* * * * *
The age of progress announces, in piano-playing also, "a higher beauty" than has hitherto existed. Now, I demand of all the defenders of this new style, wherein is this superior beauty supposed to consist? It is useless to talk, in a vague way, about a beauty which no one can explain. I have listened to the playing—no, the thrumming and stamping—of many of these champions of the modern style of beauty; and I have come to the conclusion, according to my way of reasoning, that it ought to be called a higher,—quite different, inverted beauty,—a deformed beauty, repugnant to the sensibilities of all mankind. But our gifted "age of the future" protests against such cold conservatism. The period of piano fury which I have lived to see, and which I have just described, was the introduction to this new essay, only a feeble attempt, and a preliminary to this piano future. Should this senseless raging and storming upon the piano, where not one idea can be intelligently expressed in a half-hour, this abhorrent and rude treatment of a grand concert piano, combined with frightful misuse of both pedals, which puts the hearer into agonies of horror and spasms of terror, ever be regarded as any thing but a return to barbarism, devoid of feeling and reason? This is to be called music! music of the future! the beauty of the future style! Truly, for this style of music, the ears must be differently constructed, the feelings must be differently constituted, and a different nervous system must be created! For this again we shall need surgeons, who lie in wait in the background with the throat improvers. What a new and grand field of operations lies open to them! Our age produces monsters, who are insensible to the plainest truths, and who fill humanity with horror. Political excesses have hardly ceased, when still greater ones must be repeated in the world of music. But comfort yourselves, my readers: these isolated instances of madness, these last convulsions of musical insanity, with however much arrogance they may be proclaimed, will not take the world by storm. The time will come when no audience, not even eager possessors of complimentary tickets, but only a few needy hirelings, will venture to endure such concert performances of "the future."
* * * * *
I ought to express myself more fully with regard to expression in piano-playing. It is difficult to perform this task, at least in writing; for it can more easily be practically explained to individual learners. Intelligent teachers, who are inclined to understand my meaning, will find abundant material, as well as all necessary explanations, in the preceding chapters; and I will merely say that a teacher who is endowed with the qualities which I have designated as "the three trifles" will seek to excite the same in his pupils; will refine and cultivate them, according to his ability, with disinterestedness, with energy, and with perseverance; and truth and beauty will everywhere be the result. Thus he will remain in the present, where there is so much remaining to be accomplished. These three trifles certainly do not have their root in folly, want of talent, and hare-brained madness; therefore the possessors of the latter must look to the "future," and proclaim a "higher," that is, an "inverted beauty."
Rules for Piano Pupils.
You must never begin to learn a second piece until you have entirely conquered the first.
You ought to fix your eyes very carefully on the notes, and not to trust to memory; otherwise, you will never learn to play at sight.
In order to avoid the habit of false fingering, you should not play any piece which is not marked for the proper fingers.
You should learn to play chords and skipping notes, without looking at the keys, as this interferes with a prompt reading of the notes.
You must learn to count nicely in playing, in order always to keep strict time.
To use for once the language of the times, which boldly proclaims, "Such things as these belong to a stand-point which we have already reached," I wish that the musicians of "the future" may as happily reach their "stand-point," not by hollow phrases and flourishes, and the threshing of empty straws, but by practical, successful efforts, and striving for that which is better.
* * * * *
"What is the value of your method, in the instruction of pupils who have for years played many pieces from notes, but have played them badly, and whom we are called upon to lead into a better way of playing?"
A reply to this frequent inquiry can be found in my first chapter. Above all things, let the notes which have already been played be laid aside for a long time; for a mistaken style of playing these has become so confirmed that to improve them is hopeless, and the tottering edifice must fall to the ground. First, improve the touch; help to acquire a better and more connected scale; teach the formation of different cadences on the dominant and sub-dominant; and the construction of various passages on the chord of the diminished seventh, to be played with correct, even, and quiet fingering, legato and staccato, piano, and forte; pay strict attention to the use of loose fingers and a loose wrist; and allow no inattentive playing. You may soon take up, with these studies, some entirely unfamiliar piece of music, suited to the capacity of the pupil. It is not possible or desirable to attempt to make a sudden and thorough change with such pupils, even if they should show the best intentions and docility. You should select a light, easy piece of salon music, but of a nature well adapted to the piano, which shall not be wearisome to the pupil, and in the improved performance of which he will take pleasure. But, if you still find that he falls into the old, faulty manner of playing, and that the recently acquired technique, which has not yet become habitual, is endangered by it, lay this too aside, and take instead some appropriate etude, or perhaps a little prelude by Bach. If, in the place of these, you choose for instruction a ponderous sonata, in which the music would distract the attention of the pupil from the improved technique, you give up the most important aim of your instruction, and occupy yourself with secondary matters; you will censure and instruct in vain, and will never attain success. You must consider, reflect, and give your mind to the peculiar needs of the pupil, and you must teach in accordance with the laws of psychology. You will succeed after a while, but precipitation, compulsion, and disputes are useless. The improvement of a soprano voice, ruined by over-screaming, requires prudence, patience, calmness, and modesty, and a character of a high type generally. It is also a very thankless task, and success is rare; while on the piano a fair result may always be accomplished.
