The Pianolist - A Guide for Pianola Players
by Gustav Kobb
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

The work of Beethoven's which seems most to appeal to the pianolist is the "Moonlight" sonata. Possibly the attractive title, which, however, Beethoven probably did not give to it, may have something to do with its selection. But why not attribute its popularity to the fact that the music bears out the title?

A sonata is a composition in several movements, usually four, and follows a clearly outlined, in fact, an almost rigid form, not to say formula. It attained its highest development during the classical period and left its impress upon all the larger compositions of that time, for a symphony is nothing more than a sonata composed for orchestra, instead of for the pianoforte, and trios, quartets, and other pieces of chamber music of the classical period are sonatas for the corresponding combination of instruments.

The "Moonlight Sonata," however, is less rigid in form than the average sonata. In it, in fact, Beethoven may be said to have broken away from form, for after the word sonata he adds the qualifying phrase "quasi una fantasia," signifying that, although he calls the work a sonata, it has the characteristics of a free fantasy.

Instead of opening with the usual rapid movement, the work begins with a broad and beautiful slow one, a sustained melody, a poem of profound pathos in musical accents. This is followed by a lighter allegretto which Liszt called "a flower 'twixt two abysses," the second "abyss" being the last movement, which is one of Beethoven's most impassioned creations. At the end both of the first movement and of the allegretto the usual wait between the divisions of a sonata is omitted, Beethoven giving the direction "attacca subito il sequente," literally meaning "attack suddenly the following," indicating an inner relationship between the movements so close that there must be only the briefest possible pause between them.

This sonata is a true drama of life, a story of unrequited passion. It is dedicated to one of the great beauties of Beethoven's time, the Countess Giulietta Guicciardi. Although it is known that the composer subsequently was deeply in love with her cousin, the Countess Therese Brunswick, he is believed to have been in love with Giulietta at the time he wrote the "Moonlight Sonata." The countess was not insensible to his passion. She already was engaged to Count Gallenberg, but one day, coming excitedly into the presence of her cousin Therese, she threw herself at the latter's feet, "like a stage princess," and exclaimed: "Counsel me, cold, wise one! I long to give Gallenberg the mitten and marry the wonderfully ugly, wonderfully beautiful Beethoven, if only it did not involve lowering myself socially." And so she gave up Beethoven and led a life, none too happy, with her Count. Connecting the "Moonlight Sonata" with this episode in Beethoven's life, the first movement of the sonata may appropriately be regarded as a song of love, deeply pathetic because no response is evoked by the longing it expresses. The second movement, the graceful allegretto, is the coquetish Giulietta who would not "lower herself socially" by marrying a genius. The third movement is the rejected lover crying out his passion and despair to the night.

From Beethoven to Grieg, from Vienna to Norway, from the greatest master of the classical period to a composer who still is living and who has been called not inaptly, "the Chopin of the North," may seem a long step. But the pianolist can travel with seven league boots. Grieg's most widely known compositions are four of the pieces of incidental music which he wrote to Ibsen's drama "Peer Gynt." Peer Gynt is the Faust of Norwegian literature. Without attempting here to follow up this parallel, it may be said that he is a curious combination of ne'er-do-well, dreamer and philosopher, with a pronounced streak of impishness running through his character and giving a touch of the extravagant and grotesque to many of his actions and to some of them even a suggestion of the weird and supernatural.

"Peer Gynt" has its roots in Norwegian folklore and was written by Ibsen in Italy when he was about thirty-seven years old, and it precedes the problem plays by which he is best known, although Peer's character is in itself a complex problem. Grieg in his incidental music, adroitly avoids the difficult task of interpreting or even hinting at the curiously contradictory nature of the principal role in the play, one of the most interesting psychological studies in modern literature. His music deals with the more superficial aspects of the story and is pictorial rather than intellectual or profoundly emotional. The principal selections for the piano-player from the "Peer Gynt" music, are contained on two rolls with two selections to each roll. One of them gives the music of "Anitra's Dance" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King"; the other the scenes "Daybreak" and "Death of Aase." Were these selections to be arranged in the order in which they occur in the drama it would be necessary to begin with the "The Hall of the Mountain King" and follow this, in the order mentioned, with "Aase's Death," "Anitra's Dance" and "Daybreak." On the rolls, however, the pieces are not arranged in the order of their occurrence in the play, but in the sequence which is most effective from a musical standpoint—just as in this book I have purposely refrained from following any set, historical sequence, but have adopted a purely musical method of guiding the pianolist from music of the lighter kind to that of a more serious character.

