You unworthy performers, who have so disgusted the artistic public with piano-playing that they will no longer listen to fine, intelligent, sensible artists, whose dignity does not permit them to force themselves into the concert-hall, or to drag people into it from the streets! you base mortals, who have exposed this beautiful art to shame! I implore you to abandon the concert platform, your battle-field! Hack at the piano no longer! Find positions on a railroad or in a factory. There you may perhaps make yourselves useful; while by the lessons you give (for it usually comes to that, after you have travelled all over the world) you will only ruin our young people, now growing up with promising talent for piano-playing, and will produce successors like yourselves, but not artists.
I must whisper one thing more in your ear. I will say nothing about simple truthfulness, about tenderness and sincerity of feeling, or wholesome refinement, about poetry, inspiration, or truly impassioned playing. But, if your ears are not already too much blunted, you should be able to discover, at least in a very few minutes, on any instrument, unless it is of the worst sort, or has already been battered to pieces by you, how far you can carry the pianissimo and fortissimo, and still preserve the tone within the limits of beauty and simplicity. You will thus be able to interpret a piece with at least superficial correctness, without mortally wounding a cultivated ear by exaggerations and by maltreatment of the instrument and its two pedals.
This style of playing has nevertheless found its numerous defenders and admirers in our century, which has made every thing possible. This senseless enslavement and abuse of the piano has been said to be "all the rage;" a fine expression of our piano critics to justify insane stamping and soft-pedal sentimentality.
How far what I have here said relates to our modern errors in singing, and how far it may be applied to them, I leave to the intelligence of my readers and to my explanations in subsequent chapters.
To return to my theme: I have still one word on this subject for rational players. Even they use the soft pedal too much and too often, and at unsuitable places; for instance, in the midst of a piece, without any preparatory pause; in melodies which require to be lightly executed; or in rapid passages which are to be played piano. This is especially to be noticed with players who are obliged to use instruments of a powerful tone and stiff, heavy action, on which it is difficult to insure a delicate shading in piano and forte. For this reason, a sensible and experienced teacher, whose sole aim is the true and the beautiful, should make the attainment of an elastic touch and well-grounded style of playing an indispensable requirement. I prefer that the soft pedal should be used but seldom, and, if the pedal which raises the dampers is used at the same time, it must be only with the greatest nicety. The soft pedal may be used in an echo; but should be preceded by a slight pause, and then should be employed throughout the period, because the ear must accustom itself gradually to this tender, maidenly, sentimental tone. There must again be a slight pause before the transition to the usual more masculine tone, with the three strings. The soft pedal is, moreover, most effective in slow movements with full chords, which allow time to bring out the singing tone, in which consists the advantage of the stroke of the hammers on two strings alone.
A MUSICAL TEA-PARTY AT THE HOUSE OF JOHN SPRIGGINS.
I once more introduce my readers to the scenes of my active, musical life, with an invitation to accompany me to a musical tea-party. My object is, in a short and entertaining manner, to remove very common prejudices; to correct mistaken ideas; to reprove the followers of mere routine; to oppose to malicious cavilling the sound opinions of an experienced teacher; to scourge dogmatic narrow-mindedness; and in this way to advance my method of instruction.
* * * * *
JOHN SPRIGGINS (jovial and narrow-minded, a member of an ancient musical family). MRS. SPRIGGINS (irritable, envious, and malicious). LIZZIE, their daughter, 13, years old (lively and pert). SHEPARD, her piano-teacher (very laborious). DOMINIE, a piano-master (very stern). EMMA, his daughter, a pianist (silent and musical).
MRS. SPRIGGINS (to Dominie). So this is your daughter who is to give a concert to-morrow? She is said to have less talent than your eldest daughter. With her, they say, nothing requires any labor.
DOMINIE. You must ask my eldest daughter herself about that. I have hitherto held the opinion that both of them played correctly, musically, and perhaps finely, and yet both differently: that is the triumph of a musical education. But this cheap comparative criticism is already too thoroughly worn out. Pray what else have you on your mind?
MRS. S. Have you not yet sent your younger daughter to school? They say your eldest could neither read nor write at fourteen years of age.
DOMINIE. My daughters always have a private teacher in the house, in connection with whom I instruct them in music, in order that their literary education shall occupy fewer hours, and that they shall have time left for exercise in the open air to invigorate the body; while other children are exhausted with nine hours a day at schools and institutes, and are obliged to pay for this with the loss of their health and the joyousness of youth.
MRS. S. It is very well known that your daughters are obliged to play the whole day long.
DOMINIE. And not all night too? You probably might explain their skill in that way. I am astonished that you have not heard that too, since you have picked up so many shocking stories about me and my daughters.
MRS. S. (dismisses the subject, and asks suddenly). Now just how old is your daughter Emma?
DOMINIE. She is just sixteen years and seven weeks old.
MRS. S. Does she speak French?
DOMINIE. Oui, elle parle Francais, and in musical tones, too,—a language which is understood all over the world.
MRS. S. But she is so silent! Does she like to play?
DOMINIE. You have given her no opportunity to speak, she is certainly not forth-putting. For the last two years she has taken great pleasure in playing.
MRS. S. You acknowledge, then, that formerly you had to force her to it?
DOMINIE. In the earlier years of her natural development, as she was a stranger to vanity and other unworthy motives, she certainly played, or rather pursued her serious studies, chiefly from obedience and habit. Does your daughter of thirteen years old always practise her exercises without being required to do so? Does she like to go to school every day? Does she always sew and knit without being reminded of it?
MRS. S. (interrupting). Oh, I see you are quite in love with your daughters! But they say you are terribly strict and cruel in the musical education of your children; and, in fact, always.
DOMINIE. Do you suppose I do this from affection? or do you infer it, because they have proved artists, or because they look so blooming and healthy, or because they write such fine letters, or because they have not grown crooked over embroidery, or because they are so innocent, unaffected, and modest? or—
MRS. S. (irritably). We will drop that subject. But I must give you one piece of good advice. Do not make your daughter Emma exert herself too much, as you have done with your eldest daughter.
DOMINIE. If that is so, Mrs. Spriggins, it seems to have agreed with her very well.
MRS. S. (vehemently). But she would have been better—
DOMINIE. If she had not played at all? That I can't tell exactly, as I said yesterday. Well, you are satisfied now with Emma's state of health?
MRS. S. It is of no use to advise such people as you.
DOMINIE. I have always devoted myself to my business as a teacher, and have daily taken counsel with myself about the education of my daughters, and of other pupils whom I have formed for artists; and, it must be acknowledged, I have done so with some ability.
MRS. S. (not attending to him, but turning to Emma). But does it not make your fingers ache to play such difficult music?
DOMINIE. Only when her teacher raps her on the knuckles, and that I never do.
(Emma looks at the parrot which is hanging in the parlor, and strokes the great bull-dog.)
JOHN SPRIGGINS (entering with his daughter Lizzie). Herr Dominie, will you be so good as to hear our daughter Lizzie play, and advise us whether to continue in the same course. Music is, in fact, hereditary in our family. My wife played a little, too, in her youth, and I once played on the violin; but my teacher told me I had no talent for it, no ear, and no idea of time, and that I scraped too much.
DOMINIE. Very curious! He must have been mistaken!
JOHN S. But I always was devotedly fond of music. My father and my grandfather, on our estate, often used to play the organ for the organist in church, and the tenants always knew when they were playing. My father used often to tell that story at table. Ha, ha! It was very droll!
JOHN S. Well, to return to my violin. I gave it up after a year, because it seemed rather scratchy to me, too.
DOMINIE. Curious! Probably your ear and your taste had become more cultivated.
JOHN S. Afterwards, when I accepted an office, my wife said to me, "My dear, what a pity it is about your violin." So I had it restrung, and took a teacher. It seems as if it were only yesterday.
DOMINIE (casting down his eyes,—the servant brings ice). That was very curious!
JOHN S. But the government horn-player thought he could not get on in duets with me.
DOMINIE. Curious! So you were obliged to play only solos? But to return to your daughter. Will you be good enough to play me something, Miss Lizzie?
MRS. S. (condescendingly, in a low voice). She is a little timid and embarrassed at playing before your daughter Emma.
EMMA. You really need not be so.
MRS. S. Bring "Les Graces" by Herz, and Rosellen's "Tremolo."
LIZZIE. But, mamma, I have forgotten that piece by Herz, and I have not learned the "Tremolo" very well yet. That is always the way with me. Mr. Shepard says I may console myself: it was always the same with his other scholars. He says I shall finally make my way. But Mr. Shepard is so strict. Are you very strict, Herr Dominie?
MRS. S. Why, my child, you have heard me say so before. Herr Dominie is the very strictest—but (playfully) he will not acknowledge it.
DOMINIE. There is one thing you must allow, Mrs. Spriggins,—that my pupils always take pleasure in my lessons; and that must be the case because their progress is evident and gives them delight, and every thing is developed in the most natural way.
MRS. S. (less sharply). We won't discuss that; but how are your daughters able to play so many pieces to people, and moreover without notes, if they have not been obliged to practise all day long, and if you have not been very cruel with them, while my Lizzie cannot play a single thing without bungling?
DOMINIE. Allow me, madam, it must be the fault of Mr. Shep—
MRS. S. No, no! you must excuse me, but we don't permit any reflections on our Mr. Shepard: he is very particular and unwearied.
