses and balls and dogs and Stock's future. On taking leave, Madame said condescendingly to Cecilia, "If you keep on, my dear, one of these days you will play very nicely."
MANY STUDENTS OF THE PIANO AND FEW PLAYERS.
(A Letter addressed to the Father of a Piano Pupil).
It is a pity that you have no sons, for a father takes great delight in his sons; but I agree with you, when you say that, if you had one, you would rather he should break stones than pound the piano. You say you have many friends who rejoice in that paternal felicity, and whose sons, great and small, bright and dull, have been learning the piano for three years or more, and still can do nothing. You are doubtless right; and, further, they never will learn any thing. You ask, Of what use is it to man or boy to be able to stammer through this or that waltz, or polonaise or mazurka, with stiff arms, weak fingers, a stupid face, and lounging figure? What gain is it to art? You say, Is not time worth gold, and yet we are offered lead? And the poor teachers torment themselves and the boys, abuse art and the piano; and at the end of the evening, in despair, torment their own wives, after they have all day long been scolding, cuffing, and lamenting, without success or consolation. You speak the truth. I have had the same experience myself, though not to the same degree, and though I did not bring home to my wife a dreary face, but only a good appetite. But I did not give myself up to lamentation over piano-teaching. I gathered up courage and rose above mere drudgery. I reflected and considered and studied, and tried whether I could not manage better, as I found I could not succeed with the boys; and I have managed better and succeeded better, because I have hit upon a different way, and one more in accordance with nature than that used in the piano schools. I laid down, as the first and most important principle, the necessity for "the formation of a fine touch," just as singing-teachers rely upon the culture of a fine tone, in order to teach singing well. I endeavored, without notes, to make the necessary exercises so interesting that the attention of the pupils always increased; and that they even, after a short time, took great pleasure in a sound, tender, full, singing tone; an acquirement which, unfortunately, even many virtuosos do not possess. In this way, we made an opening at the beginning, not in the middle: we harnessed the horse before the wagon. The pupil now obtained a firm footing, and had something to enjoy, without being tormented at every lesson with dry matters to be learned, the advantage of which was not obvious to him, and the final aim of which he did not perceive. Until a correct touch has been acquired, it is of no use to talk about a fine singing tone. How can we expect to arouse an interest by mere toneless tinkling, while stiff, inflexible fingers are struggling with the notes; while the pupil sees only his inability to do any thing right, and receives nothing but blame from the teacher; while, at the same time, so much is to be kept in mind, and he must be required to observe the time, and to use the right fingers? Poor, stupid children! Later, after teaching the notes, I did not fall into the universal error of selecting pieces which were either too difficult, or such as, though purely musical, were not well adapted to the piano; but I chose short, easy pieces, without prominent difficulties, in the correct and skilful performance of which the pupil might take pleasure. Consequently, they were studied carefully, slowly, willingly, and with interest, which last is a great thing gained; for the pupil rejoiced in the anticipation of success. The struggle over single difficult places destroys all pleasure, palsies talent, creates disgust, and, what is worse, it tends to render uncertain the confirmation of the faculty already partially acquired,—of bringing out a fine legato tone, with loose and quiet fingers and a yielding, movable wrist, without the assistance of the arm.
You suppose that talent is especially wanting, and not merely good teachers; for otherwise, with the zealous pursuit of piano-playing in Saxony, we should produce hundreds who could, at least, play correctly and with facility, if not finely. Here you are mistaken: we have, on the contrary, a great deal of musical talent. There are, also, even in the provincial cities, teachers who are not only musical, but who also possess so much zeal and talent for teaching that many of their pupils are able to play tolerably well. I will add further, that the taste for music is much more cultivated and improved, even in small places, by singing-societies and by public and private concerts, than was formerly the case. We also have much better aids in instruction books, etudes, and suitable piano pieces; but still we find everywhere "jingling" and "piano-banging," as you express it, and yet no piano-playing.
Let us consider this aspect of the subject a little more closely. In the first place, the proper basis for a firm structure is wanting. The knowledge of the notes cannot afford a proper basis, except in so far as it is of service in the execution of a piece. Of what use are the notes to a singer, if he has no attack, and does not understand the management of the voice? of what use to the piano-learner, if he has no touch, no tone on the piano-forte. Is this to be acquired by playing the notes? But how then is it to be learned?
One thing more. Owing to an over-zeal for education, children are kept in school from seven to ten hours in a day, and then they are required to work and commit to memory in their free hours, when they ought to be enjoying the fresh air. But when are they then to have their piano lessons? After they have escaped from the school-room, and consequently when the children are exhausted and their nerves unstrung. What cruelty! Instead of bread and butter and fresh air, piano lessons! The piano ought to be studied with unimpaired vigor, and with great attention and interest, otherwise no success is to be expected. Besides this, much writing, in itself, makes stiff, inflexible fingers. But when is the child to find time for the necessary practice of the piano lessons? Well, in the evening, after ten o'clock for refreshment, while papa and mamma are in bed! And now, after the school-days are happily over, and the children have possibly retained their red cheeks, then their occupations in life lay claim to their time; or, if they are girls, they are expected to busy themselves with embroidery, knitting, sewing, crochet, making clothes, house-work, tea parties, and alas! with balls; and now, too, comes the time for lovers. Do you imagine that the fingers of pupils sixteen years old can learn mechanical movements as easily as those of children nine years old? In order to satisfy the present demands in any degree, the technique should be settled at sixteen. Under all these circumstances, we find the best teachers become discouraged, and fall into a dull routine, which truly can lead to no success.
