And the new critics, who never heard Thalberg, have the impertinence to flout him, to make merry at his fantasias. Just compare the Don Juan of Liszt and the Don Juan of Thalberg! See which is the more musical, the more pianistic. Liszt, after running through the gamut of operatic extravagance, began to paraphrase movements from Beethoven symphonies, bits of quartets, Wagner overtures and every nondescript thing he could lay his destructive hands on. How he maltreated the Tannhaeuser overture we know from Josef Hofmann's recent brilliant but ineffectual playing of it. Wagner, being formless and all orchestral color, loses everything by being transferred to the piano. Then, sighing for fresh fields, the rapacious Magyar seized the tender melodies of Schubert, Schumann, Franz and Brahms and forced them to the block. Need I tell you that their heads were ruthlessly chopped and hacked? A special art-form like the song that needs the co-operation of poetry is robbed of one-half its value in a piano transcription. By this time Liszt had evolved a style of his own, a style of shreds and patches from the raiment of other men. His style, like Joseph's coat of many colors, appealed to pianists because of its factitious brilliancy.
The cement of brilliancy Liszt always contrived to cover his most commonplace compositions with. He wrote etudes a la Chopin; clever, I admit, but for my taste his Opus One, which he afterwards dressed up into Twelve Etudes Transcendentales—listen to the big, boastful title!—is better than the furbished up later collection. His three concert studies are Chopinish; his Waldesrauschen is pretty, but leads nowhere; his Annees des Pelerinage sickly with sentimentalism; his Dante Sonata a horror; his B-minor Sonata a madman's tale signifying froth and fury; his legendes, ballades, sonettes, Benedictions in out of the way places, all, all with choral attachments, are cheap, specious, artificial and insincere. Theatrical Liszt was to a virtue, and his continual worship of God in his music is for me monotonously blasphemous.
The Rhapsodies I reserve for the last. They are the nightmare curse of the pianist, with their rattle-trap harmonies, their helter-skelter melodies, their vulgarity and cheap bohemianism. They all begin in the church and end in the tavern. There is a fad just now for eating ill-cooked food and drinking sour Hungarian wine to the accompaniment of a wretched gypsy circus called a Czardas. Liszt's rhapsodies irresistibly remind me of a cheap, tawdry, dirty table d'hote, where evil-smelling dishes are put before you, to be whisked away and replaced by evil-tasting messes. If Liszt be your god, why then give me Czerny, or, better still, a long walk in the woods, humming with nature's rhythms. I think I'll read Walden over again. Now do you think I am as amiable as I look?
BACH—ONCE, LAST, AND ALL THE TIME
I'm an old, old man. I've seen the world of sights, and I've listened eagerly, aye, greedily, to the world of sound, to that sweet, maddening concourse of tones civilized Caucasians agree is the one, the only art. I, too, have had my mad days, my days of joys uncontrolled—doesn't Walt Whitman say that somewhere?—I've even rioted in Verdi. Ah, you are surprised! You fancied I knew my Czerny et voila tout? Let me have your ear. I've run the whole gamut of musical composers. I once swore by Meyerbeer. I came near worshiping Wagner, the early Wagner, and today I am willing to acknowledge that Die Meistersinger is the very apex of a modern polyphonic score. I adored Spohr and found good in Auber. In a word, I had my little attacks of musical madness, for all the world like measles, scarlet fever, chicken-pox, and the mumps.
As I grew older my task clarified. Having admired Donizetti, there was no danger of being seduced by the boisterous, roystering Mascagni. Knowing Mozart almost by heart, Gounod and his pallid imitations did not for an instant impose on me. Ah! I knew them all, these vampires who not only absorb a dead man's ideas, but actually copy his style, hoping his interment included his works as well as his mortal remains. Being violently self-conscious, I sought as I passed youth and its dangerous critical heats to analyze just why I preferred one man's music to another's. Why was I attracted to Brahms whilst Wagner left me cold? Why did Schumann not appeal to me as much as Mendelssohn? Why Mozart more than Beethoven? At last, one day, and not many years ago, I cried aloud, "Bach, it is Bach who does it, Bach who animates the wooden, lifeless limbs of these classicists, these modern men. Bach—once, last, and all the time."
And so it came about that with my prying nose I dipped into all composers, and found that the houses they erected were stable in the exact proportion that Bach was used in the foundations. If much Bach, then granted talent, the man reared a solid structure. If no Bach, then no matter how brilliant, how meteoric, how sensational the talents, smash came tumbling down the musical mansion, smash went the fellow's hastily erected palace. Whether it is Perosi—who swears by Bach and doesn't understand or study him—or Mascagni or Massenet, or any of the new school, the result is the same. Bach is the touchstone. Look at Verdi, the Verdi of Don Carlo and the Verdi who planned and built Falstaff. Mind you, it is not that big fugued finale—surely one of the most astounding operatic codas in existence—that carries me away. It is the general texture of the work, its many voices, like the sweet mingled roar of Buttermilk Falls, that draws me to Falstaff. It is because of Bach that I have forsworn my dislike of the later Wagner, and unlearned my disgust at his overpowering sensuousness. The web he spins is too glaring for my taste, but its pattern is so lovely, so admirable, that I have grown very fond of The Mastersingers.
Bach is in all great, all good compositions, and especially is he a test for modern piano music. The monophonic has been done to the death by a whole tribe of shallow charlatans, who, under the pretence that they wrote in a true piano style, literally debauched several generations of students. Shall I mention names? Better disturb neither the dead nor the quick. In the matter of writing for more voices than one we have retrograded considerably since the days of Bach. We have, to be sure, built up a more complex harmonic system, beautiful chords have been invented, or rather re-discovered—for in Bach all were latent—but, confound it, children! these chords are too slow, too ponderous in gait for me. Music is, first of all, motion, after that emotion. I like movement, rhythmical variety, polyphonic life. It is only in a few latter-day composers that I find music that moves, that sings, that thrills.
How did I discover that Bach was in the very heart of Wagner? In the simplest manner. I began playing the E-flat minor Prelude in the first book of the Well-tempered Clavichord, and lo! I was transported to the opening of Goetterdaemmerung.
Pretty smart boy that Richard Geyer to know his Bach so well! Yet the resemblance is far fetched, is only a hazy similarity. The triad of E-flat minor is common property, but something told me Wagner had been browsing on Bach; on this particular prelude had, in fact, got a starting point for the Norn music. The more I studied Wagner, the more I found Bach, and the more Bach, the better the music. Chopin knew his Bach backwards, hence the surprisingly fresh, vital quality of his music, despite its pessimistic coloring. Schumann loved Bach and built his best music on him, Mendelssohn re-discovered him, whilst Beethoven played the Well-tempered Clavichord every day of his life.
All my pupils study the Inventions before they play Clementi or Beethoven, and what well-springs of delight are these two- and three-part pieces! Take my word for it, if you have mastered them you may walk boldly up to any of the great, insolent forty-eight sweet-tempered preludes and fugues and overcome them. Study Bach say I to every one, but study him sensibly. Tausig, the greatest pianist the world has yet heard, edited about twenty preludes and fugues from the Clavichord. These he gave his pupils after they had played Chopin's opus 10. Strange idea, isn't it? Before that they played the Inventions, the symphonies, the French and English Suites—Klindworth's edition of the latter is excellent—and the Partitas. Then, I should say, the Italian concert and that excellent three-voiced fugue in A minor, so seldom heard in concert. It is pleasing rather than deep in feeling, but how effective, how brilliant! Don't forget the toccatas, fantasias, and capriccios. Such works as The Art of Fugue and others of the same class show us Father Bach in his working clothes, earnest if not exactly inspired.
But in his moments of inspiration what a genius! What a singularly happy welding of manner and matter! The Chromatic Fantasia is to me greater than any of the organ works, with the possible exception of the G minor Fantasia. Indeed, I think it greater than its accompanying D minor Fugue. In it are the harmonic, melodic, and spiritual germs of modern music. The restless tonalities, the agitated, passionate, desperate, dramatic recitatives, the emotional curve of the music, are not all these modern, only executed in such a transcendental fashion as to beggar imitation?
Let us turn to the Well-tempered Clavichord and bow the knee of submission, of admiration, of worship. I use the Klindworth, the Busoni and sometimes the Bischoff edition, never Kroll, never Czerny. I think it was the latter who once excited my rage when I found the C sharp major prelude transposed to the key of D flat! This outrageous proceeding pales, however, before the infamous behavior of Gounod, who dared—the sacrilegious Gaul!—to place upon the wonderful harmonies of the master of masters a cheap, tawdry, vulgar tune. Gounod deserved oblivion for this. I think I have my favorites, and for a day delude myself that I prefer certain preludes, certain fugues, but a few hours' study of its next-door neighbor and I am intoxicated with its beauties. We have all played and loved the C minor Prelude in Book one—Cramer made a study on memories of this—and who has not felt happy at its wonderful fugue! Yet a few pages on is a marvelous Fugue in C sharp minor with five voices that slowly crawl to heaven's gate. Jump a little distance and you land in the E flat Fugue with its assertiveness, its cocksure subject, and then consider the pattering, gossiping one in E minor. If you are in the mood, has there ever been written a brighter, more amiable, graceful prelude than the eleventh in F? Its germ is perhaps the F major Invention, the eighth. A marked favorite of mine is the fifteenth fugue in G. There's a subject for you and what a jolly length!