"Anitra's Dance" is an episode of the drama laid in Morocco which Peer has reached in the course of his wanderings. Anitra is a lithe-limbed daughter of the East who entrances Peer with her dancing, and, when he promises to endow her with a soul, promptly informs him that she would rather have the opal from his turban; gradually coaxes all his jewels from him; then swiftly throws herself upon his horse and gallops away, showing herself a true exemplar of the "eternal feminine," so called, I presume, because it eternally is getting the better of the eternal masculine. Be that as it may, "Anitra's Dance" is the very essence of witchery and grace. In the scene "In the Hall of the Mountain King" the trolls gather for the marriage of Peer to the Troll King's daughter. When Peer, at the last moment, refuses to go through the ceremony, the trolls dash at him. One bites himself fast to his ear. Others strike him. He falls. They throw themselves upon him in a heap. At this critical moment, when he is writhing beneath them in torture, the sound of distant church bells is heard, the trolls take to flight, the palace of the Mountain King collapses and Peer is standing alone on a mountain. The scene may be construed as one of his supernatural experiences, as a nightmare, or as the allegory of a stricken conscience. "Daybreak" which opens the second roll is in Egypt, Peer standing before the statue of Memnon in the first hush of dawn and waiting for the rays of the rising sun to evoke the music which according to tradition many thousand years old, is drawn from the statue by the sunrise. In this number Grieg paints the colors of an Oriental daybreak rather than attempts to convey the thrill of an ancient sculpture, on the edge of the great desert, thrilling with song at the first kiss of the rising sun. In the "Death of Aase" Peer watches his mother's life slowly ebb away and seeks to divert her mind from death by grotesque tales, even throwing himself astride a chair and persuading her through subjective suggestion, that he is the forerider of a beautiful chariot in which she is seated, so that the poor woman, who all her life long has felt the pinch of penury, dies with a vision of wealth and glory before her eyes created for her by the son, worry over whom has hastened her death. In keeping with the lyric trend of his genius, Grieg has ignored the grotesque and ghastly humor of the situation, and has contented himself with portraying its sombre and tragic aspect, his music being in character somewhat like a funeral march.

The pianolist will find a characteristic Norwegian touch in Grieg's "Bridal Procession Passing By," Op. 19, No. 2, from his "Sketches from Norwegian Life." It begins with a curiously droning rhythm, played softly as though the procession were approaching from a distance. Over this rhythm is introduced a piquant march figure, hopping and skipping along as if the musicians were dancing at the head of the marchers. As the procession approaches and the music becomes louder, one hears in the bass an accentuation of the characteristic rhythm, like the tap of a bass drum. When the march has swelled to a forte, it sinks to a brief piano, as if the winding path had led the procession away again. Then there is another brief outburst, this time fortissimo, as if the marchers were quite near; and then a pianissimo, as if they had passed behind a hill and almost out of hearing. The music grows loud again, the procession goes by, and there is a delicious effect as the march dies away in the distance, the rhythmic beats with which it opened becoming softer and softer, while the little hopping and skipping march-figure, somewhat curtailed, flutters over it.

Grieg's "Peer Gynt" suite was composed for orchestra, but was arranged for pianoforte by the composer. Notwithstanding the fact that in its original form the suite is intended to be played by a large body of instruments of different tone coloring and that arrangements for pianoforte of orchestral works usually are so complex that even great pianists find difficulty in rendering them effectively, the "Peer Gynt" selections are among the most attractive in the pianolist's repertory. For, through the instrument on which he plays, he is able to overcome the most complicated chords and the most difficult and complex runs, as easily as if they were music of the simplest kind. If the pianola sometimes is called mechanical, the injustice thus done it is due to its superhuman capacity of playing with perfect ease things that are wholly beyond the fingers even of the greatest virtuosos, yet can be rendered fluently and also expressively by the pianolist who has genuine feeling for music.

It is this combination of technique and expression that gives to Liszt's enormously difficult pianoforte transcription of Saint-Saens' symphonic poem, "Danse Maccabre," which even for orchestra is an extremely difficult piece, its place in the pianolist's repertory. This is one of the most interesting of modern compositions, and most graphically descriptive of its subject, which is the "Dance of Death," "maccabre" being derived from the Arabic "makabir," which signifies a place of burial. Both in the literature and in the painting of the Middle Ages in Europe and particularly in church decoration, figures the legend that once a year on Hallowe'en the dead arose from their graves for a wild and hideous dance, with King Death himself as master of ceremonies. Saint-Saens' symphonic poem realistically describes these scenes, and, as if to attribute the inspiration for his music to its precise origin, the composer has placed above his score a poem by Henri Cazalis. Mr. Edward Baxter Perry has made a free transcription of this poem, which, at the same time, serves capitally as a description of the music:

On a sounding stone, With a blanched thigh-bone, The bone of a saint, I fear, Death strikes the hour Of his wizard power, And the specters haste to appear.

From their tombs they rise In sepulchral guise, Obeying the summons dread, And gathering round With obeisance profound, They salute the King of the Dead.

Then he stands in the middle And tunes up his fiddle, And plays them a gruesome strain. And each gibbering wight In the moon's pale light Must dance to that wild refrain.

Now the fiddle tells, As the music swells, Of the charnal's ghastly pleasures; And they clatter their bones As with hideous groans They reel to those maddening measures.

The churchyard quakes And the old abbey shakes To the tread of that midnight host, And the sod turns black On each circling track, Where a skeleton whirls with a ghost.

The night wind moans In shuddering tones Through the gloom of the cypress tree, While the mad rout raves Over yawning graves And the fiddle bow leaps with glee.

So the swift hours fly Till the reddening sky Gives warning of daylight near. Then the first cock crow Sends them huddling below To sleep for another year.

The composition opens weirdly with the hollow strokes of the hour. There is a light, staccato passage suggesting the spectres tiptoeing from their graves to take their places in the fantastic circle. Then comes one of the most strikingly realistic passages in the composition—Death attempting to tune up his fiddle, an effect that is repeated at intervals throughout the composition. After reading the poem, the pianolist will not require a detailed description of the work. He will recognize the details even to the moaning of the night wind and the crowing of the cock, the scurry of the spectres and their final wail, as the grave closes upon them for another year.


The goal of all pianists is Chopin. As the list of one hundred favorite compositions for the pianola includes no less than twenty-six works by this composer, he would seem to be the goal of the pianolist as well.

