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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - The Masters as Students

In the preceding series of articles under the head of Student Life and Work I have endeavored to set forth principles which underlie real study. I have based them on the utterances of educators whose ripe scholarship and long experience entitle them to speak with authority. The past twenty-five years having brought about great changes in both curricula and methods of instruction, and consequently of study, emphasis is now laid upon subjects and methods that, only a few years ago, were ignored or passed lightly over; and facilities for the prosecution of general and special lines of study have so increased that we pride ourselves on the progress of these last days. The multiplicity of schools and libraries and concerts is a great incentive to study. The philosophical tendency of our time, very pronounced despite our avowed utilitarianism, subjects music, in common with other subjects of thought, to keen, close analysis in the search for the basic principles on which its creative, interpretative, and pedagogic activities rest. The wealth of books and music, their steadily increasing accessibility, and the more numerous opportunities of hearing good music well interpreted are valuable aids to a student life of exceptional interest and productivity.
The high standards, which are being constantly elevated, the clearer discernment and appreciation of the real purposes of study, and the eager search for better and more economical methods must result in benefit to all who are engaged in the pursuit of culture, whether musical or not. And it is to our advantage that our studies are carried on under such conditions as now exist, but while we congratulate ourselves upon the fact, it is not wise to let our enthusiasm over these modern conditions blind us to the lessons of the past. We concede the greatness of the masters of the past century, for their work provides the very problems by which we test our modern philosophy and pedagogy, and in planning new courses of study we can find no better standards than the compositions of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, et al.
Nevertheless they are prone to think of these stalwarts as springing full-armed from the head of the Muse, needing little or none of that painstaking study and training from which our mediocre achievements must come. Yet this is far from the truth, for we find that they did study most earnestly and patiently, using to the full every facility available to them; that they did undergo severe and long-continued training; that their successes were not obtained without effort and after many rebuffs; and that the divinely bestowed genius which was their birthright, and which we covet, was molded by years of study and training. With a mind to learn a lesson from the past, it may prove profitable to devote a little time to the consideration of the student-life of these masters, and it may be that we will be surprised to note how minute are the differences between the elements which contributed to their success and those which will bear upon our own progress.
Among the masters of the eighteenth century Mozart's position is unique. With the greatness of his genius, the enduring character of his music, and the sadness of his life we are familiar. His infusion of spontaneous beauty into the forms cast by his predecessors was a remarkable evidence of the character of his genius. We begin to have some appreciation of the nature of his apprenticeship as we note his precocious childhood and marvelous successes as a boy-virtuoso, and when we remember that from this precocity and these early wandering years of concert giving there developed the man of whom it could truthfully be written, "His knowledge is as great as his genius. He knew the precise force of a figure, or a chord, or an accidental, or a timbre. He had no doubt of whether a thing would do or not. The good which is the enemy of the best never deluded him. He wrote no ossias. He knew how to resist the artist's temptations. He could reject. He does not experiment or do any shady things. He goes straight to the mark. He uses his materials for what he knows them to be worth and takes no chances. He keeps within bounds. He puts the perfectly legitimate effect and infallibly stops there." We are impressed with the realization of the fact that his student life must have been of unusual character, of a kind to equip his mind for a mastery whose chief characteristic is adaptability, play, an initiative which transcends the bounds of mere technical training. We must appreciate that in him education resulted in a full liberation of his faculties, quickening and adapting his perceptions.
The student derives his instruction from two sources: (1) the regular, systematic impartation of knowledge by his instructor, (2) contact with his fellows and observation of their work. In the first, the weight of responsibility is upon the instructor; in his wisdom, care, proficiency, and tactfulness is hidden the germ of the student's progress. The second is the consummation of all student-life. It is in the improvement of our teachers and teaching and the larger opportunities for self-culture that come from contact, observation, and hearing that we, today, find such gratification. Yet nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, the precocious Wolfgang had for his teacher one whose knowledge, wisdom, care, and tactful management safely directed him along the dangerous paths of precociousness into mature scholarship; who turned the diverting concert wanderings into tours of close, fruitful observation, extracting from them lessons of invaluable nature.
Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart, was prepared by nature and training to direct his wonderful boy's education. Considering his great talents to be gifts from God, he set himself about the work of developing them with remarkable skill and prudence. Using them to furnish material means for their further development, he never viewed them sordidly. Until the youthful Mozart reached the maturity of his powers, he did not cease to control, direct and advise. He taught the boy how to see, to interpret, to form judgments. His own considerable culture was placed at the service of the boy, and when he discovered that the creative genius of his son was far beyond the ordinary, his own composing was laid aside, he decreased that his son might increase.
The son responded to the instruction of the father with unusual obedience. His simple, sweet nature prevented any marring of his modesty, and just as it won the love of those before whom he appeared as a wonderchild, so it received the wise instruction of the father in simplicity, earnestly and patiently submitting to the discipline which produced the knowledge and skill to which the quotation in a previous paragraph alluded. His notebook is testimony of the studiousness of his apprenticeship.
Students of to-day cannot do better than to read his life, with their attention directed to his student experiences. "The Life of Mozart," by Edward Holmes, contains much matter relating to his childhood and youth, and gives opportunity to study this phase of his life. The great work, "The Life of Mozart," by Otto Jahn, is also valuable.

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