* * * * *
I return once more to the subject so frequently discussed, that I may try to relieve the universal difficulty of our lady pianists. I have heard much playing of late, in parties both small and large, on well-tuned and on ill-tuned pianos, on those with which the performer was familiar, and on those to which she was unaccustomed; from the timid and the self-possessed; from ladies of various ages, possessed of more or of less talent, and in various cities: the result was always the same.
We hear from the ladies that they could play their pieces at home before their parents or their teachers; but this is never sufficient to enable them to save their hearers from weariness, anxiety, and all sorts of embarrassment. My honored ladies, you play over and over again two mazourkas, two waltzes, two nocturnes, and the Funeral March of Chopin, the Mazourka and other pieces by Schulhoff, the Trill-Etude, and the Tremolo by Carl Meyer, &c.: "it makes no difference to you which." You might be able to master these pieces pretty well, but, instead of this, you yourselves are mastered. You become embarrassed, and your hearers still more so: the affair ends with apologies on both sides, with equivocal compliments, with encouragement to continue in the same course, with acknowledgment of fine hands for the piano, with uneasy, forced congratulations to the parents and teacher; but it is always a happy moment when the fatal soiree is over. The next day I am forced to sigh again over the same, miserable, poorly and tediously performed Funeral March of Chopin, and over the timorous B major Mazourka by Schulhoff. The left hand is always left in the lurch in the difficult, skipping basses of this piece, and in others of the present style, which are rich in harmony and modulations. The bass part in this piece is apt to suffer from timid and false tones; frequently the fundamental tone is omitted, or the little finger remains resting upon it, instead of giving the eighth note with a crisp, elastic, and sprightly touch, and the chords are tame and incomplete. You do not give them their full value; you leave them too quickly, because you are afraid of not striking the next low note quickly enough; but, on the other hand, you do not strike it at all, and one missing tone brings another one after it. The right hand, being the most skilful, is supposed to play with expression, and really does so; but this only makes the performance the worse. The fundamental tone is wanting, and you are led to make a mistake in the skip, and strike the wrong key. Finally, the whole thing is ended in terror. I have an uneasy night; I dream of your fine hands, but the false and the weak notes start up between like strange spectres or will o' the wisps, and I wake with the headache, instead of with pleasant memories.
Allow me to give you a piece of advice. Play and practise the bass part a great deal and very often, first slowly, then quicker, during one or two weeks, before playing the right hand with it, in order that you may give your whole attention to playing the bass correctly, delicately, and surely. Even when you can get through the mazourka tolerably well, you must not think, on that account, that you will be able to play it in company, under trying circumstances. You ought to be able to play the piece by yourself with ease, very frequently, perfectly, and distinctly, and in very rapid tempo, before you trust yourself to perform it even slowly in company. At least, practise the more difficult passages for the right hand very frequently, particularly the difficult and bold conclusion, that it may not strike the hearer as rough, weak, tame, or hurried. It is an old rule, "If you begin well and end well, all is well." You ought to practise the skipping bass over and over again by itself, otherwise it will not go. An incorrect or deficient bass, without depth of tone and without accentuation, ruins every thing, even the good temper of the hearer. One thing more: you know very well Chopin's Nocturne in E flat, and have played it, among other things, for the last four weeks. Suddenly you are called upon to play in company. You choose this Nocturne because you have played it nearly every day for four weeks. But alas! the piano fiends have come to confuse you! You strike a false bass note, and at the modulation the weak little finger touches too feebly: bah! the fundamental tone is wanting. You are frightened, and grow still more so; your musical aunt is frightened also; the blood rushes to your teacher's face, and I mutter to myself, "C'est toujours la meme." The present style of skipping basses requires a great deal of practice and perfect security; it is necessary for you to know the piece by heart, in order to give your whole attention to the left hand. It is also essential that you shall have acquired a clear, sound touch; otherwise, you cannot give a delicate accent and shading. You must never allow yourself, without previous preparation, to play those pieces of music in company, in which an elegant mode of execution is all-important; otherwise, you will be taken by surprise by unexpected difficulties. You must always pay special attention to the fundamental tones, even if there should be imperfections elsewhere. Where one fault is less important than another, of two evils choose the least. You have been playing now for six or eight years: are you repaid for the trouble, if it only enables you to prepare embarrassments for others? You are not willing to play easy, insignificant pieces; and such pieces as you choose require industry, earnestness, and perseverance.