Bach could spin music as a spider spins its nest, from earth to the sky and back again. Did you ever hear Rubinstein play the B-flat Prelude and Fugue? If you have not, count something missed in your life. He made the prelude as light as a moonbeam, but there was thunder in the air, the clouds floated away, airy nothings in the blue, and then celestial silence. Has any modern composer written music in which is packed as much meaning, as much sorrow as may be found in the B-flat minor Prelude? It is the matrix of all modern musical emotion.
I don't know why I persist in saying "modern," as if there is any particular feeling, emotion, or sensation discovered and exploited by the man of this time that men of other ages did not experience! But before Bach I knew no one who ranged the keyboard of the emotions so freely, so profoundly, so poignantly.
Touching on his technics, I may say that they require of the pianist's fingers individualization and, consequently, a flexibility that is spiritual as well as material. The diligent daily study of Bach will form your style, your technics, better than all machines and finger exercises. But play him as if he were human, a contemporary and not a historical reminiscence. Yes, you may indulge in rubato. I would rather hear it in Bach than in Chopin. Play Bach as if he still composed—he does—and drop the nonsense about traditional methods of performance. He would alter all that if he were alive today.
I know but one Bach anecdote, and that I have never seen in print. The story was related to me by a pupil of Reinecke, and Reinecke got it from Mendelssohn. Bach, so it appears, was in the habit of practising every day in the Thomas-Kirche at Leipsic, and one day several of his sons, headed by the naughty Friedmann, resolved to play a joke on their good old father. Accordingly, they repaired to the choir loft, got the bellows-blower away, and started in to give the Master a surprise. They tied the handle of the bellows to the door of the choir, and with a long rope fastened to the outside knob they pulled the door open and shut, and of course the wind ran low. Johann Sebastian—who looked more like E. M. Bowman than E. M. B. himself—suddenly found himself clawing ivory. He rose and went softly to the rear. Discovering no blower, he investigated, and began to gently haul in the line. When it was all in several boys were at the end of it. Did he whip them? Not he. He locked the door, tied them to the bellows and sternly bade them blow. They did. Then the archangel of music went back to his bench and composed the famous Wedge fugue. How true all this is I know not, but anyhow it is quaint enough. Let me end this exhortation by quoting some words of Eduard Remenyi from his fantastic essay on Bach: "If you want music for your own and music's sake—look up to Bach. If you want music which is as absolutely full of meaning as an egg is full of meat—look up to Bach."
Look up to Bach. Sound advice. Profit by it.
SCHUMANN: A VANISHING STAR
The missing meteors of November minded me of the musical reputations I have seen rise, fill mid-heaven with splendor, pale, and fade into ineffectual twilight. Alas! it is one of the bitter things of old age, one of its keen tortures, to listen to young people, to hear their superb boastings, and to know how short-lived is all art, music the most evanescent of them all. When I was a boy the star of Schumann was just on the rim of the horizon; what glory! what a planet swimming freely into the glorious constellation! Beethoven was clean obscured by the romantic mists that went to our heads like strong, new wine, and made us drunk with joy. How neat, dapper, respectable and antique Mendelssohn! Being Teutonic in our learnings, Chopin seemed French and dandified—the Slavic side of him was not yet in evidence to our unanointed vision. Schubert was a divinely awkward stammerer, and Liszt the brilliant centipede amongst virtuosi. They were rapturous days and we fed full upon Jean Paul Richter, Hoffmann, moonshine and mush.
What the lads and lassies of ideal predilections needed was a man like Schumann, a dreamer of dreams, yet one who pinned illuminative tags to his visions to give them symbolical meanings, dragged in poetry by the hair, and called the composite, art. Schumann, born mentally sick, a man with the germs of insanity, a pathological case, a literary man turned composer—Schumann, I say, topsy-turvied all the newly born and, without knowing it, diverted for the time music from its true current. He preached Brahms and Chopin, but practised Wagner—he was the forerunner to Wagner, for he was the first composer who fashioned literature into tone.
Doesn't all this sound revolutionary? An old fellow like me talking this way, finding old-fashioned what he once saw leave the bank of melody with the mintage glitteringly fresh! Yet it is so. I have lived to witness the rise of Schumann and, please Apollo, I shall live to see the eclipse of Wagner. Can't you read the handwriting on the wall? Dinna ye hear the slogan of the realists? No music rooted in bookish ideas, in literary or artistic movements, will survive the mutations of the Zeitgeist. Schumann reared his palace on a mirage. The inside he called Bachian—but it wasn't. In variety of key-color perhaps; but structurally no symphony may be built on Bach, for a sufficient reason. Schumann had the great structure models before him; he heeded them not. He did not pattern after the three master-architects, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; gave no time to line, fascinated as he was by the problems of color. But color fades. Where are the Turners of yester-year? Form and form only endures, and so it has come to pass that of his four symphonies, not one is called great in the land where he was king for a day. The B-flat is a pretty suite, the C-major inutile—always barring the lyric episodes—the D-minor a thing of shreds and patches, and the Rhenish—muddy as the river Rhine in winter time.
The E-flat piano Quintet will live and also the piano concerto—originally a fantasia in one movement. Thus Schumann experimented and built, following the line of easiest resistance, which is the poetic idea. If he had patterned as has Brahms, he would have sternly put aside his childish romanticism, left its unwholesome if captivating shadows, and pushed bravely into the open, where the sun and moon shine without the blur and miasma of a decadent literature. But then we should not have had Schumann. It was not to be, and thus it is that his is a name with a musical sigh, a name that evokes charming memories, and also, I must admit, a name that gently plucks at one's heart-strings. His songs are sweet, yet never so spontaneous as Schubert's, so astringently intellectual as Robert Franz's. His opera, his string quartets—how far are the latter from the noble, self-contained music in this form of Beethoven and Brahms!—and his choral compositions are already in the sad, gray penumbra of the negligible. His piano music is without the clear, chiseled contours of Chopin, without a definite, a great style, yet—the piano music of Schumann, how lovely some of it is!
I will stop my heartless heart-to-heart talk. It is too depressing, these vagaries, these senile ramblings of a superannuated musician. Ah, me! I too was once in Arcady, where the shepherds bravely piped original and penetrating tunes, where the little shepherdesses danced to their lords and smiled sweet porcelain smiles. It was all very real, this music of the middle century, and it was written for the time, it suited the time, and when the time passed, the music with the men grew stale, sour, and something to be avoided, like the leer of a creaking, senescent beau, like the rouge and grimace of a debile coquette. My advice then is, enjoy the music of your epoch, for there is no such thing as music of the future. It is always music of the present. Schumann has had his day, Wagner is having his, and Brahms will be ruler of all tomorrow. Eheu Fugaces!
There was a time, mes enfants, when I played at all the Schumann piano music. The Abegg variations, the Papillons, the Intermezzi—"an extension of the Papillons," said Schumann—Die Davidsbuendler, that wonderful toccata in C, the best double-note study in existence—because it is music first, technics afterward—the seldom attempted Allegro, opus 8, the Carnaval, tender and dazzling miniatures, the twelve settings of Paganini, much more musical than Liszt's, the Impromptus, a delicate compliment to his Clara. It is always Clara with this Robert, like that other Robert, the strong-souled English husband of Elizabeth Browning. Schumann's whole life romance centered in his wife. A man in love with his wife and that man a musician! Why, the entire episode must seem abnormal to the flighty, capricious younger set, the Bayreuth set, for example. But it was an ideal union, the woman a sympathetic artist, the composer writing for her, writing songs, piano music, even criticism for and about her. Decidedly one of the prettiest and most wholesome pictures in the history of any art.
Then I attacked the F-sharp Minor Sonata, with its wondrous introduction like the vast, somber portals to some fantastic Gothic pile. The Fantasiestuecke opus 12, still remain Schumann at his happiest, and easiest comprehended. The Symphonic Variations are the greatest of all, greater than the Concerto or the Fantasie in C. These almost persuade one that their author is a fit companion for Beethoven and Chopin. There is invention, workmanship, and a solidity that never for a moment clashes with the tide of romantic passion surging beneath. Here he strikes fire and the blaze is glorious.
The F-minor Sonata—the so-called Concert sans orchestre—a truncated, unequal though interesting work; the Arabesque, the Blumenstueck, the marvelous and too seldom played Humoreske, opus 20, every one throbbing with feeling; the eight Novelletten, almost, but not quite successful attempts at a new form; the genial but unsatisfactory G-minor Sonata, the Nachtstuecke, and the Vienna Carnaval, opus 26, are not all of these the unpremeditated outpourings of a genuine poet, a poet of sensibility, of exquisite feeling?