Chopin now is recognized universally as one of the great composers. But during his lifetime he was much criticised, called morbid and effeminate and a composer of small ideas because he wrote almost entirely in the smaller forms. As if size had anything to do with the beauty of a work. In every art the best work of each great man should be ranked with the best of all other great men. Some geniuses express themselves on a larger, but not necessarily on a greater scale, than others. In poetry, for example, Poe's "Raven" is not to be ranked below Milton's "Paradise Lost" because shorter; nor in music need a Chopin ballad be placed below a Beethoven symphony because not so extended as the latter. Every genius, however, must expect to be condemned until Time silences criticism of his work. For ever since men began to create rare and beautiful things, there have been other men who, having failed therein, have found a bitter consolation in sitting in crabbed and ill-tempered judgment upon their successful betters.

Another point raised against Chopin was, that practically he confined himself to composing for pianoforte. A sufficient answer to this is, that his music made the pianoforte what it is. For he was the first composer who appreciated the genius of the instrument, discovered its latent tone colors and developed its resources to their full capacity for artistic beauty and expression. Chopin was the first to make the pianoforte both shimmer and sing. Rubinstein said that the art of music could go no further than Chopin and called him the pianoforte bard, rhapsodist, mind and soul. "How he wrote for it I do not know, but only an entire passing over of one into the other could call such music into life." George Sand (Mme. Dudevant) the famous French authoress with whom Chopin had a love affair that was one of the tragedies of his life, said that "he made the instrument speak the language of the infinite. He did not need the great material methods of the orchestra to find expression for his genius. Neither saxophone nor ophicleide was necessary for him to fill the soul with awe. Without church organ or human voice he inspired faith and enthusiasm."

Although Chopin figures on almost every pianoforte recital program the average amateur has comparatively slight knowledge of the range of his genius. Only the player able to go over his works in person can acquire such knowledge, and the number of amateurs possessed of sufficient technique to play Chopin's music is very small. "But to-day," writes Mr. Ashton Johnson in his "Hand-Book to Chopin's Works," "owing to the invention of the pianola and the fact that all Chopin's works, including even the least important of the posthumous compositions, are now available for that instrument, the whole domain of his music is, for the first time, open to all. Those who wish may pass the portal hitherto guarded by the dragon of technique and roam at will in his entrancing music land."

Chopin was a native of Poland. He was born near Warsaw in 1810. When the Poles lost their country it was as if their grief and the melancholy of their exile found expression through Chopin's music. He became the musical poet of an exiled race. The most significant years of his life he spent in Paris surrounded by the aristocracy of his own country, who yet had no country, and by the aristocrats of art. Liszt, Heine, Meyerbeer, Bellini and other famous men, as well as famous women, were his personal friends.

The affair with George Sand left on his music the imprint of sorrow, poignant grief, and a pathos reaching down into the depths of tragedy. Different in character was his idealization of the beautiful Countess Delphine Potocka. The episode is fully set forth in my "Loves of the Great Composers." One of Chopin's favorite musical amusements, when a guest in the house of intimate friends, was to play on the pianoforte "musical portraits" of the company. One evening in the salon of Delphine's mother, he played the portraits of the two daughters of the house. When it came to Delphine he gently drew her light shawl from her shoulders, and then played through it, his fingers, with every tone they produced, coming in touch with the gossamer like fabric, still warmed and hallowed for him from its contact with her. It was Delphine who soothed his last hours by singing for him as he lay upon his death bed.

She was one of the very few people to whom he dedicated more than one of his works. Both his second concerto (in F minor, Op. 21) and his most familiar waltz, the Op. 64, No. 1, bear her name. Chopin as a pianist, showed decided preference for the slow movement of the concerto, a movement which is of almost ideal perfection, "now radiant with light and anon full of tender pathos," to quote from Liszt. It is indeed, an exquisite idyll, beautifully melodious and replete with delicate ornamentation. Because of its beauty and its association with Delphine, I would suggest that the pianolist begin with this larghetto. There is another reason for the suggestion. In its ornamentation it illustrates to perfection that characteristic of Chopin's music known as the "tempo rubato." Much of Chopin's music has in addition to inspired melody, an iridescence as if produced by cascades of jewels. These are ornamental notes which yet are not ornamental in the limited meaning of the word; for in spite of all their light and shade and their play of changeable colors, they form part of the great undercurrent of melody. There are various technical definitions of tempo rubato, but Liszt described it poetically and yet exactly when he said, "You see that tree? Its leaves move to and fro in the wind and follow the gentlest motion of the air; but its trunk stands there immovable in its form." Or the effect might be compared with the myriad shafts from the facets of a jewel, vibrating brilliance in all directions, while the jewel itself remains immovable, the center of its own rays. These effects readily are discoverable in the larghetto of the Potocka concerto.

The pianolist should then take up the valses of Chopin beginning with Op. 64, No. 1, like the concerto, dedicated to Delphine. This is the most familiar of all the Chopin waltzes, so familiar that it frequently is referred to in a derogatory way as hackneyed. Yet, when properly played, it is one of the most effective of his compositions in this genre. Of the Chopin waltzes in general, it should first be said that they are not dance-tunes but expressions, alternately brilliant, charming and sad, of the intimacy of the ballroom, and that they possess an innate grace which no other composer has been able to impart to the form. They have been characterized as salon music of the noblest kind and were well described by Schumann when he said that if they were played for dances, half the ladies present should be countesses—which exactly hits off the distinguished quality of these valses. To play them is like looking at a dance through a fairy lens; they seem like improvizations of a musician during a dance and to reflect the thoughts and feelings that arise as he looks on, playing the waltz rhythm with the left hand, while the melody and the ornamental note groups indicate his fancy—love, a jealous plaint, joy, ecstasy and the tender whisperings of enamored couples as they glide past.

