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Advantages For Music Students in Various European Centers



A wise philosopher has said, “A man may fancy himself in love many times and be mistaken, but when he really is in love, he knows it beyond all question.” It is much the same with the music student on going to Berlin. He may have been in many other places and found advantages in all and congratulated himself on being there; but when he gets to Berlin, he is quite sure that this is the right place—the place of places, to which he should have come first.

To begin with, there is here, as in every large German city, a first-class opera, complete in every appointment, with a performance every evening in the week, Sunday included. Then there is the renowned series of twelve symphony concerts by the Royal Orchestra,—the same which officiates at the Opera House, and probably the finest body of musicians anywhere assembled under one baton,—at present under the leadership of the justly idolized Felix Weingartner, who, it is claimed by his adherents—and I think with reason—is the greatest living conductor since the death of von Bülow. He is the only leader of an orchestra I ever heard who made continual use of the rubato, handling his orchestra in this respect exactly like a solo instrument; and this is the main secret of his hold upon his audiences, who feel, even when they do not understand, the vitality and emotion thus imbued into familiar compositions.

There is a competitive series of symphony concerts, also twelve in number, by the Philharmonic Orchestra, a superb band, under the leadership of Arthur Nikisch, formerly at the head of the Symphony Orchestra in Boston, and who is greatly admired here as conductor, though standing distinctly second to Weingartner. He is now located at Leipsic, but comes from there to Berlin to direct in each of the twelve concerts. The Philharmonic Orchestra also gives three so-called “popular concerts” a week throughout the season, under less known but excellent leaders, the programs being less severe than those of the Symphony Concerts, but including all the best music, especially of the modern school.

For chamber music and recitals, there are three well- known and much frequented concert halls—namely, Saal Bechstein, the Singakademie, and the Philharmonie; at all three of which a concert or recital of some sort takes place literally every evening in the week throughout the entire season, where one may hear everybody, from D’Albert and the Joachim Quartet to the novice just graduating from some conservatory or master and venturing a timid debut. There are, besides, a number of other concert halls, less popular than those named and of second rank, but frequently required by the many aspirants for a hearing in Berlin. The student has but to choose.

As regards situation, surroundings, and adjacent points of interest, Berlin offers fewer attractions than most of the German winter resorts. It stands upon a flat, monotonous expanse of sandy plain, with a small, sluggish river (the Spree) flowing, or rather stretching, through it. There are neither mountains nor forests in the immediate vicinity, and very little of anything which might be called suburbs. The great Thiergarten, or park, just outside the Brandenburg gate, with its pleasure drives and walks, and the royal parks at Charlottenburg and Potsdam atone in some degree for the lack of picturesque environment. The city itself is well laid out, admirably paved, and thoroughly abreast of the times as regards convenient and quick transit, and possesses a certain cosmopolitan atmosphere and broad progressive spirit more or less lacking in the other German centers.

The cost of living in Berlin is somewhat higher than in the other cities previously described, yet by no means extreme for a great capital. Five marks ($1.25) a day secures good room and comfortable board in desirable locations, and for a protracted stay arrangements can be made at any one of scores of fairly comfortable places at a rate materially less.

As regards all essential particulars, especially in the line of meats and vegetables, the quality, quantity, and variety of the food provided, and the manner in which it is cooked, in the better class of boarding-houses all over Germany, are, generally speaking, far superior to that found in the same grade of places at home, and infinitely ahead of the average boarding-school and even private home to which our students are accustomed.

Concerning advantages for study, the music student in Berlin has, by actual count, thirty-five conservatories, academies, and schools of music to choose from, most of them good, some superlatively excellent.