I must not forget those idylls of childhood, the Kinderscenen, the half-crazy Kreisleriana, true soul-states, nor the Fantasie, opus 17, which lacks a movement to make it an organic whole. Consider the little pieces, like the three romances, opus 28, the opus 32, the Album for the Young, opus 68, the four fugues, four marches, the Waldscenen—Oh, never-to-be-forgotten Vogel als Prophet and Trock'ne Blumen—the Concertstueck, opus 92, the second Album for the Young, the Three Fantasy Pieces, opus 111, the Bunte Blaetter—do you recall the one in F-sharp minor so miraculously varied by Brahms, or that appealing one in A-flat? The Albumblaetter, opus 124, the seven pieces in fughetta form, the never-played Concert allegro in D-minor, opus 134, or the two posthumous works, the Scherzo and the Presto Passionata.
Have I forgotten any? No doubt. I am growing weary, weary of all this music, opiate music, prismatic music, "dreary music"—as Schumann himself called his early stuff—and the somber peristaltic music of his "lonesome, latter years." Schumann is now for the very young, for the self-illuded. We care more—being sturdy realists—for architecture today. These crepuscular visions, these adventures of the timid soul on sad white nights, these soft croonings of love and sentiment are out of joint with the days of electricity and the worship of the golden calf. Do not ask yourself with cynical airs if Schumann is not, after all, second-rate, but rather, when you are in the mood, enter his house of dreams, his home beautiful, and rest your nerves. Robert Schumann may not sip ambrosial nectar with the gods in highest Valhall, but he served his generation; above all, he made happy one noble woman. When his music is shelved and forgotten, the name of the Schumanns will stand for that rarest of blessings, conjugal felicity.
"WHEN I PLAYED FOR LISZT"
To write from Bayreuth in the spring-time as Wagner sleeps calmly in the backyard of Wahnfried, without a hint of his music in the air, is giving me one of the deepest satisfactions of my existence. How came you in Bayreuth, and, of all seasons in the year, the spring? The answer may astonish you; indeed, I am astonished myself when I think of it. Liszt, Franz Liszt, greatest of pianists—after Thalberg—greatest of modern composers—after no one—Liszt lies out here in the cemetery on the Erlangerstrasse, and to visit that forlorn pagoda designed by his grandson Siegfried Wagner, I left my comfortable lodgings in Munich and traveled an entire day.
Now let me whisper something in your ear—I once studied with Liszt at Weimar! Does this seem incredible to you? An adorer of Thalberg, nevertheless, once upon a time I pulled up stakes at Paris and went to the abode of Liszt and played for him exactly once. This was a half-century ago. I carried letters from a well-known Parisian music publisher, Liszt's own, and was therefore accorded a hearing. Well do I recall the day, a bright one in April. His Serene Highness was at that time living on the Altenberg, and to see him I was forced to as much patience and diplomacy as would have gained me admittance to a royal household.
Endlich, the fatal moment arrived. Surrounded by a band of disciples, crazy fellows all—I discovered among the rest the little figure of Karl Tausig—the great man entered the saal where I tremblingly sat. He was very amiable. He read the letters I timidly presented him, and then, slapping me on the back with an expression of bonhomie, he cried aloud in French: "Tiens! let us hear what this admirer of my old friend Thalberg has to say for himself on the keyboard!" I did not miss the veiled irony of the speech, the word friend being ever so lightly underlined; I knew of the famous Liszt-Thalberg duello, during which so much music and ink had been spilt.
But my agony! The via dolorosa I traversed from my chair to the piano! Since then the modern school of painter-impressionists has come into fashion. I understand perfectly the mental, may I say the optical, attitude of these artists to landscape subjects. They must gaze upon a tree, a house, a cow, with their nerves at highest tension until everything quivers; the sky is bathed in magnetic rays, the background trembles as it does in life. So to me was the lofty chamber wherein I stood on that fateful afternoon. Liszt, with his powerful profile, the profile of an Indian chieftain, lounged in the window embrasure, the light streaking his hair, gray and brown, and silhouetting his brow, nose, and projecting chin. He alone was the illuminated focus of this picture which, after a half-century, is brilliantly burnt into my memory. His pupils were mere wraiths floating in a misty dream, with malicious white points of light for eyes. And I felt like a disembodied being in this spectral atmosphere.
Yet urged by an hypnotic will I went to the piano, lifted the fall-board, and in my misery I actually paused to read the maker's name. A whisper, a smothered chuckle, and a voice uttering these words: "He must have begun as a piano-salesman," further disconcerted me. I fell on to the seat and dropped my fingers upon the keys. Facing me was the Ary Scheffer portrait of Chopin, and without knowing why I began the weaving Prelude in D-major. My insides shook like a bowl of jelly; yet I was outwardly as calm as the growing grass. My hands did not falter and the music seemed to ooze from my wrists. I had not studied in vain Thalberg's Art of Singing on the Piano. I finished. There was a murmur; nothing more.
Then Liszt's voice cut the air:
"I expected Thalberg's tremolo study," he said. I took the hint and arose.
He permitted me to kiss his hand, and, without stopping for my hat and walking-stick in the antechamber, I went away to my lodgings. Later I sent a servant for the forgotten articles, and the evening saw me in a diligence miles from Weimar. But I had played for Liszt!
Now, the moral of all this is that my testimony furthermore adds to the growing mystery of Franz Liszt. He heard hundreds of such pianists of my caliber, and, while he never committed himself—for he was usually too kind-hearted to wound mediocrity with cruel criticism, yet he seldom spoke the unique word except to such men as Rubinstein, Tausig, Joseffy, d'Albert, Rosenthal, or von Buelow. A miraculous sort of a man, Liszt was ever pouring himself out upon the world, body, soul, brains, art, purse—all were at the service of his fellow-beings. That he was imposed upon is a matter of course; that he never did an unkind act in his life proves him to have been Cardinal Newman's definition of a gentleman: "One who never inflicts pain." And only now is the real significance of the man as a composer beginning to be revealed. Like a comet he swept the heavens of his early youth. He was a marvelous virtuoso who mistook the piano for an orchestra and often confounded the orchestra with the piano. As a pianist pure and simple I prefer Sigismund Thalberg; but, as a composer, as a man, an extraordinary personality, Liszt quite filled my firmament.
Setting aside those operatic arrangements and those clever, noisy Hungarian Rhapsodies, what a wealth of piano-music has not this man disclosed to us. Calmly read the thematic catalog of Breitkopf and Haertel and you will be amazed at its variety. Liszt has paraphrased inimitably songs by Schubert, Schumann, and Robert Franz, in which the perfumed flower of the composer's thoughts is never smothered by passage-work. Consider the delicious etude Au bord d'une Source, or the Sonnets After Petrarch, or those beautiful concert-studies in D-flat, F-minor, and A-flat; are they not models of genuine piano-music! The settings of Schubert marches Hanslick declared are marvels; and the Transcendental Studies! Are not keyboard limitations compassed? Chopin, a sick man physically, never dared as did Liszt. One was an aeolian-harp, the other a hurricane. I never attempted to play these studies in their revised form; I content myself with the first sketches published as an opus 1. There the nucleus of each etude may be seen. Later Liszt expanded the croquis into elaborate frescoes. And yet they say that he had no thematic invention!
Take up his B-minor sonata. Despite its length, an unheavenly length, it is one of the great works of piano-literature fit to rank with Beethoven's most sublime sonatas. It is epical. Have you heard Friedheim or Burmeister play it? I had hoped that Liszt would vouchsafe me a performance, but you have seen that I had not the courage to return to him. Besides, I wasn't invited. Once in Paris a Liszt pupil, George Leitert, played for me the Dante Sonata, a composition I heard thirty years later from the fingers of Arthur Friedheim. It is the Divine Comedy compressed within the limits of a piano-piece. What folly, I hear some one say! Not at all. In several of Chopin's Preludes—his supreme music—I have caught reflections of the sun, the moon, and the starry beams that one glimpses in lonely midnight pools. If Chopin could mirror the cosmos in twenty bars, why should not a greater tone-poet imprison behind the bars of his music the subtle soul of Dante?
To view the range, the universality of Liszt's genius, it is only necessary to play such a tiny piano-composition, Eclogue, from Les Annees de Pelerinage and then hear his Faust Symphony, his Dante Symphony, his Symphonic Poems. There's a man for you! as Abraham Lincoln once said of Walt Whitman. After carefully listening to the Faust Symphony it dawns on you that you have heard all this music elsewhere, filed out, triturated, cut into handy, digestible fragments; in a word, dressed up for operatic consumption, popularized. Yes, Richard Wagner dipped his greedy fingers into Liszt's scores as well as into his purse. He borrowed from the pure Rhinegold hoard of the Hungarian's genius, and forgot to credit the original. In music there are no quotation marks. That is the reason borrowing has been in vogue from Handel down.