"Gliding" is the word that has been applied to the smooth brilliance of the Potocka valse. There runs a story regarding this composition that George Sand had a little dog that used to chase its own tail around in a circle, and that one evening, she said to Chopin, "If I had your talent, I would improvise a valse for that dog," whereupon the composer promptly seated himself at the pianoforte and dashed off this fascinating little improvisation. It is Parisian in its grace and coquetry and ends with a rapid run, the last note of which is like the rhythmic tap of the foot with which a dainty ballet dancer might conclude a lightly executed pas.

In striking contrast to this is the "Valse," Op. 34, No. 2. This is in a minor key and instead of representing the abandon of the dance, it seems rather to depict a melancholy lover allowing his eyes to travel slowly around the ballroom in a futile search of his heart's desire. The prevailing tone of the composition rather is that of an elegy—the burial of fond hopes. Stephen Heller, pianist and composer, tells of meeting Chopin in the store of a Paris music publisher. Heller had come in to order all the valses. Thereupon Chopin asked him which he liked best, and when Heller mentioned this sad one in slow time, Chopin exclaimed, "I am glad you like that one, for it also is my favorite," and he invited Heller to have luncheon with him.

Perhaps the most brilliant and extended of the valses is Op. 42. In this Chopin imposes upon the triple waltz time, a melody that is in double time—that is, while you count "one, two, three" for the accompaniment, "one, two" will suffice for the melody above it. The effect of this device has been described as indicative in this waltz of the loving, nestling and tender embracing of the dancing couples. It is followed in the music by sweeping motions free and graceful like those of birds. The prolonged trill with which the piece begins, seems to summon the dancers to the ballroom, while the waltz itself, is an intermingling of coquetry, hesitation and avowal, with a closing passage that is like an echo of the evening's events.

These three waltzes, if played in the order in which I have mentioned them, make a capital valse suite, and another could be made by taking in the following order, the dashing "Posthumous Waltz" in E minor, the C minor, Op. 64, No. 2, with its veiled, sad beauty; and the brilliant Op. 34, No. 1.

In his "Nocturnes" those sombre poems of night, Chopin seems weaving his own shroud. But if, like Robert Louis Stevenson, Chopin loved the darkness and its melancholy murmuring, and if there was a touch of morbidness in his nature, yet, like Stevenson, he had in him a strain of chivalry. Mr. Huneker, therefore, in his book on Chopin, is quite right when he says of the nocturnes that if they were played with more vigor, a quickening of the time pulse and a less languishing touch, they would be rescued from a surplus of lush sentiment.

Undoubtedly, the most popular of the nocturnes is the one in E flat, Op. 9, No. 2. In fact it is so popular that when any one is asked to play "Chopin's Nocturne," this one is meant. Because it is popular, it is sneered at by some critics, but it possesses a lyric beauty quite its own and "sometimes surprises even the weary teacher with a waft of unexpected freshness, like the fleeting odor from an old and much used school book in which violets have been pressed." A sustained love song, it ends with a cadence that should be played with a rippling delicacy suggestive of moonlight on a lake in the garden of an old chateau.

There are nocturnes of Chopin's composed on a larger scale than the Opus 37, No. 2, but to my taste there is none more beautiful. It bears a striking resemblance to a passage in George Sand's diary describing a voyage with Chopin to the island of Majorca. "The night was warm and dark, illumined only by an extraordinary phosphorescence in the wake of the ship; everybody was asleep on board except the steersman, who, in order to keep himself awake, sang all night, but in a voice so soft and so subdued that one might have thought he feared to arouse the men of the watch. We did not weary of listening to him, for his singing was of the strangest kind. He observed a rhythm and modulation totally different from those we are accustomed to, and seemed to allow his voice to go at random, like the smoke of the vessel carried away and swayed by the breeze. It was a reverie rather than a song, a kind of careless floating of the voice, with which the mind had little to do, but which kept time with the swaying of the ship and the faint lapping of the dark water, and resembled a vague improvization restrained, nevertheless, by sweet and monotonous forms."

How suggestive this is of the nocturne! The undulating accompaniment, the scintillation of the treble, suggests the gliding, gently rocking motion of the vessel and the phosphorescence in its wake; while the second theme of the nocturne would, even without any suggestion from the passage in George Sand's diary, be taken for a barcarolle, a reverie sung at night, now rising, now dying away, but with the pulse of a musical poet throbbing through every note—the most beautiful melody, I think, Chopin ever wrote.

And speaking of this melody as an improvization, reminds me of those other improvizations by Chopin, the "Impromptus," in which he has displayed his genius as convincingly as in any of his other works. They are fresh and untrammeled in their development, and as full of sunlight as the nocturnes are of darkness. The one in A flat major was dedicated to the Countess de Loban as a wedding present, and was a farewell to her as a pupil. Brilliant, joyous and iridescent in its opening and closing sections, that in the middle voices vague and tender regret. The composition sometimes is spoken of as the "Trilby" impromptu. It is the one Du Maurier made Trilby sing under the hypnotic influence of Svengali.