* * * * *
Young ladies, it is easy to discover the character of a person from his manner of standing, walking, moving, and speaking, from the way he bows, puts on and takes off his hat, or the arrangements of the household; and we seldom are in error about it. It is also possible to infer beforehand how you will play and what sort of a performance you will give, from the manner in which you take your seat at the piano. You sidle up to the piano lazily, bent over in a constrained manner; in your embarrassment, you place yourself before the one-lined or two-lined c, instead of before f; you sit unsteadily, either too high or too low, only half on the seat, leaning either too much to the right or to the left; in a word, as if you did not belong to the fatal music-stool. Your manner awakens no confidence, and in this way announces that you have none yourself. How do you expect to exercise control over a grand seven octave piano, if you do not sit exactly in the middle, with the body erect and the feet on the two pedals? You are not willing to look the friend straight in the face, with whom you are to carry on a friendly, confidential discourse! Even if your attitude and bearing were not so injurious and dangerous for the performer as it is, still propriety and good sense would require that you should excite the confidence of your hearers in you and in your playing by a correct position of the body, and by a certain decision and resolution, and should prepare him to form a good opinion of you.
There are, indeed, many virtuosos who think they give evidence of genius, by throwing themselves on to the music-stool in a slovenly, lounging manner, and try to show in this way their superiority to a painstaking performance, and to make up by a showy nonchalance for what is wanting in their playing. You are, however, a stranger to such assertion of superior genius, and to such an expression of intensity of feeling; you do it only from embarrassment, and from a modest want of confidence in your own powers, which is quite unnecessary. Our great masters, such as Field, Hummel, Moscheles, Mendelssohn, and others, had no taste for such improprieties, for such manifestations of genius. They applied themselves to their task with earnest devotion, and with respect for the public.
ON MUSICAL TALENT.
A large and varied experience is required for a correct estimate of musical talent in the young. Do not be deceived by the early evidences of talent; for instance, interest in melodies, correct feeling for time, an instinct for accenting the important notes, inclination for some peculiar though often perverted style of performance, quick apprehension, a natural aptitude for playing, a nice hearing, animation, rapid progress, docility, superficial gayety; even if all or a part of these traits are observable in early youth, they must not excite too sanguine hopes. I have often met with such phenomena, and have been called upon to educate such little piano prodigies. They advanced quite rapidly, and understood every thing readily, if I did not make too much demand upon their wavering attention. I dreamed of the extraordinary surprises that these marvellous youths would create at twelve or fourteen years of age; but the fulfilment of my ideal I saw only in my mind's eye, for just then the improvement came to a sudden stand-still,—a fatal moment, when the teacher is perplexed to know what to do next. The musical nature seemed to have exhausted itself, to have out-lived itself. The pupil even felt this: his interest in the piano and in music generally grew feeble, his playing suddenly became careless, powerless, spiritless; he played with evident indifference. Out into the fresh air! into open natural scenes! Now for a journey! I allowed a long vacation to intervene; the pupil was quite contented, and had no desire for the piano, or, if so, only jingled a little. At last we began again, but we spent our time without much result; he was nevertheless still musical, but he finally ranked at best with dozens of other players, and ended as an ordinary piano teacher. Similar halts in progress occur in fact with all pupils, especially with female scholars; but they are not usually so lasting, so discouraging, or so significant of exhaustion. They are surmounted, after a short interval, by the discontinuance of serious musical studies; perhaps by reading at sight for a while; by occupying the pupil for a time with the theory, or with attempts at composition or improvisation; by allowing him to listen to other players better or worse; by giving him interesting books to read; by making him acquainted with Beethoven, or in other ways.
From our observation of such sudden changes, and of the frequent occurrence of unskilful management, we can explain the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of innumerable infant prodigies in our age, who have excited hopes, and have almost all of them been lost, or have passed out of sight, and resulted in nothing of value.