DOMINIE. It does not depend entirely upon that, but—
JOHN S. Upon my honor, it is marvellous to see how talented pupils always seem to flock to you. It is easy to teach such! Ha, ha! You must not forget, however, that my grandfather played on the organ. Now, Lizzie, sit down and play something.
(She chooses a cavatina from "The Pirates," with variations. The introduction begins with e flat in unison. Lizzie strikes e in unison and the same in the bass, and exclaims: "There, mamma, didn't I tell you so? I don't remember it now." Mr. Shepard enters, steps up hastily, and puts her finger on e flat.)
SHEPARD. Pardon me, Herr Dominie, I will only set her going: it makes her a little confused to play before such connoisseurs; she loses her eyesight. Don't you see, Lizzie, there are three flats in the signature?
JOHN S. Courage now! Aha! Lizzie can't get at the pedal, the bull-dog is lying over it. John, take him out.
(After the removal of the bull-dog, Lizzie plays as far as the fourth bar, when she strikes c sharp instead of c, and stops.)
MRS. S. Never mind, begin again. Herr Dominie is pleased to hear that: he has gone through it all with his own children.
(Lizzie begins again at the beginning, and goes on to the eighth bar, where she sticks fast.)
SHEPARD. Don't make me ashamed of you, Lizzie. Now begin once more: a week ago it went quite tolerably.
(Lizzie begins once more, and plays or rather scrambles through it, as far as the eighteenth bar; but now it is all over with her, and she gets up.)
DOMINIE. Skip the introduction, it is too difficult: begin at once on the theme.
JOHN S. (to his wife). We will go away and leave the gentlemen alone. By and by, gentlemen, we will talk about it further over a cup of tea.
(Lizzie refuses to play.)
DOMINIE. Mr. Shepard, let Lizzie play a few scales or some chords; a few finger exercises, or some easy dance without notes.
SHEPARD. She has nothing of that kind ready. You see I always take up one piece after another, and have each one played as well as I can; she repeats the difficult parts, I write the proper fingering over them, and am very particular that she does not use the wrong fingers. I have taken a great deal of pains, and quite worn myself out over the lessons. Lizzie does the same, and practises her pieces two hours a day; but—but—
(Lizzie goes away with Emma.)
DOMINIE. Mr. Shepard, with the best intentions in the world, you will never accomplish your end. Even if Miss Lizzie is only to play as an amateur, and is not intended for any thing higher, for which in fact she has not sufficient talent, you must pay some attention beforehand to the acquirement of a correct tone, and get rid of this robin-red-breast touch; and you must then endeavor, by scales and exercises of every kind, to give to her hands and fingers so much firmness, decision, and dexterity, that she can master her pieces, at least with a certain distinct tone and a tolerable touch. You are not less in error in the choice of her pieces, which are far too difficult,—a fault of most teachers, even with the most skilful pupils. The pieces which your pupils are to execute should be below their mechanical powers; for, otherwise, the struggle with difficulties robs the player of all confidence in the performance, and gives rise to stumbling, bungling, and hurry. The mechanical powers should be cultivated by studies and exercises, in preference to pieces, at least to those of certain famous composers, who do not write in a manner adapted to the piano; or who, at any rate, regard the music as of more importance than the player. This may apply even to Beethoven, in the higher grade of composition; for his music is full of danger for the performer. The only course which can ever lead to a sure result, without wearying both pupil and parent, and without making piano-playing distasteful, is first to lay a foundation in mechanical power, and then to go on with the easier pieces by Huenten and Burgmueller. If you try to produce the mechanical dexterity essential for piano performance by the study of pieces, except with the most careful selection, you will waste a great deal of time and deprive the pupil of all pleasure and interest; and the young Lizzie will be much more interested in the hope of a husband than in the satisfaction of performing a piece which will give pleasure to herself and her friends. There can be no success without gradual development and culture, without a plan, without consideration and reflection,—in fact, without a proper method. How can there be any good result, if the pupil has to try at the same time to play with a correct touch, with the proper fingering, in time, with proper phrasing, to move the fingers rightly, to gain familiarity with the notes, and to avoid the confusion between the treble and the bass notes,—and in fact has to struggle with every thing at once? And what vexations! what loss of time without success!
(Shepard listened with attention, and a light seemed to dawn upon him.)
(Dominie and Shepard go in to tea.)
MRS. S. Well, gentlemen, have you come to any conclusion? Is not Lizzie a good pupil? She is obliged to practise two hours every day, however tired she may be. Do you think we should continue in the same course, Herr Dominie?
SHEPARD. Herr Dominie has called my attention to some points which will be of use to me.
DOMINIE. Only a few trifles.
JOHN S. After tea will not Miss Emma play to us?
EMMA. The piano is very much out of tune, some of the keys stick, the action is too light, and the instrument generally is not calculated for the successful execution of any thing.
JOHN S. I beg your pardon: it was considered by everybody a very fine instrument when we bought it, sixteen years ago. We had a great bargain in it at the time, for we purchased it of a neighbor who had improved it very much by use. Mr. Shepard will confirm what I say, Miss.
(Emma bows her head thoughtfully, and looks at Shepard suspiciously.)
JOHN S. My violin has very much improved during the last twenty years. On my honor, if Lizzie were a boy, she should learn to play on the violin, to keep it in the family. Ha, ha, ha!
DOMINIE. That would be curious!
(Dominie wishes to take leave with his daughter.)
MRS. S. (condescendingly). I hope you will come to see us again soon. The next time Lizzie will play you Rosellen's "Tremolo;" and Miss Emma must play us a piece too.
DOMINIE. You are extremely kind! (Takes leave.)
SINGING AND SINGING-TEACHERS.
(A Letter to a Young Lady Singer.)
MY DEAR MISS ——,—You are endowed with an admirable gift for singing, and your agreeable though not naturally powerful voice has vivacity and youthful charm, as well as a fine tone: you also possess much talent in execution; yet you nevertheless share the lot of almost all your sisters in art, who, whether in Vienna, Paris, or Italy, find only teachers who are rapidly helping to annihilate the opera throughout Europe, and are ruling out of court the simple, noble, refined, and true art of singing. This modern, unnatural style of art, which merely aspires to superficial effects, and consists only in mannerisms, and which must ruin the voice in a short time, before it reaches its highest perfection, has already laid claim to you. It is scarcely possible to rescue your talent, unless, convinced that you have been falsely guided, you stop entirely for a time, and allow your voice to rest during several months, and then, by correct artistic studies, and with a voice never forced or strong, often indeed weak, you improve your method of attack by the use of much less and never audible breathing, and acquire a correct, quiet guidance of the tones. You must also make use of the voice in the middle register, and strengthen the good head-tones by skilfully lowering them; you must equalize the registers of the voice by a correct and varied use of the head-tones, and by diligent practice of solfeggio. You must restore the unnaturally extended registers to their proper limits; and you have still other points to reform. Are you not aware that this frequent tremulousness of the voice, this immoderate forcing of its compass, by which the chest-register is made to interfere with the head-tones, this coquetting with the deep chest-tones, this affected, offensive, and almost inaudible nasal pianissimo, the aimless jerking out of single tones, and, in general, this whole false mode of vocal execution, must continually shock the natural sentiment of a cultivated, unprejudiced hearer, as well as of the composer and singing-teacher? What must be the effect on a voice in the middle register, when its extreme limits are forced in such a reckless manner, and when you expend as much breath for a few lines of a song as a correctly educated singer would require for a whole aria? How long will it be before your voice, already weakened, and almost always forced beyond the limits of beauty, shall degenerate into a hollow, dull, guttural tone, and even into that explosive or tremulous sound, which proclaims irremediable injury? Is your beautiful voice and your talent to disappear like a meteor, as others have done? or do you hope that the soft air of Italy will in time restore a voice once ruined? I fall into a rage when I think of the many beautiful voices which have been spoiled, and have dwindled away without leaving a trace during the last forty years; and I vent my overflowing heart in a brief notice of the many singing-teachers, whose rise and influence I have watched for twenty years past.
The so-called singing-teachers whom we usually find, even in large cities and in musical institutions, I exempt from any special criticism, for they would not be able to understand my views. They permit soprano voices to sing scales in all the five vowels at once; begin with c instead of f; allow a long holding of the notes, "in order to bring out the voice," until the poor victim rolls her eyes and grows dizzy. They talk only of the fine chest-tones which must be elicited, will have nothing to do with the head-tones, will not even listen to them, recognize them, or learn to distinguish them. Their highest principle is: "Fudge! we don't want any rubbish of Teschner, Miksch, and Wieck. Sing in your own plain way: what is the use of this murmuring without taking breath? For what do you have lungs if you are not to use them? Come, try this aria: 'Grace,' 'grace!' Produce an effect! Down on your knees!"
There are again others who allow screaming,—"the more the better,"—in order to produce power and expression in the voice, and to make it serviceable for public performances. They may, indeed, require the singing of solfeggio, and prattle about the requisite equality of the tones; and they consequently make the pupil practise diligently and strongly on the two-lined a, b flat, b, where kind Nature does not at first place the voice, because she has reserved for herself the slow and careful development of it. As for the unfortunate gasping medium voices, which are still less docile, and which sigh in the throat, and after all can only speak, such teachers postpone the cultivation of these to the future, or else they exclaim in a satisfied way, "Now we will sing at sight! Hit the notes! Let us have classical music!" Of these, also, I forbear to speak.