In conclusion, I beg you to invite the piano teacher, Mr. Strict, to whom you have confided the instruction of your only daughter, Rosalie, to pay me a visit, and I will give him particular directions for a gradual development in piano-playing, up to Beethoven's op. 109 or Chopin's F minor concerto. But I shall find him too fixed in his own theories, too much of a composer, too conceited and dogmatic, and not sufficiently practical, to be a good teacher, or to exert much influence; and, indeed, he has himself a stiff, restless, clumsy touch, that expends half its efforts in the air. He talks bravely of etudes, scales, &c.; but the question with regard to these is how they are taught. The so-called practising of exercises, without having previously formed a sure touch, and carefully and skilfully fostering it is not much more useful than playing pieces. But I hear him reply, with proud and learned self-consciousness: "Music, music! Classical, classical! Spirit! Expression! Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn!" That is just the difficulty. Look at his pupils, at his pianists! See how his children are musically stifled, and hear his daughter sing the classical arias composed by himself! However, it is all musical! Farewell.
A CONVERSATION WITH MRS. SOLID, AND FOUR LESSONS TO HER DAUGHTER.
MRS. SOLID. I should be glad to understand how it is that your daughters are able to play the numerous pieces which I have heard from them so correctly and intelligently, without bungling or hesitation, and with so much expression, and the most delicate shading; in fact, in such a masterly manner. From my youth upwards, I have had tolerable instruction. I have played scales and etudes for a long time; and have taken great pleasure in studying and industriously practising numerous compositions of Kalkbrenner and Hummel, under their own direction. I have even been celebrated for my talent; but, nevertheless, I never have had the pleasure of being able to execute any considerable piece of music to my own satisfaction or that of others; and I fear it will be the same with my daughter Emily.
DOMINIE. In order to give a satisfactory answer to your question, I will lay before you a few of my principles and opinions in respect to musical culture, with special reference to piano-playing. Educated ladies of the present time make greater pretensions and greater demands than formerly in regard to music and musical execution; and consequently their own performances do not usually correspond with their more or less cultivated taste for the beautiful, which has been awakened by their careful general education. Thus they are aware that they are not able to give satisfaction, either to themselves or to others; and from this arises a want of that confidence in their own powers, which should amount almost to a consciousness of infallibility, in order to produce a satisfactory musical performance. This confidence has its foundation in a full, firm, clear, and musical touch, the acquisition of which has been, and is still, too much neglected by masters and teachers. A correct mechanical facility and its advanced cultivation rest upon this basis alone; which, moreover, requires special attention upon our softly leathered pianos, which are much more difficult to play upon than the old-fashioned instruments. It is a mistake to suppose that a correct touch, which alone can produce a good execution, will come of itself, through the practice of etudes and scales. Even with masters, it is unusual to meet with a sound, fine, unexceptionable touch, like that of Field and Moscheles, and among the more recent that of Thalberg, Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Henselt.
I will speak now of the selection of pieces. Our ladies are not contented to play simple music, which presents few difficulties and requires no involved fingering; and from which they might gradually advance by correct and persevering study to more difficult pieces. They at once seize upon grand compositions by Beethoven, C.M. von Weber, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and others, and select also, for the sake of variety, the bravoura pieces of Liszt, Thalberg, Henselt, &c. How can they expect to obtain a command of such pieces, when their early education was insufficient for our exalted demands in mechanical skill, and their subsequent instruction has also been faulty and without method?
If you were to request me to supply in some degree your own deficiencies, before I proceed to the further education of your daughter, I should not begin with the wisdom of our friend Mr. Buffalo: "Madam, you must every day practise the major and minor scales, in all the keys, with both hands at once, and also in thirds and in sixths; and you must work three or four hours daily at etudes of Clementi, Cramer, and Moscheles; otherwise, your playing will never amount to any thing."
Such advice has frequently been given by teachers like Mr. Buffalo, and is still daily insisted on; but we will, for the present, set such nonsense aside. I shall, in the first place, endeavor to improve your touch, which is too thin, feeble, and incorrect; which makes too much unnecessary movement, and tries to produce the tone in the air, instead of drawing it out with the keys. This will not require a long time, for I have well-formed, young hands to work upon, with skilful fingers in good condition. I will employ, for this purpose, several of the short exercises mentioned in my first chapter, and shall require them to be transposed into various keys, and played without notes, in order that you may give your whole attention to your hands and fingers. Above all things, I wish you to observe how I try to bring out from the piano the most beautiful possible tone, with a quiet movement of the fingers and a correct position of the hand; without an uneasy jerking of the arm, and with ease, lightness, and sureness. I shall certainly insist upon scales also, for it is necessary to pay great care and attention to passing the thumb under promptly and quietly, and to the correct, easy position of the arm. But I shall be content with the practice of scales for a quarter of an hour each day, which I require to be played, according to my discretion, staccato, legato, fast, slow, forte, piano, with one hand or with both hands, according to circumstances. This short time daily for scale-practice is sufficient, provided, always, that I have no stiff fingers, or unpractised or ruined structure of the hand to educate. For very young beginners with weak fingers, the scales should be practised only piano, until the fingers acquire strength.