Had Chopin's directions for the destruction of certain of his manuscripts after his death been carried out, the world would be the poorer by the loss of his "Fantaisie Impromptu," published as Op. 66. It is difficult to understand why he should have wanted this work destroyed, since it produces a sinuous, interwoven, flowing effect, interrupted by a middle melody of much sentiment and beauty. It has been very well described by Mr. Perry in a brief poem entitled "The Fantaisie Impromptu":

The sigh of June through the swaying trees, The scent of the rose, new blown, on the breeze, The sound of waves on a distant strand, The shadows falling on sea and land; All these are found In this stream of sound, This murmuring, mystical, minor strain.

And stars that glimmer in misty skies, Like tears that shimmer in sorrowing eyes, And the throb of a heart that beats in tune With tender regrets of a happier June, When life was new And love was true, And the soul was a stranger to sorrow and pain.

A reading of this poem conveys to the player the correct mood in which to interpret the impromptu.

By way of contrast I follow these careless raptures—careless only in their effect of spontaneity—with the famous "Marche Funebre," the funeral march which forms the third movement of Chopin's sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35. This has been called the best funeral march ever written for the pianoforte. At Chopin's own funeral it was played scored for orchestra. In my opinion it is not only "the best funeral march ever written for the pianoforte," but the most intrinsically beautiful and sad funeral march ever composed. Its opening suggests the solemn tolling of great bells, the heavy march rhythm gives the effect of the slow procession of mourners; and the dirgelike music, soft and muffled at first, grows in power like the measured, inflexible rhythm of fate. Then it seems as if the mourners had arrived at the open grave, for the music voices a weeping melody, pure and tender and sweet; then the march rhythm makes itself heard again and the procession leaves the grave, the music dying away in the distance. This is the funeral march of a nation, of Chopin's own beloved Poland.

Chopin wrote two sets of twelve "Etudes." They gave an entirely new significance to the term. For the Chopin etudes not only are supreme as studies. They are supreme as music as well. Before they were published the usual musical study was something very dry and set. How different these superb compositions are from studies such as are comprised in Czerny's "School of Velocity," which make you feel like employing the "velocity" you have acquired to run away as quickly as possible from the "school," whereas the Chopin etudes are so full of melody and of the rarest and the most beautiful musical effects, that to play any one of them suffices to whet the appetite for the others. The pianolist might well go through the entire two sets of twelve. It would open up a new musical world to him. Here I can only point out three. Opus 10, No. 5, is the "Black Key" etude, so called because all the notes of the right hand are on black keys. This is a brilliant study with a very charming ending. Opus 25, No. 9, is the so called "Butterfly Wings" etude, a designation which expresses its general characteristic of lightness and grace, but fails to make allowance for the accent of passion in the rising and descending passage that occurs about the middle and which should be brought out when it is correctly interpreted—which usually it is not. The greatest of all the etudes is the "Revolutionary," Op. 10, No. 12. It was written by Chopin in 1831, when he heard the news that Warsaw had been taken by the Russians, and it expresses the tornado of emotion that swept over him when he realized that Poland was about to sink beneath the triple onslaught of Russia, Austria and Germany. This composition which, mind you, goes by the simple name of "study," is one of the most tremendous outbursts of wrath in music—a storm of the soul without even such lyric episodes as those which form islands of calm in the torrential last movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Well may Mr. Huneker say that the end "rings out like the crack of creation. It is elemental."

This etude, certain of the "Polonaises," the "Scherzos," the "Ballades" and the "Fantaisie" in F minor, reveal a fire, passion and virile power that will surprise those who have formed their estimate of Chopin from the mournful nocturnes and brilliant waltzes. The so-called "Military Polonaise," Op. 40, No. 1, is so replete with the spirit of war that in the middle portion it is easy to hear the roll of drums and the clash of battle. It was of this polonaise Chopin said, "If I had the strength to play it as it should be played I would break all the strings of the pianoforte."

The most effective of the polonaises, his opus 53, also breathes forth martial ardor and defiance. It begins with a stirring call to arms, followed by the swinging measure of the polonaise proper with a melody that suggests soldiery on prancing steeds and with flashing sabres, defiling in review before battle. This is followed by a "trio" in which a rapid octave figure in the bass, beginning softly and growing louder and louder until it reaches a crashing climax, with strains like a bugle call ringing out above it, depicts a cavalry charge coming from the distance, drawing nearer and nearer and sweeping past with a mighty roar. There is a story that while Chopin was composing this polonaise, he was so affected when playing over the nearly completed work, that, seized by a peculiar hallucination, he saw the walls of the room open and, approaching from the outer night, a band of medieval Polish knights mounted and in armor, as if they had risen from their ancient graves and ridden on the clouds to appear in response to the summons of his music. The somewhat vague passage which follows the climax of the cavalry charge and leads back to the main subject possibly may be accounted for by this strange experience.

Unfortunately there is no opportunity here to take up the "Scherzos," so unlike the coquettish, bantering pieces of the same name by other composers, Chopin seemingly representing tragedy mocking itself, as any one playing the B flat minor "Scherzo," Op. 31, may hear for himself; the "Ballades," so eloquently narrative of love and adventure, the A flat major and the G minor being especially popular in the pianolist's repertory; and the "Fantaisie," in F minor, one of the greatest compositions for pianoforte. As for the "Mazurkas" and "Preludes," pieces that are among their composer's happiest creations, I can do no more than call the pianolist's attention to their existence and advise him not to neglect them.


