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Leschetizky as a Teacher.


It may not generally be known that there are at present two Leschetizkys living. One is a celebrated teacher of the piano—a piano savant, with whom a lesson hour is, as a rule, a period of exquisite torture. Leschetizky’s appreciation of rhythm, tone, and tone- color, and intuitive perceptions of correct musical expression, are so keen and true that the deviation of a hair’s breadth from the right and only way is enough to throw him into a paroxysm of agony. “I simply cannot listen to it; my temptation is to fly from the room,” says he. This is the Leschetizky that storms and rages, scolds and shouts, sends or throws his pupils out of the room, and their books after them. It is the same Leschetizky who tells one that he plays like an engineer; another like a butcher: another that she will make a good Hausfrau, can cook, sweep, and dust; and another that her playing (so out of time) makes him seasick! It is the same who waved a crestfallen Polish artist out of the room with the words, “You have no tone;” and who, when a would-be pupil came to him and said he could speak only “a little bit of French or German,” without further form or ceremony left the pupil, went to his wife, and said, “Please send him away; he cannot talk with me.” It is told of this Leschetizky, too, that  when young H was playing with the Hellmesberger quartet, and by a slight error in the time threw the whole quartet out, he flew into a fit of—what? agony, or rage, or both? and almost flung the really talented young man from the stool. The performance did not go on, it  is almost needless to say; and young H—- left Vienna in a sadder, but probably more rhythmical, state of mind.

But, as I have already said, there is another Leschetizky,—that kind, hospitable, and charming entertainer, the great maestro and musician “at home;” Leschetizky, the friend of Rubinstein and of nearly every great artist of his day, once the husband of the renowned Essipoff, and the maker of that astounding phenomenon, Paderewski. This Leschetizky lives at his home in the Währing Cottage district of Vienna, the honored of all musicians and students of the present time. His home is a rendezvous of great artists, music-lovers, and the intellectually gifted as well; for he admires and deeply respects the writer and littérateur. Quite the opposite of the music-teacher of that name, he is genial, charming, fascinating, and lovable in his bearing and conversation. There is not a kinder or better man living than this Leschetizky when he is not “on duty ” and his musically righteous soul vexed with the crudities, the failings, and blunders, of his delinquent pupils. Another of his most pleasing qualities is his keen sense of the humorous, united with a warm sympathy for human nature in all its forms. This will prevent him from ever becoming rabid, sour, morose, or distorted in his relations with his fellows. One of the occasions on which these qualities are displayed at their best is at his fortnightly recitals, or “class” as it has become known here.’

As Leschetizky is a great pedant in the matter of fingering, he is most exacting and assertive in declaring that only such fingers can produce certain desired effects. I remember once how he started up in the middle of a composition that was being played by a young American lady, and cried, “Your thumb! your thumb! If I had three thumbs, I would put all three of them on that note.”

No easier is the pedal technic as taught by Leschetizky. There are pupils from all parts of Europe, even those from the famous Vienna Conservatory, who confess they have learned something of pedal technic, for the first time in their lives, from Leschetizky and his Vorbereiter. “Syncopate the pedal,” and “Syncopate the ground tone,” is a perfect shibboleth to many; but it is this skilful and dexterous “syncopation” that reveals many tonal effects which, without it, would sound empty and lack klang. Those who intelligently listened and watched Paderewski, know how much he effected by his carefully manipulated pedal technic; and it should never be forgotten that it was Leschetizky who initiated him into all these mysteries. Paderewski is another example, too, of how far a fine touch may be cultivated. Those who first heard him play here say that at the beginning his touch was like iron. It was Leschetizky who refined and softened it, who devoted the first two or three years of his teaching to polishing “something off,” and cultivating that exquisite delicacy for which Paderewski is so justly noted; who transformed the “iron” into velvet, and showed Paderewski how to use his strength, and the value of reserve force.

Even after a pupil has been thoroughly prepared in foundational work, he will find he has learned but little in this distinctively beautiful art of piano playing. For let him take a simple “Song without Words” from Mendelssohn, and attempt to play it before one of Leschetizky’s artist Vorbereiter, he will be surprised at being stopped at the end of the first or second measure. After a critical examination he will discover that he has been able to play scarcely a single note according to the demands of this exacting method. Before this initiation into melody with chords and chord accompaniment and pedal mysteries is complete he will find that he has never even dreamed how to carry a melody upon a piano as it ought and can be done.

Leschetizky once said to me: “I have no method, nothing which can be wound up and ground out like a hand-organ, if that is what you understand by method; something which can be applied to all sorts and conditions of men. Anybody who professes to do that is a humbug, and there is no humbug about me. No; my ‘method,’ if such you call it, is to study the needs and peculiarities of each particular hand and individuality; to supply the needs of each, and develop their natural resources.”

The secrets of Leschetizky’s great success are his power of electrifying and inspiring his pupils, his assiduity, his labors to draw the best out of them, his keen perceptions of their needs, and his ability to develop their gifts. I have so often watched him as he moves among his pupils. “Routine, routine!” he will say to one; “that is what you need.” “You have it in you,” he will say to another; “I know you have. We must try to bring it out! ” “That was all very finely executed, with finish and elegance, but temperament is wanting; that we must try to cultivate,” and so on. A well-known composer in Vienna tells a story of Leschetizky that illustrates this ability of his to develop musical capacities. He once made a wager that he would teach his servant, a man almost without musical perceptions, to play a Chopin nocturne with taste and correctness; and he succeeded.

Leschetizky must now be approaching the seventies, and his years are certainly numbered. When he passes away, I doubt if there will be another found to take his place; not at least in this day and generation. For the sake of music and art it might be wished that the sun on the dial might be turned backward!—From an article by Emmeline Potter Frissel, in The Looker-On.


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