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Mr. Jaroslav Kocian's Art.

Our readers are doubtless  aware of the fact that The Etude, unlike our daily news papers, does not make it a business to chronicle the happenings of the concert season or to pass judgment upon the various performers that claim the public’s attention. For various excellent reasons The Etude does not concern itself with such criticism as the public demands of the newspaper. Its work is on educational lines of a different nature; and while it aims to instruct the student and interest the amateur—to say nothing of being helpful in a thousand different ways to the average teacher—it seldom feels called upon to publish detailed criticism of any kind.

Occasionally, however, something of peculiar or unusual interest in connection with a performer’s work demands an article in the nature of criticism. These occasions are rare, indeed; but, when they do arise, we enter the field of criticism without the slightest hesitation.

Mr. Jaroslav Kocian’s first concert in the United States calls for more than a passing word. The young Bohemian violinist has come to us with an enviable reputation. His press agent, and the European newspapers, have been telling us extraordinary tales of his musicianship and instrumental skill, and it was only natural that we should expect to hear a remarkable violinist. That we have too often been deceived by European criticism, and no longer implicitly believe everything the European critic tells us is only too true; but it is equally true that when a violinist comes to us heralded as Mr. Kocian has been during the past twelve months, more or less, we expect to become acquainted with an artist of at least uncommon merit. In fact, we are justified in demanding the highest qualities in the playing of these European celebrities, and we know of no good reason why we should be content, under the circumstances, with anything less than a high order of musicianship and instrumental skill.

Mr. Kocian, we regret to say, has not fulfilled our reasonable expectations. He has not amazed us with a prodigious display of technic; his playing has revealed no musical charm, no intellectuality; and his tone has failed to impress us, because it lacks vitality and breadth. What, we are impelled to ask, are the virtues of Mr. Kocian’s art that have so entraced (sic) his European admirers? We have made a most conscientious effort to discover these virtues, but the more carefully we have listened to the young Bohemian the more thoroughly we have been impressed with the absurdity of European opinion.

For his first program in the United States Mr. Kocian chose, as the principal number, the F-sharp minor concerto by Ernst. Mr. Kocian obviously intended to convince us, by means of this concerto, that he is a master of the technics of his art; but anyone familiar with left-hand technic and the difficulties of this concerto could unfailingly detect Mr. Kocian’s technical weaknesses. By “technical weaknesses” we do not mean his short-comings on this particular evening. Such criticism would be both narrow and unjust if it meant nothing more than faultfinding with a player’s mishaps. No, we mean, when we speak of the Bohemian’s “technical weaknesses,” his caution, his transparent labor, his lack of abandon. He carefully threads his way, looking neither to right nor left, his effort manifest, his technical triumph revealing the pain and burden of arduous training. There is no joy in Mr. Kocian’s technic, none of the jubilance and effervescence that should characterize the technical feat that has been absolutely mastered. Always it is conscientious, painstaking technic above the average player’s possibilities. But it is hardly more than that. His digital fluency and adroit manipulation have none of the sparkle and admirable daring of Jan Kubelik’s technic; nor has his left hand been trained to the fine accuracy of the left hand of Jan Kubelik.

Mr. Kocian’s technical equipment being what it is, what is left in his playing that deserves or commands great admiration? His tone is small, disappointingly small. But its lack of volume is not, by any means, its most unfortunate feature. Sarasate’s tone, for instance, could hardly be considered robust, and, in comparison with the breadth of tone produced by other great violinists, it would hardly be unjust to pronounce the Spanish virtuoso’s tone decidedly small. But consider the variety and the various beautiful qualities of the Spaniard’s tone! It is always vital and penetrating; its suavity is delightful; its purity is exceptional; its resemblance to the human voice is one of its most striking characteristics; it appeals to the intellect as well as to the heart: in short, its many and uncommon excellencies compensate for what it lacks in volume. But what can we find in Mr. Kocian’s tone that compensates for its feebleness? We listen in vain for contrast, for the tone-delineations of the true artist; we wait expectantly, wistfully, for the climax that never comes; the same voice, always the same, bids us listen to its tale; so that, in the end, we long for even a shrill, discordant utterance to relieve the strain of monotony.

And Mr. Kocian, the musician? Alas, who that listened to the cadenza which the Bohemian annexed to Ernst’s concerto could repose any confidence in his musical taste and judgment? Had he deliberately chosen to furnish us with evidence of his musical immaturity, he could certainly not have adopted any means more convincing. He does not seem to understand that cadenzas are, at best, repugnant to artists of the higher type, and that, where the cadenza is inevitable, owing to the structure of the composition, the serious musician always endeavors so to weld it to the concerto that, in thought and character, there is beauty, strength, and unity. But even when this opportunity for technical display is irresistible to the artist, and the desire fully to reveal his technical powers is stronger than his musical purpose, he should, and does, remember what he owes to his art, and is not tempted to violate what may be termed the musical decencies.

Mr. Kocian did not hesitate to be guilty of such violation. In a city like New York, where the public is accustomed to hear the very best, and where only the very best will satisfy our music-lovers, Mr. Kocian utilized the cadenza as a parade-ground for vicious virtuosity. His antics, his capers, his technical somersaults were unpardonable. It was a digital display pure and simple, unmusical, unbeautiful. It was a series of meaningless pyrotechnics between which and the concerto absolutely no relationship was traceable. The Ernst concerto is essentially a display piece; but it is not devoid of musical merit, and it certainly deserves a better fate than to be linked with a jumbled mass of passage-work which, originally, was intended to serve a far different purpose.

From whatever viewpoint we may choose to regard Mr. Jaroslav Kocian, the conviction is certainly forced upon us that he has been misrepresented to the American public. The European critics who have hysterically sung his praises have led us to believe that, musically and instrumentally, he is Jan Kubelik’s superior. But we have long since discovered the true worth of the European critic’s opinion. His authority is rapidly waning, and in the very near future his drivel will be utterly disregarded on this side of the Atlantic.

Mr. Kocian is an uncommonly capable violinist. He has an abundance of technic. So have many of our resident artists. But the latter understand the value of technic, and make it subservient to the nobler things in music. Mr. Kocian, we are glad to say, has some other qualities that are commendable. So, too, have our resident artists. But the foolish American impressario would never dream of exploiting the latter as he does any European “celebrity” who has won the favor of European critics and the ecstatic ladies of London.

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