And as for the singing-teachers, whose business it is to educate the voice for "the opera of the future," I am really unable to write about them. In the first place, I know nothing about "the future," the unborn; and, in the second place, I have more than enough to do with the present.
And now I come to those who honestly wish to teach better, and who in a measure do so. But even they are too pedantic: with prejudiced views, they pursue one-sided aims. Without looking around to the right or to the left or forwards, and without daily learning, reflecting, and striving, they run in a groove, always ride their particular hobby, cut every thing after one pattern, and use up the time in secondary matters, in incredible trifles. For the formation of a fine tone, not a minute should be lost, particularly with lady singers, who are not strong, and usually cannot or ought not to sing more than twenty days in a month, and who surely ought to be allowed to use their time in a reasonable manner. Moreover, these are the teachers whom it is most difficult to comprehend. Though they use only seven tones, they are plunged in impenetrable mysteries, in incomprehensible knowledge and a multitude of so-called secrets, out of which, indeed, nothing can ever be brought to light. For this, however, they do not consider themselves to blame, not even their hobby-horses; but, as they say, "the higher powers." We will, for once, suppose that three-fourths of the measures which they are accustomed to employ in their treatment of the voice and of the individual are good and correct (the same is true of many piano-teachers); but the remaining fourth is sufficient to ruin the voice, or to prevent its proper development, and therefore nothing correct is to be gained. There are other teachers who never can get beyond the formation of the tone, and are lost in the pursuit of perfection,—that "terrestrial valley of tears." Truly a beautiful country, but which is only to be found in Paradise!
Others, instead of thinking, "I will try for the present to do better than others have done," so harass and torment the poor mortal voices with their aim at perfect equality and perfect beauty of tone, the result often is that every thing becomes unequal and far from beautiful. Some teachers make their pupils so anxious and troubled that, owing to their close attention to the tone, and the breath, and the pronunciation, they sing their songs in an utterly wooden manner, and so in fact they, too, are lost in optimism and in tears; whereas, for singing, a happy confidence in the ability to succeed is essential. Others pursue an opposite course, and are guilty of worse faults, as you will see if you look around. Some of them have no standard of perfection, but use up the time in an exchange of ideas with their pupils, with mysterious and conceited "ifs" and "buts." They are very positive, but only within the narrow circle of their own ideas. They make no advance in a correct medium path. Some allow pupils to practise only staccato, and others only legato, aiming thereby at nobody knows what. Some allow them to sing too loud, others too feebly; some philosophize earnestly about beauty in the voice, and others grumble about unpleasantness in the same; some are enthusiastic about extraordinary talents, others fret about the want of talent; some have a passion for making all the sopranos sing alto, others do just the reverse; some prefer a shadowy, others a clear voice. They all rest their opinions upon the authority of some famous screaming-master who has written a singing-system. Upon like authority, some cultivate chiefly the deep tones, because it is very fine, and "creates an effect," for soprano voices to be able suddenly to sing like men, or rather to growl, and because it is the fashion in Paris. Others, on the contrary, pride themselves upon the head-tones; but they are none of them willing to pay much attention to the medium voices: that is too critical and too delicate a matter, and requires too much trouble, for the modern art of singing. As a last resort, they bethink themselves of kind Nature, and lay the blame upon her.
Well, I will say no more upon this point, but will proceed. Have I not already, in my piano instructions, insisted on the importance of a gradual and careful use of every proper expedient to extend, strengthen, beautify, and preserve the voice? I am thought, however, to infringe upon the office of the singing-masters, who hold their position to be much more exalted than that of the poor piano-teacher. Still, I must be allowed to repeat that voices are much more easily injured than fingers; and that broken, rigid voices are much worse than stiff, unmanageable fingers, unless, after all, they amount to the same thing. I demand of singing-teachers that they show themselves worthy of their position, and allow no more voices to go to destruction, and that they give us some satisfactory results. I believe in fact, in my homely simplicity, that the whole thing may be accomplished without any mystery, without trading in secrets or charlatanry; without the aid of modern anatomical improvement, or rather destruction, of the worn-out throat, through shortening or increasing the flexibility of the palate, through the removal of the unnecessary glands or by attempts to lengthen the vocal passage, or by remedying a great many other things in which Nature has made a mistake, and on which special doctors for the voice, in Paris and London, are now employed.
We supply the want of all these by the following little rule:—
Three trifles are essential for a good piano or singing-teacher,—
The finest taste, The deepest feeling, The most delicate ear,
and, in addition, the requisite knowledge, energy, and some practice. Voila tout! I cannot devote myself to the treatment of the throat, for which I have neither time not fitness; and my lady singers are so busy with the formation of true tone, and in attention to the care and preservation of their voices, that they only wish to open their mouths for that object, and not for anatomical purposes. In piano-playing also, I require no cutting of the interdigital fold, no mechanical hand-support, no accelerator for the fingers or stretching machine; and not even the "finger-rack" invented and used, without my knowledge, by a famous pupil[A] of mine, for the proper raising of the third and fourth fingers.
My dear young lady, if the Creator has made the throat badly for singing, he alone is responsible. I cannot come to his assistance by destroying the throat with lunar caustic, and then reconstructing it. If the throat is really worn out, may it not perhaps be owing to the teacher, and to his mistaken management?
Nature does many things well, and before the introduction of this modern fashion of singing produced many beautiful voices: has she all at once become incapable of doing any thing right?
We will, then, simply return to the three trifles above-mentioned; and in these we will live and work "with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind."
[A] Reference is here made to Robert Schumann, who, in order to facilitate the use of the weaker fingers, employed a machine for raising the fingers artificially, which resulted in loss of power over them, and necessitated the abandonment of piano-playing.—Tr.
THOUGHTS ON SINGING.
Our vocal composers, followed by many singing-teachers and singing institutions, have almost banished from music the true art of singing; or, at least, have introduced an unnatural, faulty, and always disagreeable mode of delivery, by which the voice has been destroyed, even before it has attained its full development. The consideration of this fact induces me to communicate some portions from my journal, and to unite with them a few opinions of the noted singing-master, Teschner, of Berlin.
* * * * *
Must we again and again explain to German composers that, though we do not require them to compose in Italian, they ought, at least, to learn to write in German in a manner suited for singing? otherwise, in their amazing ignorance and infatuation, they will wear out the powers of opera singers, and torture the public, apparently without a suspicion that it is possible to write both grand and light operas with true, characteristic German thoroughness. Even German opera requires a constant attention to the right use of the voice, and a methodical, effective mode of singing. It tolerates no murderous attacks on single male and female voices, or on the full opera company; it is opposed to that eager searching after superficial effect, which every sincere friend of the opera must lament.
Is it, then, so difficult to obtain the requisite knowledge of the human voice, and to study the scores of Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti with a special regard to this? Do our vocal composers make too great a sacrifice to their creative genius in making a study of those things which are essential? You consider it mortifying to inquire of those who understand singing, and you are sensitive about any disturbance of your vain over-estimate of your own powers; but you are not ashamed to cause the destruction of man's noblest gift,—the human voice! If taste, feeling, and a fine ear are, and always must be, the chief requirements in composing for the great public, I ask you how you can lay claim to these three trifles, when you constantly violate them?
COMPOSER. If Mrs. N. had executed my aria to-day in as earnest and masterly a style, and with as agreeable a voice, as she did that of Rossini yesterday, she would have given as much satisfaction; for it is much more interesting and expressive both musically and harmonically, and written with more dramatic effect.
SINGER. You make a mistake, and you always will do so, as long as you consider the study of the voice as of secondary importance, or, in fact, pay no attention whatever to it. The latter aria, which is composed with a regard to the voice, and to the employment of its most agreeable tones, puts me into a comfortable mood, and gives me a feeling of success; yours, on the contrary, into one of dissatisfaction and anticipation of failure. Of what importance is the musical value of a composition, if it can only be sung with doubtful success, and if the voice is obliged to struggle with it, instead of having it under control? You attach less importance to the free, agreeable exercise of the voice than does the unanimous public. I do not wish to excite compassion, but to give pleasure by a beautifully developed style of singing. You pay some attention to adaptability to the piano or the violin: why are you usually regardless of fitness for the voice?
Critics have often asked, Why does Jenny Lind sing so coolly? why does she not sing grand, passionate parts? why does she not select for her performances some of the later German or even Italian operas? why does she always sing Amina, Lucia, Norma, Susanna, &c.? In reply to these and similar questions, I will ask, Why does she wish always to remain Jenny Lind? why does she endeavor to preserve her voice as long as possible? why does she select operas in which she may use her pure, artistic, refined mode of singing, which permits no mannerism, no hypocritical sentiment, and which possesses an ideal beauty? why does she choose operas in which she can give the most perfect possible image of her own personality? why operas in which she may allow the marvellous union of her powers of song to shine conspicuously, without doing violence to her voice and forcing its tones, or casting doubt upon her lofty, noble, and beautiful art? why does she first regard the singing, and only afterwards the music, or both united? This is the answer to the same questions which are likewise asked about Henrietta Sontag and all great singers. Even the passionate Schroeder-Devrient seldom made an exception to this rule, although she was not independent of the theatres.