I should continue in this way with you for two weeks, but every day with some slight change. After a short time, I would combine with this practice the study of two or three pieces, suitably arranged for the piano; for example, Mozart's minuet in E flat, arranged by Schulhoff, and his drinking-song, or similar pieces. We will, at present, have nothing to do with Beethoven. You are, perhaps, afraid that all this might be tedious; but I have never been considered tedious in my lessons. I wish you, for the present, not to practise any pieces or exercises except in my presence, until a better touch has been thoroughly established. You must also give up entirely, for a time, playing your previous pieces; for they would give you opportunity to fall again into your faulty mode of playing. I shall also soon put in practice one of my maxims in teaching; viz., that, merely for the acquisition of mechanical facility, all my pupils shall be in the habit of playing daily some appropriate piece, that by its perfect mastery they may gain a fearless confidence. They must regard this piece as a companion, friend, and support. I wish you to learn to consider it a necessity every day, before practising or studying your new piece of music, to play this piece, even if it is done quite mechanically, two or three times, first slowly, then faster; for without ready, flexible fingers, my teaching and preaching will be valueless.
MRS. SOLID. But what pieces, for instance?
DOMINIE. For beginners, perhaps one or two of Huenten's Etudes Melodiques; a little later, one of Czerny's very judicious Etudes from his opus 740; and for more advanced pupils, after they are able to stretch easily and correctly, his Toccata, opus 92,—a piece which my three daughters never give up playing, even if they do not play it every day. They practise pieces of this description as a remedy for mechanical deficiencies, changing them every three or four months. In the selection of these, I aim especially at the practice of thirds, trills, stretches, scales, and passages for strengthening the fourth finger; and I choose them with reference to the particular pieces, sonatas, variations, concertos, &c., which they are at the time studying. Likewise, in the choice of the latter, I pursue a different course from that which the teachers alluded to above and others are accustomed to follow; though I hope my management is never pedantic, but cautious, artistic, and psychologic. It is easy to see that many teachers, by giving lessons continually, particularly to pupils without talent, are led, even with the best intentions, to fall into a mere routine. We find them often impatient and unsympathetic, especially in the teaching of their own compositions; and again, by their one-sided opinions and capricious requirements, by devoting attention to matters of small importance, and by all sorts of whimsicalities, they contract the intellectual horizon of their pupils, and destroy their interest in the lessons.
MRS. SOLID. Your careful mode of proceeding is certainly extremely interesting and convincing; but allow me to request an answer to various objections and considerations which are now and then brought forward, particularly by teachers.
DOMINIE. To that I am quite accustomed. The good and the beautiful never obtain uncontested recognition. No one has ever offered any new improvement, and fearlessly spoken the truth, without being attacked, defamed, and despised, or entirely misunderstood. Our age can show many proofs of this; for example, let us remember homoeopathy and magnetism. Clara Wieck was not appreciated in Leipzig until she had been admired in Paris; nor Marie Wieck, because she does not play exactly as her sister Clara does. The same is the case with my present book, which relentlessly treads upon the incredible follies and lamentable errors of the times. I am quite prepared for opposition of any kind.
MRS. SOLID. I should like to suggest to you that there are other teachers who have given themselves a great deal of trouble, and who are very particular; but it is not their good fortune to have daughters like yours to educate.
DOMINIE. Have given themselves a great deal of trouble? What do you mean by that? If they do not take pains in the right way, or at the right time and place, it is all labor in vain. Of what use is mere unskilful, stupid industry? For instance, when a teacher, in order to correct a stiff use of the fingers and wrist, and the general faulty touch of his pupil, gives some wonderful etude or a piece with great stretches and arpeggios for the left hand, and gives himself unwearied trouble over it, it is a proof of abundant painstaking; but it is labor thrown away, and only makes the imperfect mode of performance the worse.
And now with regard to my daughters. It has been their fortune to have had me for a father and teacher: they certainly have talent, and I have been successful in rousing and guiding it. Envy, jealousy, pride, and offended egotism have tried as long as possible to dispute this; but at last the effort is abandoned. They say that it requires no art to educate such talent as theirs, that it almost "comes of itself." This assertion is just as false and contrary to experience as it is common, even with educated and thoughtful people, who belong to no clique. Lichtenburg says: "It is just those things upon which everybody is agreed that should be subjected to investigation." Well, I have made a thorough investigation of these accusations, with regard to my three daughters, and all the talented pupils whom I have been able to educate for good amateurs, and, according to circumstances, for good public performers. The great number of these suffices for my justification. I must add, still further, that it is exactly the "great talents" for singing, or for the piano, who require the most careful, thoughtful, and prudent guidance. Look around at the multitude of abortive talents and geniuses! Talented pupils are just the ones who have an irresistible desire to be left to their own discretion; they esteem destruction by themselves more highly than salvation by others.
