( Originally Published 1922 )
With regard to. this finishing master, whether he be young or old, a man or a woman, of a character more or less pleasing, that is a matter of absolute indifference, provided he is a great artist as well as a virtuoso of the first order.
If we have the opportunity of coming across one of these complete artists, and if we can obtain regular lessons from him, it would be best to stop there and not seek any other direction in the future. But this is not always possible, for such natures are scarce and are found more frequently among those great wandering virtuosi, who, like comets, make only rare appearances of short duration and then fly to other skies, not caring in the matter of instruction to give anything more than a few fugitive and superficial counsels. No matter how brief these counsels may be, we should gather them religiously and endeavour to apply them and turn them to advantage, and then await the pas-sage of another meteor, for changes, even though frequent, are no longer to be dreaded. as in the elementary studies ; for pupils of a supple nature and quick intelligence, it is even a great element of progress, during the period of the higher studies, to see the same things thus presented under various aspects.
In the great centres, however, it often happens that there are to be found artists who are permanent, or rarely away, and who, possessing high attainments, consent more willingly to put the finishing touch to the accomplishments of ardent pupils who are al-ready prepared for the advanced studies of virtuoso-esthetics.
The young virtuoso should be reared in ideas of eclecticism. While holding preferences, which is now his right and his duty, lie should not become the vassal of a certain manner, nor a style that is always the same, and with stronger reason, the study of a single composer,—an error somewhat frequent in a certain class of amateurs, He should have studied and should understand the works of every school, admire what they have to offer of the Beautiful, and know how to bring it out and place it in relief in his execution of it.
An original and graceful mind will know how to impress a special mark of distinction upon the smallest things; while identifying himself with the intimate thought of the composer, he will preserve his own individuality, and the fusion of these two characters will often give rise to effects of which the composer himself never dreamed.
It is all this that constitutes the genius of interpretation, the most beautiful thing, after that of production, that can exist. To make oneself in this way thus, whilst relegating to the background all thought of personal success, the collaborator of the composer and the necessary bridge between him and the audience, constitutes the highest conception of the mission of an inspired virtuoso.
" Perhaps Genius alone can comprehend Genius ! " Chopin frequently said, meaning certainly, by this that a work conceived by a genius demands interpretation by a genius also,—a strong thought which we find again in George Sand, under a somewhat kindred form : " The divine mystery of an artist's thought reveals itself only to great sympathies," without being greatly astonished at such similar views being held by the genial musician-poet and the eminent writer. And it is among these enthusiastic artists whose sympathetic natures thus reveal to them the sacred mystery of the composer's thought that you must seek the guide who will initiate you into the deepest beauties of great interpretation, that ideal professor whose counsels are always elevated and philosophical, and who will know how to open your soul to the supreme joys of the artistic admiration,—contemplation and revelation of the great masterpieces. For, let there be no mistake, when once by the patient study of mechanical means, we have succeeded in breaking away from the rising above all difficulties, and considering them as a quantité négligeable, interpretation appears as the purest of all pleasures, one of the most intoxicating of all blisses.
I have already remarked that there are two things to work for in the study of an instrument,—technique and style. I believe now it would be better to say that there are four: technique, style, reading, and the cultivation of the memory. To the first two we need not return. The art of reading well at sight, is, in general, acquired easily enough, upon all homophonous instruments (that is to say those from which only one sound is heard at a time), by means of the regular daily practice of half an hour or an hour. For the organ, the piano and the harp, which always utter several sounds simultaneously and have in consequence a very great number to be read, the difficulty increases proportionately. Therefore we shall return more particularly to this when speaking of these instruments. With regard to the others, only three recommendations are necessary : always choose pieces that are sufficiently easy and simple of execution to enable you to read them without stumbling; moreover, the professor should pick them out; always take the movement slower than indicated and maintain it by beating time with the foot, or counting in an undertone, according to the instrument ; read along without ever stopping, no matter what happens. If you have really read very badly, if you have made too bad a mistake, carefully examine the passages that have presented such difficulties, and begin again a second time, never more than that. It is very good to read with an accompaniment ; this is an exercise which two pupils can practice jointly, which makes it more attractive, but only on condition that they impose upon themselves the absolute law of abstaining from the least moment of halt. No one is a good reader till he is able not only to read correctly, but when he knows how to give the spirit and the sentiment that belong to the work that is being read, as well as if it had previously been studied. It goes without saying that the reading at sight of certain works of great virtuosity remains inaccessible even to the ablest, no matter what any one says about it ; nobody can pretend to read at sight an Etude of Paganini, or a Rhapsodie of Liszt.