These questions should be an urgent warning to our young female singers not to sacrifice themselves to any of the modern screaming operas, unsuited for singing; but to preserve and watch over their voices, and to guard them from immoderate, continued, and often inartistic exertion; in fact, to sing always in the voice-register with which nature has endowed them, and never to shriek; to renounce the present, fashionable, so-called "singing effects," and the modern scene-screaming, as Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag have always done. Then their voices would remain useful for the opera, as was formerly the case, from ten to twenty years; and they would not have to mourn, as is too common, after a very short time, a feeble, broken voice and departed health.
Let Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag be placed as the finest models before our young, gifted, ambitious singers. They are to be regarded as miraculous phenomena; especially in our times, when the modern style of singing has, for reasons difficult to justify, so widely deviated from the old school which was so fruitful in brilliant results,—that of Pistocchi, Porpora, and Bernacchi. What could show more clearly the destructiveness of our present opera style than the sublime beauty of their singing, combined with their noble, refined, sound voices, such as may perhaps still be found among you?
* * * * *
The managers of our theatres are in want of tenor singers who can act. They should consider that tenors who have any voices left have never learned to act, and tenors who are able to act no longer have any voices; because, as a rule, they either have studied too little, or have studied erroneously. Unless the voice has received a correct and fine culture, the German comic operas lead immediately to destruction of the voice, especially of the sensitive, easily injured German tenor voice.
Here I take occasion to remark upon the universal prejudice, that "a tenor ought to develop the chest-tones as far as possible, that they are the finest." In tenors, with very few exceptions, this mistaken treatment has been speedily followed by the loss both of voice and health. Nicely shaded singing, from piano onwards, is thereby rendered impossible; and tones which are always forced must remain unpleasant, even although powers thus laboriously gained may sometimes have a fine effect in the opera. A tenor who wishes to preserve his voice and not to scream in the upper tones, who desires always to have a piano at command and to possess the necessary shading and lightness as well as elegance and flexibility, should cultivate the falsetto, and endeavor to bring it down as far as possible into the chest-register. This is as indispensable as is the use of the head-tones for the soprano. When the falsetto has too striking a resemblance to the chest-voice, and is even inferior to it in power, it is the result of want of perseverance and prudence in its cultivation. It ought to be almost imperceptibly connected with the chest-register by the introduction of the mixed tones.
* * * * *
We shall probably soon be called upon to read an "Address of Young Female Singers to the Composers of Germany," as follows: "Freedom of thought! freedom in composition! freedom in the opera! but no annihilation of the throat! You are hereby notified that we protest against all operas which are repugnant to the true art of singing; for it is not in your power to compensate us for the loss of our voices, although it may be possible for you, after using up our talent as quickly as possible, to look around for others, with whom you can do the same. First learn to understand singing, or, rather, first learn to sing, as your predecessors have done, and as Italian composers still do, and then we will talk with you again."
* * * * *
"What a pedantic outcry about German want of adaptability for singing! Pray where is there the most singing?" It is, I agree, in Germany. "Is not singing taught in the public schools? And consider, too, the innumerable singing clubs, singing societies, and singing institutions!"
That is just the misfortune which requires a thorough investigation. How many promising voices do these institutions annually follow to the grave? Who is it who sing in the schools? Boys and girls from thirteen to fifteen years old. But boys ought not to be allowed to sing while the voice is changing; and girls, also from physical reasons, ought not to sing at all at that age. And what kind of instructors teach singing here? Our epistolary and over-wise age overwhelms our superintendents and corporations with innumerable petitions and proposals; but no true friend of humanity, of music, and of singing, has yet been found to enlighten these authorities, and to prove to them that the most beautiful voices and finest talents are killed in the germ by these unsuitable so-called singing-lessons, especially in the public schools. Girls' voices may be carefully awakened, and skilfully practised, and made flexible and musical; but they should be used only in mezzo-voce, and only until the period of their development, or up to the thirteenth year, or a few months sooner or later. This ought also to be done with great experience, delicacy, practical knowledge and circumspection. But where are we to find suitable singing-professors, and who is to pay them a sufficient salary? Therefore, away with this erroneous instruction of children in singing! away with this abortion of philanthropy and the musical folly of this extravagant age! Can such a premature, unrefined, faulty screaming of children, or croaking in their throats, without artistic cultivation and guidance, compensate for the later inevitable hoarseness and loss of voice, and for the destruction of the organs of singing?
The tenors who belong to these singing societies and institutions force out and sacrifice their uncultured voices, and scream with throat, palate, and nasal tones, in the execution of four-part songs by this or that famous composer, which are far from beautiful, and which serve only to ruin the voice. Who was the lady who sang the solo in yonder singing academy? That girl, a year ago, had a fresh, beautiful, sonorous voice; but, although she is only twenty years old, it already begins to fail her, and she screws and forces it, by the help of the chest-tones, up to the two-lined a, without any thing having ever been done for the adjustment of the voice-registers and for the use of the head-tones, and without proper direction from a competent superintendent. Instead of this, he was continually exclaiming: "Loud! forcibly! con espressione!"
While even the street boys in Italy sing clearly, and often with great ability, their national songs, so well suited to the voice, and in their most beautiful language, our northern voices, which are obliged to contend with the great difficulties of the German language, are sacrificed in the most cold-blooded and self-satisfied manner in the schools and singing societies, while all artistic preparation, by which alone the voice may be preserved and cultivated, is neglected.
Who are at the head of these institutions and societies? Musicians it is true; but they are strangers to any special education in singing, or are not skilful singing-teachers, who understand how to combine methodical cultivation of the voice with practical execution. Their entire instruction consists, at most, in hitting the notes and keeping time. These musicians say: "Whoever joins my society must know how to sing!" What does that mean? Where are they to learn it? And, even when you have succeeded in obtaining for your academy a few imprudent but well-taught singers, does not the preservation of their voices then require the greatest care and watchfulness? Is that in your power? Have you the requisite knowledge for it? Are not these few well-educated voices obliged to sing by the side of singers who have been taught in a wrong manner, and who have no pure, correct intonation? Then what do these societies amount to? Do they improve or destroy the voice? They make the members musical. A fine consolation for the loss of the voice! They teach them to hit the notes and to keep time. A great comfort after the voice has been destroyed by false culture!
* * * * *
A singing-teacher who has no firm, decided principle, who is constantly wavering backwards and forwards, and who frequently leads others into error by his untenable opinions; who cannot quickly discern the special talent and capacity of his pupils, or discover the proper means to get rid of what is false or wrong, and adopt the speediest road to success, without any one-sided theories of perfection; who mistrusts and blames, worries, offends, and depresses, instead of encouraging; who is always dissatisfied instead of cordially acknowledging what is good in the pupil; who at one time rides a high horse instead of kindly offering a helping hand, and at another time praises as extravagantly as he before has blamed, and kills time in such ways as these,—he may be an encyclopaedia of knowledge, but his success will always fall short of his hopes. Firmness, decision, energy, and a delicate, quick perception; the art not to say too much or too little, and to be quite clear in his own mind, and with constant considerate kindness to increase the courage and confidence of his pupils,—these are requisite above all things for a singing-master as well as for a piano-teacher.
* * * * *
"My singers are to be educated for the public, for the stage, and must therefore sing loud, study hard, force their execution, and make use of a great deal of breath. How else will they be able to produce an effect?"
Answer. What, then, is the effect of your culture? I know of none, except that they at first are applauded, because they are young and pretty, and are novelties; because they have good voices, and the benevolent public wishes to encourage them; and then they disappear in a year or two without leaving any trace.
"The singing-teacher can succeed in cultivating not more than one good voice in twenty, with any noteworthy result. Hence the decadence of the art of singing."
Answer. Unless some unusual disturbance or sickness occur, all voices improve till the twenty-fourth year. When this is not the case, it is to be attributed only to the singing-teacher.
"Many voices acquire a sharp tone, which is the precursor of decay."
Answer. All voices are, and will remain, more or less tender, if their culture is correct.
"Only Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag were allowed by the public to give out their voices naturally and lightly without straining them, and to sing piano and pianissimo, and their celebrity is a justification of this privilege."
Answer. But how would they have obtained their celebrity, if this were not the true, correct, and pure mode of singing?
"Our singers also try the piano and pianissimo; but they can produce no effect on their audiences by it, as you may see every day."
Answer. Good heavens! I should think so! With such a piano, with strained voices, faulty attack, and the use of too much breath,—a piano which only gurgles in the throat, or deeper! That I do not mean: I must refer you again to the three trifles mentioned in my eighth chapter.
"But some voices have no piano, and many singers do not take the right course to acquire it."
Answer. What a wide-spread, groundless excuse! Here we may see the error of our times. People look for the fault outside of themselves, and not in themselves. The inventive power of the age is here truly astonishing! When, owing to false management, the voice soon degenerates instead of improving with time, it is the consequence of a faulty formation of the throat, and of the neglect of London throat brushes! If such badly educated voices can no longer produce a piano, it is owing to the unskilfulness of nature, and to the false construction of the necessary organs! If the piano is only a wheeze, the reason is found in the deficiency of palate, and excess of muscles! If several times in the month, the worn out, weary voice can only groan and sigh, or cannot emit a sound, it is the result of a change in the weather, or other meteorological conditions! If we complain of unpleasant, shrieking tones, occasioned by the mouth being too widely stretched, then "the rays of sound take an oblique, instead of a direct course"! If the poor, strained medium voice, even with the help of a great deal of breath, can only produce dull, hollow, veiled, and unpleasant tones, that is said to be a necessary crisis, of which cruel Nature requires a great many in the course of her development of the voice! Finally, if from long and forced holding of the chest-tones, they are changed into noises like the bellowing of calves and the quacking of ducks, and the instructor finally perceives it, then again we have a crisis! And, alas! no one thinks of "the three trifles."
