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The Musical Listener


The Listener turns aside from his accustomed manner of handling musical topics along educational and esthetic lines, with real pleasure to the human and religious contemplation induced by the thought of Christmas, which will naturally permeate the December number of The Etude.

The day which opens the door of every heart to brotherly love is full of human music; it is the day of all days when we cease to analyze and explain music, permitting it to seize hold of our emotions with the message of glad tidings, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”

In view of my own particular message finding its outlet through The Etude, I made a visit for the purpose of ascertaining for myself and my readers the full amount of good that music can do humanity which has debased itself even un to the gutters. I went with Mrs. Helen M. Spooner, the investigator of prison reforms in America, to the city jail, the House of Detention in Boston, where this noble self-constituted missionary has recently introduced a Sunday afternoon musical service for the poor wretches awaiting there, in suspense, their trial or a verdict.

Many of the best professional musicians in Boston give their services to this cause, and the results are gratifying when one sees, as I did, criminals of the lowest rank lifted out of themselves for a short time by means of the message conveyed to them through music.

The service was conducted in a large hall, from which corridors led off in three directions, and on to these corridors opened the cells, where the prisoners listened from behind iron bars. During the music Mrs. Spooner asked me to look up at an elevated tier of cells where a woman prisoner stood grasping the bars of her cell and pressing her body against them, as though she would force her spirit, if not her body, out to meet the welcome sounds, and then to say, if I could, that “Music hath [not] charms to soothe the savage breast.”

These unfortunates of the world await with eagerness the Sunday afternoon which brings them music, and they remained quiet and expectant during the entire time. This is as nearly what Christ would have done with music as we can imagine, is it not? and, therefore, a Christmas theme in truth—one to be considered and imitated, if the opportunity opens to my readers. We were instructed to let our light shine before all men, and the musician, having more light than the average man and woman in the possession of a talent, is so much more in duty bound to give unto others.

* * * * *


In connection with this subject, I wish to say a few words about a lady who is interested in the work at the jail, also a Bostonian, and undoubtedly the foremost woman composer in America. Mrs. H. H. Beach, the lady in question, is in character and appearance so entirely a personification of the humane, the kind, and the good, that The Listener feels warranted in classing her with Christmas things, and especially fine things.

All musicians know about her in our country, but unfortunately for them, few are privileged to come under the beneficence of her direct influence, which is as wholesome and pure as the tone of her music. She is still a young woman; her long list of compositions would suggest more years than she has experienced. Married to a prosperous physician, she has never been compelled to submerge her creative talent into the drudgery of piano teaching, thereby quenching its ardor and freshness. Although Mrs. Beach has a large acquaintance and many social duties, nothing is permitted to interfere with her own piano practice or the hours devoted to composition. She has been known to go driving with

Dr. Beach, piano score in hand, and while he visited his patients she sat outside committing the score to memory in the most approved fashion. In her compositions there is the same freshness, lack of affectation, and genuineness so apparent in her own nature. Her specific talent is for melodic invention in its most graceful forms. As a pianist she excels, but only at an occasional symphony concert or for charitable purposes is she to be heard. Her devotion to art for art’s sake is plainly apparent in the results of her life’s work.

Would more talented people had the opportunity to work untrammeled as she does, free from the necessities and taxation of bread-winning.


One of the salient characteristics of Mrs. Beach and her creations is enthusiasm. Even the critical, almost cynical, Boston atmosphere can not quench that fire within her. As The Listener is a confirmed rider of the enthusiasm hobby, he, now, in the season most conducive to freedom of impulse and action straight from the heart, wishes to cry aloud in Christmas greeting, “Enthuse, my friends, enthuse!”

Enthusiasm is a spur to genius, and, if there be no genius, enthusiasm is worth a great deal by itself, for, at least, it helps other people to achieve. Who does not need encouragement? Every living being. It is manna to the starving, water to the thirsty, and a staff to the weary and heavy-laden. Enthusiasm and encouragement are not synonymous words, to be sure, but they are next door to it—they are twin spurs to endeavor.