MRS. SOLID. But it is said that you have been able to educate only your three daughters, and none others for public performers.
DOMINIE. Madam, you cannot be serious. If I were to declaim Leporello's list, you might justly consider it an exaggeration; but if, instead of replying to you, I should urge you to read what I have written on the subject, or if I should present your daughter Emily to you, after three or four years, as a superior performer, you might pardon my vanity and my ability. I do not possess any magic wand, which envy and folly could not impute to me as an offence. Nevertheless, unless circumstances were very adverse, I have, at all events, been able in a short time to accomplish for my pupils the acquisition of a good, or at least an improved, musical touch; and have thus laid a foundation, which other teachers have failed to do by their method, or rather want of method. But you have something else on your mind?
MRS. SOLID. You anticipate me. I was educated in Berlin, and in that capital of intelligence a taste prevails for opposition, negation, and thorough criticism. How can you educate artists and virtuosos, when you yourself are so little a virtuoso? You are not even a composer or learned contrapuntist. A teacher of music wins much greater consideration, if he himself plays concertos and composes pretty things, and if he can calculate and give vent to his genius in double and triple fugues, and in inverse and retrograde canons. You cannot even accompany your pupils with the violin or flute, which is certainly very useful and improving.
DOMINIE. The egotist is seldom capable of giving efficient instruction: that lies in the nature of the case. Even a child will soon perceive whether the teacher has a sole eye to its interest, or has other and personal aims in view. The former bears good fruits, the latter very doubtful ones. I will say nothing about the stand-point of those egotistical teachers whose first aim is to bring themselves into prominence, and who at the same time are perhaps travelling public performers and composers. They are, it may be, chiefly occupied with double and triple fugues (the more inverted the more learned), and they consider this knowledge the only correct musical foundation. At the same time, they often possess a touch like that of your brother, Mr. Strict, mentioned in my third chapter, and are utterly devoid of true taste and feeling. While pursuing their fruitless piano lessons, which are quite foreign to their customary train of thought, they regard their occupation only as a milch cow; and they obtain the money of sanguine parents, and sacrifice the time of their pupils. You may try such agreeable personages for yourself: I could wish you no greater punishment.
And now I will speak of the violin and the flute. I have never availed myself of those expedients; it is a method which I have never learned. I will describe for your amusement a few interesting incidents, which I had an opportunity to witness in a not inconsiderable city, while on a journey with my daughters. The teacher with the flute was a gentle, quiet, mild musician; he was on very good terms with his pupil, and indulged in no disputes; every thing went on peaceably, without passion, and "in time." They both twittered tenderly and amicably, and were playing, in celebration of the birthday of an old aunt who was rather hard of hearing, a sonata by Kuhlau, which was quite within the power of both. The old aunt, who, of course, could hear but little of the soft, flute tones, and the light, thin, modest, square piano, kept asking me: "Is not that exquisite? what do you think of it?" I nodded my head and praised it, for the music was modest and made no pretension.
I will pass next to the violin. The possessor of this was a type of presumption, vulgarity, and coarseness, and understood how to make an impression on his pupils and their parents by the assumption of extraordinary ability. He consequently enjoyed a certain consideration. He was, moreover, a good musician, and played the violin tolerably in accompanying the piano, in Beethoven's opus 17 and 24. In this portrait you have a specimen of the violinist as a piano teacher. Of course he understood nothing of piano-playing, and took no interest in Wieck's rubbish about beauty of tone; he cared only for Beethoven. He now and then tried to sprawl out a few examples of fingering, in a spider-like fashion; but they were seldom successful. His pupils also possessed the peculiar advantage of playing "in time," when they did not stick fast in the difficult places. At such times he always became very cross and severe, and talked about "precision;" in that way instilling respect. His pupils did not jingle, but they had a peculiarly short, pounding touch; and floundered about among the keys with a sort of boldness, and with resolute, jerking elbows. They certainly had no tone, but the violin was therefore heard the better; and after each performance we might have heard, "Am I not the first teacher in Europe?"
MRS. SOLID. You certainly have shown up two ridiculous figures.
DOMINIE. True; but I leave it to every one to make themselves ridiculous.
MRS. SOLID. I am very glad that you have furnished me here with the criticisms of which I stand in need; for I might otherwise have been in danger of supplying you with an example at the next soiree, perhaps at the banker's, Mr. Gold's. But, as I should like to hear your answer, I will listen to, and report to you, what is said in a certain though not very numerous clique, who are opposed to you and your labors.
DOMINIE. Those people would act more wisely, if they were to study my writings; in which I will make any corrections, if there is any thing that I can add to them, for the advantage of truth, right, and beauty.
And now allow me, Miss Emily, since you are pretty well advanced, and are not quite spoiled, to show you in a few lessons how to study these variations by Herz (Les Trois Graces, No. 1, on a theme from "The Pirates"). They are not easy; but I will teach them in a way that shall not weary you or give you a distaste for them. I have intentionally chosen these variations, because they do not lay claim to great musical interest; and, consequently, their mode of performance, their execution, gives them their chief value. Moreover, they possess the disadvantage for teaching that they are of unequal difficulty, and require, therefore, the more skill on the part of the teacher to compensate for this.