* * * * *
What occasions the want of success of our singing-teachers, many of whom are musical, possess a delicate ear, fine culture and feeling, have studied systems of singing, and exert themselves zealously to teach rightly?
They fail in the culture of the tone, which is not to be learned from books or by one's self, but only from verbal communication. To learn to produce a clear tone, with a light, free, natural attack; to understand how to draw forth the sound with the use of no unnecessary breath, and to cause the sound to strike against the roof of the mouth above the upper row of teeth; to improve the pronunciation; to adjust the registers,—these, with many other things, may seem very easy; but to teach them all in the shortest time, without wearing out the voice and without falling into errors; to persevere in teaching to the end, even if the pupil already sings correctly; to know what is still wanting and how it is to be attained,—all these one must acquire by long and constant experience.
When Schroeder-Devrient came from Vienna to Dresden, a young but already celebrated singer, though at that time wanting in the proper foundation for singing, she was not a little surprised when Miksch called her attention to this deficiency. She devoted herself thoroughly to the primary formation of the tone under the instruction of Miksch, and must still remember the old master, and his extraordinary practice in this particular. Miksch learned it from Caselli, a pupil of Bernacchi. He had just sung as a young tenor, with great applause, in a concert, and introduced himself to Caselli, who was present, expecting to receive his approbation; but the latter, instead of commending, assured him frankly that his mode of singing was false, and that with such misuse his voice would succumb within a year, unless he adopted a correct culture of tone. After much hard struggle, the young Miksch renounced all further public applause, and studied the formation of tone assiduously and perseveringly with Caselli, after having previously allowed his over-strained voice a time for rest.
If a singing-teacher has, by chance, met with a docile pupil, possessed of a voice of unusual beauty, it frequently happens that the studies are not pursued with sufficient perseverance; and, perhaps, are continued only for a few weeks or months, instead of allowing a year or more, according to circumstances. Richard Wagner agrees with me, when he says, "Why, then, write operas to be sung, when we no longer have either male or female singers?"
* * * * *
Since modern progress has come to regard "the three trifles" as belonging entirely to the past, and in their place has proclaimed, "Boldness, Spirit, Power," two evil spirits have had rule: they go hand in hand, ruin the voice, wound the cultivated ear, and provide for us—only empty opera houses. One of these evils has been frequently alluded to by me. It is "the expenditure of a great deal too much breath." The finest voices are obliged to practise with full breath until they shriek, and the result is mere sobbing, and the heavy drawing of the breath, just at the time when the tone should still be heard. Even if every thing else could be right, in such a culture of the tone, which must very shortly relax the muscles of the voice, that one thing, in itself, would be sufficient to destroy all promise of success.
The second evil endangers even the male voice, which is able to endure much ill-treatment; while the female voice is quickly forced by it into a piercing shrillness, or is driven back into the throat, soon to be entirely exhausted, or is, at least, prevented from attaining a natural, fine development. This second evil is the reckless and destructive straining of single tones to their extreme limits, even to perfect exhaustion. The poor singer urges and squeezes out the voice, and quivers to the innermost marrow, in order that the two requirements of "Boldness" and "Power" may be satisfied. But the "Spirit" is still wanting, which should be shown in a light and well-shaded delivery. The effect of extreme shading, however, is accomplished in a single "romanza." The unfortunate, misdirected singer, who must aim at effect, lays out so much force on single tones, or even on whole lines, and that, too, in the best register of his voice (the other registers do not permit this), that the succeeding tones are forced to retire powerless into the throat; and the beautiful, fresh, youthful tenor or bass voice concludes with exhausted groaning and mere speaking tones. The "romanza" is now at an end, and certainly "Boldness, Spirit, and Power" have worked in union. The task is executed the better, because a rude accompaniment has probably sustained the singer in a most striking manner, and has completed the total effect.
By such management, to which I must emphatically add the continual holding of the tones, even in the forte, voices are expected "to come out," to be developed, inspired, and made beautiful. What healthy ear can endure such enormities in tone formation, such tortures in singing? These, then, are the modern contributions for the embellishment of art! A curse on these evil spirits! If my feeble pen shall assist in bringing such singing-teachers to their senses, and shall help to save only a few of our fine voices, I shall consider my mission fulfilled, and the aim of this book, so far as it concerns singing, accomplished.
* * * * *
I have heretofore combated many prejudices, both in earnest and in sport, successfully and unsuccessfully; but one I find very obstinate,—it has pursued me incessantly for years. A piano-player, with a rigid, strained, and vicious touch, proceeding from the arm, may play a great deal, but his playing is thoroughly vulgar and without beauty. He feels this himself, and the playing of my pupils pleases him better. He wishes me to change his style to their better manner; but he still continues to pound, to bang, to exaggerate, and to play in his own way, and only wishes his style to be improved, and his power of execution to be increased. If a performer of this sort is not much more than twenty years of age, something may yet be done for the improvement of his touch, and consequently of his style of playing; but this is only possible by laying aside all his accustomed pieces of music, and by diligently practising, daily, small easy exercises, which must be played delicately, with loose fingers, and without allowing the arm to give the slightest assistance; otherwise, all labor will be thrown away upon him. How else can you begin, except by laying a proper foundation for a better style? I have frequently urged this principle both by speech and in writing; but the difficulty always returns, and especially in the cultivation of female singers.
A girl of eighteen comes to me: she has heard of the excellent cultivation of my lady singers, and wishes to obtain the same for herself. In order that I may hear her voice, she selects the "Erlkoenig," by Schubert, that perilous piece, which is apt to lead even highly cultivated singers into frightful atrocities. Heavens! what must I hear? With the remains of a fine, youthful voice, whose registers are already broken up and disconnected, she shrieks out the "Erlkoenig," between sobs and groans, with screwed-up chest-tones, and many modern improprieties, but nevertheless with dramatic talent. The piercing voice, forced to its utmost, fills me with horror; but also with pity for such a glorious endowment, and such an unnatural development. At the conclusion, her voice succumbed to the effort, and she could only groan hoarsely, and wheeze without emitting a sound. She has, however, frequently produced great effect in society, and drawn tears with this performance: it is her favorite piece. Let us abandon this singing for parties, this melancholy dilettantismus, everywhere so obtrusive! The girl is only eighteen years old: is she beyond salvation? I endeavor to build her voice up again, gradually, by gentle practice. She succeeds very well in it, and after six lessons her natural docility arouses hope. The head-tones again make their appearance, and the practice of solfeggio brings out once more the stifled voice which had been forced back into the throat by senseless exertions; a better attack begins to be developed, and the chest-register returns to its natural limits. She now declared, with her mother's approval, that she really would continue to study in this way, but she could not give up the performance of her effective and spirited conception of the "Erlkoenig." She came a few times more: I could perceive that the good structure was tottering. After a few months, she had entirely sacrificed her voice to this single "Erlkoenig." In such tender years, one such idol is sufficient. What a price for an "Erlkoenig"! The old, experienced singing-teacher, Miksch, of Dresden (with the exception of Rossini, the last famous champion of the old school), has often warned me that radical amendment is seldom possible with such over-strained and broken voices, which already are obliged to struggle with enfeebled muscles, even although youth may excite great and decided hopes. There is also another difficulty: that one of these strong, over-strained voices must hereafter be used with much less strength, if we wish to cultivate a correct tone; and it is impossible to tell whether the chest-tones, when they are restored to their true limit, will ever come out again as powerful and at the same time as beautiful. Let no musician, however talented and cultivated he may be, ever adopt the teaching of singing, unless he can combine with firmness of character great patience, perseverance, and disinterestedness; otherwise, he will experience very little pleasure and very little gratitude. Even if the "Erlkoenig" does not stand in the way, every voice presents new and peculiar difficulties.
A Few Words addressed to Singing-Teachers on the Accompaniment of Etudes, Exercises, Scales, &c.
It is common for teachers to play their accompaniments as furiously as if they had to enter into a struggle for life and death with their singers. At the beginning of the lesson, the lady singer ought to commence quite piano, at f in the one-lined octave, and to sing up and down from there through five or six notes, without any expenditure of breath, and should guide and bring out her voice by a gentle practice of solfeggio; and yet you bang, and pound on the keys, as if you had to accompany drums and trumpets. Do you not perceive that in this way you induce your pupils to strain and force their voices, and that you mislead them into a false method? In such a noise, and while you are making such a monstrous expenditure of strength, to which you add a sharp, uneasy touch, and a frequent spreading of the chords, how can you watch the delicate movements of the singer's throat? Is it necessary for me to explain how such a rude accompaniment must interfere with the effort to sing firmly and delicately? Are you not aware that a light and agreeable, but at the same time firm and decided, accompaniment encourages and sustains the singer, and also assists and inspires her? You ought, in every way, to seek to cultivate in your pupil the feeling for the right, the true, and the beautiful; but what is the girl of eighteen to think of your culture and your sentiment, if you pound the keys as if you were one of the "piano-furies"?