The Ring of the Nibelungs would not be heard today if Liszt had not written its theme in his Faust Symphony. Parsifal is altogether Lisztian, and a German writer on musical esthetics has pointed out recently, theme for theme, resemblance for resemblance, in this Liszt-Wagner Verhaeltniss. Wagner owed everything to Liszt—from money to his wife, success, and art. A wonderful white soul was Franz Liszt. And he is only coming into his kingdom as a composer. Poor, petty, narrow-minded humanity could not realize that because a man was a pianist among pianists, he might be a composer among composers. I made the error myself. I, too, thought that the velvet touch of Thalberg was more admirable than the mailed warrior fist of Liszt. It is a mistake. And now, plumped on my knees in Liszt's Bayreuth tomb, I acknowledge my faults. Yes, he was a greater pianist than Thalberg. Can an old-fashioned fellow say more?
WAGNER OPERA IN NEW YORK
With genuine joy I sit once more in my old arm-chair and watch the brawling Wissahickon Creek, its banks draped with snow, while overhead the sky seems so friendly and blue. I am at Dussek Villa, I am at home; and I reproach myself for having been such a fool as ever to wander from it. Being a fussy but conscientious old bachelor, I scold myself when I am in the wrong, thus making up for the clattering tongue of an active wife. As I once related to you, I recently went to New York, and there encountered sundry adventures, not all of them of a diverting nature. One you know, and it reeks in my memory with stale cigars, witless talk, and all the other monotonous symbols of Bohemia. Ah, that blessed Bohemia, whose coast no man ever explored except gentle Will Shakespeare! It is no-man's-land; never was and never will be. Its misty, alluring signals have shipwrecked many an artistic mariner, and—but pshaw! I'm too old to moralize this way. Only young people moralize. It is their prerogative. When they live, when they fathom good and evil and their mysteries, charity will check their tongues, so I shall say no more of Bohemia. What I saw of it further convinced me of its undesirability, of its inutility.
And now to my tale, now to finish forever the story of my experiences in Gotham! I declaimed violently against Tchaikovsky to my acquaintances of the hour, because my dislike to him is deep rooted; but I had still to encounter another modern musician, who sent me home with a headache, with nerves all jangling, a stomach soured, and my whole esthetic system topsy-turveyed and sorely wrenched. I heard for the first time Richard Wagner's Die Walkuere, and I've been sick ever since.
I felt, with Louis Ehlert, that another such a performance would release my feeble spirit from its fleshly vestment and send it soaring to the angels, for surely all my sins would be wiped out, expiated, by the severe penance endured.
Not feeling quite myself the day after my experiences with the music journalists, I strolled up Broadway, and, passing the opera-house, inspected the menu for the evening. I read, "Die Walkuere, with a grand cast," and I fell to wondering what the word Walkuere meant. I have an old-fashioned acquaintance with German, but never read a line or heard a word of Wagner's. Oh, yes; I forget the overture to Rienzi, which always struck me as noisy and quite in Meyerbeer's most vicious manner. But the Richard Wagner, the later Wagner, I read so much about in the newspapers, I knew nothing of. I do now. I wish I didn't.
Says I to myself, "Here's a chance to hear this Walkover opera. So now or never." I went in, and, planking my dollar down, I said, "Give me the best seat you have." "Other box-office, on 40th Street, please, for gallery." I was taken aback. "What!" I exclaimed, "do you ask a whole dollar for a gallery seat? How much, pray, for one down-stairs?" The young man looked at me curiously, but politely replied, "Five dollars, and they are all sold out." I went outside and took off my hat to cool my head. Five good dollars—a whole week's living and more—to listen to a Wagner opera! Whew! It must be mighty good music. Why I never paid more than twenty-five cents to hear Mozart's Magic Flute, and with Carlotta, Patti, Karl Formes, and—but what's the use of reminiscences?
I could not make up my mind to spend so much money and I walked to Central Park, took several turns, and then came down town again. My mind was made up. I went boldly to the box-office and encountered the same young man. "Look here, my friend," I said, "I didn't ask you for a private box, but just a plain seat, one seat." "Sold out," he laconically replied and retired. Then I heard suspicious laughter. Rather dazed, I walked slowly to the sidewalk and was grabbed—there is no other word—by several rough men with tickets and big bunches of greenbacks in their grimy fists. "Tickets, tickets, fine seats for De Volkyure tonight." They yelled at me and I felt as if I were in the clutches of the "barkers" of a downtown clothing-house. I saw my chance and began dickering. At first I was asked fifteen dollars a seat, but seeing that I am apoplectic by temperament they came down to ten. I asked why this enormous tariff and was told that Van Dyck, Barnes, Nordica, Van Rooy, and heaven knows who besides, were in the cast. That settled it. I bargained and wrangled and finally escaped with a seat in the orchestra for seven dollars! Later I discovered it was not only in the orchestra, but quite near the orchestra, and on the brass and big drum side.
When I reached the opera-house after my plain supper of ham and eggs and tea it must have been seven o'clock. I was told to be early and I was. No one else was except the ticket speculators, who, recognizing me, gave me another hard fight until I finally called a policeman. He smiled and told me to walk around the block until half-past seven, when the doors opened. But I was too smart and found my way back and everything open at 7.15, and my seat occupied by an overcoat. I threw it into the orchestra and later there was a fine row when the owner returned. I tried to explain, but the man was mad, and I advised him to go to his last home. Why even the ushers laughed. At 7.45 there were a few dressed up folks down stairs, and they mostly stared at me, for I kept my fur cap on to heat my head, and my suit, the best one I have, is a good, solid pepper-and-salt one. I didn't mind it in the least, but what worried me was the libretto which I tried to glance through before the curtain rose. In vain. The story would not come clear, although I saw I was in trouble when I read that the hero and heroine were brother and sister. Experience has taught me that family rows are the worst, and I wondered why Wagner chose such a dull, old-fashioned theme.
The orchestra began to fill up and there was much chattering and noise. Then a little fellow with beard and eyeglasses hopped into the conductor's chair, the lights were turned off, and with a roar like a storm the overture began. I tried to feel thrilled, but couldn't. I had expected a new art, a new orchestration, but here I was on familiar ground, so familiar that presently I found myself wondering why Wagner had orchestrated the beginning of Schubert's Erlking. The noise began in earnest and by the light from a player's lamp I saw that the prelude was intended for a storm. "Ha!" I said, "then it was the Erlking after all." The curtain rose on an empty stage with a big tree in the middle and a fire burning on the hearth.
There was no pause in the music at the end of the overture—did it really end?—which I thought funny. Then a man with big whiskers, wearing the skin of an animal, staggered in and fell before the fire. He seemed tired out and the music had a tired feeling too. A woman dressed in white entered and after staring for twenty bars got him a drink in a ram's horn. The music kept right on as if it were a symphony and not an opera. The yelling from the pair was awful, at least so it seemed to me. It appears that they were having family troubles and didn't know their own names. Then the orchestra began stamping and knocking, and a fellow with hawk wings in his helmet, a spear and a beard entered, and some one next to me said "There's the Hunding motive." Now I know my German, but I saw no dog, besides, what motive could the animal have had. The three people, a savage crew, sat down and talked to music, just plain talk, for I didn't hear a solitary tune. The girl went to bed and the man followed. The tenor had a long scene alone and the girl came back. They must have found out their names, for they embraced and after pulling an old sword out of the tree, they said a lot and went away. I was glad they had patched up the family trouble, but what became of the big, black-bearded fellow with the hawk wings in his helmet?
The next act upset me terribly. I read my book, but couldn't make out why, if Wotan was the God of all and high much-a-muck, he didn't smash all his enemies, especially that cranky old woman of his, Fricka? What a pretty name! I got quite excited when Nordica sang a yelling sort of a scream high up on the rocks. Not at the music, however, but I expected her to fall over and break her neck. She didn't, and shouting Wagner's music at that. Why it would twist the neck of a giraffe! Quite at sea, I saw the brother and sister come in and violently quarrel, and Nordica return and sing a slumber song, for the sister slept and the brother looked cross. Then more gloom and a duel up in the clouds, and once more the curtain fell. I heard the celebrated Ride of the Valkyries and wondered if it was music or just a stable full of crazy colts neighing for oats. Dean Swift's Gulliver would have said the latter. I thought so. The howling of the circus girls up on the rocks paralyzed my faculties.
It was a hideous saturnalia, and deafened by the brass and percussion instruments I tried to get away, but my neighbors protested and I was forced to sit and suffer. What followed was incomprehensible. The crazy amazons, the Walk-your-horses, and the disagreeable Wotan kept things in a perfect uproar for half an hour. Then the stage cleared and the father, after lecturing his daughter, put her to sleep under a tree. He must have been a mesmerist. Red fire ran over the stage, steam hissed, the orchestra rattled, and the bass roared. Finally, to tinkling bells and fourth of July fireworks, the curtain fell on the silliest pantomime I ever saw.