I have always preferred a gradual, even a slow development, step by step, which often made no apparent progress, but which still proceeded with a certain constancy, and with deliberation, and which was combined with dreamy sensibility and a musical instinct, requiring slow awakening, and even with a certain flightiness, one for which the patient labor and perseverance of six years or more was required, and where childishness allowed no encouragement to sordid speculations for the future. In such cases, when my instructions were not disturbed by untoward circumstances, the result has always been a desirable one. But how much patience and perseverance has this required! I have reflected much and have often spoken, both seriously and playfully, of the slow advancement of my pupils. Allow me here to describe five phases or stages of human development.
First Stage. In the first two or three years, man is far behind the animal, whose quick instinct distinguishes the good from the bad, the useful from the injurious. The child, without hesitation, rolls off the table, or knocks his brains out, or destroys himself with poisonous herbs or arsenic. Nevertheless, let him at that age hear plenty of pure sounds, music, singing, &c. He will soon learn to listen, like the little black poodle. He already has a dim suspicion that other things exist which are not evil, besides mamma, papa, the nurse, the doll, and the sound of words.
Second Stage. From the fourth to the seventh year, instinct is developed; which, in the animal, surprises the observer in the first two weeks of life. Now we should begin with the technique, at least with the correct movement of the fingers upon the table. The child should be told that he shall soon produce the pleasant tones, which he has been accustomed to hear from infancy; but that for this a quick and quiet movement of the fingers is necessary, which must be acquired by daily practice. This is entirely in accordance with nature, for man is appointed to learn. Let the child lay his hand upon the table, and knock upon it with the first finger (i.e., the thumb) stretched out, without using the muscles of the arm, then with the second, third, and fourth fingers, in an almost perpendicular position, and with the fifth finger extended. Then let him strike a third with the first and third fingers together; a fourth, with the first and fourth fingers; first with the right hand, then with the left hand, and afterwards with both together, &c.
Third Stage. From the seventh to the twelfth year. At this stage unruliness makes its appearance, and at the same time—the notes; but not Beethoven. That would indeed be an unfortunate musical indulgence. Violent outbreaks of untamed strength; unexpected freaks; alternations of rude instinct and quick intelligence, of lofty fancy and artless simplicity; disobedience; much appetite, &c.,—all these must be shaped, and made subservient to the object we have in view. Do you understand me, gentlemen?
Fourth Stage. Excellent parents, who desire to see the ripe fruits of your care and labor, have patience! First there comes the foreshadowing of manhood,—a very interesting period. The youth steps out of the animal into the human kingdom, and often is unable to forget his earlier condition, but revels in sweet remembrance of it. Try now, gently and timidly, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and the like. This extraordinary being, "one-fourth animal and three-fourths human," requires to be awakened, excited, and to have the imagination aroused; and, above all, requires the most careful guidance. It is necessary to stir and agitate the nature, in order that reflection, conscience, the sensibilities of the soul, feeling, creative power, and all inward conditions shall be developed; and that out of this chaos shall be brought a clear and beautiful order.
Fifth Stage. The adult man in his eighteenth year. The year, however, varies with individuals, and can be modified at will. If I should enter into details of the four earlier stages of humanity, and treat in addition of the adult man, I should be obliged to write a philosophical work on the subject, and that might not be entertaining. I should be obliged to beg your indulgence for a tedious book, and my daughters certainly would not thank me for it; they are very sensitive. But I must, nevertheless, secretly whisper in your ear that "my daughters, like the daughters of many others, have been carried through these five stages in the most careful and thorough manner." I ought to know that best. Here you have the answer to many strange questions.
I warn pianists, and others also, in playing:
1. Against any showy and unsuitable display. Why should you wish to attract attention, and to create an effect by foppishness and all sorts of grimaces, or by curious and marvellous exhibitions of virtuoso-ship? You have only to play musically and beautifully, and to deport yourselves with modesty and propriety. Direct your whole attention to the business in hand,—that is, to your performance; and endeavor to secure for it the interest of the public, who are so easily rendered inattentive. We want no more public performances from eccentric geniuses.
2. Do not devote yourself exclusively to pieces calculated to show the skill of the performer. Why desire always to show off your power in octave passages, your trills, your facility in skips, your unprecedented stretches, or other fantastic feats? You only produce weariness, satiety, and disgust, or, at least, you make yourselves ridiculous.
