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The Monomaniac In Music.


In this age of experts it is true that the dilettante has little place outside of the newspaper sanctum; but he who follows one line of thought to the disregard of all others is taking the shortest road to failure, despondency, melancholia, insanity. The greatest tragedy of musical history verifies this statement. The suicide of Robert Schumann, and the dramatic incidents attendant upon the deliberate self-murder of his mind, need but to be recalled to musicians. He must have known that monomania would be the result of over-application and confinement to his life-work; but, overcome by the intoxication of the practice of structural forms, he moved slowly and surely to his end. So the life of the greatest of musical romanticists closes—in an insane asylum. The irony of fate!

No other occupation or profession has the mysterious fascination that music holds over its followers. In no other art are prodigies expected at such an early age as they are in music; but the day of the over-production of musical precocity is, for good and sufficient reasons, coming to an end. These musical freaks are less noticed than ever, even in the minds of the plebeians, and the genuine in music is being sustained and maintained. Thoughtful musicians, recognizing the peril of a onesided education, are allowing more time for natural development. Titian once said to a pupil, “Only novices hurry.”

Soon the ignoramus with one dangerous accomplishment will have little more place with the public than the one without musical ability. Indeed, the expression, “He knows music and nothing else,” is so common that to-day many people expect musicians to know little or nothing outside of the mysterious realm of ivory keys, catgut strings, “brazen” tubes, wooden pipes, and voice boxes. But this world and the life we live are so great, and music is so closely associated with the whole of it, that those who, by means of super-concentration and mistaken application continually narrow their lives instead of broadening them, do not deserve the honor of being called musicians.

Mr. Stanley Whitman, the eminent English sociologist, in one of his works makes reference to what he claims to be a well-known fact: that a musician may have a recognized position among his fellows and still be quite a fool in the eyes of the world. I am a little surprised to see so able an author commit himself in this manner.

If he refers to any of the musical freaks of nature,— similar to the famous Blind Tom and others, mere executants,—his statement does not deserve serious consideration; but if refers to the many failures—machines, mental and physical—that some people confound with the term “musician,” the condition may be readily explained. It is just that “otherwise a fool” that prevents the world from accepting these people as fine or great musicians. Again, however, if Mr. Whitman is thinking of the eccentricities of genius, he may as well pull Goldsmith, Byron, and Johnson from their niches in the cathedral of literature and condemn them as fools. Wagner, Mendelssohn, Schumann (in his prime), Händel, Beethoven, von Bülow, Gounod, Mozart, Verdi, and, to-day in America, Foote, Nevin, Mason, Buck, and Payne, all stand as monumental evidences of the fact that our greatest musicians have been our broadest musicians.

Oh, you struggling teachers! you ambitious young composers! you aspiring players! have you ever thought that success might be brought nearer to you than ever before if you would seek to improve all of your being instead of some little part of it ? Do you ever think of the risk you run by squeezing your circle until it includes nothing but technicalities? Music is a growth;—there is a time for the budding of the rose, and nature never forces it.

The dangers of monomania are too numerous to describe, and nothing will produce this form of insanity quicker than the dissipation of overwork. Keep a good heart and a high spirit, take pride in being patient, work intelligently, and things will take care of themselves. Look upon misanthropy and pessimism as sure indications of narrowness, and as germs which, if properly cultivated and developed, will infallibly produce monomania. Allowing that the study of music as a science is confining and narrowing, what, then, are the remedies or preventives for the music student? What counter studies may be pursued that will mitigate the evil effects of continual application to technicalities? The study of the “art side” of music itself obviously can and will not.

Music, if at all, appeals directly to the passions, and with the exception of a few styles is exciting in the extreme, and especially so to professional musicians, who are, from the nature of things, emotional, impressionable, and supersensitive.

Dependent upon the work in which one is engaged, should the remedy be applied? But history—general and special, modern and classical—is always of such a character that a musician may read and find rest therein, rest through counter-stimulation.

The study of botany, by some popular method and occasional woodland rambles, is excellent for furrowed brows and twitching fingers. Cultivate an interest in painting and sculpture. Visit art collections whenever opportunity provides. There will be an elevating influence, though you may not be conscious of it. The study of languages “slowly and surely” makes an excellent side course. The camera, magazines of the higher order, discursive reading in musical periodicals—in all these the musician may find interest, and whatever he steals from his calendar or pocketbook to indulge himself will be repaid with interest. It is just as much a part of his education as Bach’s inventions or Chopin’s études.

The wealth of thought and charm of expression in the various theologies are always an inspiration. Don’t neglect the spiritual side of your nature. Remember Gounod!

Then there are biographies of great men and good men that make your eyes shine, your heart swell, and your thoughts ascend.

The drama has its place. From comedy to tragedy, one is never at loss for that which will broaden his intellect and relieve his mind of metronomes, scales, runs, and octaves. Society and politics! Study people! I know of two New York musicians of note who are enthusiastic politicians. Wagner once thought of abandoning music for politics.

Shades of Glück, von Bülow, Raff, Tausig, Rubinstein, Berlioz, arise! Arise and tell the secret of your success to your millions of followers!

After all, these remedies I have named are no more than suggestions. It is not to be supposed that any one could work with success in one-half of the various lines mentioned, but if he will select from the foregoing list—which I believe to be very general—as many avocations as intuition confirms as profitable, no one will dispute the beneficial effects he will derive from the change and relaxation.

The masters of the world will attest to this, and the psychologists can readily prove that monomania and insanity will be the results of an opposite course.

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