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Editorials

Mr. Mathews remarks, in Music, for January, that even the cheaper commercial pianos of to-day are better than the best of thirty years ago. There has been advancement all along the line. Not only are the best instruments cheaper and better, but the same may be said of musical publications. There is an immense flood of music being turned out from rapidly revolving presses and sold at half the price it brought a generation or two ago.

But this cheapening process is not all gain, for the worst is cheapened as well as the best, and perhaps even more so. Even the much maligned department store is assisting in this matter of cheapening music; but too often it is a matter of cheapening cheap music.

But in buying cheap music the danger is in purchasing poor editions, badly phrased and carelessly fingered music, or not phrased and fingered at all,—the last of which conditions is, of the two, the preferable. It will be noted, too, that the department store music has a strong affection for the violin fingering applied to piano music, instead of the regular and accepted method of digitation.

And yet this plentiful overflow of music may be one of the blessings of his age to the student of music, if he makes proper selection from the plenitude that surrounds him. If the matter were boiled down into a few words, it would read: buy good music, well edited,—not overedited,—and well printed. Most people can judge of the printing; and, if you can’t judge of the music itself or of the editing, seek the advice of the best teacher you know. That’s what teachers are for. And pay him what his advice is worth, or his time taken in giving it.

* * *

Glancing over the editorials in a choir journal of the gospel-hymn persuasion a short time ago, the writer came across a paragraph in which the editor bewailed the use of anthems of, to quote his own words, “the decadent style of Liszt, St.-Saëns, and Grieg.” But the writings of several unknown ladies and gentlemen were loudly praised as being of the proper character for church worship. (Incidentally, it was remarked that the publisher of said magazine had the compositions of the said parties on sale.)

We may next expect to hear that the works of Bach and Beethoven have fallen, as the recent Mr. Cleveland expressed it, into a state of “innocuous desuetude.” It is a pity that there is still anything that pretends to be musical journalism that confessedly decries the use of the works of the best composers in the church service, and urges the acceptance of tunes of the gospel hymn order in their stead.

If it is necessary to use music of moderate grade, there is an abundance to be found in the works of writers who disdain the clap-trap and trashy style here alluded to. And the works of such men may be made stepping stones to the higher grades, even to works of “the decadent rococo style of Liszt, St.- Saëns, and Grieg.”

* * *

Among the constantly increasing number of English songs published it is astonishing to note that a large number of them, while musically beautiful, fail to appeal to the cultivated musician by reason of the manner in which the text is used, or, to be more exact, misused. It is too often the case that the American composer writes his principal musical thought first and then hunts around for a text, the words of which may seem to fit the melody. The result is at once shown when words, by the score, receive the wrong accent, whole sentences sometimes being separated by a musical interlude in the most flagrant manner in every way calculated to make nonsense out of what otherwise might have been made effective, and turning a poetic expression into a ridiculousness that is, to say the least, burlesque in the extreme.

Instead of first studying a poem, verse, or phrase, and determining exactly upon what words and syllables the accent should be placed, the young composer is, in the majority of cases, liable to plunge ahead in a frantic endeavor to get the melody finished, and is happily satisfied if only each syllable has a note written for it in the staff above.

Thoughtful musicians cannot help but see the grave danger in all this, for many of the would-be composers copy their first endeavors from these very bad examples. Even many teachers of harmony, who in the majority of cases include an expounding of the mysteries of composition in their means of emolument, utterly fail to observe this vital point in the writing of songs, and thus young musicians of real talent are gradually led astray and into habits that become more or less permanent and which, of course, are fatal to themselves and to those who see their distorted productions after they leave the printer’s hands. A crusade must and will be commenced against this growing monstrosity, for its evil effects are wide-spreading and corruptive. In the near future space will be devoted in the columns of The Etude to a series of articles, and these articles will be illustrated with examples of well-known songs irrespective of composers, be they ever so prominent or popular.

* * *

The following characteristic letter by Hans von Bülow, hitherto unpublished, has recently been going the rounds. The letter is addressed to the director of the opera-house in Zurich, who had dismissed Bülow on account of a quarrel with the irritable musician:

“Weimar, Dec., 1852.
“Most unesteemed Sir:
“You would oblige me very much by kindly encircling your long neck with a rope. If you desire to accomplish even more than that, hang yourself in mid-air by means of this neck-tie. You will oblige, “Yours most gratefully,

“Hans v. Bulow.”

* * *

Why do so many fail as piano-teachers? There are many reasons for this. In the first place, many an individual who would make an excellent telegraph operator or typewriter has missed his vocation as a piano-teacher. In other words, he is unfitted for the position he has chosen. The characteristics that belong to the successful piano-teacher are wanting. These characteristics are patience, love of work, a clear insight into the needs of his pupils, the ability to make his pupils progress in their work, the ambition to further the interest of his pupils, and the absence of personal vanity.

Every pupil must be treated differently. This is so well known a fact that to repeat it seems trite and common-place. And yet there are teachers that treat all pupils alike. Year upon year the same pieces are given and taught in the same style. The same etudes are gone through in the same order. The teacher has not gone with the times. He has remained stationary, utterly oblivious to the fact that, like in medicine, and in the various sciences, new ideas arise with new men, new conditions give way to old ones. The consequence is that the teacher belonging to this class sees his pupils leave him without understanding the cause. He does not hear the whispers behind his back: “He is too old-fashioned.”

