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Musical Comments by Emil Liebling

The recent death of Mr. Frederick Brandeis, of New York, removed from our mundane sphere a very capable, earnest, and conscientious musician, and yet he illustrated during his life the anomaly of a thoroughly good but not especially successful artist. I mean successful in the most prosaic meaning of the term, for among his peers he was esteemed and appreciated. But in some way the goods which he had for sale were not just what the public wanted, and he did not find a market for them; if there is any practical deduction or reflection it seems to point out the expediency of meeting the requirements of the public at least half way, in order to succeed at all. Our profession has also much to learn in regard to how to attract a paying constituency and keep them loyally attached; every merchant seeks to present his wares in attractive guise, and constantly evolves new modes of interesting the possible buyer; it is by no means humiliating to affirm that similar means have to be resorted to constantly in order to create new musical business and perpetuate the old. The first need is to obtain the goods, that is, the musical knowledge, but it is equally important to know how to make it tell in a practical way. All of which sounds horribly commonplace and mercenary, but sooner or later confronts us all; and somehow or other art is and has been served most potently by those who knew how to succeed in other directions also. The dreamers form the flotsam and jetsam of the profession.
 
It is evident that the influx of foreign talent will again be large next season; the advance agent is already rampant, and we are promised all sorts of new delights. Why a man's nationality should be invoked in an advertising way passeth my understanding. A Chinese or Cardiff giant may inspire some local interest, but what on earth has geography to do with piano playing! We do not care whether a man is a Roumanian, Russian, Zulu, or Hottentot, so long as he can do the work; but the foreign appellation still seems to possess some mysterious and magic drawing power at the box-office. One of the idols has lately been married, and even this family misfortune is being used in an advertising way, and we read columns of rot on the subject, which are intended to prove that curiosity will be agog to ascertain whether his playing has changed since the ceremony was performed. This is a case of "before" and "after," and we expect to see many learned dissertations on the subject, expounding the influence of marriage on piano playing.
 
An exchange considers it a hopeful sign that the titled aristocracy and the untitled plutocracy of England and America are beginning to take an interest in music; this is arrant nonsense. The artists who hang on the outskirts of society rank but very little higher in the social scale than the butlers and chefs; they depend on the whims of inflated ignoramuses, eke out a precarious existence, and only subsist at the expense of whatever self respect they may have started in with. Of course, there are exceptions, but real progress has always come from the foundation, from the people at large; the gallery contains more of the actual musical element at the opera and symphony concerts than the boxes or parquet.
 
We all look forward to a prosperous season; if we did not we would quit the profession. General prosperity or business depression does not affect music teaching so much as might be supposed. Give people the luxuries of life, and they will take care of the necessities; but it behooves every one to be on the alert, for competition is strong and capable, and it will never do to rest on your oars or laurels; if you do you are lost, for there are many waiting to get your job, and there is an everlasting army of competents and incompetents let loose every year on the suspecting public. It takes many years to build up a following, and business sometimes has a way of folding its tent and stealing away like the Arab of old, and then you wonder as to the why and wherefore! What a constant struggle for recognition, let alone supremacy, and if the candle holds out during the entire game one may well be congratulated.
 
It is quite a problem how to create a sincere musical interest in smaller communities, and the task usually devolves upon a few enthusiasts who are willing to sacrifice time and money in furthering the cause. Musical clubs are apt to run in a groove and deep rut after a few years of existence, and it requires much thought and ingenuity to vary the program constantly, so as to keep the members on the qui vive. The formation of clubs has done much to centralize and focus local musical talent; whether the prominence thus given to amateur performances has really raised the general musical standard is, perhaps, a question of doubt ; that it has not materially aided purely professional interests is obvious.
 
What is the use of publishing the thousand-and-one "Don'ts," when there is always only one correct "Do it?" Teach the one correct thing and ignore the endless pitfalls which surround it; it saves time and simplifies the task materially. Establish a minimum of daily practice for each pupil, and let the maximum take care of itself. The pupil who has no settled and definite plan of study is diffuse and dilatory. He procrastinates, puts off, postpones, and never amounts to anything. It would not be a bad plan for teachers to use the same announcement, which we so often see in a certain form of advertisement: "No triflers need apply."
 
What is to be done with grace notes? No two teachers teach them alike, no two artists execute them alike, and no two editions print them alike. I agree in most cases with Schumann's version, which almost invariably places the embellishment into the time of the previous note, instead of playing it on the time of the following note value, as advocated by Bülow. Most reprehensible is the continued use of the obsolete and misleading long appoggiatura, which looks differently than it is meant to sound; the Peters edition of the Mozart Sonatas is a bad offender in this respect; the same edition continues the use of the ancient breve in the first two studies of Clementi's Gradus, causing much doubt, misconception, and unhappiness on the part of many earnest seekers for enlightenment.
 
Some consensus of opinion would seem in order to settle this burning question, even approximately, for practical teaching purposes. Four of the older masters disliked the use of grace notes and resorted to almost anything in order to avoid them, even writing 1-128th notes in preference. Liszt, the master of the cadenza, however, utilized the "little jokers" constantly.
 
I have always held that there are just as good fish in the sea as were ever caught, and that we are writing better music than our "fourfathers," Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. They did their work at their appointed time, and did it well; but, having created certain art forms, they became the slaves of the same. One can not help being impressed with the enormous amount of individuality as expressed by our modern masters. Sinding's "Spring Song," Bruno Oscar Klein's "Swallows," and Macdowell's Barcarolle, opus 18, are strong examples of the essential peculiarities which have made modern music what it is. It abounds in descriptiveness and definite musical imagery, and Benjamin Godard can safely be included in this list of new immortals, of whom Moszkowski is the doyen. A study of his new concerto in E raises this master enormously in one's estimation. Compared to it, the Chopin concertos are kindergarten music, technically. The themes are profoundly musical; the development is logically built up; there is no padding, and it is in every way a delightful musical experience. In comparison with this work the Czerny- like passages of the Beethoven concertos pall into insignificance. The only way to keep abreast of the times is to be in touch with the developments of our day. No one can afford to ignore the good work of his contemporaries.
 
Many editions contain useless and misleading marks of phrasing and expression, and there should be more tangible uniformity; thus we often find staccato marks and ties placed where neither effect is intended, all of which is misleading and puzzling. The Germer and Riemann editions are totally unfit for general use, as they destroy the original text so totally as to make it unrecognizable. Whatever marks are interpolated in the text should be clear, definite, and to the point. I do not suppose that the endless confusion resulting from the similarity of the legato and slur signs will ever be eliminated. The study of musical form, phrasing, and musical analysis will materially assist in this important matter.
 
The teacher who at his studio sits enthroned in all his glory, like King Solomon of old, taken up with his own importance, puffed up with pride, will, sooner or later, experience the proverbial fall and he will come down with a dull thud. There is nothing so harmful as superciliousness and selfsufficiency. Our Americans will take any amount of abuse abroad and pay high for the same, but when at home they are more critical. While it is not wise to identify yourself too closely with the many troubles, trials, and tribulations of your class, yet you must at least lend a willing ear. Pupils are gifted with quick perception and will soon discern a lack of sympathy or cooperation on the part of the teacher, and unless the interests are reasonably identical, nothing will be accomplished. A teacher without earnest convictions and a definite method is like a reed in the wind, and a very weak one at that. That music is progressing is an undeniable fact, and the coming season will, I trust, bring many delightful experiences and much success to all concerned. It is apt to be just what you and I will make it for others and ourselves.

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