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The Modern Musical Crank


Of all the cranks in the world, there is none so objectionable as the old, fossilized musician. Why an artist should isolate himself from the rest of the world and become a freak with long hair, and possess all sorts of eccentricities is beyond my conception. We have in New York city very many musicians of this class, who are really excellent artists, but I am sorry to say they find it difficult to gain a reasonable livelihood. And why? Simply because by withdrawing from the world into themselves they have become supersensitive to the slightest opposition, which renders them so nervous and irritable that they are really objectionable company. The American people dislike men of this sort, and generally consider them somewhat daft. In order to succeed in any profession, one must make all other matters subservient to study. But this does not necessitate the complete shunning of all others who are not gifted with talent in that particular line. Any man who is at the head of his profession is more or less of a social acquisition, and the man who is sociable is sure to make more friends and thereby encourage success to a greater extent than one who is not. If displeased, it is not necessary to make oneself disagreeable by storming around like a raving maniac and worry yourself and all around you sick. Everyone has annoyances to bear. The antiquated method of many seems to have been, if crossed in anything, to pull the hair, show the teeth, and caper around and show others by a greater display of boorishness that they were their intellectual superiors. There are more pleasant ways than this of getting out of difficulties.

I know of an instance where one of our greatest violinists, visiting a friend in one of the cities in the northern part of New York State, treated his amiable host most shamefully—in fact, more like a servant than a friend. He proposed a fishing party one morning, and invited many of his friends to join him. They were delighted with the proposal, and when all were assembled, fully equipped for a day’s outing, he suddenly pushed his friends rudely aside and made a dash for the house, and without a word of explanation bounded up the stairs to his room like a raving lunatic, seated himself at his desk, and began jotting down notes by the score. His friends, to whom a word of explanation would have been sufficient, displeased at his odd actions, soon departed and gave up all idea of ever depending on this queer specimen of humanity. Hours passed, and he still continued at his work. At noon-time the dinner bell sounded once—twice—thrice, and still no response from his “Highness;” so his host finally summoned up sufficient courage to knock at his door and announce that it was time for dinner. For a long time he paid no attention, but at last he became impatient, and, jumping up, pushed his friend out of the room, slammed and locked the door, and with all sorts of oaths ordered him to mind his own business and not to dare to interrupt him again. At about four in the afternoon he calmly informed his host that he wished his dinner. On being informed that it was impossible, as dinner had been cleared away hours before, he became furious, and danced and capered around like a wild cat, and, pulling violently at his hair, shouted: “I demand it! I demand it!” So his host, rather than appear disagreeable, consented and had a dinner especially prepared for him. When he had finished he rushed to his room, and remained there until the early hours of the morning. When he left his room, we, being anxious to see what he would do next, followed him, but at distance enough for him not to notice us. He walked to the river, and when he had found a suitable place he sat down and gazed into the stream for a considerable time. He then arose and took a drink from his flask, which he always carried with him. The mania for singing then seized him, and he would try a few notes and then walk to and fro, muttering to himself, and then resort to his flask again. He repeated this last operation many times; but at last he got tired and laid down on the bank of the river and went to sleep. I suggested waking him and persuading him to go home, but his host objected on the ground that we might disturb another inspiration, so we left him in dreamland. “His Highness” did not appear on the scene again until the following evening, when he was very much intoxicated. This was only one of the many larks which he indulged in. He at length became positively unbearable, and was requested to leave the house. This is a good example of a freak, and leads American people to believe that musicians are not the most reliable and desirable of guests. But I am glad to say that the coming generation is far more promising. Some of our most prominent artists, such as Richard Hoffman, Scharwenka, Horatio W. Parker, Walter Damrosch, Ethelbert Nevin, and De Koven, don’t think it necessary to eschew the society of others than musicians to attain and sustain their reputations. A man who trains his mind must also train his body to retain his health. Let him indulge in athletics. In winter skate and take brisk walks. In summer there are innumerable ways of gaining strength without in anyway injuring his command of any instrument. A teacher in the Leipsic Conservatory was asked why he chose rowing for exercise when it was so injurious to the fingers, and he exclaimed that those who were injured by such slight exercise had very little technic to lose. The modern musician is considerable of a society man, as he should be, for who is better qualified to be a benefit to it? He talks on all topics and indulges in all the pleasures that any professional man may without injury to himself; consequently (not always talking shop), he is the best of entertainers; but when questioned on the subject of music, he spreads himself and lets them know that, although they have other ambitions, it is his life-work and one aim to be the foremost of his profession. A man who uses his mind continually must have some recreation, no matter what it be, so long as it takes him away from his daily thoughts. Then he will be in far better condition for his next day’s work.


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