While this is your mode of accompanying the etudes, how then do you accompany the aria, the song? If, for instance, the pupil is singing tenderly, and wishes to bring out an artistic, delicate shading, you take advantage of that occasion to make yourself heard, and to annoy the singer and the audience with your rough shading. A singing-teacher who does not take pains to acquire a good, delicate touch, and who neglects to pay constant attention to it, is wanting in the first requirement; and this is closely connected with the want of "the three trifles."
VISIT AT MRS. N.'S.
MRS. N. Her daughter FATIMA, eighteen years old. AN AUNT. DOMINIE. Towards the end of the evening, the piano-teacher, MR. FEEBLE.
DOMINIE (rather anxiously to Fatima). Will you do me the favor, Miss, to play something on the piano? Your aunt has told me a great deal about your playing.
FATIMA (smiling graciously). But, really, the piano is out of tune,—so my teacher says.
DOMINIE. But does not your teacher attend to having your piano always kept in tune?
FATIMA. Mamma says it is too expensive to have it tuned so often; it gets out of tune again so quickly. It is an old, small-legged piano, as you see: mamma is always saying, when I am older I shall have a Chickering. The tuner comes regularly once in three months; the time is not yet up.
DOMINIE. But is your teacher satisfied with the tuning of your piano?
FATIMA. Well, he has got used to it. It is the same with the other instruments he teaches on.
MRS. N. Now, pet, play us something. Mr. Dominie likes music; he is a judge of it; his daughters play too.
FATIMA. But what shall I play, mamma?
MRS. N. You have got heaps of notes there. Mr. Dominie, pray select something.
DOMINIE. But I don't know which pieces Miss Fatima can master, and which she has now at her fingers' ends.
AUNT. Pray, Mr. Dominie, choose any thing. They are all fine pieces. It makes no difference to her which she plays.
DOMINIE. But do you play that whole heap?
AUNT. She has played it all. She has played ever since she was ten years old, and she has a very good teacher. He taught here when my sister used to accompany her lover's solos on the flute. Oh, those were charming musical evenings! And the teacher often played the guitar with them extempore. It was just like a concert.
DOMINIE. Indeed! that must have been very fine. Now, Miss, I beg—
FATIMA. But, mamma, just say what I shall play.
DOMINIE. Is not your teacher here this evening? He will know best.
AUNT (whispers to Dominie). He is busy this evening, composing some grand bravoura variations, which are to be dedicated to Fatima on her eighteenth birthday, the day after to-morrow. You must come to see us on that day. Fatima will play them at sight.
MRS. N. Fatima, don't hold back any longer. Play "The Huguenots" by Thalberg: that's a very fine piece.
DOMINIE. Pray do! I have not heard it since I heard Thalberg play it.
AUNT (to Dominie). Don't you make your daughters play it then? Oh, that magnificent choral! That brings tears to my eyes! But the dear child always takes it too fast: her fingers run away with her.
MRS. N. Here it is. Please turn round so that you can see her hands, Mr. Dominie. You are such a famous teacher, perhaps you can make some suggestions. (I was expected only to admire.)
DOMINIE. I don't like to disturb her freedom in playing; but I will turn round, if you say so.
(Fatima scurries through the piece excitedly, and plays in a bold way,—not, however, without ability, but with a feeble touch, without proper fingering, without tone, without time; and gets over the first two pages, with her foot always on the pedal, in such a senseless, indistinct manner that Dominie, in despair, was forced to interrupt with the remark, "But you might take the tempo a little more quietly.")
(Fatima leans back amazed, and stops playing, looking at her mother with a contemptuous expression.)
AUNT. It is owing to her great execution, and then, too, her youthful enthusiasm. Don't you like her natural expression?
FATIMA. My teacher always makes me play it so. It is in that way that I have learned to play so much at sight.
DOMINIE. But don't you study your pieces?
FATIMA. For the last four years I have played only at sight, so that now I can get on anywhere in the musical clubs. That is what mamma likes.
DOMINIE. But do you not play any scales and etudes? do you not practise any exercises?
AUNT. She has not done those things for the last four years. My sister thinks it is rather a hindrance, and is too pedantic. Her teacher thinks so too, and he teaches her the fine concert pieces of Doehler, Liszt, Dreyschock, Willmer, and Thalberg. She learns execution by these. She has gone through all Thalberg's music; and we have sent to Leipzig for Willmer's "Pompa di Festa."
DOMINIE. All this shows great enthusiasm, but really a little too much hot haste.
(Dominie wishes to continue the conversation, in order to escape the unpleasant necessity of "turning round to the piano.")
MRS. N. (interrupts). My child, just begin again at the beginning, and let us enjoy the whole of "The Huguenots." Mr. Dominie likes it.
(Fatima consents, and hurries through the whole Potpourri with a confident, conceited air, to the great despair of Dominie. At the choral, the aunt taps him on the shoulder, and whispers.)
AUNT. Is not that touching? It is a little too fast, you will agree; but then the execution! Has not the girl a great deal of talent? Just hear!
* * * * *
But what did Dominie say after the performance was over? He only bowed stiffly, and what he said to himself will always remain a secret. He only felt.
They go in to supper. All who submitted to hearing the daughter perform on the badly tuned piano, which was at least a tone and a half too low, were invited to supper and handsomely treated. The wine was better than the piano. Presently the teacher, Mr. Feeble, having finished his birthday bravoura composition, appeared and was introduced. Fatima whispered to him, giggling, "I played the whole of 'The Huguenots;' it went splendidly." Mr. Feeble simpered. Dominie and he talked together, unheard, at the end of the table.
* * * * *
DOMINIE. The young lady has talent, Mr. Feeble.
MR. FEEBLE. Indeed she has!
DOMINIE. How is it, Mr. Feeble, that she does not combine serious studies with her playing?
MR. FEEBLE. Oh! I used to make her play exercises by A.E. Mueller, and some Etudes of Czerny's, and sometimes a few scales. But the child was so volatile, and had so little perseverance, and was so quick at learning every thing! And then her mother wanted her to play modern pieces for parties, and we had to busy ourselves with those. But our method has borne good fruit, as you can see. Is not it so?
DOMINIE. Do you not think, with firmness and decision, you could have set Mrs. N. on the right track? Could not you cultivate the mechanical powers of your pupil, and combine an understanding of the musical construction of the piece, with her "playing at sight"? The young lady, not to speak of other faults, has no tone on the piano.
MR. FEEBLE. She can use the pedal for that, and, when she is older, she will acquire more strength; her touch is a little too weak at present. And, besides, she is not to play in public for money, but only in company, and because it is the fashion. Indeed, my dear sir, if I insisted on scales and exercises, I should have very few lessons in this city. I have a wife and children to support, and my old father, the former organist, is dependent upon me. You can do all this with your own children; but think how much time it requires to study the music!
(The company bid each other "good-night.")
FATIMA (flippantly to Dominie). I believe your daughter Emma is a very good player; but they say she has not so much talent as your eldest daughter.
DOMINIE. Indeed! who told you that?
(A Discourse on Piano-Playing, delivered to an Audience of Lady Pupils.)
Ladies,—As I am about to make a journey of a few weeks with my daughters, we will suspend for a short time our musical meetings. On my return, you will resume them with fresh interest. We will then not only play and sing together, but occasionally talk upon kindred subjects. Your friends will be made welcome, provided they are really interested in simple and noble musical performances, which make no attempt at display. We will exclude from our circle malicious criticism and idle curiosity: we require the accompaniment of the violin and 'cello, but not of those two disturbing elements.
To-day I wish to propound a query in regard to piano-playing, to the partial solution of which you will perhaps be glad to give some attention. You may be sure that I shall always speak only upon subjects which are not even mentioned in the most crowded piano-schools.
Query. Why is it that our young, educated ladies, who enjoy the advantages of sufficient talent, industry, a serious purpose, and all the necessary aids, are usually dissatisfied with their progress and with their success in piano-playing?
Their education is a sufficiently careful one, extending to all branches of knowledge; but their intellectual advancement in music (although it has been fostered for years, by constantly listening to good music, and frequently to the performances of distinguished players, and by a critical comparison of their own performances with these) is still small in proportion to their power of execution, and to the mechanical facility which they have acquired. These are certainly essential to a correct and agreeable rendering of a piece of music: the compositions which are to be performed ought, however, never to demand the exercise of all the mechanical skill which has been acquired, for in that case, by the struggle with mechanical difficulties, only embarrassment, discouragement, and anxious haste are apt to take the place of boldness, confidence in one's self, and command of the music. It is the duty of teachers, in choosing studies for the improvement of technique, to select only such as are within the mechanical powers of the pupil, in order that he may make steady progress, and may acquire a pure and delicate style of execution, retaining at the same time a lively interest in his pursuit. But why has the acquirement of this technique been usually unsuccessful?