3. Play good music in a musical and rational manner. The public are tired of hearing Potpourris, made up of odds and ends, tedious Etudes, Rhapsodies, Fantasias without fancy, dismal monotonies and endless, cheap, silly cadences that mean nothing. Learn to understand the age, and the world in which you live.
4. Do not make yourselves ridiculous by new inventions in piano-playing. I mention, for example, one of the most foolish affectations of modern times. You try to quiver on a note, just as violin and 'cello players are unfortunately too much inclined to do. Do not expose yourselves to the derision of every apprentice in piano manufacture. Have you no understanding of the construction of the piano? You have played upon it, or have, some of you, stormed upon it, for the last ten years; and yet you have not taken pains to obtain even a superficial acquaintance with its mechanism. The hammer, which by its stroke upon the string has produced the sound, falls immediately when the tone resounds; and after that you may caress the key which has set the hammer in motion, fidget round on it as much as you please, and stagger up and down over it, in your intoxicated passion,—no more sound is to be brought out from it, with all your trembling and quivering. It is only the public who are quivering with laughter at your absurdity.
5. Give up the practice of extreme stretches. Widely dispersed harmonies may sometimes produce a good effect, but not by too frequent and too eager an employment of them at every opportunity. Even the greatest beauties in art can lead to mannerism, and this again to one-sidedness. Art should be many-sided, and you must never produce the impression that you are inclined to make the means an end. I beg you to reflect that too much practice of very wide stretches enfeebles the muscles and the power of the hand and fingers, endangers an even, sound touch, and makes the best style of playing a doubtful acquisition. Teachers ought therefore to use great prudence, and only gradually to permit their pupils, especially young girls, to practise great extensions and wide stretches. To learn to be able to strike ten notes is quite enough.
6. Before you perform a piece, play a few suitable chords, and a few appropriate passages or scales up and down (but play no stupid trash, such as I have heard from many virtuosos), in order to try whether the condition of the instrument presents any unexpected difficulties. Try carefully also the unavoidable pedal. A creaking, rattling, grating pedal is a frightful annoyance; I wonder if the piano of "the future" is to suffer from this also. Chopin's Funeral March, with obligato accompaniment of a squeaking pedal sentiment, even although the omissions and mistakes in the bass do not occur,—alas! who can describe the effect of this melancholy march?
7. I have written a special article on the manner of sitting at the piano, and I will refer you once more to that.
8. Use no mechanical aids in practising, not even the dumb key-board; although, with very careful use, that is not without value. Strength will come with time; do not try to hurry nature. The table is the best "dumb key-board," as I have already explained. The "hand-guide" is also unnecessary: its value is compensated by its disadvantages.
9. Do not let your hearers crowd too near while you are playing. Do not play the same piece da capo. You may be justified in breaking off in the midst of a piece, if there is loud and continuous talking, &c.
I hope you will give me the honor of your company again at my soirees: I am no writer of comedies, but I can tell you a great deal that is interesting and amusing which I have myself experienced.
EXTRAVAGANCES IN SINGING AND PIANO-PLAYING.
(An Evening Party at Mr. Gold's.)
MR. GOLD, the banker (fond of music). MRS. GOLD (sings, and is an invalid.) MR. SILVER, bookkeeper (formerly a singer with Strauss). MR. PIOUS, a friend of the family (a musical impostor, and a hypocrite generally). MR. FORTE, a foreign piano virtuoso (of weak nerves). DOMINIE, a piano-teacher. EMMA, his daughter.
(Mrs. Gold has just been singing in the modern Italian manner; suddenly alternating exaggerated high and low tones, given in a jerking manner, with inaudible pianissimo in the throat, and quavering on every note, with many ornaments, and always a quarter of a tone too flat. She sang all the four verses of "Fondly I Think of Thee" by Krebs.)
DOMINIE. Will you not go on, Mrs. Gold? The piano is a little too high, and you are obliged to accustom yourself a little to it.
MRS. GOLD. I cannot sing any more. That beautiful song has taken such hold of me, and I feel so badly. (Whispers to Dominie.) Mr. Forte did not accompany me well, either: sometimes he did not come in right, and played too feebly; and sometimes he improvised too much in playing, and overpowered my voice, which is a little weak just now.
DOMINIE (aside to Emma). What an evening of singing! Oh dear!
MR. GOLD (who has been earnestly talking about stocks all the evening in an adjoining room, rushes in, but rather late, after the close of the song, and impetuously presses his wife's hand). Marvellous! magnificent! delicious! wonderful! My dear, you are in excellent voice this evening. If Jenny Lind could only have heard you!
