The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .

The Real and the Accessory In Music Study.


The real thing in the study of music is Music itself; the ability to feel it, enjoy it, reproduce it in such a way as to enable others to enjoy it; to understand it as a form of literature—in other words, a form of expressing soul, and a record of soul-types, moods, experiences and raptures, recorded here in notes for our enjoyment, by many great and specially gifted souls. When one knows music in this way, one is a musician in the true sense, understanding music. Such a person, if he have within himself the awakening of musical fantasy, and the talent or gift of grand moods and deep feeling, may himself in turn enter the ranks with the great ones who have gone within the veil of music’s mystery—not led by some one else, thinking and seeing only such matters as the leader has seen and set down in notes; but originally feeling, seeing, and saying somewhat upon his own account, which in turn he sets down in notes mirroring this inner fullness, to the end that others may enter into the same state with him, and share his joy. All this is to be musical; and every one in so far as he is musical, must attain to this kind of measure of musicality. This is the goal towards which all study should tend. First, to appreciate, next to reproduce, then to originate. All these in music, as the expression of feeling, imagination, and tonal fantasy. Whatever conduces to this form of musical attainment is proper and legitimate; and important in proportion to the degree in which it hastens the growth of musical life. Whatever retards, hinders, or diverts from the growth of a true musical life, is by so much an excrescence upon the course of training, and should give place to something more to the point.

There was a time in the history of musical instruction in this country when everything went to the practice of playing. There was no intelligence in the playing nor in the study. Music as a form of literature was a sealed book to the players. Fifty years ago the average American pupil played no master works whatever—scarcely knew that there were such things as master-works. Then came a time of cheap music, when master works were almost the exclusive subject of study, and this without the slightest system of grading and preparing for the higher attainments to be made later. Upon this state followed an era of Technic, when exercises became the main ingredient of study. It was the natural consequence of the return of certain American students from European conservatories. They had gone there without thorough technical training and the main ingredient of their practice had been, or seemed to them to have been, exercises. In many cases they left their studies too soon, before adding to the foundation the literature of music which had all along been intended. Hence an epoch of exercises in America.

Upon this followed the present state, in which there seems to me to be in certain quarters a disposition to rely upon study about music to take the place of the study of music itself. In other words, we are in an era of criticism.

When I suggest the study of music instead of the study about music, I do not mean that a pupil is to be put at pieces and nothing else, still less to the study of pieces by great authors and nothing else. Nor do I mean that it is in any sense a disadvantage to a pupil to be able to analyze the form of the pieces he studies. But I do mean that the ability to analyze the form constitutes exactly the same part of appreciating a Beethoven or Schumann movement that parsing the syntax of Browning or Shakespeare constitutes in appreciating the beautiful ideas of these great writers. And just as in literature, where the appreciation of the great masters rests upon some decades of practice in handling ideas of lighter weight, so here, one does not come to the appreciation of these master works ready made; one has to grow there. The musical child must think as a child, deepen as a youth, and only in due course of natural growth reach the stature of a man’s joys, sorrows, and cares, along with the outlook that goes with maturity.