First Lesson. Miss Emily, these are very clear, graceful variations, which require an extremely nice, delicate execution; and, especially, a complete mechanical mastery of their various difficulties. Although these variations may seem to you too easy, I am governed in the selection of them by the maxim that "what one would learn to play finely must be below the mechanical powers of the pupil." The theme of the Italian song, which is the basis of these variations, is very well chosen, and you must take great pains to execute it as finely as possible, and to produce a singing effect upon the piano-forte. After the piece is thoroughly learned, you will be greatly aided in the production of this imitation of singing by the careful and correct use of the pedal which raises the dampers. The theme does not offer great mechanical difficulties; but it requires a loose, broad, full, and yet tender touch, a good portamento, and a clear and delicately shaded delivery; for you must remember that "in the performance of a simple theme the well-taught pupil may be recognized."
EMILY. But you do not begin at the beginning: there is an introduction to the piece.
DOMINIE. Perhaps we shall take that at the last: I can't tell yet when. A great many things in my instruction will seem to you misplaced: it may be that the final result will restore to me the approval which I desire.
EMILY. Do you always give such a preliminary description before you begin a piece with a pupil?
DOMINIE. I like to do so; for I wish to create an interest in the piece, and to state in connection my principles and views about music and piano-playing. Now we will try the theme, first quite slowly; and then the first easy variation, with the last bars at the end of it, which introduce the theme once more, and which should be played very clearly and smoothly. We will then take from the introduction only the right hand, and study the most appropriate fingering for it. I never write this out fully; but only intimate it here and there, in order not to interfere with the spontaneous activity of the learner. We will also take a few portions for the left hand from the finale. In these you must carefully observe the directions which are given for its performance, and try to execute every thing correctly and clearly; for a careless bass is prejudicial to the very best playing in the treble.
My lesson is now at an end; for we have taken up a good deal of time at the beginning with the scales, and passing the thumb under correctly, with the different species of touch, and the appropriate exercises for these. I do not wish you yet to practise the first variation with both hands together, for you do not yet strike the skipping bass evenly enough and with sufficient precision; and you might accustom yourself to inaccuracies, especially as your left hand has, as usual, been neglected, and is inferior to the right in lightness and rapidity. We shall find this a hindrance; for the object is not to practise much, but to practise correctly. Therefore play these passages first slowly, then quicker, at last very fast; then slow again, sometimes staccato, sometimes legato, piano, and also moderately loud; but never when the hands and fingers are fatigued, therefore not too continuously; but many times in the course of the day, and always with fresh energy. At present, you need not play fortissimo, or with the pedal: for in that way you might be led into a tramping style, with a weak, stiff touch, and a habit of striking at the keys with straight fingers; and that I do not like. We will look for the true and the beautiful in a very different treatment of the piano; and, first of all, in a clear, unaffected, healthy performance, free from any forced character.
Second Lesson. Transposition of the triads and dominant chord in their three positions, and in various kinds of measure; and practice of these, with careful attention to a correct touch and loose wrist; cadences on the dominant and sub-dominant; practice of the skipping bass in the theme, and in the first and third variations, with practice in striking and leaving the chords, observing carefully the precise value of the notes. You must attend also to striking them not too forcibly or too feebly, and take special care with regard to the fourth and fifth fingers, which do not easily give the tone with so full a sound as the other three fingers. Now we will try the theme with both hands together, and consider the correct expression, and likewise the piano and forte, as well as the nicest crescendo and diminuendo. We will then take the first easy variation, of which you have already acquired a mastery: we will play it exactly a tempo and with the bass chords, which should usually be given staccato, and which must be played with delicacy and flexibility; but it will be well for you to practise first the bass part once alone, in order that you may hear whether all the tones sound evenly. Now the first variation will go pretty well with both hands together; with increasing mastery of it, the requisite shading in the right hand can be produced. As your right hand is not yet tired, play to me now several times, first slowly and then faster, the passages which I gave you from the introduction. When the right hand becomes a little fatigued, take a portion from the finale for the left hand. You may also try over the adagio; but I recommend for your special practice the part for the right hand in the third variation. You cannot make a mistake about it, if you do not try to play it too fast, and if you carefully observe the fingering indicated. Now I will play the theme to you, as nearly as possible as I heard the famous tenor Rubini sing it. You see I place the fingers gently upon the keys and avoid raising them too high, in order not to injure the nice connection of the tones, and to produce a singing tone as far as possible. At the end of the lesson you will play the theme to me once more.... I perceive you play it with too much embarrassment, and not freely enough. It will go still better two days hence, if you play it frequently during that time, slowly, and become quite accustomed to it. In addition, you will practise industriously every thing which we have gone through, especially the first variation; but you must always do it with interest, and never with weariness. Of course you will practise without notes all the little exercises for the touch, and for the fourth and fifth fingers, and the cadences.