The music? Ah, don't ask me now! Wait until my nerves get settled. It never stopped, and fast as it reeled off I recognized Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Weber—lots of Weber—Marschner, and Chopin. Yes, Chopin! The orchestration seemed overwrought and coarse and the form—well, formlessness is the only word to describe it. There was an infernal sort of skill in the instrumentation at times, a short-breathed juggling with other men's ideas, but no development, no final cadence. Everything in suspension until my ears fairly longed for one perfect resolution. Even in the Spring Song it does not occur. That tune is suspiciously Italian, for all Wagner's dislike of Italy.
And this is your operatic hero today! This is your maker of music dramas! Pooh! it is neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring. Give me one page from the Marriage of Figaro or the finale to Don Giovanni and I will show you divine melody and great dramatic writing! But I'm old-fashioned, I suppose. I have since been told the real story of Die Walkuere and am dumfounded. It is all worse than I expected. Give me my Dussek, give me Mozart, let me breathe pure, sweet air after this hot-house music with its debauch of color, sound, action, and morals. I must have the grip, because even now as I write my mind seems tainted with the awful music of Richard Wagner, the arch fiend of music. I shall send for the doctor in the morning.
A VISIT TO THE PARIS CONSERVATOIRE
I feel very much like the tutor of Prince Karl Heinrich in the pretty play Old Heidelberg. After a long absence he returned to Heidelberg where his student life had been happy—or at least had seemed so to him in the latter, lonesome years. Behold, he found the same reckless crowd, swaggering, carousing, flirting, dueling, debt-making, love-making, and occasionally studying. He liked it so well that, if I mistake not, the place killed him. I felt very much in the same position as the Doctor Juettner of the play when I returned to Paris last summer. The Conservatoire is still in its old, crooked, narrow street; it is still a noisy sheol as one enters at the gate; and there is still the same old gang of callow youths and extremely pert misses going and coming. Only they all seem more sophisticated nowadays. They—naturally enough—know more than their daddies, and they show it. As they brushed past, literally elbowing me, they seemed contemptuously arrogant in their youthful exuberance. And yet, and yet—ego in Arcadia!
I stood in the quadrangle and dreamed. Forty years ago—or is it fifty?—I had stood there before; but it was in the chilly month of November. I was young then, and I was very ambitious. The little Ohio town whose obscurity I had hoped to transform into fame—ah! these mad dreams of egotistical boyhood—did not resent my leaving it. It still stands where it was—stands still. I seem to have gone on, and yet I return to that little, dull, dilapidated town in my thoughts, for it was there I enjoyed the purple visions of music, where I fondly believed that I, too, might go forth into the world and make harmony. I did; but my harmony exercises were always returned full of blue marks. Such is life—and its lead-pencil ironies!
To be precise as well as concise, I stood in the concierge's bureau some forty years ago and wondered if the secretary would see me. He did. After he had tortured me as to my age, parentage, nationality, qualifications, even personal habits, it occurred to him to ask me what I wanted in Paris. I told him, readily enough, that I had crossed the yeasty Atlantic in a sailing vessel—for motives of economy—that I might study the pianoforte in Paris. I remember that I also naively inquired the hours when M. Francois Liszt—he called him Litz!—gave his lessons. The secretary was too polite to laugh at my provincial ignorance, but he coughed violently several times. Then I was informed that M. Liszt never gave piano-lessons any time, any-where; that he was to be found in Weimar; but only by passed grand masters of the art of pianoforte-playing. Still undaunted, I insisted on entering my name amongst those who would compete at the forthcoming public examination. I was, as I said before, very young, very inexperienced, and I was alone, with just enough money to keep me for one year.
I lived in a fourth-story garret in a little alley—you couldn't call it a street—just off the exterior boulevard. Whether it was the Clichy or the Batignolles doesn't matter very much now. How I lived was another affair—and also an object lesson for the young fellows who go abroad nowadays equipped with money, with clothes, with everything except humility. Judging from my weekly expenses in my native town, I supposed that Paris could not be very much higher in its living. So I took with me $600 in gold, which, partially an inheritance, partially saved and borrowed, was to last me two years. How I expected to get home was one of those things that I dared not reflect upon. Sufficient for the day are the finger exercises thereof! I paid $8 a month—about 40 francs—for my lodgings. Heavens—what a room! It was so small that I undressed and dressed in the hall, always dark, for the reason that my bed, bureau, trunk, and upright piano quite crowded me out of the apartment. I could lie in bed and by reaching out my hands touch the keyboard of the little rattletrap of an instrument. But it was a piano, after all, and at it I could weave my musical dreams.
I forgot to tell you that my eating and drinking did not cut important figures in my scheme of living. I had made up my mind early in my career that tobacco and beer were for millionaires. Coffee was the grand consoler, and with coffee, soup, bread, I managed to get through my work. I ate at a cafe frequented by cabmen, and for ten cents I was given soup, the meat of the soup—tasteless stuff—bread, and a potato. What more did an ambitious young man want? There were many not so well off as I. I took two meals a day, the first, coffee and milk with a roll. Then I starved until dark for my soup meat. I recall wintry days when I stayed in bed to keep warm, for I never could indulge in the luxury of fire, and with a pillow on my stomach I did my harmony lessons. The pillow, need I add, was to suppress the latent pangs of juvenile appetite. My one sorrow was my washing. With my means, fresh linen was out of the question. A flannel shirt, one; socks at intervals, and a silk handkerchief, my sole luxury, was the full extent of my wardrobe.
When the wet rain splashed my face as I walked the boulevards on the morning of the examination I was not cast down. I had determined to do or die. With a hundred of my sort, both sexes and varying nationality, I was penned up in a room, one door of which opened on the stage of the Conservatory theater. I looked about me. Giggling girls in crumpled white dresses stalked up and down humming their arias, while shabbily dressed mothers gazed admiringly at them. Big boys and little, bad boys and good, slim, fat, stupid, shrewd boys, encircled me, and, as I was mature for my age, joked me about my senile appearance. I had a numbered card in my hand, No. 13, and all those who saw it shuddered, for the French are as stupid as old-time Southern "darkies." Something akin to the expectant feeling of the early Christian martyrs was experienced by all of us as a number was called aloud by a hoarse-voiced Cerberus, and the victim disappeared through the narrow door leading to the lions in the arena. At last, after some squabbling between No. 14 and No. 15, both of whom thought they had precedence over No. 13, I went forth to my fate.
I came out upon a dimly lighted stage which held two grand pianofortes and several chairs. A colorless-looking individual read my card and with marked asperity asked for my music. Frightened, I told him I had brought none. There were murmurings and suppressed laughter in the dim auditorium. There sat the judges—I don't know how many, but one was a woman, and I hated her though I could not see her. She had a disagreeable laugh, and she let it loose when the assistant professor on the platform stumbled over the syllables of my very Teutonic name. I explained that I had memorized a Beethoven sonata, all the Beethoven sonatas, and that was the reason I left my music at home. This explanation was received in chilly silence, though I did not fail to note that it prejudiced the interrogating professor against me. He evidently took me for a superior person, and he then and there mentally proposed to set me down several pegs. I felt, rather than saw, all this in the twinkling of an eye. I sat down to the keyboard and launched forth into Beethoven's first Sonata in F minor, a favorite of mine. Ominous silence broken by the tapping of a nervous lead pencil in the hand of a nervous woman. I got through the movement and then a voice punctuated the stillness.
"Ah, Mozart is so easy! Try something else!" And then I made my second mistake. I arose and, bowing to the invisible one in the gloom, I said: "That, was not Mozart, but Beethoven." There was an explosion of laughter, formidable, brutal. The feminine voice rose above it all in irritating accents.
"Impertinent! And what a silly beard he has!" I sat down in despair, plucking at my fluffy chin-whiskers and wondering if they looked as frivolous as they felt.
Nudged from dismal reverie, I saw the colorless professor with a music book in his hand. He placed it on the piano-desk and mumbled: "Very indifferent. Read this at sight." Puzzled by the miserable light, the still more wretched typography, I peered at the notes as peers a miser at the gold he is soon to lose. No avail. My vision was blurred, my fingers leaden. Suddenly I noticed that, whether through malicious intent or stupid carelessness, the book was upside down. Now, I knew my Bach fugues, if I may say it, backward. Something familiar about the musical text told me that before me, inverted, was the C-sharp Major Prelude in the first book of the Well-tempered Clavichord. Mechanically my fingers began that most delicious and light-hearted of caprices—I did not dare to touch the music—and soon I was rattling through it, all my thoughts three thousand miles away in a little Ohio town. When I had finished I arose in grim silence, took the music, held it toward the chief executioner, and said:
"And upside down!"
There was another outburst, and again that woman's voice was heard:
"What a comedian is this young Yankee!"
