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The Higher Side of Music

BY HENRY T. FINCK
 
"If you have two loaves of bread," said Mohammed, "exchange one of them for daffodils; for, while bread strengthens the body, to look upon the daffodil rejoiceth the heart."
 
The editor of The Etude has suggested that "possibly, in the pedagogic earnestness of music teachers of the country, and in the tremendous seeking of technical excellence, the real beauty of art ideas is lost sight of." Five-finger exercises are the bread which strengthens the muscles; but music is something more than mere muscular exercise; its realm is a garden full of flowers; but, strange to say, many, if not most, professional musicians seem not to see or to care for these flowers.
 
Technical skill is, of course, the first requisite in music. As Hans von Bülow remarked, a pupil must learn to play correctly before he can be expected to play beautifully or interestingly: But what amazes me every day of my life is that so many musicians should be satisfied with technical correctness and never aspire to play beautifully and interestingly. For this, in many cases, their teachers are to blame.
 
Perhaps the reader has heard of the German professor who, on his deathbed, called his sons and warned them not to follow his example. "I have given my whole life to the study of the Greek cases," he said; "I was too ambitious. I should have confined myself to the dative case."
 
No doubt this professor was extremely happy in this limited range of his studies. Exhaustive knowledge of any one thing usually breeds enthusiasm over it. There are plenty of men of science who have made a specialty of one kind of plant or animal—perhaps an insect—and whose interest in it is so intense as to crowd out almost every other topic of thought or conversation. This shows what a wonderful world we are living in—a world in which everything may be made the object of lifelong, enthusiastic study.
 
Music teaching is no exception. To some it is merely a wearisome way of making a living, but to many it is a specialty every detail of which arouses their keenest interest. In this very fact lies a great danger—the danger of supposing that these details, which are of interest and importance to a specialist, must also be of interest and importance to their pupils, including those who have no intention of becoming professionals.
 
Many a college graduate recalls with a shudder the elaborate and intricate Latin and Greek grammars he was obliged to study, memorizing all the rules and their exceptions, and the exceptions to the exceptions. These grammatical details and subtleties naturally interest the professors of Greek and Latin, because they are specialists; and in their superlative folly they teach every college student just as if he were going to be a specialist in ancient philology.
 
The result is that the time and attention of the student are so completely taken up with the grammatical side of Virgil and Ovid and Homer and Thucydides that their literary charms entirely escape him. He would gladly exchange one of the philological loaves for a daffodil, but the professor gives him no chance. I myself had but a vague idea of the beauty of the ancient writers until I re-read their works a few years ago in collecting material for my book on "Primitive Love." I then realized how onesided the instruction in college had been, how purely scientific (philological) while the artistic (literary) side was almost entirely ignored.
 
Music teaching, in the same way, is treated too much as a science—as a branch of pedagogy, in which the artistic side is ignored. The teacher, being thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of technic, has the interest of a specialist in them, and is apt to inflict them even on pupils who do not need or want them, because they only intend to be amateurs. We might say that such a teacher is too much of a botanist, too little of a gardener. Botany is an interesting science, and much is to be learned by dissecting and classifying plants; but, after all, gardening, or gathering, wild flowers in forest or meadow, is more fascinating.
 
About a year ago a college president sneered at
 
what he called the feminine way of teaching sciences, in books wherein stars and birds and other animals are described as seen through opera glasses, without mathematical and anatomical details. It seems to me that this method of study, which emphasizes the artistic aspect of things, is precisely what many students need, in music as well as in astronomy and zoology. Is it not better to recognize a bird by its form and plumage than to know all about the bones in its skeleton?
 
Science is a great thing, but art is greater—whether it be human art or the artistic products of Nature. But this truth is not yet recognized by our educators. Not long ago two eminent professors left Columbia University because the scientific men have it all their way, and the students are allowed to grow up in barbaric ignorance of the art ideal. Our educators have their eye only on the bread which strengthens the body, and they blindly trample on the daffodil which rejoiceth the heart of those who can see.
 
Musical technic is a science, and it cannot be denied that it is the only gateway by which the art of music can be approached. Many, however, linger too long in the gateway and never enter the realm of the art.
 
When Richard Wagner was a boy he played the pianoforte with such faulty technic that his teacher told him he would "never amount to anything." Yet Wagner "got there" all the same. And why? Because he was a musical enthusiast. He played the Freischütz score on the piano with the most horrible fingering, but he became familiar with the musical ideas in them, and those fanned the creative impulse in his own mind and made a musician of him, whereas a strictly pedagogic course might have frightened him away from the art altogether.
 
If teachers will try to arouse a love of musical ideas in the minds of their pupils, they will find this an invaluable antidote to the fatigue engendered by the necessary daily devotion to technical exercises. By musical ideas I mean the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic thoughts expressed in compositions—that which constitutes their beauty and significance. What extraordinary effect the musical ideas of a great master can have on a sensitive mind, is strikingly shown in what Richard Wagner wrote regarding the time when he was studying Beethoven's ninth symphony, with a view to its production in Dresden: —
 
"It is not possible that the work of a master can ever have taken possession of a pupil's heart with such magic power as that which overwhelmed me when perusing the first movement of this symphony. Had anybody surprised me before the open score as I went over it to consider the means of its execution, and noted my tears and frantic sobs, he would truly have asked himself in astonishment if this was the conduct of a Royal Saxon Kapellmeister."
 
That is the state of mind a teacher should try to arouse in his pupils; and there is only one way to do it. He must remember that technic is only a means to an end, which end is the appreciation of musical ideas. Place before your pupils the best musical ideas, and only the best, and as soon as they have learned to appreciate them they will be willing to undergo any amount of technical drudgery that may be necessary for a proper performance of such music, be it for their own pleasure or the edification of the public.

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