MR. PIOUS. Charming! superb! how touching! There is a religious character in this piece, something holy about it! I beg of you, do sing that air by Voss, "True Happiness." That will make our enjoyment complete; it is truly ravishing! There is something divine in singing, and your expression, your feeling, Madam! You give yourself up so entirely to the composition!
(Mrs. Gold has already taken up "True Happiness," and can hardly wait while Mr. Forte murmurs off the introduction, quite after his own fancy, with a sentimental piano. Mr. Pious drops a tear at the close of the introduction, the four bars of which have been transformed into eight bars by the great virtuoso. During the tremulous, affected performance of "True Happiness," Mr. Pious rolls up his moistened eyes; and, at the end of the first verse, where the accompanist once more gives the reins to his fancy, he says, "I am speechless, I cannot find words to express my emotion!")
DOMINIE (aside to Emma). That you may call forged sentiment, the counterfeit of feeling. You hear now how one ought not to sing. For an earnest, true musician, such a warmth in singing is only empty affectation, disgusting, sentimental rubbish, and hollow dissimulation. You will, however, frequently meet with such amateur infelicities.
(Mrs. Gold has finished singing all the verses of "True Happiness," and seems now to have almost entirely recovered. Mr. Gold continues to converse about stocks in the adjoining room. Dominie remains with Emma at the end of the parlor, depressed and worried.)
MR. FORTE (keeps his seat at the piano, and says in French to Mrs. Gold). Madam, you have reached the climax of the beautiful in music. I count it one of the happiest moments of my artistic tour to be allowed to breathe out my soul at the piano, in the presence of one like yourself. What a loss, that your position must prevent you from elevating the German opera to its former greatness, as its most radiant star!
MRS. GOLD (by this time quite well). I must confess that Jenny Lind never quite satisfied me when she was here. She is, and must always remain, a Swede,—utterly cold. If she had been educated here, she would have listened to more passionate models than in Stockholm, and that would have given the true direction to her sensibility.
MR. FORTE. You are quite right; you have a just estimate of her. In Paris, where she might have heard such examples, she lived in perfect retirement. I was giving concerts there at the time; but she refused to sing in my concerts, and therefore she did not even hear me.
MR. SILVER (whom the excitement of the singing has at length reached). Do you feel inclined now, Madam, to execute with me the duet from "The Creation," between Adam and Eve?
MRS. GOLD. Here is "The Creation," but we will sing it by and by. Mr. Forte is just going to play us his latest composition for the left hand, and some of the music of that romantic, deeply sensitive Chopin.
MR. GOLD (rushes in from his stock discussion). Oh, yes! Chopin's B major mazourka! That was also played at my house by Henselt, Thalberg, and Dreyschock. Oh, it is touching!
ALL (except Mr. Silver, Dominie, and Emma). Oh, how touching!
DOMINIE (to his daughter). If he plays it in the same manner in which he accompanied "True Happiness," you will hear how this mazourka should not be played. It, by the way, is not at all touching: it gives quite boldly the Polish dance rhythm, as it is improvised by the peasants in that country; but it is, however, idealized after Chopin's manner.
(Mr. Forte plays several perilous runs up and down with various octave passages, all the time keeping his foot on the pedal; and connects with these immediately, and without a pause, the mazourka, which he commences presto. He played it without regard to time or rhythm, but with a constant rubato, and unmusical jerks. A few notes were murmured indistinctly pp., and played very ritardando; then suddenly a few notes were struck very rapidly and with great force, so that the strings rattled; and the final B major chord cost the life of one string.)
MR. GOLD. Excellent! bravissimo! What a comprehension of the piece! Such artistic performances make one even forget the stock-exchange!
MRS. GOLD. You agitate my inmost nerves! The English poet, Pope, holds that no created man can penetrate the secrets of nature; but you have penetrated the secrets of my soul. Now do play at once the F sharp minor mazourka, opus 6.
MR. PIOUS. What a musical evening Mrs. Gold has prepared for us! What sublime sorrow lies in this production!
MR. SILVER (aside). What would Father Strauss say to this affected, unmusical performance, that bids defiance to all good taste?
DOMINIE. Mrs. Gold, it would be well to send for the tuner to replace this broken B string. The next one will break soon, for it is already cracked, and its tone is fallen.
MR. FORTE (with a superior air). It is of no consequence. That frequently happens to me; but I never mind it. The piano is a battle-field where there must be sacrifices.