Every instrumentalist, to be thorough, should be able to take his part in a concerted work and in an orchestra ; and since he must play here in quite a different manner from that of a soloist, a new study is necessitated, which, however, is quite easy, in comparison with that of the instrument itself, but is none the less a special and perfectly distinct study. There are persons who can play a solo on the violin, flute, or oboe quite decently, yet who find themselves entirely out of their element when it comes to plunging into an ensemble. Here the ruling qualification is self-abnegation ; knowing how to contribute one's exact share, and this at every moment and on every note, for the effect of the whole, without endeavouring to attract attention to oneself individually ; to know how to be nothing but a useful citizen in this little model Republic, which the orchestra really is ; to know how to maintain well one's place, and nothing but one's place ; to know how to apply to this all the technical skill at one's disposal ; this is a calm and serene pleasure, a veritable satisfaction to the conscience.
In Chamber-music, which is only the microcosm of the orchestra, an orchestra reduced to its simplest expression, and of which the String Quartet is the purest and highest manifestation, each one preserves a greater individuality, and at times can afford scope for a certain spontaneity which is not misplaced but is indeed essentially opportune. It is he who has the floor ; the others accompany him by adopting his opinions or by shaking their heads, by approving or opposing him. Next, it will be another's turn, the rôles will find themselves inverted : then the discussion closes in, becomes more animated, and may even degenerate into a dispute. The Quartet is a perpetual conversation, a dialogue full of wit, in which each of the interlocutors should get inside the skin of his character, as a consummate comedian does. Can you understand the interest that the study of such a style presents, in which only musicians of the first order have dared write, on account of the profound thought, the knowledge and the spirit of appropriateness that are necessary? Now, it is in this sanie order of ideas that are also conceived all the great works of Chamber-music, also called concerted music, the Duos and Sonatas for the piano and violin, or violoncello, the Trios for these three instruments united, the Quartets for piano, violin, viola and violoncello, the Quintets ; and others in which participate the wind instruments, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, each, while contributing to the general effect, having its word to say, its personality to preserve.
But to give oneself up to such delights, it will be perceived that one must be rivetted to one's instrument as a buffalo hunter is fastened upon his horse, making only one with him, fear nothing, and be able to concentrate thought exclusively upon questions of interpretation.
This study therefore complements the instrumental studies, and it is with this that we will end this rapid general view, before passing to what concerns each instrument considered separately.
However, we should observe that if what precedes concerns all the instruments, that does not mean to say that everything, excepting the fundamental and elementary precepts, can be applied exactly and equally to each one of them. We have just now coin-pared the orchestra to a sort of little musical Republic; now, in this imaginary Republic, as in all others, all the citizens are far from being equal sharers, equality is but a vain word. If it is easy for a violinist, or a violoncellist, to push to the furthest extreme the studies in style that we have just described, it is thanks to the incalculable number of masterpieces with which the great masters of all the epochs and of all the Schools (the German School more than any other) have endowed the library of stringed instruments, which no instrument can ever exhaust.—The difficulty becomes already much greater for the wood-wind instruments, whose musical literature, with a few very brilliant bit too rare exceptions, is, alas ! most restricted. They are able, nevertheless, to participate in the execution of Chamber music in a certain number of beautiful and great works, but the opportunity does not present itself often.—But when we come to the brass, there is nothing, and we truly ask how can these unhappy disinherited ones ever form their taste and acquire any skill in the art of shading. No honourable repertory exists for them, they are condemned by the force of circumstances to revolve perpetually in a circle of ineptitudes, and when they come for the first time to take their part in an orchestra, it is also the first time that they make music.
