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The Soloist


In the January issue of The Etude, under the caption of “Three Fields of Labor,” we touched upon the violinist’s hopes, his aims, and his ambitions, hinting at present conditions in the United States, and promising to take up the question again for the benefit of all serious students. That this question deserves far lengthier and more detailed treatment than we can devote to it in these columns there can be little doubt; but, if we succeed only in placing before our readers some of the most important facts, we feel that the presentation of these facts alone will be helpful to the student in formulating his plans for the future. It would be useless, of course, to con­sider individual cases and uncommon conditions; nor would it prove profitable, for instance, to compare the musically undeveloped state of a small Western town with the older culture and advanced conditions of a city like New York. A recital of the experiences of the exceptionally gifted or peculiarly fortunate can be of no greater value to the student than knowledge of isolated cases of extreme suffering and distress. We therefore propose to acquaint our readers with prevailing conditions, so that they may have a glimpse of the life and profession which they yearn to adopt, and thus be in a better position to appreciate their own possibilities.

The majority of young players who aspire to be­come soloists of the first rank give little or no thought to the process by means of which their hopes are to be fulfilled. It is hardly an exaggeration of fact to say that this process is generally misunderstood; for, to the average player, gifted or otherwise, it means hardly anything more serious or alarming than devo­tion to technical and musical studies for a certain number of years. This is the common misconception of the process which ends in artistic maturity and public success; and the embryo artist who appreciates the graver aspect of his undertaking is an exception to the general experience of observant men.

Modern, and more especially modern American, con­ditions are such that the soloist’s success is no longer solely dependent upon superior instrumental ability. Mastery of technic and musical expression still does, and always will, count for much in the soloist’s chances of success; but musical and instrumental at­tainments, unaccompanied by intellectuality, by re­finement and personal charm, and unassisted by peculiar and fortunate conditions, are no longer to be depended upon to insure enduring success. In fact, the ambitious young artist is often placed in a strik­ingly helpless position; for, though he may have broadened his mind and character harmoniously with his advancement in musical art, he is hampered, to the point of desperation, by conditions which ob­viously can never be foreseen. These conditions, con­stantly varying, cannot be reckoned with; but what they are to-day, and how they affect an artist’s career, will, it is hoped, be made sufficiently clear to our readers.

Nearly all gifted young players reveal marked mu­sical tendencies. That is, they indicate in various and unmistakable ways preference or special aptitude for either virtuosity or what is termed the classical direction. But such preference, or aptitude, seldom exists, in the very young player, in such a degree that it may be considered unyielding. On the contrary, early training and environment decide, perhaps al­ways, the future musical character of the player’s mind.

If, however, the young violinist is to make delib­erate choice between the training which will fit him for the career of a mere technician, and the sane and sober discipline which develops artistry, there can be no hesitation about advising him to choose the latter. Aside from the fact that a virtuoso, pure and simple, is incapable of revealing the best thoughts of our greatest masters, and, in consequence of this in­ability, shuns the noblest thing in music, there is a weighty, practical reason why the violinist should devote his life and his gifts to the most serious phases of his art. The reason is very simple: the attitude of the entire musical world toward the virtuoso has undergone a change; and, whereas, formerly even the most musical communities were dazzled by technical display, and vociferously applauded the virtuoso’s shallowest offerings, to-day there no longer exists a craving for clownish musical feats, nor do our music- lovers hesitate to express their dissatisfaction with such performances.

This important change in the taste and attitude of all true music-lovers should serve as a warning to ambitious violinists against the “school” of virtuosity. Some may claim, it is true, that this is but a mis­taken notion of the music-lover, who underestimates the public’s admiration of virtuosity; and these will point a triumphant finger to such players as Jan Kubelik in order to demonstrate that the virtuoso is as welcome to us as he was to past generations. In reality, however, Jan Kubelik’s success aids rather than upsets our argument. His artistic success, in the United States, was questionable. He satisfied neither our critics nor our music-lovers; and though his technical skill commanded our admiration, the impression he left with us was not that of a sincere artist. Few intelligent music-lovers having once heard him play desired to hear him a second time. He startled the ear with his jugglery, but left the heart and the mind unstirred. And, from the financial point of view, what did Kubelik achieve, with all his virtuosity, that is unattainable by the serious artist of uncommon merit? Given similar conditions—that is, astute management and an exceptionally large ex­penditure for advertising purposes—and there is noth­ing in Mr. Kubelik’s successes that others cannot achieve.

The young and inexperienced soloist always im­agines that artistic merit necessarily insures success. Unfortunately, success is usually the result of fortu­nate circumstances combined with clever business man­agement. This is the case in all countries, but it is particularly true of the United States. The first es­sential to success is a fitting opportunity to be heard and properly judged. When, at least in the United States, is the young artist given such opportunity? He will seek it in vain. He must either create for himself such an opportunity or remain in obscurity. By “creating for himself such an opportunity” we mean obtaining the necessary funds to cover the ex­pense of giving a few concerts in New York. As a rule, the young artist’s purse is too slender to admit of such a venture, and it would prove a difficult mat­ter to find, among the wealthy, a sympathetic person who, for art’s sweet sake, would be willing to part with several thousand dollars. Our leading musical societies have, strange to say, too little interest in the fate of the struggling and unknown artist to lend an ear to his entreaties. In which direction, then, is the unfortunate young artist to turn for a fitting op­portunity to introduce himself to the public?

After a long series of disheartening experiences, and forced to earn his bread, the disillusioned young man sorrowfully accepts such engagements as he can pro­cure. His ambition may smolder for several years, but defeat is inevitable.

Now let us regard the brighter side of the picture. Let us assume that the gifted young artist is given his opportunity, and wins the admiration of the public and the press. Let us even assume that he is uncommonly fortunate in securing the interest of a well-known, successful impressario. For several years, at most, he will be able to secure unimportant en­gagements at a fair remuneration. When his name has grown too familiar to the concert-goers of our smaller cities, this source of income ceases, and he takes up his abode, let us say, in New York. Here there is absolutely no opportunity for a soloist of dignity and worth. Foreign artists, only, are engaged for important musical events. Indeed, the foreign artist monopolizes our musical seasons. The only op­portunities for the local artist are insignificant con­certs that are attended neither by our music-lovers nor our critics, and the concerts now in vogue at our department stores.

Here we have the main facts in the case. It is unnecessary to enlarge upon them, or to cite numerous instances which will bear out and emphasize the truth of what has been said in the foregoing lines. Neither is it our purpose to criticise those who have it in their power to better existing conditions. That these conditions easily admit of improvement will hardly be questioned by those who are familiar with the strange and conflicting elements of our musical life. Our purpose is simply to familiarize students with realities, and thus assist them, if possible, in shaping their aims and their lives.


[1] The first of a series of three articles by the Editor. The other two are “The Teacher” and “The Orchestra Player.”


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