First as regards reputation stands the Königliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik, or Royal Academic High School of Music, with Joachim as director and Barth and Raif as leading men in the piano department. This is a completely equipped and splendidly appointed college of music, in the best sense of the term comprising all departments and all conceivable collateral branches. It is under the patronage of the Emperor, and receives a large annual subsidy from the State, so is in great measure independent of popularity and attendance. Both as regards the eminence of its faculty and the weight attached in Germany to its graduating diplomas, it easily takes precedence of any school in the land. Tuition, though not free, is ridiculously low, considering the advantages offered—about $60 a year in the piano department, with all collateral studies thrown in, and $75 in the voice department.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult of access, especially for Americans, so much so as to be practically out of the question for the majority of students. The number of applicants for admission each season averages about five to every vacancy, as the number of pupils is absolutely limited to 250. The average number of students admitted each season, to fill the places of those graduating or dropping out, is about thirty, and there is always a long list of waiting candidates. All applicants are subjected to a rigorous competitive examination and only the very best are admitted. It is perhaps only natural, and is frankly acknowledged by the authorities, that where candidates of different nationalities show approximately equal merit, and the decision is at all close, there is always a marked discrimination in favor of the German and against the foreigner. When it is remembered, in addition, that it is the pick of the young talent of Germany that always competes, trained by years of systematic study under German teachers, along just the lines most likely to be in harmony with the requirements here, it will readily be seen that the American student, even with exceptional endowment, stands but small chance.

Private lessons, however, may be had of any and all the professors in the Hochschule, excepting Joachim, who literally takes no private pupils at any price, and the examinations may be repeated an indefinite number of times till successfully passed, if one is sufficiently persistent. As a violin school this institution has virtually no rival in Germany, though most of the actual teaching is done, not by Joachim himself, but by able and specially trained assistants under his general supervision. Of these Professor Halir, concert master of the Royal Orchestra, and himself a superb soloist, takes first rank.

Heinrich Barth, pretty generally conceded to be at present the first pianist and teacher in the Hochschule and in Berlin, is an artist of preëminent ability, and has been a prominent figure in musical life here for many years. He is well along in middle life, a former pupil of Tausig and von Bülow, with a big, broad, genial personality and courteous, cordial manner. He possesses a vast experience, a profound musical intelligence, and a technic which, even in these days of phenomenal virtuosity, is something marvelous. He has a constitutional leaning toward the plastic and scholarly, rather than the emotional and romantic in his art, is specially at home with Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert, and commands a very beautiful though somewhat uniform quality of tone. He has special fame here as a player of chamber music. I think I can say that he is the best pianist of the strictly objective school that I have ever heard; but those who, like myself, have rendered their first allegiance to the poetry and emotional warmth of Paderewski or the passion and dramatic power of Liszt will find Barth rather cold. They say here in Berlin that Barth has warmed up of late years, in comparison to his former playing. If that is so, he must have been positively frigid previously, and one might say he had thawed out, but there is no warmth discernible in his performance at present. He is the finished artist in every measure, but not a poet, and hardly a genius. Those who know and love his playing well, however, here would not have it agitated or warmed into anything other than it is, any more than they would like their statues painted in colors. As teacher, he stands as one of the foremost of his day, with a very large class both of German and American pupils. His price for private lessons is $5.00 an hour, the same that is asked by most of the leading teachers here.

Prof. Oscar Raif, who divides with Barth the honors as teacher in the Hochschule, as well as the American following of private pupils, but who is not himself a concert artist, is a mercurial, impulsive, and most affable little gentleman, with a warmth and heartiness of manner which put one at ease from the first moment. He has an exhaustless vitality and an unflagging interest in his work, as well as in his individual pupils, which make him a favorite, besides having more ideas to the minute than would stock and run the average perfunctory teacher for a year. Eccentric he may be, and extreme, perhaps, in some of his technical hobbies, though thoroughly sound in the main, and certainly a teacher of remarkable ability and success, and an investigator who has reduced the theory and methods of tone production more nearly to an exact science than any one I have ever met. A season is well spent with him, if only for imbibing his ideas along this line. His invention for visibly photographing the tone produced and the touch producing it, in the case of any player, is novel and extremely interesting, and is attracting much attention.