DOMINIE (whispers to Emma). He thinks that if the sound is not musical, still it makes a noise; and tones out of tune produce more effect than those that are pure.
EMMA. Where did he learn piano-playing?
DOMINIE. My child, he has not learned it. That is genius, which comes of itself. Instruction would have fettered his genius, and then he would have played distinctly, correctly, unaffectedly, and in time; but that would be too much like the style of an amateur. This uncontrolled hurly-burly, which pays no regard to time, is called the soaring of genius.
(Mr. Forte storms through various unconnected chords with the greatest rapidity, with the pedal raised; and passes without pause to the F sharp minor mazourka. He accents vehemently, divides one bar and gives it two extra quarter notes, and from the next bar he omits a quarter note, and continues in this manner with extreme self-satisfaction till he reaches the close; and then, after a few desperate chords of the diminished seventh, he connects with it Liszt's Transcription of Schubert's Serenade in D minor. The second string of the two-lined b snaps with a rattle, and there ensues a general whispering "whether the piece is by Mendelssohn, or Doehler, or Beethoven, or Proch, or Schumann," until finally Mr. Silver mentions Schubert's Serenade. Mr. Forte concludes with the soft pedal, which in his inspired moments he had already made frequent use of.)
DOMINIE (to Emma). You should never play in company, without mentioning previously what you are going to perform. You observe, as soon as the Serenade was mentioned, it put a stop to the guessing.
ALL (except Mr. Silver and Dominie). What a glorious performance! what an artistic treat!
MRS. GOLD. What spirituality in his playing!
MR. SILVER (asking Mr. Forte for information). I noticed, in the Serenade, you made only one bar of the two where it modulates to F major, in your rapid playing of the passage. Was that accidental?
EMMA (aside). He ought to have played a little slower just there.
MR. FORTE. In such beautiful passages, every thing must be left to the suggestion of one's feelings. Perhaps another time I may make three bars, just as inspiration and genius may intimate. Those are aesthetic surprises. Henselt, Moscheles, Thalberg, and Clara Wieck do not execute in that manner, and consequently can produce no effect, and do not travel.
DOMINIE (to Emma). I hope that your natural taste and your musical education will preserve you from such preposterous extravagances.
EMMA. Such playing makes one feel quite uncomfortable and worried. Probably that is what you call "devilish modern"?
EMMA. But do people like it?
DOMINIE. Certainly: a great many people do. It has the superior air of genius, and sounds very original.
(Mrs. Gold has "The Creation" in her hand, and Mr. Silver leads her to the piano for the execution of the grand duet between Adam and Eve. Mr. Forte is exhausted, and Dominie plays the accompaniment. Mr. Silver sings intelligently and unaffectedly; Mrs. Gold, as before, but with still less regard to time, and more out of tune; but she tries to compensate for this by introducing very long ornaments at the fermate in the allegro, sung with her thin, piercing, over-strained voice; and she frequently rolls up her black eyes. At the conclusion, Mrs. Gold was led to the arm-chair, in great exhaustion of feeling.)
MR. PIOUS. The divine art of music celebrates its perfect triumph in such interpretations of Haydn. Mrs. Gold, were those delicious fermate of your own invention?
MRS. GOLD. NO: the charming Viardot-Garcia first introduced them as Rosina in "The Barber of Seville," and I had them written down by a musician in the theatre. But the employment of them in this duet is my own idea. I have already surprised and delighted a great many people with them in parties. The grand, rushing, chromatic scale with which the artistic Garcia astonishes every one, when acting the dreaming, fainting Amina in "La Somnambula," I introduce in the grand aria of the divine "Prophet;" rather timidly, it is true, for the boldness of a Garcia can only be acquired on the stage.
EMMA. But, father, Jenny Lind sang in this duet in Vienna, quite simply, and with a pure religious spirit.
DOMINIE. That is the reason Mrs. Gold says that Jenny Lind sings too coldly, and ought to listen to more passionate models. But we will talk more about this at home.
MRS. GOLD. Now, Mr. Dominie, will not your daughter Emma play us some little trifle? Afterwards I will execute with Mr. Silver, "By thy loving kindness, O Lord," and a few duets by Kuecken, and finish, if the company wishes, with the "Grace" aria.
DOMINIE. Will you allow me first to replace this broken string?
(After Dominie has finished, Mr. Forte strides up to the piano, and plays his Etude for the left hand, with the right hand extended towards the company.)