* * * * *


As I said in the beginning, this is the time when we wish to feel music; rejoicing in the joy of it, feeling without thinking why, giving because it makes us happy to give, permitting spontaneity and nature to hold the reins a while over those necessary pack-horses, technic and criticism. Beethoven is the master who teaches us straight from nature’s heart, and I will let the poet Celia Thaxter say to you in her exquisite verse what I would say about him at this particular time were I able:

“If God speaks anywhere, in any voice,
    To us his creatures, surely here and now
    We hear him, while the great chords seem to bow
Our heads, and all the symphony’s breathless noise
Breaks over us, with challenge to our souls!
    Beethoven’s music! From the mountain peaks
The strong, divine, compelling thunder rolls;
    And ‘Come up higher, come!’ the words it speaks.
‘Out of your darkened valleys of despair,
    Beloved, I lift you up on mighty wings
Into Hope’s living, reconciling air!
    Breathe, and forget your life’s perpetual stings,—
Dream, folded on the breast of Patience sweet;
Some pulse of pitying love for you may beat.’”

* * * * *


In comparing modern composition with the older classic works, we can not help but be impressed with the latter-day growth away from religious expression. I use the word “growth” in the same way that I would say “a weed grows.”

Our music as it becomes more complicated in harmonic effects and develops the art of dissonance, gains color, passion, and fire, but for the sake of these its earlier spirituality is sacrificed. Just so it is with pictures. No longer are our painters followers of the Nazarene, and naturally he does not inspire them.

The man who wrote with the greatest devotional depth was Bach.

Gumprecht exclaimed of him, “If ever a man served his art for the love of God, truly it was Bach.”

Haydn was religious, but religion was to him a cheerful acceptation of a satisfying creed. When Carpanii remarked to him that his religious music expressed light gayety, he answered: “I can not help it. I give forth what is in me. When I think of the Divine Being my heart is so full of joy that the notes fly off as from a spindle, and as I have a cheerful heart He will pardon me if I serve Him cheerfully.”

With Händel it was still different. His spiritual expression was neither devotional nor gay, but it was there, as is evinced in the anecdote recorded, that when, after a performance of “The Messiah” before George II, that monarch said to the composer, “You have pleased us very much,” Händel replied, “Your Majesty, I did not wish to please, but to make you better.”

* * * * *


The Listener, at the risk of being flippant, wishes to suggest that if the modern composer has lost all feeling for the spiritual side of music, he might still prove a benefactor to the long-suffering by signing to his compositions a name pronounceable by the majority of listeners. A nom de plume, a nom de anything, would be preferable to such names as this Listener is wrestling with in view of an imminent recital made up from the compositions of Tchaikowsky, Balakireff, Rimsky, Korsakoff, Smetana, Arensky.

They show their values better in a row, and look as formidable, as they are, to the average American, whose jaw would be in a precarious condition after pronouncing them in English wrongly, and much worse off after an attempt to say them correctly.

Eight out of every ten do not yet pronounce Paderewski properly, putting an f in the place of the w, or De Reszke with a t where stands the s, and the prospect of committing to the general memory a half dozen more like those given above during the coming year is discouraging; but, as we agreed at the start to be cheerful in this issue, we must laugh over our own mistakes as well as over everybody else’s.

* * * * *


After all, we are not to have Rosenthal! We regret our loss and his own disability. No one can exactly fill his place in the estimation of his admirers, but we are consoled in a measure by others who are admirable artists, among them Madam Helen Hopekirk, who has returned to this country for indefinite residence, and whose playing, as was shown in her début with the Kneisel Quartet, has gained in vigor during her life abroad. Another piano player worthy to be named in this connection is Madam Szumowska (Paderewski’s only pupil), whose playing possesses the same sensuous grace and magnetism so peculiar to her master, only in a lesser degree. There can be no doubt but that the women pianoforte players are placing themselves in surprising numbers in the front ranks of virtuosity, and they are right welcome.

* * * * *

This is The Listener’s first opportunity to wish his Etude readers a Merry Christmas, his work having begun only with this year. He considers it a most agreeable opportunity, and seizes it with avidity. In the words of old Rip, “May they all live long and prosper,” and may the day bring them hope, energy, inspiration, and enthusiasm in the toe of their stocking.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night” from

The Listener.



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