I left the stage without bowing, jostled the stupid doorkeeper, and fled through the room where the other numbers huddled like sheep for the slaughter. Seizing my hat I went out into the rain, and when the concierge tried to stop me I shook a threatening fist at him. He stepped back in a fine hurry, I assure you. When I came to my senses I found myself on my bed, my head buried in the pillows. Luckily I had no mirror, so I was spared the sight of my red, mortified face. That night I slept as if drugged.
In the morning a huge envelope with an official seal was thrust through a crack in my door—there were many—and in it I found a notification that I was accepted as a pupil of the Paris Conservatoire. What a dream realized! But only to be shattered, for, so I was further informed, I had succeeded in one test and failed in another—my sight reading was not up to the high standard demanded. No wonder! Music reversed, and my fingers mechanically playing could be hardly called a fair sight-reading trial. Therefore, continued this implacable document, I would sit for a year in silence watching other pupils receiving their instruction. I was to be an auditeur, a listener—and all my musical castles came tumbling about my ears!
What I did during that weary year of waiting cannot be told in one article; suffice it to say I sat, I heard, I suffered. If music-students of today experience kindred trials I pity them; but somehow or other I fancy they do not. Luxury is longed for too much; young men and young women will not make the sacrifices for art we oldsters did; and it all shows in the shallow, superficial, showy, empty, insincere pianoforte-playing of the day and hour.
TONE VERSUS NOISE
The tropical weather in the early part of last month set a dozen problems whizzing in my skull. Near my bungalow on the upper Wissahickon were several young men, camping out for the summer. One afternoon I was playing with great gusto a lovely sonata by Dussek—the one in A-flat—when I heard laughter, and, rising, I went to the window in an angry mood. Outside were two smiling faces, the patronizing faces of two young men.
"Well!" said I, rather shortly.
"It was like a whiff from the eighteenth century," said a stout, dark young fellow.
"A whiff that would dissipate the musical malaria of this," I cried, for I saw I had musicians to deal with. There was hearty laughter at this, and as young laughter warms the cockles of an old man's heart, I invited the pair indoors, and over some bottled ale—I despise your new-fangled slops—we discussed the Fine Arts. It is not the custom nowadays to capitalize the arts, and to me it reveals the want of respect in this headlong irreverent generation. To return to my mutton—to my sheep: they told me they were pianists from New York or thereabouts, who had conceived the notion of spending the summer in a tent.
"And what of your practising?" I slyly asked. Again they roared. "Why, old boy, you must be behind the times. We use a dumb piano the most part of the year, and have brought a three-octave one along." That set me going. "So you spend your vacation with the dumb, expecting to learn to speak, and yet you mock me because I play Dussek! Let me inform you, my young sirs, that this quaint, old-fashioned music, with its faint odor of the rococo, is of more satisfying musical value than all your modern gymnasiums. Of what use, pray, is your superabundant technics if you can't make music? Training your muscles and memorizing, you say? Fiddlesticks! The Well-tempered Clavichord for one hour a day is of more value to a pianist technically and musically than an army of mechanical devices.
"I never see a latter-day pianist on his travels but I am reminded of a comedian with his rouge-pot, grease-paints, wigs, arms, and costumes. Without them, what is the actor? Without his finger-boards and exercising machines, what is the pianist of today? He fears to stop a moment because his rival across the street will be able to play the double-thirds study of Chopin in quicker tempo. It all hinges on velocity. This season there will be a race between Rosenthal and Sauer, to see who can vomit the greater number of notes. Pleasing, laudable ambition, is it not? In my time a piano artist read, meditated, communed much with nature, slept well, ate and drank well, saw much of society, and all his life was reflected in his play. There was sensibility—above all, sensibility—the one quality absent from the performances of your new pianists. I don't mean super-sickly emotion, nor yet sprawling passion—the passion that tears the wires to tatters, but a poetic sensibility that infused every bar with humanity. To this was added a healthy tone that lifted the music far above anything morbid or depressing."
I continued in this strain until the dinner-bell rang, and I had to invite my guests to remain. Indeed, I was not sorry, for all old men need some one to talk to and at, else they fret and grow peevish. Besides, I was anxious to put my young masters to the test. I have a grand piano of good age, with a sounding-board like a fine-tempered fiddle. The instrument, an American one, I handle like a delicate thoroughbred horse, and, as my playing is accomplished by the use of my fingers and not my heels, the piano does not really betray its years.
We dined not sumptuously but liberally, and with our pipes and coffee went to the music room. The lads, excited by my criticisms and good cheer, were eager for a demonstration at the keyboard. So was I. I let them play first. This is what I heard: The dark-skinned youth, who looked like the priestly and uninteresting Siloti, sat down and began idly preluding. He had good fingers, but they were spoiled by a hammer-like touch and the constant use of forearm, upper-arm, and shoulder pressure. He called my attention to his tone. Tone! He made every individual wire jangle, and I trembled for my smooth, well-kept action. Then he began the B-minor Ballade of Liszt. Now, this particular piece always exasperates me. If there is much that is mechanical and conventional in the Thalberg fantasies, at least they are frankly sensational and admittedly for display. But the Liszt Ballade is so empty, so pretentious, so affected! One expects that something is about to occur, but it never comes. There are the usual chromatic modulations leading nowhere and the usual portentous roll in the bass. The composition works up to as much silly display as ever indulged in by Thalberg. My pianist splashed and spluttered, played chord-work straight from the shoulder, and when he had finished he cried out, "There is a dramatic close for you!"
"I call it mere brutal noise," I replied, and he winked at his friend, who went to the piano without my invitation. Now, I did not care for the looks of this one, and I wondered if he, too, would display his biceps and his triceps with such force. But he was a different brand of the modern breed. He played with a small, gritty tone, and at a terrible speed, a foolish and fantastic derangement of Chopin's D-flat Valse. This he followed, at a break-neck tempo, with Brahms' dislocation of Weber's C major Rondo, sometimes called "the perpetual movement." It was all very wonderful, but was it music?
"Gentlemen," I said, as I arose, pipe in hand, "you have both studied, and studied hard," and they settled themselves in their bamboo chairs with a look of resignation; "but have you studied well? I think not. I notice that you lay the weight of your work on the side of technics. Speed and a brutal quasi-orchestral tone seem to be your goal. Where is the music? Where has the airy, graceful valse of Chopin vanished? Encased, as you gave it, within hard, unyielding walls of double thirds, it lost all its spirit, all its evanescent hues. It is a butterfly caged. And do you call that music, that topsy-turvying of the Weber Rondo? Why, it sounds like a clock that strikes thirteen in the small hours of the night! And you, sir, with your thunderous and grandiloquent Liszt Ballade, do you call that pianoforte music, that constant striving for an aping of orchestral effects? Out upon it! It is hollow music—music without a soul. It is easier, much easier, to play than a Mozart sonata, despite all its tumbling about, despite all its notes. You require no touch-discrimination for such a piece. You have none. In your anxiety to compass a big tone you relinquish all attempts at finer shadings—at the nuance, in a word. Burly, brutal, and overloaded in your style, you make my poor grand groan without getting one vigorous, vital tone. Why? Because elasticity is absent, and will always be absent, where the fingers are not allowed to make the music. The springiest wrist, the most supple forearm, the lightest upper arm cannot compensate for the absence of an elastic finger-stroke. It is what lightens up and gives variety of color to a performance. You are all after tone-quantity and neglect touch—touch, the revelation of the soul."
"Yes, but your grand is worn out and won't stand any forcing of the tone," answered the Liszt Ballade, rather impudently.
"Why the dickens do you want to force the tone?" said I, in tart accents. "It is just there we disagree," I yelled, for I was getting mad. "In your mad quest of tone you destroy the most characteristic quality of the pianoforte—I mean its lack of tone. If it could sustain tone, it would no longer be a pianoforte. It might be an organ or an orchestra, but not a pianoforte. I am after tone-quality, not tonal duration. I want a pure, bright, elastic, spiritual touch, and I let the tonal mass take care of itself. In an orchestra a full chord fortissimo is interesting because it may be scored in the most prismatic manner. But hit out on the keyboard a smashing chord and, pray, where is the variety in color? With a good ear you recognize the intervals of pitch, but the color is the same—hard, cold, and monotonous, because you have choked the tone with your idiotic, hammer-like attack. Sonorous, at least, you claim? I defy you to prove it. Where was the sonority in the metallic, crushing blows you dealt in the Liszt Ballade? There was, I admit, great clearness—a clearness that became a smudge when you used the damper pedal. No, my boys, you are on the wrong track with your orchestral-tone theory. You transform the instrument into something that is neither an orchestra nor a pianoforte. Stick to the old way; it's the best. Use plenty of finger pressure, elastic pressure, play Bach, throw dumb devices to the dogs, and, if you use the arm pressure at all, confine it to the forearm. That will more than suffice for the shallow dip of the keys. You can't get over the fact that the dip is shallow, so why attempt the impossible? For the amount of your muscle expenditure you would need a key dip of about six inches. Now, watch me. I shall, without your permission, and probably to your disgust, play a nocturne by John Field. Perhaps you never heard of him? He was an Irish pianist and, like most Irishmen of brains, gave the world ideas that were promptly claimed by others. But this time it was not an Englishman, but a Pole, who appropriated an Irishman's invention. This nocturne is called a forerunner to the Chopin nocturnes. They are really imitations of Field's, without the blithe, dewy sweetness of the Irishman's. First, let me put out the lamps. There is a moon that is suspended like a silver bowl over the Wissahickon. It is the hour for magic music."