Besides those composers, one or more of whose works I have described in some detail, there are others who at least should be touched on, always bearing in mind, however, that one of the aims of this book is to stimulate the pianolist to explore for himself. Bach, Haendel, Haydn and Mozart can be studied most profitably in connection with the courses that are referred to in the chapter on Educational Factors which follows. There too will be found reference to the thorough courses on Wagner, one a general course on that composer, the other a special course on his "Ring of the Nibelung."

A line of composers that may well interest the pianolist has come to the front in Russia. Rubinstein, whose "Melody" in F and "Kammenoi, Ostrow," No. 17, are among the popular selections in the pianolist's repertory was a Russian, who, however, from a musical standpoint, expressed himself in German. To a certain extent the same is true of Tschaikowsky. His music is "universal" rather than national. It has, nevertheless, the Russian tang to a greater degree than Rubinstein's, and Tschaikowsky is classed correctly as the head of the Russian school and one of the greatest of modern composers. His "Pathetic Symphony," which has been metrostyled by Edouard Colonne, a distinguished French orchestral conductor, is a noble work. Among smaller pieces which the pianolist readily will appreciate, are the "Song without Words," Op. 2, No. 2; an attractive "Valse a cinq Temps," with its oddly extended rhythm; the very characteristic "November, in the Troika," Op. 37, No. 11; an expressive "Barcarolle" and the selections from his "Casse Noisette" (Nutcracker) ballet suite.

Next to Tschaikowsky's "Song without Words" the most widely known short piece for pianoforte by a Russian composer is Rachmaninoff's "Prelude," Op. 3, No. 2, a broad and sonorous work with a splendid climax. A little "Waltz," Op. 10, No. 2, is captivating; and a "Serenade," Op. 3, No. 5, has an originality and charm quite its own. A very beautiful "Moment Musical," Op. 16, No. 5, does not seem to have been included as yet in the catalogue of music rolls, an honor to which it clearly is entitled. Arensky, Balakirew, Cesar Cui, Glazounow, Karganoff, Liapounow, Rimsky-Korsakow, Sapellnikoff and Taneiew are other interesting figures of the "New-Russian" school of which so much is heard at present.

Dvorak who was a Bohemian wrote much music distinctly and fascinatingly characteristic of his native land. He was, however, broad enough in his tastes to recognize, during his sojourn of three years in America, the beauty of the Negro plantation melodies and to compose upon several of these as themes, his symphony "From the New World," sometimes called more briefly the "American Symphony." This symphony, two works of chamber music, also composed during his residence in America, and his compositions in his native Bohemian musical idiom usually are ranked higher than his more cosmopolitan efforts. His "Humoreske," Op. 101, No. 5, the "Slavic Dances" and "On the Holy Mount" are among his compositions unmistakably Bohemian in origin.

While Saint-Saens, having worked more successfully in the larger orchestral forms, is ranked first among contemporary French composers, and Chaminade leads as a composer of clever salon music, the pianolist can add some attractive pieces to his repertory from the compositions of Delibes and Godard. Delibes is the composer of the opera "Lakme," and the Airs de Ballet from this, as well as the selections from his "Coppelia" and "Sylvia" ballets, will be found spontaneous and original. In fact in all instances in which music composed in dance forms has survived, this will be found due to a decided strain of individuality and resulting originality in the composer. The Valse Lente from the "Coppelia" ballet is among the hundred most popular pieces in the pianolist's repertory; and well up in the same list is Godard's graceful "Second Mazurka," Op. 54.

Among the most distinguished modern composers is the American, Edward Alexander MacDowell. He is living, but his work is over; for, unfortunately, his mind has given way. His "Scotch Poem" with its graphic musical representation of the sea beating against a rockbound coast and its lyric episode consisting of a trist Scotch ballad, is highly dramatic, while his "Sea Pieces" are among the most poetic of contemporary compositions for pianoforte. His "Witches' Dance" is highly descriptive, and in whatever direction the pianolist may familiarize himself with the music of MacDowell, he will be found a highly original, eloquent and expressive composer, whose fame, already established, is bound to grow with the lapse of time.

This chapter may fittingly be concluded with a brief reference to two great German composers, Schumann and Brahms. Although "popular" is not a word ordinarily associated with Schumann, two of his shorter pieces, "Traeumerei" (Revery) and "Warum" (Why) are great favorites. Schumann did much for the development of music that has a distinct meaning and his works frequently bear titles that are suggestive of some mood or scene, like "At Evening," "Soaring" (Aufschwung, sometimes translated as Excelsior), "Carnaval," a series of twenty-one pieces descriptive of carnival scenes; and the "Novelettes."

Brahms is far more of a melodist than his critics give him credit for, but his clearness of expression is interfered with by the relentless scientific accuracy with which he works out his ideas, to which method he is apt to sacrifice only too often the innate beauty of his thoughts. He seems, however, to be slowly gaining ground, but more through his songs than through his instrumental works excepting those of chamber music. Yet any one who will seriously study Brahms and begin with the shorter pianoforte pieces, Op. 76 and Op. 116-119, will find mines of purest musical gold, where, perhaps, he least expected to discover them. Entirely different in style from Brahms' other works are his "Hungarian Dances," in which he has taken dance themes of the Hungarian Gypsies and skillfully worked them up into pieces that are melodiously and rhythmically fascinating and unreservedly popular. They are much played by pianolists.