Third Lesson. Other little exercises; trills, scales with shading for one hand alone and for both together; the skipping basses, &c. We will begin to-day with the bass part of the second variation. You observe that often there are even eighth notes in the treble, while in the bass there are even triplet eighth notes. In order to play these properly together, even with only mechanical correctness, it is necessary that the left hand shall acquire a perfectly free and independent movement, and shall bring out the bass with perfect ease. You must pay special attention to any weak notes, and accustom yourself not to give the last triplet, in each bar, and the last note of this triplet, too hurriedly, too sharply, or with too little tone. Notice how much difficulty this equal playing of the triplets occasions to the right hand, which moves in even eighth notes. While you play the left hand, I will play the right: you must listen as little as possible to my playing, and preserve your own independence. You must learn to play this variation entirely by yourself with both hands together; but we must not be too much in a hurry about it, and must give time to it. All restless urging, all hurry, leads to inaccuracies in playing. You have learned enough for to-day; but you may play the other variations, with the whole finale, straight through, that you may not get into the habit of stopping at the difficult passages which you have already learned.
Fourth Lesson. New exercises for striking stretches, and for the extension of the hand and fingers; but this must be done prudently, that the sound touch, which is always of the first importance, shall not be endangered. Besides this, the repetition of the exercises learned in the preceding lessons; but all to be played with a certain shading and delicacy. We will to-day begin at the beginning, with the introduction. I will now make amends for my want of regularity, and show you that I can begin at the beginning, like other people; but all in good time. To-day, in those portions of which you have acquired a mastery, we will give particular attention to the expression, and to the correct use of the pedal. If what I suggest to you with regard to the shading at any place does not entirely correspond to your understanding of the piece, or to your feeling, you must at once express your difference of opinion, and ask me for the reason of my view. You, perhaps, do not like to play this place crescendo, but diminuendo. Very well; only play it finely in your own way; it will also sound very well so. I proposed the crescendo there, because the feeling grows more intense; perhaps, in the next lesson, you will acknowledge that I was right. This place I should play a very little slower, though without a striking ritardando; then a little faster here; do you think it ought to be played crescendo or diminuendo? We must try in this variation to present nicely shaded little pictures. Here you might use more energy and decision. This place you should play merely with a correct mechanical execution, but without special expression; for we require shadow, in order that the succeeding idea, eminently suggestive of the theme, shall be brought out with more brilliancy. In general, the whole must be made to sound natural, without musical pretension, and as if it were the production of the moment; and should not create a distorted, overdrawn effect, or exhibit modern affectation.
Each piece that I undertake to teach you will give me an opportunity to talk to you a great deal about the correct expression in playing, and about its innumerable beauties, shades, and delicacies; while I shall pay constant attention to the production of a beautiful singing tone. The next piece will be Chopin's Notturno in E flat; for your touch has already gained in fulness, and is now unobjectionable.
This is the tyranny with regard to correct execution, which stupidity and folly have taxed me with having exercised towards my daughters. "Expression must come of itself!" How cheap is this lazy subterfuge of the followers of routine, and of teachers wanting in talent! We see and hear a great many virtuosos, old and young, with and without talent, renowned and obscure. They either play in an entirely mechanical manner and with faulty and miserable touch, or else, which is less bearable, they strut with unendurable affectation and produce musical monstrosities. In order to conceal their indistinct mode of execution, they throw themselves upon the two pedals, and are guilty of inconceivable perversions.
But let us proceed with your instruction. You already play your piece intelligently, with interest and enthusiasm, and without any of the modern, empty affectations. If any other passage should occur to you at the fermata in the second part, which shall lead appropriately to the dominant, try it; and combine it, perhaps, with that which is written. You may make two passing shakes upon the four final sixteenth notes; but you must play them very distinctly and clearly, and the last one weaker than the first, in order to give it a delicate effect, as is done by singers. With light variations of this kind, it is allowable to introduce various ornaments, provided they are in good taste and nicely executed. The case is quite different in the performance of the compositions of Beethoven, Mozart, Weber, and others, where reverence for the composer requires a stricter interpretation, although even this is sometimes carried to a point of exaggeration and pedantry. Now try the first variation once more. That is better: you already play the skipping bass with more precision, more briskly and evenly. We begin to perceive the correct speaking tone in the bass, and a certain delicacy and freedom in the treble. You need not play both hands together in the second variation, which is the most difficult, until the next lesson. To-day you may first play the bass alone, while I play the treble; and afterwards we will change parts, and you can play the treble while I play the bass. But we will not go farther than the fourth variation. I have not much more to say about this piece. We will begin next a beautiful Etude by Moscheles, which I recommend highly to you, in order to strengthen and give facility to the fourth and fifth fingers: this may be your companion and friend during the next two or three months.
MRS. SOLID. Your very careful mode of instruction assures me that Emily will acquire a mastery of these variations, and will learn to perform them finely.
DOMINIE. She will be able, after a week or two, to execute this piece with understanding and confidence, and to play it to her own satisfaction and that of others; while her awakened consciousness of its beauties and of her ability to interpret it will preserve her interest for it.
The objection is quite untenable "that children lose their pleasure in a piece, if they are obliged to practise it until they know it." Do people suppose that it gives more pleasure, when the teacher begins in a stupid, helpless way, and tries to make the pupil swallow several pieces at once, while he continually finds fault and worries them, than when the pupil is enabled to play a few short, well-sounding exercises, with perfect freedom and correctness, and to take delight in his success? or when afterwards, or perhaps at the same time, he is conscious that he can play one piece nicely and without bungling, while it is all accomplished in a quiet and pleasant manner?