1. Because you begin to acquire it too late. In order to gain facility and flexibility of the fingers and wrist (which a child in the sixth or seventh year, with a skilful teacher, may acquire in four lessons), from fifteen to twenty lessons, according to the construction of the hand, are necessary with persons from ten to fourteen years old. For other reasons also, we must urge that the mechanical facility should usually be acquired, or at least a complete foundation for it laid in childhood, and not left to be formed by a course which is destructive of all spirit, at an age when labor is performed with self-consciousness,—an age when our ladies are talking a great deal of musical interpretations, of tenderness and depth of feeling, of poetry and inspiration in playing, to which they are led by the possession of our classical piano compositions and immortal master-works, and by intellectual friends and teachers aiming at the highest culture. You reply: "But even if your mode of elementary instruction should meet with faithful disciples, how, in such young pupils, are we to find perseverance and sense enough to continue these severe exercises, even in your interesting manner?" My dear ladies, children ought to do it merely from habit, although in many cases, after the beginning, talent and correct musical instinct may make their appearance. Uninterrupted enjoyment would indeed be unnatural, and where you find it vanity will usually be its moving spring, and this seldom bears good fruit. You may as well ask whether our great literary men and artists always like to go to school, or whether they did not delight in a holiday. Let this be the answer to the strange question, Do your daughters like to play? Good heavens! After they are able to play, and that without much effort, and a little at sight; when they can master, with a musical appreciation, easy, graceful salon music, or even the easier compositions of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Hummel, Moscheles, &c.,—then they take pleasure in playing, and they play a great deal, and with enthusiasm.
2. But, in case children should sometimes begin in their sixth year, you must remember what is said, in the first chapter of this work, with regard to the prevalent false method of teaching beginners. You, however, are supposed to have had better and more sensible teachers. Let me nevertheless quote for your amusement the remark which I have heard so frequently in the course of my long life as a piano-teacher: "In the beginning, a poor, rattling piano, that is forty years old, and that is tuned regularly once a year, and a cheap teacher, will do well enough. As soon as the children learn to play really well, then we will have a better piano and a better teacher." Yes; but that time never comes, and the parents soon conclude that even the most gifted children have no talent, and take no pleasure in music; and so they stop learning, only to regret it when they are older. But the parents console themselves, and after a while the old piano is never tuned at all. But, as I have told you, I do not refer here to your teachers, for whom I have a personal regard, and who teach on excellent pianos.
3. Don't be angry with me for my suggestion, ladies: you do not make enough use of the minutes. While our learned education absorbs so much time, while our friends require so many hours, while, alas! balls and dinners consume whole days, we must be sparing of the remaining minutes.
"Now I must rush to the piano! I must go to dinner in ten minutes: two scales, two finger exercises, two difficult passages out of the piece I have to learn, and one exercise to invent on the dominant and sub-dominant, are soon done; and then the dinner will taste all the better."
"My dear Agnes, we might talk for ever about this dreadful snow, it won't melt the sooner for it: how do you like this passage that I am going to play to you? It is from a charming Nocturne, by Chopin, and is so difficult that I shall have to play it over fifty times, or else I shall always stumble at this place, and I never shall know the Nocturne to play to any one. Don't you think it is beautiful?—so spiritual and original! I can tell you it will be something to boast of, when I have accomplished that. You like it better the oftener I play it? So do I."
"We have an invitation out. Mother has a great deal to arrange, and directions to give. We shall have to go in ten minutes. I must rush to the piano, though I am in rather an inconvenient toilette: I may as well accustom myself to play in it. I shall have to spend three hours this evening without any music. Well, to make up for it, I will occupy myself for the next ten minutes with an exercise for this obstinate fourth finger, though it is pretty dry. That weak finger has been a hindrance to many a fine passage and scale. That is better! Now I can put on my tight gloves. Suppose I should put on the left glove on the way."
Well, my young ladies, how many hours do you think all those minutes would make in a year? But I hear you say, "What is the use of worrying to pick up all those stray minutes, like lost pins? We have a whole hour to practise every day, when nothing prevents." Exactly, when nothing prevents.
I will now tell you a few of my secrets for piano performers.
If in piano-playing, or in any art, you wish to attain success, you must resolve to work every day, at least a little, on the technique. Sickness and other unavoidable interruptions deprive you of days enough.
Practise always with unexhausted energy: the result will be tenfold. Do you not frequently use the time for practising, when you have already been at work studying for five or six hours? Have you then strength and spirit enough to practise the necessary exercises for an hour or more, and to study your music-pieces carefully and attentively, as your teacher instructed you? Is not your mind exhausted, and are not your hands and fingers tired and stiff with writing, so that you are tempted to help out with your arms and elbows, which is worse than no practice at all? But, my dear ladies, if you practise properly, several times every day, ten minutes at a time, your strength and your patience are usually sufficient for it; and, if you are obliged to omit your regular "hour's practice," you have, at any rate, accomplished something with your ten minutes before breakfast, or before dinner, or at any leisure moment. So, I beg of you, let me have my minutes.
Practise often, slowly, and without pedal, not only the smaller and larger etudes, but also your pieces. In that way you gain, at least, a correct, healthy mode of playing, which is the foundation of beautiful playing. Do you do this when neither your teacher, nor your father or mother is present to keep watch over you? Do you never say, "Nobody is listening"?
Do you take enough healthy exercise in the open air? Active exercise, in all weather, makes strong, enduring piano fingers, while subsisting on indoor-air results in sickly, nervous, feeble, over-strained playing. Strong, healthy fingers are only too essential for our present style of piano-playing, which requires such extraordinary execution, and for our heavy instruments. So I still beg for the minutes: your walks take up hours enough.
Excessive and fatiguing feminine occupations, and drawing, or painting, are by no means consistent with an earnest, practical musical education; not only because both those occupations require so much time, but because they deprive the fingers of the requisite pliability and dexterity, while knitting, according to the latest discoveries, produces an unnatural nervous excitement, which is unfavorable to healthy progress in music. I at least, in my instruction on the piano, have never been able to accomplish much with ladies who are devoted to knitting, crochet, and embroidering. My dear ladies, you who have been born in fortunate circumstances, and have been educated by your parents, without regard to expense, should, at least, allow the poor girl in the country, who is obliged to hide her talents under a bushel, the small privilege of making a collar for your mother's or your aunt's birthday present. I assure you your mother or your aunt, if you surprise them instead with a fine piano performance, will be as much pleased as if you strained your eyes and bent your back for days and nights over the needle-work. And now as regards painting: painting and music, though theoretically so nearly related, agree but poorly in practice; at least, if you are in earnest about either. You say painters often play on the guitar and the flute. That may be true: I will allow them those two instruments. But piano-playing stands on a different footing, even for mere amateurs. Sweet melodies on those instruments may afford an agreeable companionship for the painter in his rambles through the woods and over the hills; but piano-playing should be the friend of a life-time, ennobled by the elevating enjoyment of lofty master-works. Therefore, I beg you, do not dissipate your powers too much. Leave the art of painting to your friends, who are either without talent for music, or who have no opportunity to study it. Our short lives do not allow the successful practice of several arts. Of what advantage to our higher culture is it to be able to do ten things tolerably well; what gain for the future, for humanity, or for the true happiness of the individual? And even if you can succeed in painting something which scarcely can be said to resemble a rose, of what advantage is it, when we have so many real roses to admire?
My dear ladies, I warn you, generally, do not be afraid of the so-called classical, heavy music, especially Beethoven's, if you desire to learn from it, only or chiefly, repose, lightness, facility, elasticity, graceful, delicate playing, and a fine touch. It is necessary to play such music after those brilliant qualities have already been, to a certain degree, acquired by mere studies and appropriate pieces. It is, however, still more foolish and impractical, when parents (who perhaps are skilful musicians, but who have no recollection of their own youth) hold the mistaken opinion that their children ought, from the very beginning, to practise and play only fine classical music, in order that the children's ears may not be injured by false progressions, by insignificant finger exercises, and by easily comprehensible Italian airs, and that they themselves may not be ruined body and soul. Gracious heavens! how much pure music, suited to the piano, have not my daughters, as well as many others whom I have brought up to be fine performers, played and studied!—such, for instance, as the music of Huenten, Czerny, Burgmueller, Kalkbrenner, A. and J. Schmitt, Herz, and many others. Who finds fault now with their musical culture, with their sound taste, or their want of love for classical music? What a long road a child has to travel through Etudes of Cramer, Moscheles, and Chopin, before he comes to Bach's Well-tempered Clavichord, or before he is able, or ought even, to study Beethoven's Sonate Pathetique! It is not well, though quite in the spirit of the times, to condemn without experience, from one's own prejudiced point of view, the methods which those skilled in their business have for years successfully tried and practised. It is possible to make pupils musical in the above way, but they will be only dull, clumsy bunglers on the piano; not fine artists, who alone can give a worthy and noble interpretation of classical music. I desire that my daughters may never forget my well-considered instructions, sustained by the experience of many years; and that they may, in grateful remembrance of their father and teacher, repay to their pupils what they owe to him.
But I see among my audience several beginners in singing, and I beg to be allowed a word to them. So long as many of our German song composers consider it beneath their dignity to study the art of singing in the old Italian master-works, and under the guidance of well-qualified singing masters,—as Gluck, Naumann, Hasse, Haendel, Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Winter, and others have done,—I warn you to take care of your tender voices, which are so easily ruined, and not to allow yourselves to be misled by ingenious opinions, and by music otherwise good. The loss of your voices follows in the footsteps of modern tortures in singing, as you may see sufficiently in all our theatres, or, indeed, may experience yourselves in numberless German songs. Apply also to singing what I have just said about piano-playing: as you should choose for the piano music suited to the piano, so for your studies in singing select only that which is adapted to the voice; under the guidance of prudent and educated teachers, not of modern voice breakers, who allow you to scream, "in order to bring out the voice." When you have acquired a good technique, when your attack is sure, and a certain skilfulness in singing has been developed, then only you may try, by way of experiment, a few pieces of such spirited but unskilled song composers, who frequently commit sins in every line against correct representation, the register of the voice, the breathings, the pronunciation, and a hundred other things.