It would not be possible then for these to put all our principles into practice. They can supply them by frequenting good concerts, and still better by the supplementary study of some other instrument (their own occupying but little time each day) which will permit them to familiarize themselves with the high ideals of style and interpretation, the noble side of art. This initiation, which for others would be too superficial, would be sufficient for them, when one considers that their part in the orchestra, notwithstanding its importance, exacts less cunning and personality than that of the artist belonging to the other groups, which up to a certain point restores the equilibrium.
An excellent thing, which greatly aids the study of any instrument whatsoever, is the practice of teaching. One learns much by teaching others what one has recently learned, and by being forced to demonstrate it by means of examples. It is then good advice to give young artists, already somewhat advanced, in telling them to try to procure a few little beginners, so as to serve their apprenticeship in teaching. This counsel is above all addressed, let it be understood, to those who are destined for an artist's profession, and who will be, in consequence, so much the better professors the sooner they have commenced to prepare themselves for it; but it can be followed with equal advantage by the simple dilettante, who, apart from the progress that will result from it for him-self, will have the satisfaction of doing good about him by giving gratuitous lessons to young children who have not the means of paying for them. To say that he would be the most desirable and ideal professor for them would be a contradiction of all that we have already said, since he will necessarily lack experience, at least at first; but by taking great care and seeking the aid of his own professor, as well as being very conscientious, he can often inculcate healthful elementary ideas. To this we shall return elsewhere.
Another point to be considered as indispensable, is that of accustoming oneself. to play in public at an early age. But we must try, as far as possible, not to approach this practical exercise, which is, so to speak, the sanction of all the rest, except under satisfactory, or at least propitious, conditions. Without putting any idiotic pretentiousness into it, but quite the opposite, the young pupil should proceed in this matter proportionately with the same precautions with which a consummate artist, who is conscious of his worth and does not intend to compromise it, surrounds himself. From an entirely different point of view, the débutant, who is inexperienced and still subject to all kinds of awkwardness, should know how to avoid all the causes that might be of a nature (by depriving him of any part of his faculties) to hinder him from doing full honour to the little knowledge he has. Then, this will also be a good habit formed for the day when he himself will have become a talented virtuoso.
He should therefore refrain, like a true artist and as much as possible, from playing before an unintelligent audience that talks instead of listens, which would accustom him to neglect his execution ; if he is a pianist, he should refrain from playing upon a bad piano, a piano in a bad condition, or one out of tune; if he plays an instrument, he should refrain from play ing any except his own, at least unless he is perfectly well acquainted with it and is certain that he knows how to make it obey him; and also from playing with a bad accompaniment, or without having rehearsed, which is exceedingly imprudent ; if concerted or ensemble music is in question, he should refrain from playing in company with performers of an inferior order, in contact with whom he cannot fail to acquire bad habits, for we do not learn elegant manners by frequenting the society of low people ; over and above all, he should always refuse to play cheap music, or music that is badly written, or of bad taste (not to be confused with light music), even if he is asked for it.
Apart from these harmful circumstances, he should always eagerly seize every opportunity of putting what he has learned into practice, at first, preferably in an intimate and very restricted circle, and then progress to a larger audience composed of heterogeneous elements, thus gradually preparing himself to confront the great public to which all the manifestations of art are finally destined and addressed.
Now, we will pass in review the most profitable way to study every instrument.
For the convenience of classification, we will begin with the keyboard-instruments; the stringed-instruments played with the bow and plucked will follow ; and we will finish with the wind-instruments.
We will endeavour to make the particular requirements of each perfectly clear, as well as what can be expected from it and the amount of work necessary to acquire the mastery of it, as also,—which is the real object of this book,—the best manner of pursuing any study in accordance with the end intended to be attained.