Let me point out again, here, that, however unsystematic the arrangement of this book may seem to the musical pedant, I have followed a certain sequence—one of my own devising and which seemed to me best adapted to give the pianolist a bowing acquaintance with some of the great composers that would lead him to wish for a closer intimacy with these and others. What I have kept in mind, and very clearly, is the fact that I am dealing with a player for whom all technical difficulties have been eliminated by the very instrument on which he plays. The complete control it gives him of all technical resources is what makes the old method of analyzing pieces according to their historical sequence not only unnecessary but futile in a book of this kind. Nevertheless, so perfectly does this instrument adapt itself to all music, that any one who desires to trace up the technical evolution of the art from Bach to the present day, will find it the readiest means for accomplishing his purpose, especially if he uses in conjunction with it the educational courses referred to in the next chapter.


It is not overstating the case to say that the pianola is the first practical means ever devised in history through which people in general, whether they have had previous instruction in music or not, can become familiar with the world's best musical compositions. Not only can they familiarize themselves with the past, they are able to keep up with the present. For example, many of Richard Strauss's works, including selections from "Salome," are to be found on the rolls prepared for this modern instrument. In fact every new composer whose work has any significance is represented in the catalogue of music rolls. Supposing a pianolist is planning to attend an opera or a concert. It would have to be a very peculiar opera or a very peculiar concert program which he could not obtain and try over beforehand. Needless to say that, by trying it over beforehand, his appreciation of the performance would be increased a thousandfold.

Singers who cannot accompany themselves on the pianoforte, will find this new instrument a boon. For there is a special list of accompaniments in which the principal works in the vocalist's repertory are represented. Lovers of chamber music in which the pianoforte figures, will find pieces like sonatas for pianoforte and violin or violoncello, trios for pianoforte, violin and violoncello, pianoforte quartets, quintets and similar works, arranged so that the pianolist can play the pianoforte part. "This is the first time I ever have heard every note of the pianoforte part of the Schumann quintet," said the first violinist of a well known string quartet to Mr. E.R. Hunter, a professional pianolist, after a performance of this famous work with Mr. Hunter at the pianola.

The importance of the educational value of this new instrument is recognized by many of the leading educators in music. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the University of California, the University of Michigan, Vassar and many other institutions of learning use the instrument in connection with their musical courses. At Harvard, in connection with the lectures on music, the students are not only allowed but encouraged to go in groups of six or eight to the hall in which the instruments are installed, and play for themselves the symphonies of Beethoven, the music dramas of Wagner and other music that has formed the subjects of the lectures. "As a self-educator," writes Henry T. Finck, "this instrument is worth more than all other instruments combined, for the reason that any one can, without practice, play on it any piece ever written."

Under the editorship of Carroll Brent Chilton, assisted by a staff of musicians and writers on music, among them Paul Morgan and Edward Ziegler, thorough educational courses for pianolists have been devised. The courses collectively are known as "The New Musical Education," and are conducted in connection with the Music-Lovers Library of music rolls. These courses are admirably arranged. There is a "Popular Course on the Great Composers" with a supplementary one on the "Modern Great Composers." The former is divided into five lessons: Bach and Haendel; Haydn and Mozart; Beethoven and Schubert; Schumann and Mendelssohn; and Chopin and Wagner. The course on the modern great composers also is divided into five lessons: Liszt and Wagner; Chopin and Brahms; Tschaikowsky, Dvorak and Paderewski; Saint-Saens, Moskowszki and Chaminade; and Grieg and MacDowell, the last named the most distinguished among American composers.

Care has been taken in arranging these two courses not to aim above the head of the musical novice. For example, in dealing with Bach and Haendel, two of their lighter pieces are taken up and analyzed. Biographical data are given and, in addition to the pieces that are analyzed, supplementary rolls of seven compositions by Bach and five compositions by Haendel are given, together with lists of reference books. The other lessons in these two courses are planned in the same popular style. They give the pianolist a bird's-eye-view of music and its development from Bach to Wagner.

The "New Musical Education" also takes up the great composers separately and gives most thorough-going courses on them. The Beethoven course, for example, is arranged in twelve lessons. The course furnishes the student with the Beethoven biography by Crowest; with twelve "lesson pamphlets," each pamphlet relating to a division of the course and written by Thomas Whitney Surette; with twelve scores, orchestral and pianoforte; and sixty-two "educational" music rolls. The scores correspond with the twelve works discussed in the twelve lessons, each lesson being devoted to the analysis of one composition. The rolls include not only those which give the works complete, but also special rolls with music quotations illustrating the points made in the lesson pamphlets. The various musical forms employed by Beethoven are explained and analyzed, and in the complete rolls the different sections characteristic of each form are clearly indicated in print, so that the student, having read the analysis, can follow it intelligently on the roll. There are many other practical details of this kind in all the courses and which go to enhance their value to the pianolist-student.

There are two splendid Wagner courses to which I direct special attention because of the frequent performances of his works in opera and concert, and because a comprehensive knowledge of the development of his theories adds so greatly to the enjoyment of his music. The first course begins with his early opera "Rienzi" and ends with "Parsifal." All his works for the stage are embraced in this course which consists of ten lessons, each lesson having, in addition to the ordinary rolls, a "quotation roll," illustrating the points in the lesson pamphlets, and in the case of the music-dramas, giving the "leading motives," so that the student can familiarize himself with these, and with their significance in the drama, and readily recognize them when he hears them, while playing the complete rolls or at a performance.