Look around and see who sing these so-called classical songs. They are either singers who do not know what singing is, and who have no taste for it, which, in consequence of their education, they never can have; or those who no longer have any voice, and accordingly sing every thing, or, rather, declaim it, because they cannot sing. I recommend you to sing (to mention the names of two only of our most excellent song composers) the charming songs of Fr. Schubert and Mendelssohn, who, in constant intercourse with the most judicious masters of singing in Vienna and Italy, have striven constantly to compose scientifically, and have at the same time produced clever songs; but you should sing them not too often, or too many of them. Singing in the German language, and in syllables, and often with clumsy melodies, requires a great deal of voice, and easily leads to many faults and to a false manner. Remember how strictly Jenny Lind selected, for performance in her concerts, the songs of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. In this way she succeeded in winning great success, even with small, short songs.
Finally, one more secret for performers, which weighs heavy in the balance. You ought, especially if you have not received good early instruction, to acquire a habit of moving the fingers very frequently, at every convenient opportunity; and particularly of letting them fall loosely and lightly upon any hard object, while the hand lies upon something firm, in an extended position.
You must accustom yourselves to do this unconsciously. For example, while reading, at table, or while listening to music, allow your hand to lie upon the table, raise the fingers, and let them fall, one at a time, quite independently of the wrist; particularly the weak fourth and fifth fingers, which require to be used a hundred times more than the others, if you wish to acquire evenness in the scales. If it attracts attention to do this on the table, then do it in your lap, or with one hand over the other. To drum with your fingers and stretch your hands on the backs of other people is not often practicable, and is not necessary. That was only pardoned in the zealous and original Adolph Henselt, who, though otherwise such a modest and amiable artist, even now, in St. Petersburg, makes himself ridiculous in this way, by his practice of finger movements.
Now you perceive the reason why I cannot answer the question which has been asked me innumerable times. How much do your daughters practise? I cannot count up the finger movements and the stray ten minutes just spoken of; but it is certain that they practise fewer hours in the day than many thousands who learn nothing, for they never practise and never have practised wrongly, but always correctly and advantageously.
One thing more. After my experienced, watchful eye had observed in our circle many moving fingers in consequence of my lecture, a distinguished lady of Vienna whispered in my ear: "But, my dear Herr Wieck, my Amelia is not to be a professional player: I only want her to learn a few of the less difficult sonatas of Beethoven, to play correctly and fluently, without notes." My dear ladies, I do not aim with you at any thing more than this. A great many circumstances must combine for the formation of fine concert performers; in fact, the whole education, from the earliest youth, must have reference to this end. If this were not so, Germany especially, on account of its natural musical talent, would be able annually to furnish thousands of virtuoso performers.
Has my lecture been too long to-day? I ask your pardon. My desire to make myself useful to you must be my excuse, if I cannot dispose of such an extensive subject in a few words. I have not yet exhausted it.
THOUGHTS ON PIANO-PLAYING.
My daughters play the music of all the principal composers, and also the best salon music. Limited views of any kind are injurious to art. It is as great a mistake to play only Beethoven's music as to play none of it, or to play either classical or salon music solely. If a teacher confines himself to the study of the first, a good technique, a tolerably sound style of playing, intelligence, and knowledge are generally sufficient to produce an interpretation in most respects satisfactory. The music usually compensates for a style which may be, according to circumstances, either dry, cold, too monotonous or too strongly shaded, and even for an indifferent or careless touch. Interest in the composition frequently diverts the attention of even the best player from a thoroughly correct and delicate mode of execution, and from the effort to enhance the beauty of the composition, and to increase its appreciation with the hearer. In the performance of classical music, inspiration—that is, the revelation of an artistic nature and not empty affectation—can be expected only from an artist, and not from a pupil. Therefore, with more advanced pupils, I take up in my lessons, in connection with a sonata by Beethoven, a nocturne or waltz by Chopin, and a piece by St. Heller or Schulhoff, Henselt, C. Meyer, &c. Elegance and polish, a certain coquetry, nicety, delicacy, and fine shading cannot be perfected in the study of a sonata by Beethoven; for which, however, the latter pieces present much greater opportunities. Besides this, variety is much more sustaining to the learner; it excites his interest; he does not so soon become weary, and is guarded from carelessness; his artistic knowledge is increased, and he is agreeably surprised to find himself able to perform three pieces so distinct in character.
* * * * *
"Expression cannot be taught, it must come of itself." But when are we to look for it? When the stiff fingers are fifty or sixty years old, and the expression is imprisoned in them, so that nothing is ever to be heard of it? This is a wide-spread delusion. Let us look at a few of those to whom expression has come of itself. X. plays skilfully and correctly, but his expression continues crude, cold, monotonous; he shows too pedantic a solicitude about mechanical execution and strict time; he never ventures on a pp., uses too little shading in piano, and plays the forte too heavily, and without regard to the instrument; his crescendi and diminuendi are inappropriate, often coarse and brought in at unsuitable places; and—his ritardandi! they are tedious indeed! "But Miss Z. plays differently and more finely." Truly, she plays differently; but is it more finely? Do you like this gentle violet blue, this sickly paleness, these rouged falsehoods, at the expense of all integrity of character? this sweet, embellished, languishing style, this rubato and dismembering of the musical phrases, this want of time, and this sentimental trash? They both have talent, but their expression was allowed to be developed of itself. They both would have been very good players; but now they have lost all taste for the ideal, which manifests itself in the domain of truth, beauty, and simplicity. If pupils are left to themselves, they imitate the improper and erroneous easily and skilfully; the right and suitable with difficulty, and certainly unskilfully. Even the little fellow who can hardly speak learns to use naughty, abusive words more quickly and easily than fine, noble expressions. What school-master has not been surprised at this facility, and what good old aunt has not laughed at it? But you say, "It is not right to force the feelings of others!" That is quite unnecessary; but it is possible to rouse the feelings of others, to guide and educate them, without prejudicing their individuality of feeling, and without restraining or disturbing them, unless they are on the wrong path. Who has not listened to performers and singers who were otherwise musical, but whose sentiment was either ridiculous or lamentable?
* * * * *
It is generally acknowledged that, among other things, I have succeeded more or less with all my scholars in the attainment of a fine touch. People desire to obtain from me the requisite exercises for the development of this; but not much can be gained from these. The important thing is how and when they are to be used; and that most careful attention shall be paid in the selection of other etudes and pieces, in order that nothing shall be played which shall endanger the confirmation of the correct touch already acquired, or shall undo what has been accomplished in the lessons. As I have said before, it does not depend upon much practising, but upon correct practising; and that the pupils shall not be allowed to fall into errors. I am constantly asked, "How many hours a day do your daughters practise?" If the number of hours spent in practising gives the measure of the standing of a virtuoso, then my daughters are among the most insignificant, or in fact should not belong to the order at all.
This is the place for me to explain myself more fully with regard to playing with a loose wrist, in order that I shall not be misunderstood. The tones which are produced with a loose wrist are always more tender and more attractive, have a fuller sound, and permit more delicate shading than the sharp tones, without body, which are thrown or fired off or tapped out with unendurable rigidity by the aid of the arm and fore-arm. A superior technique can with few exceptions be more quickly and favorably acquired in this way than when the elbows are required to contribute their power. I do not, however, censure the performance of many virtuosos, who execute rapid octave passages with a stiff wrist; they often do it with great precision, in the most rapid tempo, forcibly and effectively. It must, after all, depend upon individual peculiarities whether the pupil can learn better and more quickly to play such passages thus or with a loose wrist. The present style of bravoura playing for virtuosos cannot dispense with facility in octave passages; it is a necessary part of it.
I will now consider the use of loose and independent fingers, in playing generally; i.e., in that of more advanced pupils who have already acquired the necessary elementary knowledge. The fingers must be set upon the keys with a certain decision, firmness, quickness, and vigor, and must obtain a command over the key-board; otherwise, the result is only a tame, colorless, uncertain, immature style of playing, in which no fine portamento, no poignant staccato, or sprightly accentuation can be produced. Every thoughtful teacher, striving for the best result, must, however, take care that this shall only be acquired gradually, and must teach it with a constant regard to individual peculiarities, and not at the expense of beauty of performance, and of a tender, agreeable touch.
* * * * *
It is a mortifying fact for many critics, artists, composers, and teachers, that the general public show much more correct judgment and appreciation of a fine, noble piano performance, and of a simple, pure, well-taught style of singing, and also understand the characteristics of the performer, much more quickly than they do. The sensibility and appreciation of beauty with the public is less prejudiced, less spurious, more receptive, and more artless. Its perceptions are not disturbed by theories, by a desire to criticise, and many other secondary matters. The public do not take a biassed or stilted view. The admiration for Jenny Lind is a striking proof of this, as is also the appreciation of many piano-players.