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The Student's Attitude Toward His Art. I. Humility.

Before undertaking the study of any art the intending student should put himself through a course of severe self-examination as to his fitness for such a pursuit, and as to his motives for entering on it.

Too many make the mistake of thinking that fond­ness for art implies the ability to succeed in it, and, on the other hand, where there is a consciousness of the possession of genius, there is too often a feeling that this genius will supply all the needed elements of success without care or labor on the part of its possessor, that it will even entitle him to look down from his fancied superiority on the work of those who have striven hard to gain the prize. This atti­tude is a fatal bar to success, because it is only by knowing and understanding and, above all, sympa­thizing with the work already done that advance becomes possible. This is what we meant when we wrote—in a previous article—“The study of any art should be undertaken in a spirit of humility.” The art of music is greater far than any one man—no matter how supereminent his genius.

Even with the greatest composers—very few have reached the highest point in more than one depart­ment. This consideration may well give pause to the youthful aspirant who imagines he will march on a broad highway, with banners flying, to the top of Parnassus, instead of painfully toiling up the steep, rocky path, often torn with brambles, often stumbling in the dark, and, instead of pæans of praise, but too often the mocking fleers of voices within as well as without.

The art that is based on the humble patient study of all that has achieved the suffrages of mankind is like a lofty tower based on the solid earth. That which is the result of untrained self-confident genius is like the flight of a balloon; it soars majestically, and men look on its flight with wonder and admira­tion, but it is subject to sudden collapse, not with­out detriment to the ambitious aeronaut.

There is nothing like widely extended study to bring the student to a realizing sense of his own insignificance when he discovers that the ideas he has fondly imagined himself to have evolved by the force of his own genius were old before his advent into the world of art.

This desire to learn from any and every source seems to have characterized all the greatest com­posers; Handel learned from Lully the form of the overture, which he made his own; Bach was indebted to the Suites of Couperin; Haydn, to the string-quartets of Boccherini; the list might be extended indefinitely. This “great cloud of witnesses” ought to prove both incentive and encouragement to the earnest student to lay aside all his preconceived notions of his superiority to the natural heritage of all—work—and, adopting the saying of a wise man to his art, he should say: “It is not our business to judge or condemn, but to understand,” and un­derstanding never comes but through sympathy.

The foregoing remarks do not apply only to the creative, but with even more force to the interpreta­tive musician, the interpretative ability being ad­mittedly a lower manifestation of genius than the creative. This being so, the interpreter is bound to respect his author and, as far as in him lies, absorb the meaning of his author. It is woful to think of the number of “sins of omission and com­mission” that are perpetrated under the guise of “original interpretation,” which generally means that the “interpreter” is displaying himself at the expense of his author.

We once heard a good pianist—about twenty years old—say that Mozart’s sonatas were not worth playing. We heard another—about sixty years old— a player for whom difficulties did not exist, say: “I don’t know any music that is more difficult to play properly than Mozart’s.” The difference between the two may be found in the word properly.

In a few words, the right attitude of the student toward his art is—determination, modest self-con­sciousness, and willingness to accept the teachings that may be found in every school of art that has successfully withstood the test of time.—H. A. Clarke.

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You are reading The Student's Attitude Toward His Art. I. Humility. from the May, 1902 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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