DOMINIE (to Mr. Forte, after the conclusion of the piece). Would it not have been easier and more to the purpose, if you had used both hands?
MR. FORTE. We must forgive old people such pedantic observations. You entirely mistake my stand-point. Do you not see that I am standing with one foot in the future? Are you not aware that the public wish not only to listen, but to see something strange? Do you not perceive also that my appearance of ill-health produces a great musical effect?
MR. PIOUS. Do you not feel the special charm and the fine effect which is produced by the left hand playing alone, and no less by the right hand extended?
DOMINIE. Is it so? Well, probably feeling has taken a false direction with me. I shall be obliged to accustom myself to such Parisian flights of sentiment.
(Emma played Chopin's Ballad in A flat major, after Dominie had previously announced it. The company were attentive.)
MR. FORTE (at the conclusion). Bravo! A very good beginning, Mr. Dominie. I am sorry that I am obliged to take leave now: I am obliged to go to two more soirees this evening, and have many letters of introduction to deliver.
MR. SILVER. Miss Emma, I have just heard that you play finely a great deal of Chopin's music. Let us hear his two latest nocturnes.
MRS. GOLD (to Emma). Have you heard the famous Camilla Pleyel play Kalkbrenner's charming D minor concerto? Do you not also play such brilliant music? for example, Doehler's beautiful, pathetic Notturno in D flat. Mr. X. lately played that to us enchantingly.
EMMA. I know it. I am teaching it to my little sister, Cecilia.
DOMINIE. Will you allow her now to play Chopin's two nocturnes, Opus 48?
* * * * *
I will say nothing about the conclusion of the singing,—the "Grace" aria. At midnight there was a grand supper, washed down with sweet wine, and seasoned with bitter recollections of this musical evening.
I have received the following communication from an old literary friend, to whom I sent my eighth chapter, requesting his opinion of it:—
There are unreceptive times, but that which is eternal outlives all times.—JOH. VON MUeLLER.
MY DEAR FRIEND,—I have read your eighth chapter. What you facetiously call "the three trifles" seem to me to be three most important points, even if you had described them simply as fine taste, deep feeling, and a good ear. Who expects superlative excellence from the age in which he lives, and who dares to attack it, in its most vulnerable parts? You grow more harsh and disagreeable, and you do not seem to consider how many enemies you make, among those who think that they have long ago advanced beyond these three points. Just now, too, when there is so much said about "the intellectual" in music, and about "the inner nature of the future," and when such fine expressions are invented about it, you come forward with your three unseasonable trifles in the superlative degree. Do you imagine that our intelligent age cannot discern your hidden satire?
You say that our times are in need of your three trifles, and the necessary knowledge and experience. Voila tout!
As for Prince Louis Ferdinand, Dussek, Clementi, Himmel, Hummel, C.M.v. Weber, Beethoven, &c.,—who has not heard all about them?
After them, comes the period of "piano fury," and the compositions appropriate for it. Now the three trifles required are distorted taste, hypocritical feeling, and a depraved ear, combined with the necessary superficiality and some power of production. Voila tout!
After that, musicians bethink themselves once more of the genuine three trifles, and return to reason, and we are allowed to take delight in Chopin, Mendelssohn, Fr. Schubert, Robert Schumann, and a few others of the same sort, and again in Beethoven.
These were succeeded by mere dry imitators; they were not, however, of much significance.
Finally, the very latest progress introduces a still more extravagant piano fury. The three trifles are now distorted taste, no feeling, and no ear for tone; and with these are required the necessary audacity, immeasurable vanity, senseless exhibitions of strength, a poor touch upon the piano, and what they call "intellect." The compositions are now embellished with appropriate pictures on the cover, and with attractive title-pages. In addition, there is much talk about a "higher beauty," "the stand-points which have been already surmounted," "artistic flights," and the "misunderstanding of the inner consciousness," "Genius must be free," &c.
My old conservative friend, you are seen through. Your influence, and more especially your ideas about singing, belong only to a past age. They date from the last century. You will be derided with your Jenny Lind and Henrietta Sontag. They are lifeless images of singers, to be kept in a glass case. Are you willing to remain ignorant of the magnificent modern style of voice? Can you not go forward with the advancing age? Progressive philosophers will rap you over the knuckles. You imagine that our times will stop for a couple of lectures! You will yet have to learn what "intellect" signifies. In short, I should not like to stand in your shoes. You should conclude your book with "Pater, peccavi."
Even in misfortune,
Your sympathizing friend,