The second conservatory in point of celebrity outside of Germany—though not, I am surprised to find, in its local standing here—is the Klindworth-Scharwenka institution. Philipp Scharwenka, one of the directors, is considered a good, though not in the fullest sense a great, teacher, while Klindworth has recently severed his connection with this school. A pianist, however, recently engaged as teacher in this school, whose connection with it goes into active effect the first of October next, is likely to reflect much credit upon it both as teacher and pianist. I refer to Conrad Ansorge, who has already won for himself an enviable place in Berlin, and who was well known and well liked a few years ago in our own country.

Dr. Goldschmidt is another eminent name connected with the Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory, while one pianist in its faculty, quite unknown to me and probably to many of my readers, is Jedliczka, a Russian, who may, perhaps, be termed the rising teacher of Berlin. He has gathered about him a number of enthusiastic American pupils, who certainly show the results of most telling and thoroughly modern instruction. He is pronouncedly original in his methods, a strong though somewhat peculiar artistic personality, and is declared by many to be the Leschetizky of Berlin. There is, by the way, a much credited rumor that this master himself is to locate here in the fall.

Another institution in Berlin, less known because less advertised than some others, but well patronized and highly esteemed, especially by native German students, and quietly doing the very highest grade of work along its special line, is the Kullak Academy of Higher Pianism, devoted exclusively to the higher phases of pianoforte playing. The director, Franz Kullak, son of the great Theodore Kullak, who was practically without a rival as the leading piano teacher of the world a generation ago, is the best living representative of his father’s ideas and methods, and himself a man of preëminent and original pedagogic ability. I speak not only from report and observation, but from personal experience of his instruction, when I say he is one of the half dozen greatest living teachers. He has a fiery Slavonic nature, full of intense passion and dramatic force, is ultramodern in all his ideas and conceptions, and as a teacher and interpreter of Liszt has probably no equal. His technical methods, though based upon and exemplifying the original Kullak school, as taught by his father, have been in minor details modified and extended, and brought thoroughly up to date.

I want to emphasize the difference between the Kullak Academy and all the other music schools reviewed by me, either here or in other German cities. It is the only one where nothing is taught except advanced piano playing; no obligatory collateral branches or extras of any kind, which are of inestimable advantage to the seeker of a general musical education or to any specialist in the earlier years of his study, but often sadly interfere with the player who wishes to concentrate his time, strength, and undivided efforts upon rapid progress in piano playing within a limited period.

Prof. Kullak has a large and devoted class of very advanced players, a number of whom are themselves concert artists, and nearly all of whom are native Germans. For some reason he seems not to be so popular a teacher of Americans as was his great father, or as the other teachers of his standing in Berlin. More than fifty per cent. of Barth’s class and of Raifs are Americans and English, mainly the former, while Kullak’s class of pupils is ninety per cent. German. I heard most of his best players at a matinee at the Academy, and their performance was without exception a triumph both for pupils and professor, but there was not an American on the program. If I may be permitted a criticism of one weak point amid so much general excellence, I should say the tone produced by all impressed me as rather hard and forced, due, it may be, as much to the rugged German temperament of the players as to their instruction. Intensity and power seemed to dominate, somewhat at the expense of beauty and elasticity. It is, however, the typical German tone, heard almost universally in this country, both on the concert stage and in the class-room, and in my opinion American students here would do well to do a little independent thinking and studying in the line of tone quality.

No one teacher, even in Berlin, knows it all or covers all the ground, and no student with good sense will study exclusively with any one teacher, however good or great. Eclecticism in all professions is well, but most of all in art, which is so largely a matter of individual taste and feeling.

Of the many other schools and hosts of less celebrated, though in most cases excellent, private teachers, I have no room here to speak. All the conservatories, except the Hochschule, are run upon the usual self-supporting financial basis, and may be entered by any student who can pay the very moderate price; $75 to $100 per year, including everything, is the usual tuition, and private lessons may be had of any of the teachers in or out of the conservatories, except Joachim, at prices ranging from $1.50 to $5 per hour.

To sum up, the student of piano or violin, if not extremely restricted in means, who is not exactly sure where he ought to study and has not strong personal reasons for going elsewhere, will always do best to go straight to Berlin, which is at present the headquarters and great center of instrumental music of the civilized world.


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