Intoxicated by the sound of my own voice, I began playing the B-flat Nocturne of Field. I played it with much delicacy and a delicious touch. I am very vain of my touch. The moon melted into the apartment and my two guests, enthralled by the mystery of the night and my music, were still as mice. I was enraptured and played to the end. I waited for the inevitable compliment. It came not. Instead, there were stealthy snores. The pair had slept through my playing. Imbeciles! I awoke them and soon packed them off to their canvas home in the woods hard by. They'll get no more dinners or wisdom from me. I tell this tale to show the hopelessness of arguing with this stiff-necked generation of pianists. But I mean to keep on arguing until I die of apoplectic rage. Good-evening!
A day in musical New York!
Not a bad idea, was it? I hated to leave the country, with its rich after-glow of Summer, its color-haunted dells, and its pure, searching October air, but a paragraph in a New York daily, which I read quite by accident, decided me, and I dug out some good clothes from their fastness and spent an hour before my mirror debating whether I should wear the coat with the C-sharp minor colored collar or the one with the velvet cuffs in the sensuous key of E-flat minor. Being an admirer of Kapellmeister Kreisler (there's a writer for you, that crazy Hoffmann!), I selected the former. I went over on the 7.30 A. M., P. R. R., and reached New York in exactly two hours. There's a tempo for you! I mooned around looking for old landmarks that had vanished—twenty years since I saw Gotham, and then Theodore Thomas was king.
I felt quite miserable and solitary, and, being hungry, went to a much-talked-of cafe, Luechow's by name, on East Fourteenth Street. I saw Steinway and Sons across the street and reflected with sadness that the glorious days of Anton Rubinstein were over, and I still a useless encumberer of the earth. Then an arm was familiarly passed through mine and I was saluted by name.
"You! why I thought you had passed away to the majority where Dussek reigns in ivory splendor."
I turned and discovered my young friend—I knew his grandfather years ago—Sledge, a pianist, a bad pianist, and an alleged critic of music. He calls himself "a music critic." Pshaw! I was not wonderfully warm in my greeting, and the lad noticed it.
"Never mind my fun, Mr. Fogy. Grandpa and you playing Moscheles' Hommage a Fromage, or something like that, is my earliest and most revered memory. How are you? What can I do for you? Over for a day's music? Well, I represent the Weekly Whiplash and can get you tickets for anything from hell to Hoboken."
Now, if there is anything I dislike, it is flippancy or profanity, and this young man had both to a major degree. Besides, I loathe the modern musical journalist, flying his flag one week for one piano house and scarifying it the next in choice Billingsgate.
"Oh, come into Luechow's and eat some beer," impatiently interrupted my companion, and, like the good-natured old man that I am, I was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And how I regretted it afterward! I am cynical enough, forsooth, but what I heard that afternoon surpassed my comprehension. I knew that artistic matters were at a low ebb in New York, yet I never realized the lowness thereof until then. I was introduced to a half-dozen smartly dressed men, some beardless, some middle-aged, and all dissipated looking. They regarded me with curiosity, and I could hear them whispering about my clothes, I got off a few feeble jokes on the subject, pointing to my C-sharp minor colored collar. A yawn traversed the table.
"Ah, who has the courage to read Hoffmann, nowadays?" asked a boyish-looking rake. I confessed that I had. He eyed me with an amused smile that caused me to fire up. I opened on him. He ordered a round of drinks. I told him that the curse of the generation was its cold-blooded indifference, its lack of artistic conscience. The latter word caused a sleepy, fat man with spectacles to wake up.
"Conscience, who said conscience? Is there such a thing in art any more?" I was delighted for the backing of a stranger, but he calmly ignored me and continued:
"Newspapers rule the musical world, and woe betide the artist who does not submit to his masters. Conscience, pooh-pooh! Boodle, lots of it, makes most artistic reputations. A pianist is boomed a year ahead, like Paderewski, for instance. Paragraphs subtly hinting of his enormous success, or his enormous hair, or his enormous fingers, or his enormous technic——"
"Give us a fermata on your enormous story, Jenkins. Every one knows you are disgruntled because the Whiplash attacks your judgment." This from another journalist.
Jenkins looked sourly at my friend Sledge, but that shy young person behaved most nonchalantly. He whistled and offered Jenkins a cigar. It was accepted. I was disgusted, and then they all fell to quarreling over Tchaikovsky. I listened with amazement.
"Tchaikovsky," I heard, "Tchaikovsky is the last word in music. His symphonies, his symphonic poems, are a superb condensation of all that Beethoven knew and Wagner felt. He has ten times more technic for the orchestra than Berlioz or Wagner, and it is a pity he was a suicide—" "How," I cried, "Tchaikovsky a suicide?" They didn't even answer me.
"He might have outlived the last movement of that B-minor symphony, the suicide symphony, and if he had we would have had another ninth symphony." I arose indignant at such blasphemy, but was pushed back in my seat by Sledge. "What a pity Beethoven did not live to hear a man who carried to its utmost the expression of the emotions!" I now snorted with rage, Sledge could no longer control me.
"Yes, gentlemen," I shouted; "utmost expression of the emotions, but what sort of emotions? What sort, I repeat, of shameful, morbid emotions?" The table was quiet again; a single word had caught it. "Oh, Mr. Fogy, you are not so very Wissahickon after all, are you? You know the inside story, then?" cried Sledge. But I would not be interrupted. I stormed on.
"I know nothing about any story and don't care to know it. I come of a generation of musicians that concerned itself little with the scandals and private life of composers, but lots with their music and its meanings." "Go it, Fogy," called out Sledge, hammering the table with his seidl. "I believe that some composers should be put in jail for the villainies they smuggle into their score. This Tchaikovsky of yours—this Russian—was a wretch. He turned the prettiness and favor and noble tragedy of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet into a bawd's tale; a tale of brutal, vile lust; for such passion as he depicts is not love. He took Hamlet and transformed him from a melancholy, a philosophizing Dane into a yelling man, a man of the steppes, soaked with vodka and red-handed with butchery. Hamlet, forsooth! Those twelve strokes of the bell are the veriest melodrama. And Francesca da Rimini—who has not read of the gentle, lovelorn pair in Dante's priceless poem; and how they read no more from the pages of their book, their very glances glued with love? What doth your Tchaikovsky with this Old World tale? Alas! you know full well. He tears it limb from limb. He makes over the lovers into two monstrous Cossacks, who gibber and squeak at each other while reading some obscene volume. Why, they are too much interested in the pictures to think of love. Then their dead carcasses are whirled aloft on screaming flames of hell, and sent whizzing into a spiral eternity."
"Bravo! bravo! great! I tell you he's great, your friend. Keep it up old man. Your description beats Dante and Tchaikovsky combined!" I was not to be lured from my theme, and, stopping only to take breath and a fresh dip of my beak into the Pilsner, I went on:
"His Manfred is a libel on Byron, who was a libel on God." "Byron, too," murmured Jenkins. "Yes, Byron, another blasphemer. The six symphonies are caricatures of the symphonic form. Their themes are, for the most part, unfitted for treatment, and in each and every one the boor and the devil break out and dance with uncouth, lascivious gestures. This musical drunkenness; this eternal license; this want of repose, refinement, musical feeling—all these we are to believe make great music. I'll not admit it, gentlemen; I'll not admit it! The piano concerto—I only know one—with its fragmentary tunes; its dislocated, jaw-breaking rhythms, is ugly music; plain, ugly music. It is as if the composer were endeavoring to set to melody the consonants of his name. There's a name for you, Tchaikovsky! 'Shriekhoarsely' is more like it." There was more banging of steins, and I really thought Jenkins would go off in an apoplectic fit, he was laughing so.
