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Answers To Questions

A department of expert advice for the use of any ETUDE reader who may desire information upon some special musical subject.


1. All questions must be signed with the name and address of the writer. No attention will be paid to questions not thus signed.
2. If your question is personal and not of a nature that will appeal to the majority of our readers you will receive an answer by letter, and not in this column.
3. If you are writing about other matters (music orders, subscription, etc.) place the questions intended for this department upon a separate sheet of paper and sign your name and address. Do not send questions in the body of a letter referring to other departments.
4. Questions referring to the interpretation of special pieces, metronomic markings, etc., cannot be answered in this department, as they are not likely to interest many of our readers.
5. Direct letters, ”The Etude Questions and Answers,” 1714 Chestnut St., Phila., Penna. No charge is made for the use of this department. All questions will be placed in the hands of competent specialists.


Q. How long should “fermata” be held?
A. There is no definite rule. The length of the pause or hold indicated by this word depends upon the taste and judgment of the performer.

Q. What is to be inferred by a “fermata” in a measure containing only rests at the close of a piece?
A. This form of hold is sometimes inserted by composers and editors where they have a feeling that the rhythm and metre give the sensation of incompleteness. It is usually accompanied by the pedal mark (Damper Pedal), which by producing sympathetic vibration prolongs the tone and makes the ending less abrupt.

Q. Explain the difference between the time signatures “C” and the same sign with a perpendicular line drawn through it.
A. Both indicate common time and both are used in secular as well as sacred music. The first indicates what is commonly known as four quarter metre, while the second indicates two half metre. The use of both of these signs is being supplanted by fractions.

Q. What was the horn band mentioned in some old novels? Was it a brass band?
A. It was a band composed of horn players numbering from thirty to forty. Most of the instruments sounded only one tone. The band was made fashionable in Europe by the Russian Empress Elizabeth.

Q. What is the plot of the opera “Ballo in Maschero?”
A. The libretto was written by Scribe for Auber. It inspired Verdi to write an opera on the same subject. It has to do with a court intrigue surrounding the career of Gustavus III of Sweden (1792). The king is killed at a masked ball represented in the last act of the opera. For this reason the Verdi version was prohibited in Italy. Verdi then changed the scene to Boston, making Gustavus “Count Richard, Governor of Boston,” and altering the other characters in a manner quite as absurd. A few years ago the opera was revived and given in New York.

Q. Did the old Greek philosophers contend that music was purely a mathematical study?
A. There were two school or classes: The followers of Aristoxenus, known as “Harmonici,” who taught that music was governed by appeal to the ear, and the followers of Pythagoras, known as “Canonici,” who claimed that it was a mathematical study.

Q. Can the word “oratorio” be correctly applied to choral works that do not have a sacred text, such as “Hiawatha.” “The Seasons,” “Fair Ellen?’”
A. No, although this mistake is frequently made by musicians who should know better. A more appropriate name would be “Cantata.” The word oratorio comes from the Latin oratorius and pertains to prayer.

Q. What does the word ossia mean?
A. Ossia (pronounced os’see-a) is used where the composer offers another version or method of playing certain bars in a piece, which may be substituted without altering the piece materially.

Q. How do you pronounce Mozart’s middle name “Wolfgang?”
A. Volf-gahng, with the accent on the first syllable.

Q. Kindly give short biographies of leading modern composers.
A. Many questions of this kind have been received, but it is obviously impossible for us to accommodate our readers within the limitations of this department. Investigate the “Etude Gallery” in this issue. This is designed to meet this want. If it meets with your favor kindly send us a postal, as if sufficient readers desire this feature we shall be pleased to continue it.

Q. What kind of material is used for the “center” wire of both single and wound piano strings?
A. Steel, having particularly great tensile strength. The tension placed upon the combined strings of the ordinary modern piano has been estimated at several tons. Iron strings would not be able to stand this strain.

Q. What is the meaning of compound intervals?
A. This is a term used by some theorists to designate intervals greater than the octave, such as the eleventh, thirteenth, etc.

Q. Which of the minor scales is more commonly used in ordinary compositions for piano, the harmonic or the melodic?
A. The melodic. The harmonic is more commonly used in choral works where the strict rules of harmony are more closely observed. Modern composers for pianoforte frequently employ what has come to be known as the normal minor scale. The normal minor scale is that found by starting upon the sixth of any major scale and ascending or descending for one octave without chromatic changes. Liszt and many other pianoforte composers employed the harmonic minor almost without exception. No hard and fast rule can be made.

Q. What was the cause of Mozart’s death?
A. Malignant typhus fever. His funeral was held in the open air near the famous cathedral of St. Stephen, in Vienna. His body was then conveyed to the cemetery, where he was buried in the ground allotted to paupers. A monument to Mozart has, however, been erected in the group marking the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Von Suppe, Strauss and others in that famous “garden of rest.”

Q. Please give me the opinion of teachers in regard to the    _______ method.
A. Many questions of this kind are received at this office. It should be obvious that we are not in position to either endorse or condemn proprietary methods. Readers are referred to our advertising columns for information of this kind. No advertisement is published in The Etude until adequate reference has been secured from the advertiser by the publisher of this paper.

Q. Kindly give exact date of Chopin’s birth.
A. Some doubt seems to exist regarding this. The following are the dates given in leading musical dictionaries: Riemann, Feb. 22d, 1810; Baker, Feb. 22d, 1810 (with note “this date is from authoritative documentary evidence”); Stokes’ Encyclopedia (new), March 1st, 1809; Groves’ Dictionary (new edition), March 1st, 1809 (with note “not 1810, as on Chopin’s tombstone”). The 1809 date is doubtless correct.


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