MRS. SOLID. Do you pursue the same course with longer and more difficult pieces?
DOMINIE. Certainly, on the same principle.
MRS. SOLID. But, if you are so particular about every piece, and always take so much pains to improve the touch, it will be a long time before Emily will be able to execute several long pieces and can learn other new ones beside.
DOMINIE. Do you wish your daughter to learn to jingle on the piano, in order to become musical? or shall she grow more musical by learning to play finely? I am sure the latter is your wish, as it is mine: otherwise, you would be contented with an ordinary teacher. You must consider that, when she has made a beginning, by learning to play one piece thoroughly and quite correctly, the following pieces will be learned more and more quickly; for she will have acquired a dexterity in playing, as you may observe with yourself and with every one. To be able to drum off fifty pieces in an imperfect manner does not justify the expectation that the fifty-first piece will be learned more easily or better; but to attain a perfect mastery of four or five pieces gives a standard for the rest.
In this way, and by mechanical studies, such as I have begun with Emily, the greatest ease in reading at sight is gradually developed, in which all my pupils excel, when they have remained long enough under my instruction, and in which my daughters are pre-eminent. But for this it is necessary to continue to study single pieces, industriously and artistically, and with great exactness; for otherwise the practice of reading at sight, which often amounts to a passion, leads very soon to slovenliness in piano-playing and to more or less vulgar machine-music.
MRS. SOLID. I am more and more convinced that a style of instruction which is illogical, intermittent, superficial, and without method, can lead to no good result, or at least to nothing satisfactory, even with extraordinary talents; and that the unsound and eccentric manifestations and caricatures of art, which cause the present false and deplorable condition of piano-playing, are the consequence of such a prevalent mode of instruction.
ON THE PEDAL.
I have just returned exhausted and annihilated from a concert, where I have been hearing the piano pounded. Two grand bravoura movements have been thundered off, with the pedal continually raised; and then were suddenly succeeded by a soft murmuring passage, during which the thirteen convulsed and quivering bass notes of the fortissimo were all the time resounding. It was only by the aid of the concert programme that my tortured ears could arrive at the conclusion that this confusion of tones was meant to represent two pieces by Doehler and Thalberg.
Cruel fate that invented the pedal! I mean the pedal which raises the dampers on the piano. A grand acquisition, indeed, for modern times! Good heavens! Our piano performers must have lost their sense of hearing! What is all this growling and buzzing? Alas, it is only the groaning of the wretched piano-forte, upon which one of the modern virtuosos, with a heavy beard and long hanging locks, whose hearing has deserted him, is blustering away on a bravoura piece, with the pedal incessantly raised,—with inward satisfaction and vain self-assertion! Truly time brings into use a great deal that is far from beautiful: does, then, this raging piano revolutionist think it beautiful to bring the pedal into use at every bar? Unhappy delusion.
But enough of this serious jesting. Hummel never used the pedal. He was an extremist; and, in his graceful, clear, elegant, neat, though not grand playing, often lost fine effects, which would have been produced by the correct and judicious use of the pedal; particularly on the instruments of Stein, Brodmann, Conrad Graff, and others then in use, which were usually lightly leathered, and had a thin, sharp tone. The use of the pedal, of course always allowing it to fall frequently with precision, was especially desirable in the upper treble, in cases where the changes of the harmony were not very frequent; for the tone of those instruments, although sweet and agreeable, had not much depth, and the action had but little strength and elasticity. But on our instruments, frequently too softly leathered, which have a full tone, and are so strong and penetrating, especially in the bass, it is enough to endanger one's sense of hearing to be subjected to such a senseless, incessant, ridiculous, deafening use of the pedal; frequently, moreover, combined with a hard, stiff touch, and an unsound, incorrect technique. A musical interpretation in any degree tolerable is out of the question. You cannot call that art, it cannot even be called manual labor: it is a freak of insanity!
A few words to the better sort of players. The foot-piece to the right on the piano-forte raises the dampers, and in that way makes the tones resound and sing, and takes from them the dryness, shortness, and want of fulness, which is always the objection to the piano-forte, especially to those of the earlier construction. This is certainly an advantage; the more the tone of the piano-forte resembles singing, the more beautiful it is. But, in order not to injure the distinctness and detract from the clear phrasing of the performance, a very skilful and prudent use of the pedal is necessary in rapid changes of harmony, particularly in the middle and lower portion of the instrument.
You all use the pedal too much and too often, especially on large, fine concert pianos of the new construction, which, with their heavy stringing, have in themselves a fuller, more vibrating tone; at least you do not let it fall frequently enough, and with precision. You must listen to what you are playing. You do not play for yourselves alone; frequently you play to hearers who are listening for the first time to the pieces you are performing. Try a few passages without pedal,—for instance, those in which the changes of the harmony succeed each other rapidly, even in the highest treble,—and see what repose, what serene enjoyment, what refreshment is afforded, what delicate shading is brought out. Or at first listen, and try to feel it in the playing of others; for your habit is so deeply rooted that you no longer know when and how often you use the pedal. Chopin, that highly gifted, elegant, sensitive composer and performer, may serve as a model for you here. His widely dispersed, artistic harmonies, with the boldest and most striking suspensions, for which the fundamental bass is essential, certainly require the frequent use of the pedal for fine harmonic effect. But, if you examine and observe the minute, critical directions in his compositions, you can obtain from him complete instruction for the nice and correct use of the pedal.