"The songs are barbarous, the piano-solo pieces a muddle of confused difficulties and childish melodies. You call it naivete. I call it puerility. I never saw a man that was less capable of developing a theme than Tchaikovsky. Compare him to Rubinstein and you insult that great master. Yet Rubinstein is neglected for the new man simply because, with your depraved taste, you must have lots of red pepper, high spices, rum, and an orchestral color that fairly blisters the eye. You call it color. I call it chromatic madness. Just watch this agile fellow. He lays hold on a subject, some Russian volks melody. He gums it and bolts it before it is half chewed. He has not the logical charm of Beethoven—ah, what Jovian repose; what keen analysis! He has not the logic, minus the charm, of Brahms; he never smells of the pure, open air, like Dvorak—a milkman's composer; nor is Tchaikovsky master of the pictorial counterpoint of Wagner. All is froth and fury, oaths, grimaces, yelling, hallooing like drunken Kalmucks, and when he writes a slow movement it is with a pen dipped in molasses. I don't wish to be unjust to your 'modern music lord,' as some affected idiot calls him, but really, to make a god of a man who has not mastered his material and has nothing to offer his hearers but blasphemy, vulgarity, brutality, evil passions like hatred, concupiscence, horrid pride—indeed, all the seven deadly sins are mirrored in his scores—is too much for my nerves. Is this your god of modern music? If so, give me Wagner in preference. Wagner, thank the fates, is no hypocrite. He says out what he means, and he usually means something nasty. Tchaikovsky, on the contrary, taking advantage of the peculiar medium in which he works, tells the most awful, the most sickening, the most immoral stories; and if he had printed them in type he would have been knouted and exiled to Siberia. If——"
"Time to close up," said the waiter. I was alone. The others had fled. I had been mumbling with closed eyes for hours. Wait until I catch that Sledge!
MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY MADE TO ORDER
No longer from Dussek-Villa-on-Wissahickon do I indite my profound thoughts (it is the fashion nowadays in Germany for a writer to proclaim himself or herself—there are a great many "hers"—profound; the result, I suppose, of too much Nietzsche and too little common sense, not to mention modesty—that quite antiquated virtue). I am now situated in this lovely, umbrageous spot not far from the Bohemian border in Germany, on the banks of the romantic river Pilsen. To be sure, there are no catfish and waffles a la Schuylkill, but are there any to be found today at Wissahickon? On the other hand, there is good cooking, excellent beer and in all Schaumpfeffer, a town of nearly 3000 souls, you won't find a man or woman who has heard of any composer later than Haydn. They still dance to the music of Lanner and the elder Strauss; Johann, Jr., is considered rather an iconoclast in his Fledermaus. I carefully conceal the American papers, which are smuggled out to my villa—Villa Scherzo it is called because life is such a joke, especially music—and I read them and all modern books (that is, those dating later than 1850) behind closed doors. Oh, I am so cheerful over this heavenly relief from thrice-accursed "modernity." I'm old, I admit (I still recall Kalkbrenner's pearly touch and Doehler's chalky tone), but my hat is still on the piano top. In a word, I'm in the ring and don't propose to stop writing till I die, and I shan't die as long as I can hold a pen and protest against the tendencies of the times. Old Fogy to the end!
I walk, I talk, I play Hummel, Bach, Mozart, and occasionally Stephen Heller—he's a good substitute for the sickly, affected Chopin. I read, read too much. Lately, I've been browsing in my musical library, a large one as you well know, for I have been adding to it for the last two decades and more by receiving the newest contributions to what is called "musical literature." Well, I don't mind telling you that the majority of books on music bore me to death. Particularly books containing apochryphal stories of the lives of great composers or executive musicians. Pshaw! Why I can reel off yarns by the dozen if I'm put to it. Besides, the more one reads of the private lives of great musicians, the more one's ideal of the fitness of things is shocked. Paderewski putting a collar button in his shirt and swearing at his private chaplain because some of the criticisms were underdone, is not half so fearsome as Chopin with the boils, or Franz Schubert advertising in a musical journal. After years of reading I have reached the conclusion that the average musical Boswell is a fraud, a snare, a pitfall, and a delusion. The way to go about being one is simple. First acquaint yourself with a few facts in the lives of great musicians, then, on a slim framework, plaster with fiction till the structure fairly trembles. Never fear. The publishers will print it, the public will devour it, especially if it be anecdotage. Let me reveal the working of the musical fiction mill. Here, for example, is something in the historical vein. Of necessity it must be pointless and colorless; that lends the touch of reality. Let us call it—"Bach and the Boehm Flute."
Once upon a time it is related that the great Johann Sebastian Bach visited Frederick the Great at Potsdam. Stained with travel the wonderful fugue-founder was ushered into the presence of Voltaire. "Gentlemen," cried that monarch to his courtiers, "Old Bach has arrived; let us see what this jay looks like." Frederick was always fond of a joke at the expense of the Boetians. Attired as he was, Bach was ushered into the presence of his majesty. In his hand he held a small box—or, if you prefer it stated symbolically, a small bachs. "Ah! Master Bach," said the Prussian King, condescendingly, "What have you in your hand?" "A Boehm flute, your majesty," answered Bach; "for it I have composed a concerto in seven flats." "You lie!" retorted the bluff monarch, "the Boehm flute has not yet been invented. Away with you, hayseed from Halle." Whereat the mighty Bach softly laughed, being tickled by the regal repartee, and stole home, and there he sat him down and composed a nine-part fugue for Boehm flute and jackpot on the word Potsdam, the manuscript of which is still extant.
How's that? Or, suppose Beethoven's name be mentioned. Here is a specimen brick from the sort of material Beethoven anecdotes are made. Call it, for the sake of piquancy, "Beethoven and Esterhazy."
"No," yelled the composer of the Ninth Symphony, throwing a bootjack at his house-keeper—thus far the eleventh, I mean house-keeper and not bootjack—"No, tell the thundering idiot I'm drunk, or dead, or both." Then, with a sigh, he took up a quart bottle of Schnapps and poured the contents over his hair, and with beating heart penned his immortal Hymn to Joy, Prince Esterhazy, his patron, greatly incensed at the refusal of Beethoven to admit him, hastily chalked on his door a small offensive musical theme, which the great composer later utilized in the allegro of his Razzlewiski quartet (C sharp minor). From such small beginnings, etc.
You will observe how I work in Beethoven's frenetic rage, his rudeness, absent-mindedness, and all the rest of the things we are taught to believe that Beethoven indulged in. Now for something more modern and in a lighter vein. This is for the Brahms lover. Let us call it "Brahms' hatred of Cats."
Brahms, so it is said, was an avowed enemy of the feline tribe. Unlike Scarlatti, who was passionately fond of chords of the diminished cats, the phlegmatic Johannes spent much of his time at his window, particularly of moonlit nights, practising counterpoint on the race of cats, the kind that infest back yards of dear old Vienna. Dr. Antonin Dvorak had made his beloved friend and master a present of a peculiar bow and arrow, which is used in Bohemia to slay sparrows. In and about Prague it is named in the native tongue, "Slugj hym inye nech." With this formidable weapon did the composer of orchestral cathedrals spend his leisure moments. Little wonder that Wagner became an anti-vivisectionist, for he, too, had been up in Brahms' backyard, but being near-sighted, usually missed his cat. Because of arduous practice Brahms always contrived to bring down his prey, and then—O diabolical device!—after spearing the poor brutes, he reeled them into his room after the manner of a trout fisher. Then—so Wagner averred—he eagerly listened to the expiring groans of his victims and carefully jotted down in his note-book their antemortem remarks. Wagner declared that he worked up these piteous utterances into his chamber-music, but then Wagner had never liked Brahms. Some latter-day Nottebohm may arise and exhibit to an outraged generation the musical sketch-books of Brahms, so that we may judge of the truth of this tale.
For a change, drop the severe objectivity of the method historical and attempt the personal. It is very fetching. Here's a title for you: "How I met Richard Wagner."
The day was of the soft dreamy May sort. I was walking slowly across the Austernheim-hellmsberger Platz—local color, you observe!—when my eyes suddenly collided with a queer apparition. At first blush it looked like a little old woman, in visage a veritable witch; but horrors! a witch with whiskers. This old woman, as I mistook her to be, was attired in an Empire gown, with crinoline under-attachments. Around the neck was an Elizabethan ruff, and on the head was a bonnet of the vogue of 1840; huge, monstrously trimmed and bedecked with a perfect garden of artificial flowers. The color of the dress was salmon-blue, with pink ribbons. Altogether it was a fearful get-up, and, involuntarily, I looked about me expecting to see people stopping, a crowd forming. But no one appeared to notice the little old woman except myself, and as she drew near I discovered that she wore spectacles and a fringe of iron-gray hair around her face. Her eyes were piercingly bright and on her lips was etched a sardonic smile. Not quite knowing how to explain my rude stare, I was preparing to turn in another direction, when the stranger accosted me, and in the voice of a man: "Perhaps you don't know that I am Richard Wagner, the composer of the Ring? I am also Liszt's son-in-law, and from the way you turn your feet in, I take you to be a pianist and a Leschetizky pupil!" Marvelous psychologist! A regular Sherlock Holmes. And then, with a snort of rage, the Master walked away, a massive Dachshund viciously snapping at a link of sausage that idly swung from his pocket.
There, you have the Wagner anecdote orchestrated to suit those musical persons who believe that the composer was fond of nothing but millinery and dogs. Finally, if your publisher clamors for something about Liszt or Chopin, you may quote this; not forgetting the allusion to George Sand. To mention Chopin without Sand would be considered excessively inaccurate. I call the story, "Liszt's Clever Retort."