The critical attitude is not the attitude for the reception of art. Not thinking “about,” but simply “enjoying,” is the form of consciousness in which one experiences with a Beethoven, a Raphael, a Shakespeare. The form of mental state called Intuition is the one in which art is received into consciousness with least loss. The German word answering to this English form is “Anschauung,” meaning a perception by simply looking at an object—especially by looking at it with the inner eyes, as distinguished from the outer eyes, which depend upon such and such visual impressions, whereas the inner eyes see things which the outer organs fail to notice. This is another name for the condition of soul which religious writers know as “faith,” meaning there by not so much an intention to regard some particular dogma as true, as a general state of soul, in which the good is taken into the soul without question. In our critical modern life we miss many “angels unawares,” by reason of too much disposition to test them chemically, or in a scientific spirit to find out whether indeed they be genuine. In other words, just as the necessary condition of growth in religious life is a state of faith, so a condition of open-hearted musical receptivity is the prime prerequisite to attainment in music. The productive attitude of mind, musically considered, especially in the first steps, is the serious, the confiding, the deep. And this is one of the first conditions of soul to establish as a vantage ground for farther progress. It was for establishing this state, or for promoting it, that the selection of pieces in my first book in Phrasing was made; and in a still lower plane, I have aimed at the same thing in the still easier pieces of the Introduction to Phrasing. A majority of the pieces are rather slow and serious. These slow and serious melodies do not present themselves to a child as stupid. Have you ever considered what the seriousness of the child means? It is the reverent openness of soul, awaiting whatever the future may have in store. To the child the slow pieces of Reinecke and Gurlitt are of the same weight, relatively, as the slow movements of Beethoven to children of mature years. They are to be taken into consciousness in the same way and the effect upon the soul is the same. They have in them something of the peace of the Eternal.

For understanding pieces of this kind, analyses are of very little help. The division of periods may be noticed, and later that into phrases; but in the beginning the child should think simply of the music. The piece should be played over, several times if need be; if any peculiarities of touch are needed for producing some specific effect, it must be taught. The progress of the thought as to intensity and climax must be brought to realization, partly by repeated playing, and partly by closer observation, quickened by questions. Only when the first idea of the piece in this, its purely musical aspect, has been gained, is it helpful to bring in any secondary ideas of motive treatment, harmonic motives, or anything else requiring the attention to be diverted from the purely musical consideration of the matter in hand.

It is the same thing in the study of higher movements, distinguished by the profundity of their expression, such as the slow movements of Beethoven. The first concept of the piece must be its purely musical one, derived from hearing it played in a serious manner, with depth of touch and feeling. When the pupil has heard the piece in this spirit, and likes it from this point of view, then he may study it for himself until he begins to get something out of it. The piece is played to the teacher, always without interruption until it is quite finished (unless, indeed, the study has been so fatally defective as to amount to an entire misconception, in which case it is as well to stop the playing as soon as the fault appears, and put the pupil upon the true clue), after which it is to be gone over with frequent interruptions, noting every missed effect, not only to point it out, but also to show the manner in which the true effect can be obtained. This takes time, and very likely an hour will pass before one has gone through a page. Eventually, however, by this method, the pupil will come into a style of performance in which the general features of the piece

will be observed according to the readings already given in the manner noted, and the performance will have in it something original, peculiar to the player’s individuality, because the playing will be actuated by feeling, and therein take on little niceties of effect due to the unconscious modification of touch by the feeling; and, equally with this action of feeling there will be other of an inner kind, as the intelligence is quickened by the feeling. This is the story of artists’ interpretations, and the explanation of the well-known fact that they never play the same piece well twice exactly alike. The slight modification of feeling changes the interpretation in various little particulars.

Even Bach has finally to be learned in this spirit, although we generally give his music for quickening the pupil’s intelligence in the treatment of motives. The first concept of a work of Bach, even of one of the little inventions, should be a purely musical concept, in such way that the music presents itself to the pupil’s mind as the expression of feeling and spontaneity; only later should the art of the treatment be analyzed. When the analyzing begins it should be thorough; but after it is completed and the pupil understands as much of the art of making the piece as it suits the teacher to teach at the time—then the piece has to be reconstructed in consciousness, all these niceties of thematic treatment being relegated to the background as much as they are in the performance of a Beethoven Adagio.

This brings me again to the point from whence I set out, namely that we are in danger of analyzing too much and reasoning where mere receptivity would give us larger and better results. I am not opposed to intelligence in playing or in teaching, but I am opposed to having anything else whatever take the place of real musical receptivity. When this attitude of soul has been established, then as much analysis as one pleases; but never so much as to occupy the attention while the poetry of the music is in question.

<< Shall I Compose?     Leigh Hunt On the Piano. >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music