By way of episode to my sorrowful lecture on the pedal, we will take a walk through the streets some beautiful evening. What is it that we hear in almost every house? Unquestionably it is piano-playing; but what playing! It is generally nothing but a continual confusion of different chords, without close, without pause; slovenly passages, screened by the raised pedal; varied by an empty, stiff, weak touch, relying upon the pedal for weight. We will escape into the next street. Oh, horrors! what a thundering on this piano, which, by the way, is sadly out of tune! It is a grand—that is, a long, heavy—etude, with the most involved passages, and a peculiar style of composition, probably with the title "On the Ocean," or "In Hades," or "Fancies of the Insane;" pounded off with the pedal raised through the most marvellous changes of harmonies. Finally, the strings snap, the pedal creaks and moans; conclusion,—c, c sharp, d, d sharp resound together through a few exhausted bars, and at last die away in the warm, soft, delicious air. Universal applause from the open windows! But who is the frantic musician who is venting his rage or this piano? It is a Parisian or other travelling composer, lately arrived with letters of recommendation, who has just been giving a little rehearsal of what we may expect to hear shortly in a concert at the "Hotel de Schmerz."
THE SOFT-PEDAL SENTIMENT.
You exclaim: "What is that?—a sentiment for the soft pedal! a sentiment of any kind in our times! most of all, a musical sentiment! I have not heard of such a thing in a concert-room for a long time!"
When the foot-piece to the left on the piano is pressed down, the key-board is thereby moved to the right; so that, in playing, the hammers strike only two of the three strings, in some pianos only one. In that way the tone is made weaker, thinner, but more singing and more tender. What follows from this? Many performers, seized with a piano madness, play a grand bravoura piece, excite themselves fearfully, clatter up and down through seven octaves of runs, with the pedal constantly raised,—bang away, put the best piano out of tune in the first twenty bars,—snap the strings, knock the hammers off their bearings, perspire, stroke the hair out of their eyes, ogle the audience, and make love to themselves. Suddenly they are seized with a sentiment! They come to a piano or pianissimo, and, no longer content with one pedal, they take the soft pedal while the loud pedal is still resounding. Oh, what languishing! what soft murmuring, and what a sweet tinkling of bells! what tenderness of feeling! what a soft-pedal sentiment! The ladies fall into tears, enraptured by the pale, long-haired young artist.
I describe here the period of piano mania, which has just passed its crisis; a period which it is necessary to have lived through, in order to believe in the possibility of such follies. When, in the beginning of this century, the piano attained such conspicuous excellence and increased power, greater technical skill could not fail to be called out; but, after a few years, this degenerated into a heartless and worthless dexterity of the fingers, which was carried to the point of absurdity and resulted in intellectual death. Instead of aiming to acquire, before all things, a beautiful, full tone on these rich-sounding instruments, which admit of so much and such delicate shading, essential to true excellence of performance, the object was only to increase mechanical facility, and to cultivate almost exclusively an immoderately powerful and unnatural touch, and to improve the fingering in order to make possible the execution of passages, roulades, finger-gymnastics, and stretches, which no one before had imagined or considered necessary. From this period dates the introduction of virtuoso performances with their glittering tawdriness, without substance and without music, and of the frightful eccentricities in art, accompanied by immeasurable vanity and self-conceit,—the age of "finger-heroes." It is indeed a melancholy reflection, for all who retain their senses, that this charlatanry is made the solitary aim of numberless ignoble performers, sustained by the applause of teachers and composers equally base. It is sad to see how, engaged in artificial formalisms and in erroneous mechanical studies, players have forgotten the study of tone and of correct delivery, and that few teachers seek to improve either themselves or their pupils therein. Otherwise they would see and understand that, on a good piano, such as are now to be found almost everywhere, it is possible with correct playing, founded on a right method, to play, without external aids, forte, fortissimo, piano, pianissimo,—in a word, with every degree of shading, and with at least formal expression; and that this style of playing, with the requisite mechanical skill, sounds far more pure, and is more satisfactory than when a feeling is affected through the crude, unskilful, and absurd use of the pedal, especially of the soft pedal of which we are now speaking. This affectation only gives one more proof of our unhealthy, stupid, and unmusical infancy in piano performances. A good-natured public, drummed up and brought together by patient persuasion and by urgent recommendations, of which virtuosos can obtain an abundance (for the tormented cities which they have visited cannot otherwise get rid of them), attend these concerts and listen to dozens of such inexperienced piano-players. One plays exactly like another, with more or less faulty mechanical execution; and none of them are able, with all their thumping and caressing of the keys, to bring out from the instrument a broad, healthy, full, and beautiful tone, delicately shaded and distinct even to the softest pp. But, instead of this, they fall into a pedal sentiment; i.e., they play with outside pretension, and with intrinsic emptiness.