On the other hand, inexperienced teachers must avoid constantly experimenting with methods. At first the Stuttgart method with suppressed knuckles is lauded to the skies; then again it is the Leschetitsky method with elevated knuckles; finally, the experimenting teacher tries his luck with the method that leads from brain to key-board with a minimum of brain and a maximum of board. This method of experimenting is one of the pitfalls besetting the path of the inexperienced teacher, and should also be avoided.

A teacher must be heart and soul in his work. He will find his greatest pleasure in the advancement of his pupils. Then there will be no cause for worry.

Instead of failure, his career will bring success.

* * *

In an interesting article on “Longevity and Degeneration,” in the February number of The Forum, William R. Thayer argues that the popular belief that the life of a man of genius is not conducive to longevity is erroneous; that, on the contrary, “the possession of genius or even of any excellence in a marked degree carries with it the presumption of unusual vitality.” Musicians are popularly supposed to become the victims of their emotional temperament. This in exaggerated form produces neurotic degeneration, which, in turn, tends to shorten life. This theory is also proved to be a popular fallacy. Mr. Thayer affirms that the average musician without arriving at the threescore and ten allowed by the psalmist, may, nevertheless, attain the age of the ordinary citizen; nay, may even surpass it by 22 years, the average length of life having increased from a little over 30 to about 40 years according to the latest statistics. To substantiate his views, the writer gives the following table (it will be seen that only those composers born in the 18th century are named, who lived more than half their life since 1800):

THIRTY MUSICIANS; AVERAGE, SIXTY-TWO YEARS.

Auber, 89.

Rubinstein, 64.

Lachner, 86.

Brahms, 64.

Verdi, 86.

Bülow, 64.

Ambroise Thomas, 85.

Balfe, 62.

Spontini, 77.

Raff, 60.

Franz, 77.

Tschaikowsky, 53.

Rossini, 76.

Donizetti, 50.

Gounod, 75.

Schumann, 46.

Liszt, 75.

Herold, 42.

Mercadante, 75.

Chopin, 40.

Strauss, 74.

Weber, 40.

Meyerbeer, 73.

Mendelssohn, 38.

Wagner, 70.

Bizet, 37.

Berlioz, 66.

Bellini, 33.

Abt, 66.

Schubert, 31.

 

While the present era of unexampled prosperity bids fair to continue for some time, a word of warning is not out of place now. We are not timid alarmists, prone to look on the dark side of everything in general, yet we believe that though we have but recently emerged from unprecedented hard times, just as truly shall we be plunged into them again. True, it may not be soon,—we earnestly hope not; but panics with their attending evils are of periodic occurrence, and have been so from time immemorial.

Why this is so is not now our province to discuss, but we wish to emphasize the fact that, before seven years at the most, rolls around, we shall be in the midst of hard times. Therefore it is wise to take time by the forelock and make the most of our present opportunities while we may. Professional men and businessmen are now reaping full harvests of golden gain.

The questions are: What are they doing with these gleanings? Are they wisely taking advantage of this condition of affairs? Are the profits of to-day being laid aside frugally against the possible hardships of the future?

Referring particularly to the musicians, who are not noted for business acumen, how unusual it is to find a veteran who is enabled to live comfortably on the proceeds of well-invested savings, gleaned from the incomes of former days!

Such examples of wise provision for old age should not be so extremely rare. Since the incomes of competent musicians average well with the incomes of the other professions, there is no plausible reason why a much larger number should not save up money.

One word about investments. We see, on all sides, musicians losing their hard-earned savings by investing in wild-cat schemes. We may have more to say on this again. But see that your principal is safe. Do not be led to give up your savings on a promise of 10, 15, or 20 per cent. profit. Good first-class investments never pay over 3½ to 4 per cent. interest.

* * *

In our awe and admiration at the greatness of the genius of the world’s musical creators, we are sometimes prone to fall into a rather silly way of talking of them as if they were demigods not marked with human foibles, and not to be pardoned when we learn perhaps that they possessed such weaknesses. When Beethoven was told by his friend, the violinist Schuppanzigh, that certain passages of the string quartets were unplayable, he replied: “Do you think that I am troubled about a miserable violin when the spirit speaks to me?” Again, Brahms one day complained that a certain passage in his violin concerto did not sound out against the orchestra while a certain famous lady violinist was rehearsing it. Joachim, who sat by him, said: “That passage is so ill adapted for the violin that no one could make it sound out.” The great Brahms was so vexed that he arose and went out in a pet. Beethoven raised a frightful riot when his friends wished him to cut down and alter the opera “Fidelio,” yet when they had beaten him down and had their way he was quite amiable about it. Violinists complain that the charming sonata in C-minor, by Grieg, is very unviolinistic, and certainly the fugue in three voices in G-minor written for that instrument by J. S. Bach is hard enough, yet to play these is a triumph of which all the virtuosi of the first rank are proud. The truth is just this: sometimes the composers were a trifle hard-headed, but again they were in the right, and by calling upon the instruments to do more than they were wont the bounds of technic and music were widened.

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