The second Wagner course relates to the "Ring of the Nibelung." It takes up consecutively the four great divisions of the work, "Rhinegold," "The Valkyr," "Siegfried" and "Dusk of the Gods," devoting a lesson to each. Each lesson contains a quotation roll of leading motives and the following examples from the scores:—Lesson I., "Rhinegold." Prelude and scene of the Rhine-Maidens, Loge's Narrative, and the finale of the work. Lesson II., "The Valkyr." Siegmund's Love Song, Ride of the Valkyries, and the Magic Fire Spell. Lesson III., "Siegfried." Forge Song, Siegfried and the Forest Bird, Siegfried and Bruennhilde. Lesson IV., "Dusk of the Gods." Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Song of the Rhine-Maidens, Siegfried's Funeral March. I know from the experience of one of my pianolist friends, how admirable this course is. He took it before hearing the "Ring" for the first time, with the result that he knew the music and the names of all the leading motives, recognized them whenever they occurred in the score, and in consequence, enjoyed the performance as much as if he had become familiar with it through repeated hearings. I may add that the catalogue of music rolls contains a complete collection of Wagner's works, making the music of this composer accessible to the pianolist whether he wishes to play it for study or enjoyment.

The pianolist holds in his hand the future of the development of music in this country. The instrument on which he plays is the only practical means as yet devised of making the great masterpieces of music penetrate to the minds and hearts of the masses. Art has to advance on its own shoulders. "I cannot rest contentedly on the past, I cannot take a step forward without its aid." The pianolist has both the past and present of music at his command.


By way of postscript I give here a few hints to pianolists. General directions on how to play the pianola are provided in pamphlets and circulars which can be obtained without charge, and I do not propose to traverse these. The instrument is capable of great brilliancy and great power, greater than lie in the ten fingers of any pianist. This very fact is what has caused the instrument to be called "mechanical." But in reality it is the fault of the player, because, carried away by the capacity of the instrument, he is apt in the beginning to play too loudly and too brilliantly. One of the first don'ts for the pianolist is that he refrain from putting the instrument to the full test of its—not really mechanical but superhuman—capacity for brilliancy and power.

Indeed, not only the beginner, but all pianolists should bear in mind that the chief distinction of the instrument lies in its exceeding delicacy. No virtuoso can play as delicately and lightly and, at the same time, as distinctly as can the pianolist those rapid pianissimo runs and those exquisite traceries and ornamentations which are found in modern music; all of which does not mean that the pianolist never should play loudly and brilliantly, but that he should not allow himself to be carried away by the possibilities of the instrument in these directions.

Certain refinements of interpretation which the pianist long has made his own also should be observed. Don't start a trill and keep it up with an evenly sustained strength of tone and rapidity from beginning to end. Begin it a shade slower and a shade more softly than the tempo and dynamic signs indicate, let it swell and grow louder, then taper down, and slightly retard the turn which leads back to the melodic phrase. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but one which usually it is safe to follow. The pianolist can execute his trills with a combination of delicacy and clearness that is absolutely unique.

Don't rip off runs as if you were tearing cloth. Come down with decision on the first note, begin somewhat slower than the indicated tempo and then increase the time to the proper acceleration. This is the true virtuoso effect, adopted, no doubt, because on the pianoforte it is easier to execute a run in this manner; and so, however erroneously, it has come to be considered the genuine musical way—showing that even in art we are creatures of habit.

Don't use the sustaining pedal too frequently, not even as frequently as indicated on the rolls. The pedal directions on the rolls follow those of the printed sheets too closely. The pianist often is obliged to use the sustaining pedal to hold a note that he cannot keep down because his fingers are otherwise employed. But the music rolls are cut so that every sustained note is held down as long as the composer directs that it should be. Remember too that the term "loud pedal" as applied to the sustaining pedal, as it properly is called, is incorrect. This pedal sustains but does not increase the power of the sound that is produced. That effect is secured by a stronger pressure of the feet upon the pumping pedals. In fact by varying the degree of pressure of the feet on the pumping pedals the pianolist can vary the degree of sound from a whispered pianissimo to the strongest fortissimo.

The pianolist should remember that, as the instrument on which he plays relieves him of all burdens of technique and enables him to play anything, no matter how difficult, with absolute technical accuracy, it is all the more his duty to play with as much expression as he can call forth from his inner nature. Emotion, the power of expression, the art of interpretation, can be developed by practice as well as any other latent capacity. It is an excellent plan for the beginner to take one piece, the Nevin waltz that I have described, for example, and play it over many times, not necessarily at the same sitting, in fact better not; but without attempting anything else. Each time let the pianolist try to get more meaning, more expression out of it than he did before. He will find, if he does this, that, when he takes up another composition, the expression, the art of interpretation, will come to him more naturally and more quickly, until, from an ignorant beginner, he soon will have developed into a musical artist who can give himself and hundreds of others the most exalted pleasure—that of listening to music, not to mere playing.

* * * * *

- Typographical errors corrected in text: Page 21: "other more slowly" replaced with "others more slowly" Page 34: atachment replaced with attachment Page 46: base replaced with bass Page 112: Saint-Saeens replaced with Saint-Saens Page 113: Saint-Saeens replaced with Saint-Saens Page 144: Saint-Saeens replaced with Saint-Saens Page 149: unnecesary replaced with unnecessary Page 153: Saint-Saeens replaced with Saint-Saens -

* * * * *


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse